Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Moving . . . Slowly . . .

People have been asking me how moving is going.  The answer is most definitely, "Slowly".

In the past month we've had at least 3 donation pick-ups at our house, and many, many bags and boxes of stuff have gone out in those.  Bob has been driving back here to VA most weekends (in fact, his company was so kind of to send him out here for a week's TDY in the middle of April!), and so I have boxed up tons of books (probably literal tons, lol), as well as other random things (like a space heater that has been stepped on in the middle as well as all our sleds, as you can see below), to fill up his car to take back to Ohio where he puts them into my parents' basement.  (Side note:  liquor boxes are so great for books!  I like them way better than "book boxes" from moving companies.  But it does make it look like I have a serious drinking problem!)
Getting rid of the boxes, plus all the donations, seems like our house would be feeling empty, but that is not the case!  It turns out we have way too much stuff, and me packing away what we won't need for a few months is just a drop in an endless sea of stuff.  Alas!  We do have a few bookcases that seem less full, although I can never fit everything from a bookcase into boxes, so each shelf still has some random books that don't fit.  Now we just look like unorganized book clutterers, lol.  I think it will help once this school year is officially over, and we can pack away all the books we are currently using.  Although I have to somehow figure out what I'll need for next year, and pack that last, or at least in a way that it will be easily found . . .

I still am not sure exactly how the end game is going to work.  At some point in mid-June, we will have a moving truck move most of our big furniture.  Then we can hopefully do what we need to do to this house to get it ready for the market--paint, refinish hardwood, and re-carpet--that we can't do while all of us are living here.  There's not really very much time between now and mid-June, however, and what time we do have is pretty full!  I have to finish up teaching chemistry and physical science, the girls have a few more track meets, Nathan and Luke are coming home (and I'm driving down to AL to pick up Luke), I'm in charge of standardized testing (but Micah is still not reading where I think he should be, so I can't really slack on his school), we're doing our annual camping trip, and Grace and Faith are going to Camp Caleb two different weeks in June with their cousins.  Whew! 

Another question is what will we do for a house in Ohio?  That is an excellent question!  I still don't have an answer though, lol.  Our original tentative plan was to buy a cheap house we would squeeze into for a while so we could sell our house here and find a more long-term house there.  But it turns out the housing market for those kinds of houses is, surprisingly, really tight right now, and we don't feel like fighting millenial first-time home buyers with escalation-clause contracts for houses that aren't even our long-term plan.  So we might stay with my parents for a bit, and we are definitely praying our house here sells quickly.  But anyhow, short answer is, we have no idea where we will land as of yet!

 Another popular question is have we figured out what everyone will do for co-ops or whatever for next year in Ohio?  The answer to that is simply, no.  I have had many very helpful contacts give me a great deal of very helpful information.  But it's like I'm stuck in molasses, and I just don't have the mental margin to explore deeper and actually make progress in any one direction.  Ack!  Then I have moments of complete panic, until I make myself not think about it anymore.  And honestly, I'm pretty overwhelmed in a lot of different areas, so I am able to just worry about something more immediate!  So, lots of room to work in that area, ha!   I am praying the Lord will hold open space in whatever places we need, until I get my head back in the game, especially for Caleb and Jonathan.  I think it would help if I was actually there in Ohio, but it may be too late by the time June rolls around.  So, yeah . . . this area is definitely the biggest stress factor weighing on me right now--much greater than moving logistics or where we will live!
In just a little extra note, we got a new (to us) car in April!  Like I said before, Bob was home for a week, and so we were able to drive to Dover, DE, to buy this used 2006 Honda Pilot on April 14!  The plan is for Nathan to drive this and pass the CR-V down to Luke, but right now, Bob has been really enjoying driving it back and forth to Ohio (well, enjoying how it drives, not necessarily all the driving, lol).  Hopefully it will be a good, faithful car, like the CR-V has been!  And it has been really, really nice for there to be the 2 minivans here at home.  That means that both Caleb and I can drive minivans, instead of me having to take the big van when he needs to go somewhere too.

So there's an update of where we are.  It turns out it is really hard to uproot and move 12 people when we have lived in a house 14 years!  Who would have thought?!  

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

March

How about a month update at one time?!  It's been a different, and also difficult month, with lots of change.

The first change was a big one, and actually started back in January--Bob started a new job, and it's not here.  We are finally going to be moving back to Ohio, where my parents live.  In some ways, this is so exciting, and in other ways, it is extremely sad and also overwhelming.  Since Bob has already started the job, he is actually already in Ohio during the week, coming home for weekends.  As he says, he took his week of long commutes here and now he does them all at one time on the weekends!  So that isn't much better, but fortunately it should be temporary.  I've been trying to go through things and declutter, but we have miles and miles to go before we are ready to move.  The house definitely looks like a family of 12 has lived here for almost 14 years.  I'm also trying to get a handle on what we will do for homeschooling next year, which is another overwhelming prospect.  Thankfully friends there have been giving me things to check into and people to contact, which has been very, very helpful.  We are trusting the Lord will lead us to the right things to get involved with!

Another very sad change was the passing of Bob's mom Ann. I am so glad we were all, including Nathan and Luke, able to see her and Bob's dad over Christmas.
 Here is a picture from October, when she celebrated her 91st birthday!
 Although she was 91 years old, she and Bob's dad have been in honestly amazing good health for people in their early 90's.  Until the end of February when she was taken to the hospital, they were living by themselves in the house Bob and his 5 siblings grew up in--the one with one bathroom which is on the second floor.  Obviously going up and down those stairs for so many years must have kept them young!  But then she got some kind of infection and had to be taken to the ER on Feb. 27.  The next night she actually had a heart attack, but they were able to get her breathing again and intubated her.  She was moved to a rehab center a few days later, and we thought she was improving.  For the past 3 weekends Bob and his siblings have been visiting her, which was really good, but added even extra driving for Bob, as he fit in those visits, plus trying to see us.

Then, sadly, last week she slept a lot more and just seemed weaker, and then she peacefully passed away on Tuesday, March 20, just a month before her and Frank's 70th wedding anniversary (April 17).  There was a lovely funeral service and mass for her yesterday that Bob, Luke, and I were able to attend.  The timing worked out with Luke flying home for spring break on Friday night, so he drove up with us early Saturday morning.  It was really nice to spend the time with him, and also for him to be able to see his cousins, many of which are his same age.  We ended up leaving the younger kids home with Caleb.  Since we left at 5:00 AM, we knew it would just be a really long day for them, and we wanted to be able to focus on everyone there, not worry about them throwing a temper tantrum or being uncooperative at a bad time.  I think it was the right decision.  We were able to visit with family without interruptions, and the kids here at home took it upon themselves to thoroughly clean the main floor of the house and their rooms.  It took them 5 hours, and the end result looked like the cleaning ladies had been here!  What a huge gift!  We thought we were walking back into the wrong house when we got home!

What else has been going on this month . . . Anna and Grace are running track this year, and so practices have started.  So far they prefer cross country, but they haven't actually had a meet yet, so that opinion might change.  I ran track in high school, and I always thought track meets were really fun!
 Also, Caleb got his driver's license on March 17!  He was eligible to get it after Feb. 8, but we were in Germany, and when we got back, it took me a few weeks to get him scheduled for the last thing, his 14 hours of behind-the-wheel training.  But finally I got my act together, and he was able to finish up everything.  We are SO excited to have another driver again!  So far Caleb has taken the girls to track practice, and gone to McDonalds with Jonathan.  He also plotted with Anna and Grace to buy donuts Friday morning, March 23, which were very well-received here!  I am definitely looking forward to him being able to drive himself and Jonathan to CAP meetings.
 It also snowed for really the first time this entire winter on Wednesday, March 21.  It's hard to believe this will be the last time we enjoy this beautiful view off our back deck!  The kids played outside all afternoon, making a snow fort at the end of the street and sledding down the hill a zillion times.  Then we broke out the hot chocolate machine.


 Micah, Drew, and Verity were so thrilled with the snow that they even went back outside after dinner onto the deck for a little more playtime, since we knew it wouldn't last long!  They built a few small snowmen and threw a bunch of snowballs (it's all fun and games until someone comes in crying, lol).  I'm so glad we had at least one snow this winter!

We celebrated Anna's 12th birthday on Wednesday, March 28, with not one, but two cakes!  She made the carrot cake herself.  We had the McC's over for her birthday dinner, which was pulled pork sliders, but we didn't open presents until Friday.  Nathan drove in for the weekend that day, so we were all together, which was so fun!
On Thursday, March 29, we had this big dead oak tree in our back yard cut down.  I was so worried about it a few weeks ago when we had a big windstorm one night.  I was outside Thursday afternoon checking the mail when a truck drove up and some guy asked if we wanted to have the dead tree cut down.  Fortunately Bob was home to talk to them, because he did computer training all week and was able to do it here and not in Ohio.  So they agreed on terms, and the tree came down.  Hallelujah!  I was so happy and relieved!  When I took the picture, the guy had already cut off higher parts.  We enjoyed watching the show from our family room windows!  The tree was pretty tall, and I was so worried it was going to crash into our house--or one of the neighbors.  We had a fire in our fire pit Friday night, but we could conceivably have a fire every night for years before burning it all up.  We used the 4 large pieces from the trunk to make benches around the fire pit.  And the kids are happy to have a stump to play on!

So that was March, in a nutshell. A sad month, but also good memories in there too.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

C-17 Flight Out

Sunday morning, Feb. 18, found us once again at the terminal.  This time things looked positive, however--the flight to McGuire was releasing 53 seats, which is all of them on a C-17.  I assumed it must be an empty plane. 

Roll call was at 9:30, but it took a long time.  They would call off several names, and then have a period of waiting while those people went up and got their luggage weighed and received boarding passes.  Then they would call off more names.  We knew it would be iffy for there to be room for all of us, but still, we were happy so many people were being called, since we knew we would have an excellent shot at getting out on the next flight to Dover that evening.  There were several more flights to Dover the next day, so things were finally looking up!

FINALLY they called our name.  We were one of the last ones.  We made our cumbersome way up to the check-in desk to get all our bags weighed and our passports/IDs checked.  At the very last minute, I realized Micah was wearing crocs, which is a big no-no on military aircraft--"No open toed or open heeled shoes allowed".  Praise the Lord, I realized it when I did because I was able to grab his tennis shoes out of the suitcase for him to put on.  Whew!

We also bought 4 box lunches for the flight at the desk.  These cost $5.50 each, making the grand total for this leg of our trip $22.00.  It doesn't cost anything for the actual flight when you are on military aircraft, so we saved a lot of money by not getting on the Rotator!  I think that costs $36.20 per person for the flight from Ramstein to BWI because the airport tax is much higher than when you fly from BWI to Ramstein.

After we got our boarding passes, it was more waiting.  But at least we were excited about heading back to the US!  We started thinking about what on earth we would do once we got to McGuire, which is a little under 3 hours from where our van was at BWI.  I messaged with Joanna, a friend from Maryland, but we had no idea when we would take off, or when we would land.  In fact, the computer screen at the terminal said the flight was going through Gander International Airport in Newfoundland, so who knew how long that would take?! 

Finally we got in line to go through security.  It was there that we realized Caleb had packed his full-size tube of toothpaste in his backpack instead of his suitcase.  Oops!  Oh well--plenty  more of that at home!
This is what a C-17 looks like (although this is not the one we were on).  We had ridden on them before twice--once to Travis and once back to Dover in 2014 on our big Hawaii adventure.  They took us by bus out on the flightline to the aircraft. 
When we got on, I was surprised to see it was most definitely not empty!  There was a big pallet in the front, then 4 big propellers, then more pallets in the back.  On our previous C-17 flights, we had been able to spread out all over the middle of the plane, but that was not the case here!  It took awhile for people to move around to we could have 10 seats together.  I would have been happy to let someone else sit by Micah, Drew, or Verity, but apparently, no one wanted that opportunity.  Ha!
Better picture of all the propellers and pallets.  It is definitely a cavernously huge aircraft!
Verity fell asleep really quickly.  We taxied for approximately forever, and she might have fallen asleep before we even took off, lol.  No, I think she waited a little bit longer.  They provide plastic-wrapped bundles of blankets with pillows, which are nice because it's cold at first.  The door stayed open for a while, so it got pretty chilly.
We broke open our 4 box lunches fairly soon after take-off, since it was lunchtime.  I think we took off around 2:00 German time.  The lunches are pretty nice, which we remembered from our other trips and was why we didn't buy one for each person!  They included either 2 Uncrustable peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or a submarine sandwich or a box of chicken tenders.  We also had the rest of our lunch meat and cheese, which some remaining brotchen, so the rest of us had sandwiches with that.  Then there were also chips, and various snack options like rice krispie treats, granola bars, bags of mini cookies, candy bars, etc (at least 2 options in each box) and a water bottle as well as either a can of pop or a bottle of gatorade.  Plenty of food to go around!
Faith had her Christmas headphones (a present from Anna and Grace) to listen too.  Everyone else had to wear ear plugs.  I had thought ahead and ordered of amazon squishier, nicer ear plugs than the ones they give out.  They worked great for those of us with more adult sized ear canals, but I still struggled to keep in Micah's, Drew's, and Verity's!  I wished I had thought to bring one of those stretchy hair headband things--something like might have helped the earplugs stay in Verity's ears.  I had even cut in half a bunch of pairs the night before so that I could use skinnier ones, but they still were not a perfect solution!
I made the little kids wear their hats, since that was all I had, to try to keep the earplugs in, but they were not incredibly successful.  Next time, I'll have a better plan . . .
Right above the girls' heads was the only set of plugs on our side, so people kept plugging things in there to charge them.  Again, a perk of military flights!  On previous flights, people brought aerobeds and blew them up with the electric outlets!
There was no room for aerobeds here.  You totally can't see in this picture, but we actually did spread the 2 sleeping bags out in the aisle right by our feet.  The kids liked to lay down there, although no one slept there!  The good thing about the C-17 is plenty of leg room for everyone!  The seats really aren't too uncomfortable, although 9 hours is a little bit long.  When people were in the sleeping bags, that opened up extra seats, so I laid across 2 seats with a pillow in the gap.  I fell asleep a few times, but boy, I must have been interrupted 20 times by various people and various complaints!  Very trivial ones, I might add.  Plus, It was pretty much impossible to hear anyone since the plane is so loud and we all had ear plugs in, so I would be awoken by violent shaking, and then someone would lean over me and move their lips.  Eventually I would sort of understand what they were saying (usually things like, "I need to poop, but I don't want to go to the front of the airplane by myself" or "I can't sleep" or something earth-shattering like that).  I made many trips to the tiny bathroom up front with people because I was the favored escort.  How special, lol. 

You can see that the lighting is different in the above picture.  At some point (cruising altitude maybe?) they turn off the nice bright lights that run along the sides of the aircraft and just have this green lighting.  I had thought before it was because it was night time, but it turns out that is just what always happens!  It made reading hard for me, but I persevered.  I was able to finish Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, about making good snap decisions.  It was very interesting, as I have found all his books to be, and I really enjoyed it. 
Verity did fall asleep again, and she stayed asleep until we landed and taxied in.  She had pulled her hat over her eyes in a sort of "do not disturb" sign.  She was not real happy about being woken up!  

By the time we got into the McGuire terminal, it was 5:15 eastern, which is 11:15 PM Ramstein time.  We got our passports stamped, got our bags, and went through customs (which consisted of a guy standing in the middle of us all and asking us if anyone had anything to declare?  No?  Okay, free to go.)

So . . . where to go??  Since it was after 5:00 on a Sunday afternoon, all the rental places were closed.  Someone told us we could take a train down to BWI, but that would be very expensive, and we would have to get ourselves to the train station in Trenton.  But Joanna came to our rescue!  She drove up to McGuire, which was 4 hours from her house, to pick us up!  We were SO thankful!  While we waited for her, we had a lovely chat with some of the other retirees that had been waiting with us for the week at the Ramstein terminal.  Space-a travelers are so nice!  

Finally they left, and we had the terminal to ourselves, except for a few guys who work there.  We were just thankful it is a 24 hour terminal!  We ordered Dominos Pizza, since they were allowed to deliver on base, and they brought it right to us.  It tasted so good!  The kid played in the big kids room, which was really nice.  

Joanna got there about 10:45, and she drove us to BWI so we could pick up our van.  Words can't express our relief when she drove up!  She is an angel!  She and I had a lovely visit on the way to BWI, and then we each got home around 2:45 AM.  Bob and I had been up for about 26 hours, and we were so tired!  It was so good to be home and in our own beds!

Funny afterthought--when I was helping Drew write a birthday letter to Luke, I asked him to tell Luke what his favorite thing was about the trip.  Drew said . . . his snack bag.  Yes, the gallon size ziploc bag I filled with snacks (a gallon bag for each person!) was his absolute favorite thing!  I guess they were really amazing snacks . . . even better than palaces and Roman forts!  Haha!  I hope that's not the only thing Drew remembers about this trip!




Friday, March 02, 2018

Last Day

We woke up thinking that Saturday was fairly likely to be our last day in Germany.  There was scheduled on Sunday a flight to McGuire mid-morning, and a flight to Dover in the late afternoon.  There had actually been a flight to Andrews with roll call early Saturday morning (as in 0300).  We had been debating whether we should try for the Andrews flight, but then it came out with 0 seats being released, so we figured we shouldn't even bother.  As it turned out, it ended up releasing 10 seats, but only 2 people were there to get on, and we *might* have been able to get on (sometimes they will release another seat or 2 if there were just a few more needed), but it was a pretty big risk and would have messed up the entire next day if it hadn't worked, so I was glad we didn't worry about it.

We had been planning to visit the ruins of Nanstein Castle Saturday for one last hoorah of sightseeing, but when we woke up, it was cold, gray and snowing.  So walking around ruins sounded particularly miserable, lol.

Instead, we decided we should go out to a German restaurant, since we had never actually done that.  It was intimidating with such a big group, which is why we had never done it before.  I got to work googling restaurants in Ramstein, and we decided on "Maxi's".  There wasn't a huge selection right in Ramstein, but neither of us really wanted to drive into Kaiserslautern.  We ate a big breakfast and went for a late lunch--around 1:00.  We figured the restaurant wouldn't be busy then, and we were right.  We were pretty much the only customers, except for a big table of what looked like regulars right by the door!
We ordered 2 plates of wienerschnitzel and 4 plates of jagerschnitzel.  They all came with salads, so we divided those up among us all.  We got fries with the wienerschnitzal and yummy potato croquettes with the jagerschnitzel.  Everyone tried some of everything, and they were big platters, so we had plenty!  Everyone like the croquettes a lot.  I think it was Jonathan who said they tasted like pierogies with a crunchier outside!  The only bad thing was paying 3.50 euros for each carafe of water.  I had a water bottle in my backpack, which I used to refill glasses so we didn't need to buy anymore carafes.  I love my free water!
You can see the snowy landscape outside.  The restaurant was all windows--very bright and airy, even on a really cloudy day!

Afterwards we drove further into the small town of Ramstein to Venezia Eiscafe, which got great reviews on yelp.  And it definitely lived up to the reviews!  One scoop of amazing gelato in a cup or a cone was just 1 euro!  There were lots of different flavors including strawberry (which was SO delicious--like a fresh strawberry but even better!), hazelnut, coconut, cookies and cream, mint chocolate chip, and chocolate (and more that I can't remember, lol).  With so many of us, we were able to taste a wide selection of flavors. 
I personally had chocolate, which was also absolutely delicious.  The older boys went back for another scoop since they had brought their own money!
That night we went back to a grocery store Bob and I had been to by ourselves--Globus.  It was definitely the biggest grocery store we had been in over there.  It was more like a Super Walmart or something because it had more stuff than just food.  It also had some little shops like Super Walmarts do in front of the cash registers, as well as some food places.  We bought pizzas there, and Bob also bought half of a rotisserie chicken. 
We also bought a beer!  Since the legal drinking age in Germany is 16, Caleb had been dying to try some.  Here was his big chance!  He was not impressed.  We actually let all the kids try a sip, and none of them liked it.  They were actually astounded that some people struggle with drinking too much it  I guess it is an acquired taste, lol.  I think we left it 3/4 full on the table when we left.  But it was an experience!

Then we headed back to the TLF to finish packing our stuff up (again)!  Maybe for the last time??

Thursday, March 01, 2018

On Base Living

The temporary living facilities, or TLFs, are housing units that families can live in for up to 30 days (longer if they need to and there is room) when they are PCSing into or out of a duty station.  There are 2, 3, and 4 bedroom units.  For space-a people to stay there, they are all the same amazing price--$63 a night!  We definitely could not have fit 10 people anywhere else for such a price!  Because they are actual housing units, they have a full kitchen, washer and dryer, and pretty much anything else you would need if you were having to live there for a month.  Housing units on Ramstein are wired with both 110 and 220 electricity, so we could pick which outlets we wanted to use because there were both in each room!
This is the back of our unit.  Bob is on the back balcony.  We had a front balcony too in this unit.  Four buildings made a square around a big grassy playground area with picnic tables, a shelter, benches, etc.
Our family room.  You can't see the TV in the left corner, but everyone was thrilled that we could watch the winter Olympics on it, both in English on AFN, and in German!  Sitting there watching them brought back memories of our stay in the TLFs at Travis, where we got stuck there on our way back from Hawaii 4 years ago.  We watched a lot of curling because that always seemed to be on when we were ready to watch!  I guess I have a better understanding of the game, but I'm still no expert, lol.

The couch pulled out to a full bed, and the 3 girls slept on that.  Down the hallway, there was a master bedroom with bathroom (that's where the washer and dryer were too--it was a pretty big bath room!), and a room with 2 twin beds where Micah and Drew slept, and Verity slept on the floor in a sleeping bag we brought on the 2 cushions from the couch.  There was actually a pack-n-play in the master closet we could have used, but she did fine.  There were also 2 rooms with one twin bed in each where Caleb and Jonathan slept.
This is looking over towards the table and the kitchen.  They had 5 place settings of dishes and silverware, so we had to eat in shifts, lol.
This is the playground area.  There were several other families in the TLFs, and so there were plenty of kids around to play with, which was fun.
Micah, Drew, and Verity LOVED the playground!
Wednesday was Valentine's Day, so we went out to lunch at the Chili's on base.  We really NEVER go out to restaurants like that as a family, so that was a big treat for the kids.  Kids meals with drinks!  Woo-hoo!
Celebrating over 25 years of being Valentines!
Verity was appropriately dressed in her red Minnie Mouse outfit she got for Christmas and loves to wear.

When we were stuck at Travis, there were not many food options on base--Burger King and a few choices at the BX food court like Anthony's Pizza and a sub place.  Ramstein, however, had a lot of food options besides just Chili's.  In fact, I am happy to report that we did not once have to eat at Burger King this entire trip!  I don't think I have eaten there anytime in the past 4 years, once we got back from Travis either!

But I digress . . . there was also a free-standing Subway by the bowling alley, a "Pizza Galleria" that we never tried, and a "Flying Pig" BBQ place that we got take-out from Thursday night.  We liked the pulled pork the best, but we also tried the sausage, and the brisket because we got 2 big sampler plates.  Lots of food!

At the KMCC, they also have a smaller Chili's, plus a Macaroni Grill, and then a huge food court by the BX with Taco Bell, Subway, Popeyes, a fish place (like Long John Silver or whatever), a Chinese place, the ubiquitous Anthony's Pizza, and a Johnny Rocket's.  Lots of choices for everyone!  I think we ended up eating there 3 different times because there was something for everyone, and it was pretty cheap!

The KMCC also has all these little shops outside the BX, like a little mall, and we were happy to find some more souvenirs there--2 beautiful Christmas ornaments.
Thursday was another disappointing day at the terminal as we waited for flights that were moved or didn't take many passengers, or just didn't have room.  The last flight to BWI for the week was that day, and it wasn't a 747, so there just weren't very many extra seats.  Again, they didn't even get down to CAT V, which are dependents of people stationed over there trying to get back to the Sates without their sponsor.  Caleb and Jonathan did more Potters classes at the terminal.  Wi-fi was spotty there, and very spotty at the TLF, so that made it challenging.

When we knew we didn't get out, Bob trudged back over to the lodging front desk, and fortunately we were able to get another 4 bedroom unit for 2 more nights, since the next scheduled chance for flights looked like Sunday.  It was exactly the same as the first one, except the dryer was wonky and would only run for about 5 minutes before shutting off.  We finally just ended up spreading out our laundry over all the radiators, and things dried quite nicely, although it looked incredibly messy with clothes strewn everywhere!
Friday we went bowling.  Usually we only bowl in Ohio when we are visiting my parents, so (most) people were pretty excited by this bonus bowling opportunity!  Bowling on base is really nice because it is quite a bit cheaper than bowling off base, and since it was work hours, it was almost empty!

If you look closely in the picture at the back of the chair behind Drew, by Bob's arm, you can see another figure who was there with us:
Sebastian the Rubber Ducky.  Apparently rubber duckies like this are a big thing, and Jonathan picked this guy up when we were in Wiesbaden.  He participated in all our activities after that.
After we got back, some of the kids and I went to yet a different playground just a block away.
This one was really neat--like an obstacle course or something, but you really could climb all over it.  It was very challenging, and there were ways to make it challenging or easy for all levels.
If it hadn't been so cold, I am sure the kids would never have wanted to leave!  We stayed there a good while anyways, and Faith even ran around in short sleeves, but don't be fooled--it was actually pretty chilly!

While we were at the park, Caleb and Anna walked over to the base library to see if the wi-fi there was better than that of our room (yes).  Everyone really loved how safe the base was, so they could do things like walk somewhere by themselves, and how close by everything is too.  It's totally like a small town.  Anna came back saying, "When I grow up, I want to live on a base like this!'

I told her, "Well, just marry someone in the Air Force!"

She just looked at me and said, "Why would I do that?!  *I'M* going to be in the Air Force!"

Haha!  I remember having those same thoughts when I was her age, though, and look at me now, lol.  We shall see!  I was really glad the kids could have this experience of life on a base, since it is very different from life in northern VA.  It was also a surprisingly restful time for me--there was really nothing to do, since I wasn't really cooking, and we simply didn't have that much stuff there to mess up the place!  Bob's back was still really bothering him, so that is why we had to take a break from sight-seeing.  

I did drive to 2 different German grocery stores, and it was just my car,  not Bob's!  I can definitely say I have done my fair share of Autobahn driving now--hours and hours of it!  And I finally became somewhat comfortable with the speed limits in kph instead of mph.  (Cool trick I learned:  drop the 0 from the end of kph speed limit, then multiply by 6 to get an estimate of MPH speed.  So 30 kmp is like 18 mph, and 120 is 76.)  I still felt like I really had to concentrate while driving, especially at night.  There were just too many unfamiliar signs out there, plus I was always struggling to read the GPS!

We became quite adept at finding our breakfast and lunch favorites in the grocery stores.  Everyone loved the German yogurt ("joghurt") with this chocolate muesli mixed in, and we also bought several varieties of cereal during our time there.  We did have to buy a bunch of milk cartons because they are tiny there--a liter, I think?  We rationed milk very severely while we were there!  Caleb in particular fell in love with "golden toast", and we actually went through 3 jars of jam to put on the many loaves of "golden toast" that we bought, lol.  That bread made the most perfect toast . . . yum!  For lunch it was lunchmeat--ham (schinken) or chicken (hanchenbrust) with good Kerrygold cheddar (or good old American processed cheese, which we surprisingly found in both Hit and Lidl, for the philistines among us) on brotchen.  Siri told us they don't really eat turkey over there, but it was okay, because I just called the chicken "turkey", and the younger, pickier, non-readers were non the wiser, lol.  

So we hung out on the base for a total of 5 days, by the end of it, and it was really pretty fun.  Once, when Anna, Grace, Faith, Verity, and I were coming back from Lidl, the gate guard told me there was a problem with my ID card because it wasn't "registering in the system".  I got all panicked--but then I realized what he meant was it wasn't registering because I am not stationed over there--of course I am not "in the system"!  He obviously didn't look very clearly at my ID card, which very clearly says "retired" on it, but he did carefully peer into the car to see several young kids, and he just assumed we were stationed there!  From then on, I made sure to tell the guards we were there on vacation, "hoping to space-a out soon", and no one said anything else.  Fun times!


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Space-A Disappointment

Monday, Feb. 12, we cleaned, did laundry, and packed.  That took the whole day, lol.  Bob did take the younger kids to McDonalds for a special treat for lunch, and they brought home fun "Happy Meal" boxes in German, plus some Snoopy toys.  You can tell it was a fun special treat because we *never* get happy meals at home!

Tuesday morning we packed up the car and headed back to Ramstein, leaving at 9:00.  I had checked the Ramstein terminal space-a page earlier, and it said 50 seats were being released, so we were all feeling pretty good about our chances!

After we got gas in the rental cars, we even had time to stop by the Officers' Club to take a picture!  This is where my parents met, back in 1963!

But then we got to the terminal.  After signing in and being marked present, we started talking to the others waiting around.  One group of retirees had been trying to get out for the past WEEK!  They were actually on an airplane to McGuire earlier that morning, and it took off, flew out for 1 1/2 hours--and then turned around and headed back.  There was some mechanical problem, so they took off again and limped on back, but they weren't allowed to take passengers or extra luggage.  How disappointing for those 30 space-a passengers!  So all those people, plus many, many more were waiting to get on this same flight we were.  And we were at the very bottom of the list.  There were at least 70 people ahead of us!
My one regret this trip was that we hadn't really gotten any souvenirs, other than the books from the bookstore and the items from the Roman fort.  But in all our walking, there was no "souvenir shop" that we passed, and even in Ludwigsburg Palace, their gift shop was closed for the winter!

Because we were early, however, Caleb, Jonathan, Anna, and I ran across the street to the big KMCC complex, where there is a little Express Shoppette that retirees are allowed to shop at (we can't use the regular BX and commissary or get gas on base because we're not stationed here).  They had some fun little things, so we bought another magnet for our fridge, plus Caleb and Jonathan got these nice glass steins (which were much, MUCH cheaper than the lovely ceramic ones).  So we came back over and managed to fit them into our suitcases (after Caleb and Jonathan inaugurated their steins with coke from the vending machine).
The USO upstairs in the terminal was having a special Valentine's Day brunch, so we all went through the line and got scrambled eggs, hash browns, french toast, and cupcakes.
But alas, after waiting around for a long time, the plane only ended up taking 25 passengers.  Not even all the active duty people got out.  And there were no flights on the horizon for Wednesday, so that meant all those same people would be waiting for the net flight to BWI on Wednesday, same as us.  Sigh.

We decided to see if we could stay in a TLF ("temporary living facility") on base, so we would be close as we tried to get out.  Bob went across the street, and yes, there was a 4 bedroom unit available!  Retirees can stay on a space-available basis in lodging on Air Force bases in Germany, but not on Army posts, because ... well, no good reason except the Army is interpreting SOFA differently and more stringently.  We also stopped by the car rental office (we drove there this time, which was much nicer, lol) and were abl to extend the use of both cars.  Whew!  We were disappointed to not get out, but at least we had cars and a close place to stay!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Ludwigsburg and a Visit with Friends

Sunday morning, Feb. 11, we decided to do one more big day of sightseeing.  ONe place that was on my Germany "bucket list" for this trip was Ludwigsburg Palace.  A good friend of mine is from not far from there, and she and her husband had stunning formal wedding pictures taken in the palace.  I had seen the pictures, and I really wanted to see the palace in person! 

It is about 2 hours from Wiesbaden.  Once we got into the town, we had a bit of trouble finding a good parking garage, so we had to turn around.  Then we missed another turn, so we sort of took the scenic route around the palace, lol.  Eventually we found the parking garage.  Incidentally, both this parking garage, and the one in Trier, had a public restroom right there, which was so convenient for those of us traveling with people with little bladders!  I had been worried before we got to Germany that we would never be able to find restrooms, but that fortunately did not turn out to be the case!
Here we all are in front of the palace gates.  Bob flagged down a random stranger to take this picture, which was mortifyingly embarrassing to the teen/tween portion of the family.  But we wanted at least one picture with all of us!  You can barely see Drew though--just his Minion eyes, lol.
We got there with just a few minutes to spare before the English tour.  I had looked at the website earlier to find out the times, which was very convenient.  But then it took a little bit for the guide to get there, so we really didn't need to rush.  Again, the palace gave us the family rate, even though we definitely had more than 4 kids!
This is a picture down the hallway where we were waiting.  Once the tour started, we couldn't take any pictures inside the palace.  Our tour guide, Martina, spoke excellent English, and she was funny!  She thoroughly knew the palace and the history, as well as lots of extra little fun tidbits, so it was a really interesting tour.  Bob's back was really hurting by this time, but what we found in several tourist attractions is they have these little folding chairs that you can just bring with you.  They fold up much smaller than what we think of as folding chairs, and are much easier to carry.  So Bob carried one of those around, and he just sat whenever we stopped for awhile in one room.

For just a brief history, the palace was originally built as a hunting lodge back in the 1600's before getting razed by French forces.  Then Duke Eberhard Ludwig wanted to rebuild it in the early 1700's in the style of Versailles.  He had a rather scandalous life, leaving his wife back in Stuttgart and installing his long-time mistress at this palace.  But his legitimate son died, and so he needed to reconcile with his wife and try for another son, so the mistress was kicked out.  But alas, the wife was in her 50's, so nothing happened, and a Catholic nephew became the duke.  Eventually King Frederick of Wuerrtemburg and his wife, Queen Charlotte, used it as a summer residence.

You can see the wall coverings and furnishings, pretty much just as they were back in the 1700's, when Frederick was living there, which is amazing.  The contrast between those rooms, and those of the servants, was quite striking.  The had the room in the inside of the palace, with no windows and really low ceilings (two rooms on top of each other in the space of one royal room!)  The chapel and the ballroom were probably my favorite rooms. The palace was SO cold though--no wonder it was just used as a summer residence by the king and queen!

The little kids were amazingly well-behaved on this tour, and we got several comments about them.  That was a big relief, because it was a large tour group, and if they had been fussy, it would have been hard for anyone else to hear the guide!  The kids must have been awed by either the cold or all the lavishness, lol.  Fortunately the stories of romantic entanglements and parties of the various residents went right over their heads!
More pictures of the outside from the courtyard, where we could take pictures.
I'm sure this is a very stunning fountain in the summer when it is turned on!
This is the oldest wing.
The place where we met the tour group was in that portico and up the stairs.
The outside of the palace from the garden, which we didn't take time to look through because it was cold, and Bob's back was really hurting.
After we got back to the car, we had another quick lunch in the parking garage of lunch meat/cheese on brotchen.  Then we headed down to Stuttgart to visit an old friend whose husband is stationed there.  It took less than 30 minutes to get there, and we didn't make any wrong turns!
Verity was thrilled that Lisa and Ramey have a daughter the same age as her!  Her name is Anna Claire, which is neat because that is exactly what our Anna's name is!  They ordered tons of pizza, which we all enjoyed.
They live on post, on the 4th floor.  I know all those steps get annoying, but they had a beautiful, light-filled 4-bedroom apartment!  We really enjoyed catching up with them.
Later we played a really fun game called Telestrations.  It's sort of a combination of "telephone" and pictionary.  You can play with up to 12 people, and everyone picks a word off their card.  Then they draw a picture to represent that word and then pass the book to the next person.  They look at your picture and write the word they think you are drawing.  Then they pass the book to the next person, who draws a picture of that book.  By the time all the books get back to their original owner, the pictures/words have morphed hilariously!  We all laughed so hard! 
Micah and Drew had a great time with their youngest son Zach and all his toys!  It was really a great evening for all of us.  We didn't want to leave, but we had to drive back to Wiesbaden!  Fortunately it only took us 2 hours on good Autobahn roads, so it was an easy drive. 
I was so glad we got to visit them!  Lisa and I go way back to 1984.  Both sets of our parents went to the AMCF World Conference in Seoul, Korea, that year, so we met in the kids' program.  Then Lisa and I were on summer support staff at White Sulphur Springs during high school, which was tons of fun.  I think the thing I like best about facebook is being able to keep in touch with friends from way back, whom we have never really lived anywhere near.  Then, on the rare occasions when we do meet in person--it's like we had just seen each other yesterday!  So fun!  Military friendships are a real blessing!