Saturday, June 22, 2013

Military Move to Germany: Part 3

If you missed Part 1 and 2 you can click below to read them:

Finding a car and a house.

The military community generally isn't very sympathetic.  Ain't nobody got time for that.  I don't mean they are cold and uncaring;  quiet the opposite.  There just isn't a ton of sitting around and lamenting about things.  We get them done.  Soldiers are gone for weeks, months and a year here and there and spouses don't sit around and say, "You poor thing."  Instead they may list the number of times their spouse deployed. ...."I remember our third deployment..."  etc.

Years ago when I was a Captain on active duty stationed in Germany I had a co-worker/friend named Cyndi.  Cyndi's mom came to visit and she could not believe it when another friend needed a car (I can't remember why) and Cyndi gave the friend in need her car to use.  "I can't believe you just gave someone your car to use," her mom gasped.  That's the kind of thing we do in the military, especially when living overseas.  

 The military pays to send one vehicle so we sold our 12 passenger van and kept the car.  After about two weeks, our car arrived! 
The last time we moved to Germany, 7 years ago, we brought a Suburban.  It was just too big to get around the teeny European streets and parking garages.  Sadly we sold it.  But, we found an 8 passenger Mercedes van that ran on Diesel.  This thing was built to fit in the German/European streets and parking lots!  And, each of the 8 seats was a full size seat.  We drove it for almost 4 years and had to sell it when left because it has German "Specs" and can't be driven in the US. 

The choice is US specs vs. German spec.  If we buy a German spec car, we can't ship it back to the states.  However, we thought we would get another German Spec van with 9 seats this time because of how easy it is to drive here,  the generous size of the seats, and we'd have a extra seat.  We looked for used cars online and went to about 6 places to look at these vans.  One of the places we went looked like Iraq.  Lines of used cars and little cubicles that were "Offices" for the owners of about 50 individual used car dealers.  There were no other women inside the perimeter. Our dealer wasn't wearing a shirt.  He was from Romania and was very happy.  We test drove a van that my husband wanted to get because the price was right.  However, there were holes in the inside panels, dirt that looked like graffiti lined the seat-backs, and there was no air-conditioning in the rear.  We didn't get it.   

 I really wanted to get a German van with 9 seats so that we would have an extra seat.  I gave up that idea when my husband reminded me that we lost a ton of money when we had to sell our van before leaving last time.  That would probably happen again this time so when we found out our friends were selling an 8 seat US spec mini-van we took a look at. 

That was it.  

The van still has the new-car smell, the AC works front and rear...and, hey, no holes in the panels nor graffiti looking dirt!  My friend kept saying, "You're getting a GREAT van."  
We can even keep it when we move back to the States if we want.  

We've been living out of a suitcase for about 5 weeks now.  We're in an Army Guest Lodge which is basically a hotel.  Breakfast is provided.  Maids make the bed and clean the room everyday!  Ah.....

Okay, okay.   We need to find a place of our own...without maid service...  

Did I mention I'm doing most of the car and house German?  Texts, emails, phone calls and appointments all in German.  I speak German, but I'm not fluent.  So, everyday I feel like I've just taken a test.  I'm so thankful I took German in Junior High!  My concern is that just when I think I'm understanding the realtor (Immobelien)  they may actually have said, "There is a zebra in the backyard that comes with the house"  and I just say, "Ja."  So far, no zebras.

Back to the house.  The military provides houses in Germany when they are available.  They are available for some people here now, but not for a family of 8.   So we get to live off-post, "on the economy."  I love living in the little German towns with the local backeries, grocery stores, ice cream cafes.  Unfortunately, with the other military posts closing there a ton of people looking for houses now and very few available to rent.  

We've looked at about a dozen and haven't found the right one yet.  

 Recently I've heard a few people say, "What is God trying to teach me in this situation?"  Come on.  It's summer break.  I don't wanna learn!  Well, maybe it's patience for me.  I've been uncharacteristically patiently waiting for a house that would work for us...6 kids, a dog, homeschooling, close to a bakery, close to the military post, a place for visitors if possible,  and a place for about 15 bikes! 

When we first started looking for houses I was speaking to a German woman who helps people transitioning here with the military.  One of the landlords wouldn't let us rent his house because he said we have too many people for the house.  That's legal here.  I told the woman what he said.  She said that German landlords don't like alot of children.  I said that some of them told me "Congratulations" after asking how many children we have.  She said, "Yes.  They say, 'Congratulations, but You can't rent my house!'"  We've had about six landlords say we have too many people for their house...even one that was over 3500 square feet. 

How German houses differ from US houses.  German houses rarely have closets.  They use schrunks.   There are no garbage disposals.  Kitchens are often teeny.  Refridgerators are about half the size of those in the US.  The Army will lend one to families if they can find a place for it in their house.  The electrcity is 110v so most US electrical equipment doesn't work unless it's dual voltage or you hook it up to a transformer, which can get expensive.   German washers and dryers are small and take forever to run through a cycle.  They don't have door knobs- there a door handles.  They are usually smaller.

It's a process.  A slow process.  We'll get it done.  Almost 20 moves in 26 years.  Like I said above about listing number of deployments, we also list the number of moves we've had. 

Hope you enjoyed the three part series. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Military Move to Germany: Part 2

To read part one, click here:   

We literally took a plane, a train and automobiles to get to Germany.  We got up at 0430 Eastern Time on a Monday and arrived in Germany the next day in the morning.

I've been moving with the military for 28 years (I spent 20 years in the Army and my husband is still on active duty) and here is something very unusual that happened during this move...we got to travel with our friends who were also moving to Germany!  They lived two doors away from us in Texas and when they found out they were moving to Germany I stalked researched their moving dates so that we could be on the same plane!   I confessed my researching to my friend and she said she was glad we were flying together- whew!  Our younger kids and all of their kids played together almost every day in Texas so it was great to share this exciting trip together!  Our friends are going to a separate Post, so after we arrived and were "inprocessed" (Army term for getting checked-in), we went our separate ways.  I'm sure we'll see other soon.

First Ten Things I Did After Arriving in Germany 
During a Military Move
The day after we arrived my good friend picked my up at the Military Guest Lodge and started getting me what I needed to survive.  I had no car and no (required Military issued) driver's license so that was a huge help.  Otherwise I would be riding a bus around from post to post.

My kids slept until about 2:00 pm and I got up early and got a ton done! I have teens now so now I can leave my kids when I need to go somewhere unlike the last time I moved here with 5 kids ages 2-10.

So, here's what I did the first few days in country this time.

1.  Get registered.   The viscous need to get "on post"  (on the military installation) to start getting settled.  To get on post you need to have your military ID registered at a post in Germany.  The registration office is ON the post.  So, you have to explain to the (armed) guard that you just arrived and you are on your way to the registration office.  My ID was "archived" in the computerized system from the last time I lived here so the guard let me on post to get registered.  

2.  Local Bank Account.  I don't think it's possible NOT to get a local bank account when you live here (with the military).  Thankfully, there is an American bank on post.  My husband set this up so now we can use to to transfer money to buy a vehicle, get a cell phone plan, rent a house, etc.  When living here with the military we use both US dollars and Euro because the post takes the American money and we use Euro in Germany and other European countries.  When we travel to countries that don't use Euro (ie:  Switzerland, Turkey) we do a currency exchange at the bank before we go.  Some people have two different with US dollars and the other with Euro. 

3.  Driver's license.  Military and family members are required to get a European driver's license that's issued by the military if they want to drive here.  To get this license we have to have a US driver's license.  Then we have to take a test that has questions about the German driving laws and many of the street signs.  There is a website with a study guide, a printed study guide and a class that you take before you take the test.  This is the third time I've taken the test...I've never taken it without almost falling asleep from jet-lag though!  My husband and I took it a few days after we arrived and we both passed!  Now we can drive.  But, we don't have a car.  Our one vehicle that the Army shipped is on a boat on it's way here.  Thankfully we have wonderful, trusting friends here and one of them gave us his truck to borrow, however we refer to it as der Tank because, compared to the compact European vehicles, it drives/looks like a, um,  tank.  Not complaining though!  It seats 5 so we are still bumming rides when we all need to get somewhere.  Then we took our kids who have military IDs (all Army kids get an ID when they turn 10) to get them registered so they could get on the military posts.

4.  Cell Phones. Cell phone options have changed significantly since we left Germany three years ago.  Last time I couldn't get an unlimited plan so I had a pay-as-you-go phone so I wouldn't go over my allotted usage.  Now there are plans with unlimited calling and text, etc.  Yessss!  However, many people still prefer the phone where you buy minutes as you need them.  We can get mobile phones from stores on US posts or from German stores.  It took me a few trips to the store to see what t5he options and prices are;  there are many.  I chose an unlimited plan with data and I bought a few cheap pay-as-you-go phones for our family so we have "commo" while we are getting settled.  We have numerous friends here so my kids are going in multiple directions with friends already.

5.  Ration Card.  I cracked up when my husband came home from his office the first day and said, "Here's your ration card."  The ration card is an anachronism, left over from post WW II days when items such as alcohol, cigaretttes and coffee needed to be rationed.  To buy those items at the PX or Commissary we need a ration card and we are limited to a certain amount each month.  It's somewhat comical because the Germans don't ration these items and we can go downtown to local German stores and buy as much as we want!  And, it's often cheaper and better.

6.  Went out to German restaurant and a...


 local town festival where people lined the streets eating a drinking.
Street Festival

It felt we were back home at the local festival. 


Nutella Crepes

7. Library Card.  This really doesn't need to be on the top ten list but while I was out and about I stopped at the local military library and got a Library Card.  No books.  Just the card. But it feels good to have accesses...and it's a necessity if you homeschool!

8. Internet/phone access. Ahhh...our Lodge has internet!!  Access to the world!  And, we have "Magic Jack" so we (read that, "my husband") hooked it up to the computer and now we can make phone calls to the US for $20/year- total.  We used the Magic Jack in the States and it cost about $70 to buy it and $20/year to make calls throughout the US.  At night we need to take it off the hook so we don't get the telemarketers calling during our night (we are 7 hours later than Texas time).

9. GPS.   Most Americans who are here with the military have a GPS to navigate in Europe.  The Post Exchange (PX) has numerous GPSs to chose from.  As we look for houses and cars, having a GPS is invaluable so it's one of the first things I bought.  She does sound awkward trying to pronounce the German street names though!

10.  Look for cars and a house...I'm saving this for Part 3.  Check back next week or sign up to become a follower if you haven't already.  

Friday, June 7, 2013

Military Move to Germany: Part 1

We're moving back to Germany.  We left there three years ago.  After spending three years in San Antonio, Texas, we are returning.

Yes,  I homeschooled there before and, yes, I will continue to homeschool there.  It's possible I may regret posting that last sentence...."I will continue to homeschool" in Germany.  As many of you know, it's illegal to homeschool in Germany.  However, as a US military family we have an exception and we are able to teach our own children there...for now.

But, I wanted to give you a glimpse of a military move overseas for a large homeschooling family so I'm risking writing this. 

Top Ten Things to Consider When an Army Family Moves to Germany

1.  Household Goods:  That's our "stuff."  The government gives us a "weight allowance" based on the service member's rank not based on how many people are in the family, or whether they operate a school in their home or have a business that must be moved too.   If you move more than your allotted weight, you are responsible for paying for the extra amount.  We paid for some extra weight the last time we moved and we may pay again this time.  My school accounts for probably 3000-4000 lbs and we are allotted about 18000 lbs for our entire family.

Starting about 4 months before the move, we gradually try to get rid of everything we can!  This time we sold an almost new futon, bar stools, hanging wooden porch swing, park-style bench, bikes, armoireAdirondac chairs, strollers, crib (sooo sad!), and other items that I can't even remember right now!  We gave away an attic full of "stuff" too.

We can choose to put some items in storage.  Those items still count towards our "weight allowance" but we won't need, nor have room for much of our stuff in a German house.  Their electricity is 220v and ours is 110v, so we leave many appliances in storage, such as washer, dryer, refrigerator, electric mixers, etc.  The houses that we can afford there are about half the size of the house we have in the States so we stored numerous antique pieces, beds, a sofa, etc.  This is the third time I'm moving to Germany so I kinda have an idea of what the houses will be like.

 Our belongings will go in locked crates on a slow ship to Germany.

Just to keep it memorable,  it rained when they loaded our stuff into the truck.

Goodbye home.

2.  Packing:  It sounds so easy...The Army moves us.  They pack, load and transport our stuff.  It certainly is easier than doing it ourselves, but there is much time involved in deciding what goes where and when.  What goes in storage?  What goes on the plane in our suitcases?  What goes in our small shipment that arrives first and what goes in the main shipment?  The last time we moved to Germany we were in temporary housing (with minimal necessities) for four months.  Steve was deployed and I moved into our house while he was gone.  With 5 kids ages 2,4, 6, 8 and 10. 

After that is ostensibly decided then everything needs to be separated at some point so the movers can pack the right items for the right move.  Once that starts, it's really difficult to remember what you actually did with anything!  BTW, the movers will pack everything, except basically liquids, including trash!  So, you have to be diligent in getting ready for them to come!  Yes, I've had trash packed.  It can be a little concerning for me when people I just met are handling my delicate china, precious heirlooms and even underwear!

Although separating may sound easy, it can be difficult to do while you are still living in the house, especially with a large family, since there is no extra space to keep things separated because one of the last things to do is pack what you will take on the plane with you.  Make sure and keep that away from the movers (who are doing their job very well) or they will pack your suitcases and you will see them again in 2-4 months!  Our last movers told us to put things on the beds that we didn't want to get packed.   That only works until they pack the beds! 

3.  Vehicles:  The Army will pay to ship one vehicle overseas for each active duty service member.  I am retired from the Army so they will only ship one for us.  You can either pay to ship the other(s) or sell it (them)...if you can.  The last time we moved to Germany I took a 6 month old (we bought it before we knew were moving there) Suburban.  Okay.  Just in case you aren't familiar with European streets and parking lots, they are made for uber-compact vehicles!  NOT American sized ones!  I sold that thing about 6 months after moving there.  This time we had to sell our beloved 12 passenger van!  It was our family's signature vehicle!  Sigh.
The quintessential large homeschooling family van!  Sold!

4.  School:  If you've homeschooled long enough, you know that you can alter your schedule and still "finish" your school year.  "Finishing" is different for everyone, but we were done with most of our work the day before the movers came.  Some of the kids are supposed to be working on math over the summer.  So, you don't actually have to finish before you leave, you can finish after you get to where you are going which  gives the kids something to do in the hotel on "the other side."  But, 'll leave that  topic for a subsequent post!  One thing I do if I can is put school books for the beginning of next school in my small shipment that gets there quickly,  That way, if I am not in my permanent home when I want to start school I can at least have some of my school books (at least in theory as I might not be able to get that shipment when I want it!).

We spent the last day of school at Sea World!

5.  Pets:  You can take pets to Germany.  If you live "on-post" (in military housing) there are restrictions as to how many, and what type, of pets you can have.  We have a two year old, not well trained, Golden Retriever who is definitely a member of our family.   We debated on whether to keep her or giver her away.  We even found people willing to take a not-well-trained Golden!!  You see, the Germans have only well-trained dogs.  They sit with their owners at dinners at restaurants and you never even know they are there.  So, having a dog running out the front door to greet the neighbor will most likely not go over well.  It could even be worse than that I'm sure.  The Germans have laws about how animals must be treated (ie:  walked a certain number of times each day).   Knowing all of that, we still could not part with our family member.  She will stay with our wonderful friends in Texas  (who we met when we lived in Germany last time) until we get settled, and it's cool enough to put her on an airplane, and then we will pay about $700 to fly her to Germany.  That is going to be one very happy reunion!!

Our Darby  (p.s.  we sold the rug she is lying on too!)

6.  Passports, Driver's Licenses and  Important Documents:  Uch. The agony of paperwork!  We have to get "official" military passports to travel and, if we want to travel while we are living there, we need to have "civilian" passports too.  We already had our civilian passports, so that was easy this time!  My husband and I got International Driver's licenses from AAA (for about $15) to use when traveling outside of Germany which is a requirement.   BTW, if you decide to visit Europe, or friends in Germany, get an International Driver's License before you go.  I hand carry important documents in my carry-on luggage.  There are some documents that I just don't want to try to go through the hassle of replacing should they be lost.  Anything could get lost or damaged during military moves so I carry my marriage license,  my military DD 214, birth certificates, etc.  That's just me.  My carry-on gets heavy, both physically and emotionally, but it gives me peace of mind.  

Over the years we haven't lost much, but we almost always have damage.  The last time we moved to Germany they lost the feet that screw into the bottom of my sofa and I had lug my 5 kids around town looking for them and trying to figure out what they are called in German.  "Couchfüße."  

When we move in the continental US I also hand carry my precious family pictures and photo albums. When we move overseas....I pray fervently for my family pictures to arrive safely!

7.  Temporary Lodging During the Move:  The Army will pay for a few nights for your family to stay in temporary lodging (a hotel or whatever).  Again, they only pay a set amount no matter how many people are in your family.  Sometimes it's enough for our family and sometimes it's not enough and we scramble to find places to stay.  Some families chose to stay in their house until the last day of the move, sleeping on air mattresses sometimes.  I find it difficult to stay that long and then end up with wet towels from showers, and really nothing left in the house that isn't already packed. Which brings me to the next consideration....

8.  What to do with the kids during the move:  Our move started on a Monday and ended that Friday.  Movers were at our house all day, everyday for that entire week culminating with them finishing packing and loading the trucks from 8 am until 11 pm on the last day.  That kind of thing gets old for kids and, well, for adults too!  That's where angels come in.  Since the kids were old enough to go to someone else's house to play without me, we've had friends who would offer to have our kids at their house during the days that the movers were at our house!  One time my two oldest boys were gone for days having a great time with their friends.  I suppose if the kids were in an institutional school it would not be an issue as they would be gone all day, but not when you homeschool.  They are home. All day.  Every day.  So, I am thankful for my angels!  This year it included, but was not limited to, my neighbor who asked if my younger kids (age 4, 9 and 11) would want to come over for pizza and a movie on the last night of our move.  Even before that, we wanted to pack these neighbors up and bring them with us!  The older kids thought it was a great opportunity to hang out with their buddies too because we are moving and it's the last time they will get to hang out.  Which, again, brings me to the next consideration...

Sophia went to gymnastics during the day almost until the day we moved.

9.  Saying Goodbye:  I usually avoid saying goodbye as much as possible but I'll say see-you-later if it's a possibility.  It is often a possibility for military families- you could be stationed at the same place again sometime (although that's rarely been the case for me).  But, it's different for the kids.  Much different.  They will often not ever see their friends again especially when they are young when they move.  

When my oldest was about 8 years old and we moved he had a best friend. Both of our families were really close.  The likelihood of us ever moving back there was slim and they were not planning to ever move as they were a civilian family.  It was hard.  For all of us.  When we moved I promised my son I would take him back to visit his buddy and I did a year later for a weekend.  Man that was hard.  

With this move our neighbors are moving to Germany too and their kids are best friends with my youngest kids.  They will be about an hour away, but if they didn't move here I don't how they could have said goodbye to each other.  The hardest hit this time is my 13 yo daughter. 
She has a few best friends in Texas and one who is moving to Alaska as we move to Germany.  We won't be able to visit them.  She seems to be doing okay with it.  Sometimes, however, the difficulties of a move make themselves known months after the move.  I know we will keep in touch with her friends because we are also extremely close to their parents!  Which brings me to the last consideration.  Parents.

Two sets of brothers...friends for three years.

 10.  Visiting family:  Many of our extended family can't/don't travel.  So, if we want to see our family we have to go to them.  We want to see our families!  Last year one of my kids asked, "Mom, do we have any cousins?"  because we see them so infrequently.  My family is from eastern PA and Steve's is from western NY.  So, for the past few moves we've stopped off in PA and NY on our way to or from Germany.  That means we have to keep track of 2 bags plus a carry-on for each person and get transportation to and from airports and homes for eight people!  Vans that fit 8 people cost too much so we borrow and rent vehicles to make it less expensive to drive from one end of PA to the other end of NY with 8 people.  Anyway, this time we saw as many relatives as possible and my kids know who their cousins are!!  And they get along soooooo well!!

I'm sitting in our temporary lodging in Germany as I write this.  The last two weeks was non-stop.  Getting ready for movers.  Having moving companies maneuver our household goods into three separate moves over five long days.  Traveling across NY and PA to visit at least 5 different families of relatives.  Then taking planes, trains and automobiles to get here.  During one of the days of traveling a visiting relatives we were out at a park and Levi said, "can we go home now?"  How do you answer that?  We have no home ( :  But, we will. We are all so thankful to be here.

Just like every school year looks different, every move is different.  And exciting!

Here we gooooooo....