Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Stranger in a Deutschland: Continuing our Adjustration

Oh man, have you ever read such a boo-hoo post as my last one about Surviving Our First Week in Germany? The adjustration (thanks to my writing buddy Tracey Livesay for the word!) continues to be tough.

Seriously, when Kiddo #1 crawls into bed with you one night crying because she misses her friends and everything is so hard, you can't help but wonder if MAYBE YOU'VE MADE THE WORST MISTAKE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.

When Kiddo #3 comes home from school in tears multiple days in a row because he can't seem to make any friends, you wonder it again.

When Kiddo #4 won't get off Oovoo because she talks to her USA friends 24/7... same.

When Kiddo #2 plays X-box Live with his bestie from Virginia all night... well, actually that's just normal and has been happening for years

Yeah... still a lot of adjustration going on in the Crouch family.

But three things have happened in the last week that has made life in our household a little better.

Despite Capt Awesome's nearly 20 years with the DoD, we've never been part of a military base before with our everyday lives. So although I had heard of the Exchange in Norfolk, I didn't really know what it was.
The Panzer Base Exchange

Well, it's a big ol' store that sells just about everything. Kind of a cross between a Walmart and a TJ Maxx (because it is always changing what's in stock). You have to have a military ID to shop there (which I have) and prices are about the same as in the USA, but with no tax.

We'd been here 10 days before we made it into the Exchange, and I can't tell you our relief our entire family felt to go somewhere where everyone spoke English, all the packaging was in English, and they took credit cards with no problems.

Between the Exchange and the Commissary (military grocery store) we were able to find stuff that made life a little easier....
 Do I want to shop there all the time? No. Will I be going there at least a couple times a month? Bet on it.

We had three ways of getting all of our stuff over to Germany, so had to prioritize everything into 3 groups.

Our luggage in Norfolk
Batch #1 - Checked Luggage: Everything we couldn't live without, but was small enough to fit in suitcases and fly with us from VA to Germany. This included clothes, toiletries, the X-box, some school supplies, laptops, and various converters/adapters we'd need right away. Fortunately we were able to take as many suitcases as we wanted for free, which ended up being something like 14 checked pieces and 12 carry-ons...

Batch #2 - Unaccompanied Baggage: About 3 weeks before we moved, we were able to ship over up to 1000 pounds of non-furniture items. Anything that we would would want before the majority of our house-hold goods arrived. We shipped some coats, a few games, more school stuff, my computer printer, all my cooking spices and Kiddo #1's guitar. That arrived this week! It's amazing what some stuffed animals, familiar blankets and coffee mugs will do for morale.
UAB stuff may not have been a lot, but my favorite coffee mug made me feel better!

(The rest of our stuff will arrive with Batch #3- Household Goods after we've found our permanent home, sometime hopefully in February/March)

But the best thing that happened this week is..

Junie was accompanied by our friend Carol Ann, who has been watching Junie since we left. Junie couldn't travel with us because dogs can't be flown into Stuttgart, they have to be flown into Frankfurt to be checked out by the German vet. But fortunately there's no quarantine time required in Germany, so OUR FAMILY IS TOGETHER AGAIN.

So, all in all, a better week as the adjustration continues. Next week's goal: ACTUALLY GETTING SOME WRITING ON MY NEW BOOK DONE. We'll see.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Stranger in a Deutschland: Surviving Our First Week

For those who may have just come in on this crazy story, my family (consisting of my hubby, Capt Awesome, and our four kids and I) relocated to Stuttgart, Germany on January 1, 2015. It was part of a promotion for Capt Awesome's job with the Department of Defense.

So I'm starting a new series: A Stranger in a Deutschland, for any posts about our German life/travel/woes/joys.

In case you need further clarification about where we are:

We are right smack in the middle of Europe. Almost exactly. And we've been here almost a week.

Right now I'm trying to get coherent thoughts together about how we're doing. Witty and fun stories I was sure I would have.

I got nothing.

Seriously, this has been a pretty exhausting venture so far. Physically, mentally, emotionally. Ugh. I know the first few days of traveling anywhere multiple timezones away are tough. Jet lag and all that. So I don't know exactly what I was expecting.

happy animated GIF
But... Um, no. That's not how it has been.

I will give you, this is the lovely view from our back window:
And kiddo #1 seeing Europe for the first time from the plane as we came in over Paris while the sun was beginning to rise? Very special:

Plus our first authentic German meal our second day, at a restaurant full of character and a sense of history:

All pretty great. But so far those have been just about the only good things. Everything else has just been hard. (And we've only been able to see the lovely view off our patio a few short hours since we've been here because 1) it's only daylight between 7:30am-4:30pm and 2) it's been rainy, cloudy or foggy 90% of those daylight hours. Not to mention cold.)

But, fine. I'm not one to let rainy days and Mondays get me down, so I can deal with that. It'll clear up. And when it's daylight until 10:30pm during the summer I'll be wishing for the winter.

But really what's been so exhausting (besides the jet lag and having four kids at home) has been THE ADJUSTING.

At first I was saying I was frustrated with all the things that are different here. But really "frustrated" was the wrong word -- too strong. I am ADJUSTING to all the differences here. 

And it's not that the differences are bad, they're just different. But it's still pretty exhausting.

The biggest pitfall is easily recognizable and understandable: we don't speak the language and everything spoken around us is impossible to understand. We have to rely on others to know our language to be able to do the simplest of things. Here's my joke about myself:

What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual
What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual
What do you call someone who speaks one language? American

Hahahaha. Hilarious. Except for if you're trying to order food at a restaurant and the waiter doesn't understand what you want and you have four hungry kids who are bickering with one another. Then not quite as funny.

I admit, I have learned three German sentences that have gotten me pretty far: Es tut mir leid. Mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut. Sprechen sie Englisch?  (You can probably figure it out, but if not try Google Translate. It's become my most used app)

There are other adjustments:

- A frig roughly 1/3 size of mine in Virginia, that still needs to keep enough refrigerated food for six people.
- Kids having to share room.
- Pressing down on the light switches when you need lights to come on. And the outlets? Luckily I'm married to an engineer who figures out voltage converters and math stuff...
- Euros rather than dollars. And don't even get me started on exchange rates (math again).
- Our bathroom in all its yellowness:
- Different types of food, none of them quite American, even the American chains.
- Our bed, which is as soft as the ground.
- New phones (Viber and WhatsApp has become an important part of our lives. What to chat?)
- This train map being my primary means of transportation:
(Asking for directions is comical. I can't pronounce any of these stops/towns.)

So yeah, week one is almost down, and it has been A CHANGE. I know we'll continue to adjust (kids starting school on Thursday will really help), and that things that were once normal (laundry, dish-washing, grocery shopping) will become so again. 

And that we'll stop referring to Virginia as "home" and will start thinking of here as home.

I know it will all happen. I just hope it's sooner, rather than later.