Saturday, June 30, 2007

We Now Live in Germany!

We are doing it. We are living in Germany...and surviving.

On Tuesday, June 26, the three of us boarded the plane in Detroit...ready to start our news lives in Germany. Ben and I were a bit nervous about Carter on the plane. This was his first flight, after all. Turns out there was no need for worry. He was like an old pro. During the take-off, Carter yelled "GO!!" and watched out the window. He did not appear nervous at all. After the dinner & drink service was finally over, Carter feel asleep in a little makeshift bed on the floor. Despite the $2000 business class seat, Carter preferred the floor! Who cares, he slept the rest of the flight and woke up after we landed.

Despite having a reservation with Hertz for a Focus Wagon, we did not have a car available to us. Our only option was a 9 passenger van that would not have fit in the hotel parking garage. Apparently Hertz knows how to TAKE the reservation, they just don't know how to KEEP the reservation. We had to wait 2 hours at the airport for a rental car. Again, Carter was a trooper. He handled the whole thing much better than me.

Thursday we registered with the German authorities and Carter and I got our residency permits. Ben's will get processed in a few months when the rest of his paperwork catches up. Following registration, we got the keys to our house and Carter seemed quite happy there. At one point when we were all in the car driving some place, Carter suddenly said "happy." When I repeated it, he said "me." And then he said "Mommy happy, Daddy happy, me-me happy!" It was the greatest. He's dealing with this whole thing so well.

On Thursday evening we went over to the Johnson's house for dinner (they are also Ford ISEs). We got a wonderful home cooked meal which was much needed. They have two children (ages 2 & 5). Another co-worker and his 2 year old daughter were there as well. All of the toddlers will be in the same daycare together so we were thrilled to have a chance for Carter to meet them. After complaining about not having our air shipment, yet, and not being able to move into our house despite having the keys, the Johnsons let us borrow an air mattress and bedding and towels. We think the house will be easier to live in with Carter but are we willing to give up some of the comforts of the hotel already?

Friday was delivery day for our wardrobes (closets) and washer & dryer. I better get on those German lessons as the washer/dryer are only in German. The washer is the smallest one I've ever seen. We also visited Carter's new school and spent a couple of hours there. He seems to like it and has already formed a bond with Yurinda, the lead teacher.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Moving out of the Michigan House

The movers arrived on Monday, June 11. Five men with a mission came and packed our house up so quickly and seemed to just whisk it away. There was no time to be sentimental or savor those last few moments. By noon Wednesday, all of our belongings were either in storage, ready for an ocean shipment, on their way to the airport for our air shipment. Carter has been amazing through this whole transition. He loves sleeping on his cot at Nana & Grandpa Gary's house. One of my first thoughts upon seeing the empty house was "gosh, who were the slobs that lived here?" If you think you keep a clean house, you do not. There is nasty stuff that lives under your washing machine and dryer. There are sizeable dust bunnies under all of your beds. At least that was the case at our house. Ben and I set about cleaning. Fortunately, my mom offered to help, too. We spent all of Thursday scrubbing, and washing, and wiping, and painting. Now if only we could find someone to buy the place!

Let me tell you, there's nothing like being homeless (or living in your parents' basement) to make you appreciate the house you once had.

PS - Thanks to all our friends and neighbors who stopped by to say goodbye. We will miss you all tremendously and hope that you can find time to visit us in Germany.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Carla's Business Trip

I had to be in Cologne May 28 through June 7 for work. It's definitely lonely living in a hotel alone in a country where I don't speak the language...a big feeling of isolation. I looked forward to going to work each day just to hear people speaking in English. Every night after work I would walk all over the city exploring until all the shops closed and then I would sit down for dinner with a book. Eating alone never bothered me before but I guess that's because I could eavesdrop on other people's conversations...hard to do when you don't understand the language.

I was a little bit nervous about the weekend. Two whole days without anyone to hang out with. I was on my own in a city where I couldn't speak the language. What to do? what to do? Get my hair cut and colored, of course! I walked into the Kaufhof (a department store) and found the salon. It was quite amusing trying to explain to someone who spoke no English what I wanted. Fortunately, I could use my fingers to make the scissors cutting motion and that was understood. Now how to explain that I needed my hair colored? Just point to the 1 inch of gray roots, of course. Everything went amazingly well despite the language barrier. I got a great haircut and it cost less than what it would have at home.

I did quite a bit of window shopping with all my spare time. I learned that I have exceptionally small feet according to German standards. I struggled to find shoes my size in the women's department. I actually found more shoes my size in the children's department! Ugh, Carter and I will be wearing the same shoes. Quite the fashion statement to be 32 and have squeaker shoes or shoes that light up with every step.

On Sundays in Cologne (and probably most of Germany) everything is closed with very few exceptions. Those exceptions are restaurants, museums, and spas. I thought it would be great to go to the's not something I could easily do if Ben and Carter were here and they would have no interest in going with me. Given that customs are a little different here, I was smart and did my research online and found a thermal spa (Cladius Therme) that required bathing suits. Or so I thought! Apparently bathing suits were only necessary on the first floor of the spa, in the main pool, and the main area of the garden. Wander too far down a path or to one of the upper floors of the spa and you are likely to catch an eye-full.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

House Hunting Trip

Ben and I went on our House Hunting Trip the first week in May. This was our first time to Germany...ever. Let's do a little reality check: we agreed to move to a country to which we've never been, we don't speak the language, and now we have 3 whole days to find a suitable house to live in for the next 2 years. Yep, that sounds about right.

There wasn't much available on the market thanks to DHL just relocating most of their European employees to the Koln-Bonn area and the 30 other Ford ISE employees from the US who arrived before us and picked the market clean. We saw some pretty unacceptable places the first two days and we were starting to panic (or at least I was). There was a nice apartment located in Bonn just upstairs from my boss. No offense to Chet and his family, but I don't want my boss for a neighbor...puts a big damper on work-life balance.

Just when I was starting to feel desperate, we found our house! It's a Doppelhaushälfte (aka, town house) in the Poll neighborhood of Koln (Cologne). It's a 3 story town house with a basement, built in 2003. Yes, it's on the "wrong side of the river" but it's large by German standards and has a huge back yard (again, by German standards). The third floor is for guests -- there's a full bathroom up there and we will have a queen size bed. Visitors are welcome!

In addition to house hunting, we spent the week experiencing German culture. We quickly learned that the beer (Kölsch) is delicious and very easy to drink. We also learned that the restaurant menus are lacking in beef and chicken. There appears to be no shortage of Pork in Germany. As many of you know, I am not a fan of pork. Notice the menu offerings on the left: Pork and More Pork. Not that I'm against embracing German culture, but there are a few more food issues: no Cheerios, no peanut butter, no black beans, and no skim milk. Sure there's lots of dairy -- buttermilk, whole milk, 3.5% milk, and 1.5% milk. Skim milk is extremely hard to come by. In some cases, the trade-offs are pretty good, for instance coffee shops are replaced with Eis-Cafes (ice cream parlor). This city is obsessed with ice cream...and fancy stuff, too. For every coffee shop that you would find in a big city in the US, there's an Eis-Cafe in Cologne.
Overall, it was a fabulous trip and it served to make us even more excited about our adventure over the next two years.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

It all started 3 months ago

Back on March 1, 2007, Carla interviewed for a Germany ISE (international service experience) assignment sort of on a whim. Carla wasn't totally sold on the idea of moving overseas but Ben thought it would be great and so Carla had to interview. Believe it or not, she got the job. And the rollercoaster begins!

So eventhough the job was offered to Carla, there were countless details to figure out before we got the green light. For instance, who was going to backfill Carla in her old position? when was she to start her new job? what was Ben going to do? would he get a job with Ford? what kind of daycare would be available for Carter? would Carla's mom ever forgive us (just kidding!)? and so on...

3 months later...Ben has an ISE assignment, too. We've picked out our house in Cologne. We have Carter registered for a Montessori School where both English and German are taught. Our Michigan house in on the market and the movers are coming on June 11. We are officially moving to Germany on July 1.