Mar 302011
 

7 Day Countdown 

So, today was eventful.   We have a time-frame!  David will be flying out of LAX on the 5th!  His journey will take him through London and Frankfurt, include 2 cars, 2 planes and a train, and last approximately… well, lets see…

    30 mins car to airport
  2:00 hours at the airport
10:30 hours on the first plane
  3:15 layover in London
  1:30 second plane to Frankfurt
~2:00 train ride to Kehl + pickup
  19:45 travel time

Methinks the DH may just be a wee bit exhausted at that point!  He will leave here in the mid afternoon of the 5th and arrive there in the early evening of the 6th.  I guess, technically, if he gets some sleep in there sometime he ought to sort of be on schedule when he arrives?

Whatever the case, the general plan is that he will go on ahead and get started on work as a contractor.  He will stay with Vladimir and his roomy and do his best to start learning the lay of the land and prepping things for the kids and me.  We will stay here until the paperwork goes through and deal with the main portion of the move.  Being apart will suck, but there is a certain logic to doing things this way.

This is getting seriously real now!
We spent the weekend clearing out the garage.  Thanks to an assist from my dad, we now have the garage separated into two main piles: Store & Sell.

Acheron in a rare local snow

In other garage-related info, once we got the flight itinerary we decided things were firm enough to sell David’s car to our awesome bagelmonger!  It is weird not having Acheron in the driveway, but it is nice knowing it has gone to an appreciative new owner.  And he promises we can visit it whenever we want :)   As David said, this is really the first irreversible change we have made, so it is definitely a turning point.

We also stopped by the bank and learned about ordering Euros and using our bank card in Europe.  Apparently there is a flat charge of $30 to order the Euros.  And then a 3% “conversion fee” when we use the bank card in Europe.  Not great, but could be worse, I spose.  One of the things David will try to do once he is there is get set up with a German bank account, so that should make things easier- or at least cheaper, knock wood.

Furniture Trials

We are still trying to decide whether it makes more sense to go with the larger shipping container or to purchase more items once we arrive.  I spent some time today researching Ikea’s entire French and German catalogs trying to figure out what replacement items would cost.  I am starting to think we might be able to go with a smaller container, but beds are going to be key.  I can’t quite figure out the way the European mattresses work.  The sizes don’t seem to add up properly for the larger “Double” beds (which seem to be equivalent to our Queen size).  For instance, Ikea sells Double Beds that range from 40 Euros to a couple hundred.  They are all 207 CM long, but their width varies from 147 cm to 170 cm.  The only mattresses they sell, though, are all 200 cm long and 90 cm wide!  I originally thought maybe two were supposed to fit, but with those dimensions, this does not seem to be the case.  Also, the mattresses are WEIRD!  For instance, these beds seems to be typical for what I am seeing.

  You have a bedframe.  Then you have either a boxspring with a small pad on it, or you have like a futon-sort-of-thing and nothing else, with all your bedding on top of that.  I can’t tell whether this bed-bag style bedding is typical, or just to show off the mattresses better?  They seem to show both this and more typically American style comforter sets, etc. European-knowledgeable friends and family, does any of this make sense to you?

Mar 262011
 
Our living room with some boxes for sizing.

Just in case you were as curious as I was about what that might look like…. (the blue tape up on the fireplace marks 7′ high)

A standard wooden liftvan.
Mar 262011
 

Call Central

David hadn’t made contact with Germany last night and I was feeling exasperated.  I figure we only have a brief window of communication potential each day. So, I was craving some reassurance in the form of a teeny missive from our Non-German, German contact.  I believe my quote was “How the heck does software ever get made?!  You people don’t know how to communicate!!!!”   David, being a wise and weathered husband at this stage, silently rolled his eyes.  But, he obliged me with a brief note to Vladimir discussing our efforts to get move-quotes and mentioning, in passing, my desire for info.  Moments later, Vladimir called!  I am starting to develop quite a soft spot for this unseen, poetically-named, English-speaking non-German!

Here, I would just like to take a moment to give myself some Kudos.  I was so good!  I didn’t hover.  I stayed upstairs at my computer completing my morning Farmville chores (yay English Countryside!) and morning correspondences.  I caught one phrase from David “I think that schedule is…. aggressive!”  Hmmmmm.  And yet, I stayed away.  Willpower is a wonderful thing when it actually works…..

So, anyways…. About 20 minutes later David arrived upstairs, notebook in hand.

“Ok, so that was Vladimir….”

Before he could get started, the phone rang again.  This time it was one of the moving companies calling to give us a quote.  10 more minutes, more notes in the notebook.  Good info!  But, first, news from Vladimir….

Wait, phone rings again!  This time it is someone wanting to buy our dresser off Craigslist.  Yeesh.  I like all the movement, but let the man talk to me, Me, ME! (Willpower here, may have failed me, but not much to be done except wait for David to get off the phone.)

Finally the phone stopped ringing long enough to get some info through.  The gist of it is that they really like the idea of David coming up early.  Really-Really like it.  Basically, they have an initial project picked out for him that will require as much time as he can give it-  dauntingly so, in fact. It has a hard deadline of early-June since they want it ready for E3.  As David said, sort of an aggressive schedule! According to Vladimir, they still want David in Germany by the 1st (yeah 6 days from now “the 1st”) if possible.  Holy Mackerel!  That is not a lot of time.

Apparently in Germany you must register with the government as a freelancer before you can do contract work, so they need to determine whether David will need to do that.  But, whatever the case they want him there pronto.  He would stay with Vladimir and another guy who works for the company until the paperwork goes through.  Then they would set him up as a real employee, get the temporary housing going, and send for me and the kids.  And away we go!

We spent the rest of the day packing, reeling, fielding phone calls from Craigslist & moving companies, planning and packing some more.  Our current thinking is that we will try to push David’s trip at least until after next weekend so we can get one more garage sale and more Craigslisting done before he goes.  As mentioned before, I am not great with those things, so having him take lead has been a blessing.  But, it looks  like the main part of the move will be on me.  We did finally get DD’s passport, so that is our last Must Have piece of documentation.  Gonna need to rent a dumpster, lug a ton of stuff to storage and start packing those things that we use frequently, but that won’t be in our luggage.  Still not sure what we will do with the last minute furniture and appliances (Not going to be able to take or store the Refrigerator, for instance, nor will I be able to move it on my own….)  I come from a logistically-talented family, but this thing has a lot of pieces to juggle….  We stopped at Staples to get me a new Moving Notebook…. organization seems rather essential.

“Ours is the one in the middle……”

Oh, the moving quotes- MUCH better than the first one.  Essentially, there is a basic unit which runs about 2k, give or take, and is 7x7x4.  Small.  But, the next size up may be doable if we are ruthless and avoid taking all but a couple pieces of furniture. Beds will stay (or get donated), a few bookshelves and the kitchen island go, if possible.  Clearly Ikea and whatever the Germans do in place of Craigslist will have to be our best friends upon arrival.  The movers ship door to door and it will take 5-6 weeks.  Interestingly, we found out that the moving companies have to open each box and make a complete inventory of our stuff!  I guess this makes sense when dealing with customs, but we hadn’t expected it.  Not really comfy with movers inventorying my dainties…. Maybe those vacuum pack bags Mom got us will come in handy there! 

Amusingly, Vladimir forwarded David a company-wide invite to see Sucker Punch in English and with refreshments provided on the 14th.  Given the reviews it has been getting, this may be less incentive than Vladimir intended, but it still seemed like a pleasant effort if nothing else.  Actually, I am sort of curious to know how our new group of disparate compatriots parse this particular piece of FANtasy.  More on that when it happens!

Mar 232011
 

Got word yesterday that there has been a delay with the Government Approval (again?).  They are now expecting it to take an additional 2-3 weeks.  Oof.  At first I was terrified that things were unraveling, but the word we are getting is that everything is still fine (knock wood), it is just slow.  Also, our dear, sweet Main Contact, Vladimir has offered to let David come up early and stay with him so he can start getting things set up/get acclimated./etc.  Got to think this through….

The additional time has some pros and cons, of course.

Pro- We have more time to learn German
Pro- We have more time to cull through things and get our stuff organized
Pro- Kids get more time in their current classes (DD is loving her novel-writing class, and DS always has fun with science!)
Pro- More time with local family and friends
Pro- More time for weather in Germany to get a little warmer
Con- Money Money Money, the longer we are here, the longer we are skating on no income.
Con- International School Application needs to be in at the beginning of April and requires an Attestation of Employment…. which we won’t have if David is not technically employed, yet!

One option that has come up is that David may be able to go early and work as a “consultant” until his paperwork comes through.  That way he could get started while we finished up the moving process here.  This also has some pros and cons, of course… not the least of which is having the family separated while we are all dealing with extremely difficult stressful things!  Definitely need to get more info and mull this over….

Mar 172011
 

Back when I was teaching, we had a Social Studies lesson that was supposed to help put students into the mind-set of early immigrants to America.  The students were supposed to pretend that they were coming to this country from Europe with nothing but a small trunk in which to put their worldly possessions.  Which possessions would they choose to bring?

I find my mind repeatedly turning to that lesson as we go through this process.  “So, class, let us say that you have been told that you need to move to another continent in 2 weeks, but you don’t know exactly when, you don’t know how much you can take with you, and you aren’t sure where you will be staying once you arrive…  Your budget is limited and you have no concrete details.   How do you figure out what to take?  What do you do with everything else?   You have 45 minutes to complete this exercise.  Go!” 

It feels a bit too on the nose, really, but I do enjoy the sense of adventure that the scenario brings!

1/2 in a Holding Pattern and 1/2 Full Steam Ahead Without a Paddle  
(Mixed Metaphors are the new black.)

A Russian “Tank-Ship-Plane”

Basically, the company is waiting for our Work Permission to come through and doesn’t want to commit to any specific steps until that happens.  However, they are setting things up on their end, apparently.  Last word we got was that they are looking at a potential house that we may be able to stay in instead of a hotel for the first month!  I am guessing that might be more cost effective- but, I was sort of looking forward to having someone make my bed. 😉

The last word we heard is that they still expect us to be in Germany by the 1st.  But, I am getting pretty skeptical on how likely that is at this point.  It just doesn’t make that much sense in terms of flight prices, etc.  Of course, on the off chance that is *is* true, we sort of need to be ready.  Which is what makes the lack of information such an impediment.

Here is just some of what we DON’T know:

1) The date and time of our flight/move
2) How much we can ship over to bring with us
3) Where we will be staying when we arrive
4) If the government will give us Work Permission (Golly would it suck not to get it after all this)
5) How much we need to store
6) What the heck we were thinking when we got ourselves into this!

Here is some of what we DO know:

1) Not a single person has told us that Germany is an ugly, unpleasant destination
2) We have a ton of work to do no matter which answers apply to the above questions. Go Go Go!
3) We have a pretty conservative cap on what the company will pay for, so we need to be frugal.  Honestly, I am pretty sure that we can’t do it within their budget, so we will need to cover the gap somehow.
4) Moving companies charge a lot.  Our first quote to move 3 very pared down bedrooms was 9k (and 6 weeks) which is well beyond our budget, so not going to cut it.  Again, either need to find a cheaper way to do this or cull back our stuff even further.  Probably both.
5)  In addition to the above mentioned immigrant scenario, I find myself frequently imagining that David and I are going off on a college-style Study Abroad program while acting as au pairs for these two bizarrely precocious kids.  I am finding that it really helps to have an active internal fantasy life when dealing with something like this!

School Progress

The Bride of Frankenstein Doesn't Bake Cookies (Bailey School Kids #41)

I did finally get email back from Frau Frankenstein!  She said that essentially no one ever shows up in their schools without knowing German and that the Strasbourg International School might be better for us.  All I could think was how different that must be to my teaching experience.  My solo classroom had 6 home languages in it, and students who had literally been in the country less than 48 hours when they showed up in my room!  She did mention that they had a family of Canadians who came over some years ago and who, after learning German, did well.  But, they had to leave.

She also included some rather choice and, I am told, fairly typically blunt kinds of German statements about how it would be tough to tell if our kids would fit into the “most difficult” Gymnasium since “The American system is comprehensive, so it is hard to judge, whether we are the right school for your children, as naturally all parents think that their kids are among the brightest.”  Hee.  I had to rewrite my reply three time to avoid telling her just how “among the brightest” our kids are 😉  Nonetheless, I do note with some comfort that this kind of bluntness is exactly the sort of thing that frequently gets DD and DH in trouble in the US, so hopefully it is a good sign toward Germany being a “cultural fit” for them, at least!

Another comforting thing was that Frau Frankenstein suggested we come in and talk “after you are settled”.  That is nice because it feels like we won’t have truancy officers at our doorstep on our arrival, at least.

Note: I did not say that all my fantasies were pleasant ones!

More as we have it!

Mar 152011
 

So, everyone has been telling us how COLD it is in Germany.  And, absolutely, it it a lot colder than the kids and I have ever experienced.  What I didn’t realize, though, is just how WET it is!  And, what is even weirder to my desert-dwelling mind: the rainy season peaks July-August! Who knew?

Well, er, clearly residents of Strasbourg/Kehl and the surrounding areas knew, of course… But, still.  Sort of confuses my mind.  Summer isn’t generally wet where I come from!

I downloaded this graphic from a site that keeps track of climates around the world.  It is for Strasbourg, since that is the closest metropolis to our destination.


Strasbourg Climate graph contributed by climatetemp.info

 Today’s Developments
  1. Got email from Spellbound saying they can’t legally sign the contract until our work permission comes through, which should be in a week.  Knock wood.  It is a little scary to realize that this still *could* fall through without our ever doing anything to cause it!
  2. Also got email asking if it wouldn’t be easier for us to negotiate/coordinate with the moving companies ourselves.  So, I sent away for quotes from the two companies they suggested.  News Pending.
  3. Renewed efforts to get information from Frau Frankenstein and the European International School.  Went so far as to fill out the initial application for the latter.  Now they want a pile of paperwork akin to that needed to start school in the US: vaccination cards, birth certificates, transcripts, etc- as well as some unusual things that would prove we qualify: a letter from David’s employer stating he is allowed to work in the country, for instance.  Guess that goes on the To Do list.
  4. Ordered Lands End parkas on sale for DH and DM (that would stand for Dear Me!)  Please see above for my reasoning.  Also, Thanks to my mom for gifting us all with long undies.  I am sure we will be happy for those during those chilly evenings!
  5. Oh, and for all those who asked- The Garage Sale went well!  I stayed OutOfTheWay ™ and David and DD handled the whole thing.  Worked for me :-)  We plan to have another go before we go, as it were.
Mar 112011
 

Any of you who have had children know the phenomenon that happens when your (or your spouse’s or some other involved party’s) womb hangs up the “occupied” sign.  As you begin your preparations to welcome your new family member, the Village finds its Voice.  Everyone from your mail carrier to Great Aunt Martha to the guy with the cardboard sign by the side of the freeway seems to have an opinion, a story- and, apparently, free-license to make it known to you.  I am not going to say this situation is perfectly analogous, but, I am pretty sure the Freeway Sign Guy was pointing to a map of Germany when we drove by last time.

Now, Gentle Readers, I am quite certain that none of you would consider anything of the sort!  However, on the off chance that you feel the urge to increase- rather than decrease- our panic, consider the following.  Should you desire perhaps, to point out the story of your Uncle’s cousin who got to Europe only to discover that he was allergic to French People. Or, relay the tale your dear friend who was attacked by gypsies and never heard from again.  Or, perhaps, describe the incarceration of your roommate’s best friend who had Interpol and the IRS chase her down in an airport for filling out the wrong form. Should you have the overwhelming urge to tell us one of these amusing yarns…

please, don’t.

 I am very proud of having found this photo 😛

For the record, this is hard.

Yes, it is exciting!  It is a fabulous opportunity!  No doubt whatsoever.  But, yeah, it is hard- also,scary as heck.

Saturday we have our first garage sale.  We will be selling some things that I have had my whole life.  Thankfully, David is taking lead with the sales, because, I think I would be a wreck…. Ok, fine, part of me already is a wreck.  DS definitely gets his pack-rat tendencies from me!  Part of it feels Great.  Clearing things out, simplifying, culling and liquidating.  It is a freeing experience…. 8/10 of the time.  The other 1/5 I find myself turning into emotional mush as I consider life without that scratched up old dresser that I have used since I was 10. 

And, yeah.  I don’t much like Santa Clarita.  It is hot, remote, dusty, and I have never really felt like I fit.  On the other hand, gosh it sure is pretty during Spring, there are people and places we will definitely miss (Hi Guys!), and I do like that local Donut Shop.

And, yes!  Employed Husband is wayyy better than the alternative!  Really looking forward to that!  On the other hand, our finances are pretty shot and don’t look likely to recover overnight.  We are going to a place I will desperately want to explore with the dictate that we Must Be Frugal… This may be a challenge.  Is it a challenge I am willing to take?  Heck yeah!  But, will it be easy?  Nope.  Gonna take some grit, juggling and creativity.

And then there is all the stuff we Just Don’t Know.  School Stuff, Living Stuff, Transportation Stuff- oh yeah, and German…. 

So, like I said, panic is setting in.  We have 3 weeks to get this puppy on the road and Whooyah!  It is one large, messy dog!

Current Situation:

1) Got the contract!  Translated it and printed it out and will send it back tonight.  Looks like it has all the missing parts, so, Yay!  Granted, some of the translations are still a little nebulous (for instance, there is a reference to “business relationships inside and outside the farm” that I suspect may not be exactly what is intended), but, it seems good enough to give us confidence that this is, indeed, the contract we were looking for!

2) Garage Sale Saturday from 9-2.  Lots (and lots) of Books, Clothes, furniture, Stuffed Animals, Toys, Stereo, Exercise Machine, Fans, Furniture, a sewing machine, and many many other things.  If you are local, stop on by!

3) Still trying to find out the size on the shipping container!

4) Trying to finish up my work project so I can focus full-time on what needs doing.  Going slower than I had hoped… The carpenters and painters working outside my window today may not have been helpful with my ability to focus.

Shade, exploring as usual.
5) 2 wonderful rats looking for a home.  They are about 1.5 years old.  They are VERY well-socialized and extremely cute.  Let me know if you are interested.

6) AHHHHHH!!!!!! (had I mentioned that already?)

7) Er, trying to stay focused and calm.  The kids will tell you I am currently failing, but, I think it just will take a little practice.

Petal before she gained a few ounces

8) Tomorrow I start work on The Master List.  Also, need to rent a storage unit and start shuttling stuff over.

9) No word from either School.  Going to need to get more proactive there.

10) Gotta learn more about Money and how to get all our bills paid/banking done, etc.

11)… and so much more!

Mar 082011
 
“Hello David,

We already submitted all the required papers to the ministry of labor and completed all the necessary formalities to get you work permission (this is a separate process from finalizing the actual contract).

In less than two weeks the permission will be granted and we will be glad to get you here as soon as possible. We will book a flight for you and your family, setup the place to stay and will assist you with containers. Today we Set up a desk for you in our office, so the things are definitely progressing on our side 

Also A. will send you the revamped contract today at the latest.”

Yipes!  So, um, I guess we need to get going on this stuff.  We got DD’s passport application off yesterday.  We had tried this weekend, but the line was dauntingly long.  This time we were only behind one guy, but it still took an hour.  As I said on FB- If time is of the essence, avoid getting in line for the incompetent-but-friendly postal worker assisting the doddering-old-man with his paperwork!

David put up some things for sale on Craigslist yesterday.   That does seem to get the word out!  We have had calls and emails about everything so far except the couch.  Guess we need to do another batch ASAP.
Looks like we will be having a garage sale this weekend if the weather holds.  Lots of books, kids books, educational books and items, a 5-cd stereo, clothes, furniture, electronics, videos, DVDs, stuffed animals, decorative items and whatever else we can find.  Come on out and see what we have to offer!

Mar 052011
 
Is it possible to feel completely overwhelmed by change and also stuck and immobile?  If so, I think that is where I am right now.  It is all “wait and then expect to hurry up” on this end.  Our contact is on vacation until Tuesday, his boss, we think, is at GDC, the contract is “in the works- with the CFO”, and no word on the visa.  Also, no one seems to know what size the moving allotment will be- just the cost.   In short, it has been 2 weeks of no visible progress, which is starting to make me a little batty. 
Of course, since I am a little batty, so are the kids.  DS in particular.  The poor boy alternates between being James-Franco-mellow and Twilight-level overwrought.  Some friends have expressed surprise that DS is the one having moving-pangs.  But, as I have explained, he tends to get attached to things.  Lots of things.  Nearly every thing, really.  The house.  Plants.  Clothes.  Paper towels.  It doesn’t really matter what.  Everything seems to have an emotional association for him, so everything is a potential trigger.  The city is awash with emo-inducing locations, items, people, and experiences for him.  Have I ever mentioned that my kids can be a little exhausting? 
 
This week was particularly exhausting for me because I have a new quick-turn around work project and David was away for 3 days visiting his parents.  As I have mentioned, we are doing a bit of the Bon Voyage tour- trying to see as many folks as we can, while juggling the move- and finances.  He had a nice visit!  But, it meant the kids and I were on our own, and we were apart as a family for the second week in a row.  This is always a little stressful. But, add in the upcoming move and the fact that we still have no specifics (everything is still operating off ether and promises)?   Well, let us just say that my blood pressure, which is almost always low, is probably pushing its way up to normal about now! 
 
Now, those of you who know me well, know that I am cursed with a creative and detail-oriented mind.  This may sound like a great asset- and at times it can be.  But, one of the drawbacks is that I have this terrible tendency to mentally wander to every horror. I can find a thousand scary scenarios that fit any set of data.  This particular situation has my mind leaping around to everything from Con Men to Slave Traders.  My current favorite mental scenario is that our German contact is no longer actually working for the company.  He went a little crazy, see, and got fired, – but, not before he fixated on DH.  So, no one else at the company actually knows that he is “hiring” David.  By the time we discover the truth, we will have sold 1/2 our household and invested a fortune in passports, visas and European Electrical Converters.  Yeah… I gotta be careful or someday I am going to go all Charlie Sheen.
Anyways, every morning while my mind is insisting on skipping through all these, er, entertaining places, I force myself into the same mental conversation: “Quit yer stressing and whining!  There, that is better.  Now- what can you do?”  My mantra is inspired by the twelve steps, I guess-  Control what you can, and don’t worry about the rest.  Sometimes it even works.
So here is what we are doing:
1) Cleaning and clearing and packing.  We are dividing things into groups- Storage, Sell/Give, Trash, Take If We Have Room and Definitely Take.  For now we are concentrating on the first three categories.
2) Lining up buyers for Big Ticket Items.  Speaking of which- if you happen to have an interest in a Yellow Kimball Baby Grand or a Blue 2000 Mazda MPV please let me know :)
3) Learning German.  Hey, who ever regretted learning another language?
4) Getting our finances in order as much as possible.  I am working as much as I can, and we are being frugal.  We want to have as large a buffer as possible when we arrive because we know there will be a lot of set up costs- and probably a fair number of unexpected expenses.  And, hey, should our contact actually be an obsessive, slave-trading, delusional con man, well, it never hurts to have a little extra cash squirreled away, right?
5) David is going to write and request a schedule from his future company so we will have more to go off of.  I think we expected them to have sent one by now, but maybe they just haven’t thought of it! 
Ok, well as you can see, still nothing much to report, but I promised updates, so updates you well get!  Hopefully soon they will be filled with First Impressions and Photos of the Rhine.