Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick or Treat!

The Mom of a former classmate of T's founded a chapter of the MOMS Club here. I joined immediately. I also volunteered to be a playgroup leader, and luckily the playgroup I was assigned was T's. Since he can be a bit difficult (ahem), I think the playgroups will go a bit more smoothly since I can spot the signs that he's going to freak out and try to circumvent them.

On Thursday, there was a Trunk or Treat gathering for the entire membership. Since T was in school, it was just me and S. This was fine with me because it's generally easier to manage one child instead of two, especially when there's candy involved.

Thursday morning, I get up and get ready then wake the kids up. I've allowed an hour to get them up, dressed, fed and out the door which is normally plenty of time. In case we run short I grab breakfast to go, which is why granola bars were invented, right? I've got to get S in a costume before we leave because I'll go straight to the Trunk or Treat after I drop T off. Since we live off base, we didn't buy any Halloween candy this year since Germans don't do the whole Trick or Treat thing. Therefore, I needed to run by the Shopette or the Commissary to grab a bag or two of candy before we went Trunk or Treat-ing.

For whatever reason, S had a violent, opposing interest in being costumed, even though she had plenty of costumes to choose from. She could be a ballerina, princess, Tinkerbell, or a Wake Forest cheerleader. Thanks to Grammy for the costumes. I managed to get the Wake Forest costume on first, but the bottoms were a little big and I couldn't decide which way they should go, since they had the Demon Deacon (their mascot) on them. If you put the Deacon in the front, it looked like she was wearing a freaky, exotic pair of men's banana hammocks (you know, the kind where there's an elephant trunk where their um..well, you know should go). If you put the Deacon in the back, it made her look like we needed to change her pants and frankly it looked uncomfortable to sit on. I know my words don't do it justice, but it was quite funny if you plugged your ears to drown out her shrieking protesting.

I finally got her into the Tinkerbell costume, partly because T liked that one the best and partly because it was the only one that snapped in the crotch which made it easier to get over the tights and onsie. And poor T, during all of this drama, he managed to go potty (WOOHOOO!) and get dressed by himself, all while trying to help me calm down S. It ended up taking me over 30 minutes to get her dressed and at least another 10 to get her to the door so I could put on her shoes and coat, which set off a fresh round of shrieking. While hauling her out to the car, T looks at me and says, "Mom, she doesn't like this" which okay, true, but also - too bad. We said we were Trunk or Treating and Trunk or Treating we were going.

I was late getting T to school so that just set a negative tone for my day anyway. After dropping him off, I dashed to the main base and literally ran through the Commissary to grab some candy. I was only five minutes late to Truck or Treat, which was pretty good since we left the house 20 minutes later than usual. I threw open my trunk, tossed the candy in a bag, and proceeded to try and get S ready to Trunk or Treat (which involved unsuccessfully trying to get her to hold her wand and put on her hat since it was cold and rainy). We were the next to last folks to arrive and the last to join the group of moms and kids milling about.

As I'm coaxing S towards the group of folks, a lady approaches me, looks in my trunk and says flatly, 'OH. You didn't decorate.'

I'm willing to admit the possibility that due to the rough morning I had, I was just the slightest bit testy, but the tone in which she said that, coupled with the fact that it was not mentioned in the email that decorating your trunk was a requirement just raised my hackles. I am 70% sure I replied pleasantly but firmly that I didn't realize you were supposed to decorate your trunk, but sometimes my pleasantly but firmly can be perceived as hostile, so the jury is still out on how Suzy Homemaker took that statement. She asked me to sign in on a piece of paper with nothing backing it in the rain, so that was a bit of a challenge. When she saw my name, her attitude changed. "Oh!" She exclaimed, "You're B. Dahl. You're the playgroup coordinator!" and then she started babbling about...nothing....the way people do when they realize they've been obnoxious or stuck their clog covered foot into their big ol' verbal diarrhea prone mouth. I cocked an eyebrow and said nothing until she went away other than to confirm that I was, indeed, B Dahl.

So, we did the whole Trunk or Treat thing, which was fine. And I wasn't the only one (thank goodness) who didn't decorate their truck. After making the rounds of all eight vehicles, we all just kind of stood around shivering until the first Mom ran for the comfort and cover of her vehicle and left. Then we pretty much all scattered. Come to find out, this woman is in my Friday playgroup. Great. One of the other moms already warned me that she was going to be difficult to deal with, which I can totally see coming. But there's always one in every group and she can't be any worse than S.A., who is a fellow CS spouse. Still, it did occur to me more than once to lock her in one of the decorated trunks and hide the key. Luckily I showed more restraint than the laundry room incident, but then again, she didn't mess with my stuff. Stay tuned, I'm sure hilarity will ensue shortly.

I Heart Lufthansa

After a dismal and disappointing experience on United, our flight on Lufthansa seemed even more amazing. Here's why...

Waiting at the gate in Denver, a Lufthansa employee approached us and asked us if we wanted to pre board. Why, yes! We were assigned bulkhead seats so there was extra leg room and no seat in front of us for T or S to kick. Woohooo! We didn't have to be the foot police. They also have seat belts for infants that loop through your seat belt so in a worse case scenario, your child isn't going to go flying about the plane if they get stuck on your lap for the entire trip *coughUNITEDcough*.

The bathrooms were downstairs. And there were plenty of them. With changing tables for the kids. With a nice, wide stairway and a good place to stand and stretch your legs. And, you could actually turn all the way around in the bathroom without having to step up on the toilet or be a master of yoga.

When S fell asleep, the flight attendant, which they call pursers (like Gopher on the Love Boat), asked if we wanted a bassinet, which clipped onto the bulkhead wall. Hallelujah - and yes we did! They had an activity pack for kids that included a coloring book, crayons, colored pencils, and a deck of cards. They fed us two meals - real meals with silverware, and hot towels afterwards. We were offered drinks on numerous occasions, and they set out trays of water and juice for anyone that might be thirsty in between beverage rounds.

We each had personal entertainment systems so we could choose what and when to watch or listen. It was like being in First Class with normal sized seats. My only complaint was that it was extremely warm, but you know what? I'll sweat a little in trade off for all the other perks.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

United is coming untied

So, we thought we found a great deal on airfare to the U.S. It's a long story about how we ended up planning a trip to the States, and I'll spare you my fence sitting, waffling, wishy washy tendencies and just sum it up by saying we thought we were getting a great deal and R managed to get the time off work so we made the plans. In some ways, it was like we were in an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies. Wide Roads! 24 Hour Stores! Directional Signs We Could Interpret! The land of where you can find whatever you was good to be back.

So, I thought when we purchased the tickets that it was made clear that I wanted four seats for the four of us. Because S is under two, I was told that she had to have a paper ticket and we needed to pick it up at the United ticket counter in Frankfurt. No problem - they even gave me a verification to present to the agent. We parked in the cheaper holiday parking lot, which meant we had a bit of a commute to the actual airport, so we left early and got to the airport in plenty of time. When we found the United counter, I walked up and presented S's passport and asked to pick up her ticket. The agent, smiley and efficient, started tip-tap-typing and then asks me for 87 Euro and some change. No, no, no, no, no... see... I have this handy dandy printed verification. The agent, now referred to in my head as Miley McUnhelpful, just smiled and said that the paper ticket was never dropped off from the travel agency and that we needed to purchase a ticket for S. I argue the point spectacularly unsuccessfully, R tries his hand at it and also has no luck, so we ask for a supervisor and proceed to wait about half an hour. I did not have the travel agency's number with me, nor did I have our German cell phone on me being that we left it in the car in the holiday parking lot, which was about as accessible as say..Mars. The supervisor, when she finally came over, offered to call the travel agency, which the agent had previously said she would not do, but we had to have the number, which we didn't. Because, apparently, phone books do not exist in Germany. After an extended period of arguing back and forth, I had to buy the stupid ticket, which I then realized was not a seat but was a lap ticket. Now, when I flew back from NC with the kids by myself in '07 we had to purchase a seat for S because it was an international flight. So I was stunned that 1) I had to buy the same ticket twice, 2) they make you pay them money to have your child sit in your lap, and 3) there was a sincere, severe lack of customer service from United.

After all that, we still had to wait in line to check our luggage and get boarding passes. When we got to that counter, the agent was much nicer and sympathetic, but never actually helped us. The system kept crashing when she tried to get a boarding pass for S, so after another 45 minute wait, we finally got boarding passes and had to dash to catch our flight. Now would be a great time to note that for our connecting flight, the system assigned us three separate seats. I was told to check in with the agent at the gate and they could fix it. We dashed up to the agent as the flight was already boarding, and he said he couldn't help us there but that the folks in Chicago could. Uh huh. So we get on the plane, luckily we were in the very back near the bathrooms and the galley so at least we could get up and stretch our legs. R held S for almost the entire flight and the kids were so good. Another thing about the infant in lap ticket - they get no food or beverage. For a six month old, that's no problem. But a nine hour flight with an 18 month old? That's just not right. And the plane, of course, was full. #*$&%$%$)$&$*!!!!!

We made it, and even though we had a three hour layover in Chicago, we barely made that flight between the line at customs, realizing we left S's shoes on the plane, being misdirected by a United agent about which terminal to go to, and having to wait in two more lines to try to get the separate seat thing straightened out. Which is a story in itself. Our gate for the flight to Greensboro was beside, conveniently, a United Customer Service counter and a McDonalds. R and the kids went for food and I tried the customer service approach. The lady listened to my story, seemed sympathetic, but then told me she couldn't help me and told me to talk to the gate agent. Only, there WAS no gate agent at the gate. SIGH. So now I was tired, frustrated and getting angry. At least Miley McUnhelpful was honest about not assisting us in any way. So I waited at the gate counter until someone showed up and recounted my story for what seemed like the millionth time. And she pulled us up, announced that she couldn't help us, and that we'd have to talk to one of the flight attendants about helping us all sit together. Let's keep in mind here that the seats were nowhere near each other and would have had T sitting beside total strangers. Uh... I don't think so. And then the final straw. The paper ticket I purchased (for the second time) in Frankfurt that Miley McUnhelpful said I would HAVE to have to get a refund from either United or the travel agent was confiscated by the gate agent. This started an actual argument, which R and the kids walked up on right as I burst into tears and shouted, "Could someone, anyone, just ONCE freakin' help me out today instead of screwing me over!!??!?!?!?!?!?" She wouldn't budge, she printed out some receipts that aren't going to help me at all, and said, "We're through here". (sigh). R, after getting the kids settled with some actual food, went up and somehow got a United agent to ask people to switch seats so we could all sit together. Bearing in mind they had oversold the plane by six seats....which has no relevance but just ticked me off so I thought I'd mention it. Worst airline experience EVER.

But we got to NC and things got better from there. I emailed the travel agent who said they did indeed deliver S's ticket to the United ticket counter, so now I'm battling that whole situation. And, as a matter of fact, I did indeed need that paper ticket and the printed receipt I now have instead I may as well use for toilet tissue for all that it's worth. So frustrating. I had hoped to get it all straightened out by the time we flew back to Germany, but alas, it was not to be. At least we flew from Denver to Frankfurt on Lufthansa, which other than the fact it was 100 degrees on the flight, was a much, much, much better flight. I do, however find it abhorrent that United got paid three times for the seat S was supposed to have - we paid twice and the person that actually sat in the seat paid as well. Shame on you United!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ahhhhh... the land of plenty

I love America. I love the wide streets, the ample parking, the way the signs on the interstate make sense. In Germany, they use cities to direct you towards where you are going. So if you are heading to Frankfurt, for example, you need to know whether to head toward Cologne or Koblenz. If you don't know, as I often don't, you spend a lot of time driving around the country. The upside to that is that the scenery is beautiful. The downside to that is that gas is expensive here, and if you need it off base - well - make plans to sell a vital organ or a family heirloom.

Which brings me back to my original point. I love America. When we arrived in NC, regular gas was around $3.46 a gallon. When we left NC for TN, it was $3.06. In Oklahoma, we paid $2.29. WOW! On base, it's $3.12, I think, which is much lower than when we left.

You know what else I love about America? Customer service and voice mail. Words can not describe how wonderful it was to have people that were actually willing to help you if you had an issue, well, except for United Airlines, which is another story entirely. And one that will be told soon, rest assured.

I admit that over here, lots of Americans seem to have no regard for the cultural differences or the German way of life. We eat too fast, waste too much, and can be loud and obnoxious. But we do have Target, wide road shoulders, and sweet iced tea. I call that a draw right about now.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Non laundry related ranting, raving, lunatic

Confession and total honesty time: (ahem) Okay, so here goes.

No family is perfect. For sure, I'm not perfect. But--and I don't know if this is a southern thing or a gender thing or just a my family thing --I am sick to DEATH of double standards and guilt trips and completely unnecessary family drama.

Case in point - my brother and I have had an unusual? strained? difficult? on-and-off-again? relationship. Lots of bad blood. Lots of forgiving that needed to be done. We are as different as night and day, always have been, always will be. But family is family and other than who you marry, it's not like you can choose them. And, in trying to be a grownup, deal with emotional baggage, and blah blah blah I'm willing to do my fair share of forgiving and forgetting.

So, here's the current thing - my brother met, dated, and then married his wife right about the time we moved to Germany. Speaking bluntly, he was horrible to me as we were growing up. I am not exaggerating because even now people that knew both of us STILL comment on how mean he was to me when we were kids.(Those of you that read this blog, feel free to back me up in the comments section!) And I'm still resentful that when he was horrible, it seemed like everyone made excuses for him because our parents were divorced. That's a book that needs writing one day, but not today.

And let's focus on today. Today I am angry. I have been angry for way longer than is healthy for me, and I'm tired of being angry. I'm working hard NOT to be angry. Yet, I'm still angry. Here's why I'm angry: prior to our move to Germany, I feel I've done a decent job in putting the past behind me and moving forward. That included having a relationship with my brother. Since I was living in Germany when my brother got married, I started emailing his wife to get to know her. Electronically, we got along really well. Somehow we lost something in the translation of meeting in real life. I have no idea why or when or what, but from the time I met his wife and we didn't like each other nearly as well as when we emailed, they have both been taking nice, even steps backwards out of my life. Which is actually okay.

What is NOT okay is that even after all these years I'm still expected to be the one who does: does the communicating (and apparently it's fine to never reply to my emails), does the calling (which always seems to be awkward and forced), does the visiting (more on that in a sec), and does the kissing ass (self explanatory). Not to mention I'm supposed to be the one who's forgiving and understanding and accommodating. Harrumph!

For years, I did this. Even when I didn't want to. But in 2007 T and I were in NC for five months straight while I had S and we waited for her passport. Little effort was made to spend time with us. When we did see them, they were, frankly, impatient and intolerant with T. Granted, T was in a horrible phase, not being able to talk yet, highly frustrated and prone to temper tantrums as a result of that, and being out of sorts with the birth of S and being away from R and home and all things familiar. Every place we were had different rules, which were different from the rules at home. It was rough. My feelings got really hurt with some of the things that happened.

We finally got the passport and came back to Germany. From that point, there has been very, very, very little communication from them. I've made my peace with that. Since then, they've had a baby of their own. Still very little communication. Fine.

So now we are planning a trip back to the States. The purpose of this trip is to see the grandparents. Between R and I, there are four sets - two in NC, one in TN and one in OK. So we are flying over 5000 miles, driving over 1000 more in the course of a week, and then flying back 6000 more. I'm trying to divide the time as equally as I can between all the families, and it's stressful. I don't want anyone to get their feelings hurt, I don't want anyone to feel slighted or shafted or whatever-ed, yet so far it seems like just about everyone feels that way.

I asked Mom not to mention our coming to my brother because I didn't want to be guilted into driving the 50 or however many miles away he lives now. I'd know for sure if he'd bothered to give me his new address, but he didn't. Besides, they've shown absolutely no interest in me, my family, or how we're doing. When R got deployed, I heard nothing from them the entire time. He did manage to call Mom 3 times on her birthday when she was visiting while R was deployed which tells me that he simply doesn't want to call us. Then again, there's no law that says he has to.

The last email and phone conversation I had with Mom, she not only told him we were coming, she's pushing for us to get together. Which if I see him, it will be out of guilt - whether he comes to see us or we go to see him. So, why bother? He and Dad have been on the outs for whatever reason for a while now and from time to time I wonder if that's part of the reason of whatever's wrong since Dad and I are not on the outs. Who knows? Who has the energy to keep up with it? Why does everything have to be so difficult?

What I'd really love to do is ask and get an honest answer. If I've done anything to hurt or offend him, I'd like the opportunity to apologize. But from previous attempts and experiences, I know exactly how that's going to go, and it's not well. I guess this means I won't get a chance to know their daughter, either, which is a shame and makes me sad.

Compared to the problems that so many other people are having right now, this is pretty insignificant. I'm so blessed in so many ways and I'm grateful for the wonderful life I have. Maybe that's the key to releasing the anger. It's certainly worth a try.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Right of way

After leaving the Shoppette the other day, R and I were walking back to the car with the kids. T has always had a terrible habit of not looking before dashing out into the street or parking lot, usually with R and I dashing close behind shouting 'STOP!!!!!!'

We have been really working on this with him, trying to teach him to have a healthy respect without making him fearful. Some days this seems to be working better than others. As we were walking to the car, we asked T what you do before you walk out in a parking lot or a street. His response, (translated from T language), was to "Stop. Look this way. Look that way. It's okay. GO!" Which, technically is true. We praised him for knowing what to do and started to cross an aisle? lane? path? in the parking lot. A few steps in and here comes a car. T stops, turns, looks, and hold up his hand like a traffic officer. STOP! he announces loudly, then looks at us impatiently and says, "Go Mom, Dad, S. GO!"

R and I both had to bite our lip to keep from laughing.