Monday, August 31, 2009

Driving on the Right Side

When we moved to England, I was really quite nervous about driving on the left side of the road. It was nerve-wracking enough sitting on the bus from the airport to base watching cars coming from the "Wrong Side," the idea of remembering to drive in what seemed like an unnatural manner was very intimidating. And I'm not going to lie, I made some mistakes. Fortunately, they were all on base where drivers are more understanding and forgiving.

Driving is easy enough in traffic. Follow the cars. Simple. But when you approach an empty intersection? Shoot. Which one is it? Left? Right? We drive on the right in the states, yes? No. Yes. Okay, remember Beyonce. "To the left, to the left, over here in England we all drive to the left!" Maybe those aren't her words exactly, but I'm not lying when I say I recited them over and over for the first few weeks (months?) we lived in England.

And then, gradually, it became natural. In fact, I remember watching an American movie and there was a scene in a car and for a split second my heart rate doubled when I thought, "Ohmygosh, they are driving on the Wrong Side!" I remembered, though, that the right side used to be the Right Side and felt a bit foolish and amused at my mistake.

So much of driving is habitual. We don't think long and hard about what to do at a red light. We don't mediate on what a yield sign means. All of the littlest details about driving cause us no more than a nanosecond of thought, a flash of quick decision, and we're off. Even the stupidest things, like which side to pull your seatbelt from when you get into drive, can set you off when you start driving on the other side. It took me months to reach to the right for my seatbelt in England! I got into the wrong car seat many times before it became natural to get in on the right.

When we were planning our trip to Germany, I began to feel that familiar flutter in my stomach, that anxious feeling that I'd be going against the grain to *gasp* drive on the other side again. This wouldn't be my first time driving on the other side. We made a trip back to the States last year, and I'll be honest...I drove on the British side at least twice. Both times were when there was little-to-no traffic and were easily corrected.

What made me more nervous this time is that I'd be driving my husband's British spec car with the steering wheel on the right side of the vehicle. And I'd be trying to navigate through a very foreign country with a very foreign language I didn't speak. Ohhhh, I was nervous.

Ten days later, I will say that it hasn't been as bad as I thought it would be. For the most part, there's plenty of traffic and I keep in line with everyone else. Also, the roads in Germany are top notch. Mad props to you, Germany! England, I love ya, but your roads? Your traffic? They aren't my favorite. Getting around Germany is a piece of cake. Getting from our house in England to the base is like pulling teeth....painful.

That's not to say there haven't been...umm...incidents.

In Belgium, I pulled out of a gas station onto the left side of the road. It wasn't terribly busy, but there was oncoming traffic approaching down the road. And they flashed me. More than once. I was so into the habitual diving zone, it took about three flashes and my husband yelling at me to snap me out of it. Not a proud moment. Took about fifteen minutes for my stomach to unknot itself.

And then there was this one time here in Germany. It was on base, actually. I was pulling out of the parking lot of the BX, and again I found myself in the left lane again. Imagine a bit more yelling here from my husband, which put me into a bit of a panic. I was in the left lane. I need to be in the right. I was approaching a roundabout. OHMYGOSH, I'M APPROACHING A ROUNDABOUT! Yield to the right? Yield to the left? I DON'T KNOWWW!!!!!

I totally entered the roundabout going the WRONG DIRECTION. Lemme say, driving on the wrong side? Easily correctible in most cases. Going through a roundabout from the wrong direction? Not so much. Enter more yelling from both me and my husband and sprinkle a bit of Caleb crying because he has no idea what's going on, and you've got a good idea of what the chaos was like in our car at that moment.

I managed to get out at the very first exit in the roundabout with no damage done other than to my ego. Took nearly an hour to come unglued from that one, during which I mostly (and unjustly) blamed my husband for my panic. To be honest, I don't remember much of the day beyond that.

I will say this, though. I haven't driven on the wrong side since!

So tomorrow, we head back to England. About five hours of driving on the right side, a ferry ride, and then nearly three hours of driving on the left side again. I think my car will be happy to see the "correct" side. I, on the other hand, am starting to feel nervous.

So if you're in the UK and you see a BMW driving at you from the wrong side sometime during the next week, flash your lights, honk your horn, and shake your head at the poor befuddled driver trying to determine just what IS the Right Side!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Well, it's done! My husband had Lasik eye surgery this morning. We weren't sure up until this morning if he was having PRK or Lasik, and he was told he'd be a good candidate for either. But the surgeon felt that Lasik gave him the best chance of perfect vision.

It's been a long day. Showtime was 0700. Fortunately, we don't have far to go to the hospital. It was a cattle call type of sitaution, with numerous individuals from many bases all over Europe coming for surgery. We were told we (the escorts/families) could leave and come back. The surgeries weren't to begin until 1000. Since Tommy was initially the third person in line, we left and came back just after ten to be waiting for him.

However, since he was the only patient getting Lasik, he was bumped to the end of the list. We initially thought he'd be done about noon, so we stuck around and didn't bother grabbing lunch. Unfortunately, he didn't come out of surgery till after 2:30! Neither Caleb nor I had eaten lunch (although Caleb had eaten a fair share of Cheetos, animal crackers, raisins and gummy bears. What is it with Germany and gummy bears? They seem to go hand in hand.)

By the time Tommy came out, we were shot. Caleb had thrown a few fits and hadn't napped. It was getting ugly. I felt patient with him, but I didn't have enough patience for other people's kids by the end of the day who all wanted to steal Caleb's cars and get in his personal space. (Kids! No idea of personal space!)
So Tommy is resting now. His eyes sting and are uncomfortable and he mostly wants to keep them shut. Caleb and I are trying to stay around if he needs us but not too close so we aren't bothering him while he recovers. The nice thing about Lasik is that he'll have a much faster recovery! Woo hoo!
The hospital at Landsuhl is HUGE! It's got numerous hallways/wings all connected by one shared hallway. There's a nice dining facility, a Burger King, a shoppette, a Community Bank, and a mini coffee place, among other things. It's very clean and nice. Largest base hopsital I've ever seen. Caleb enjoyed exploring the "tunnels" (hallways) and haging out in the smoking area (because it's outside and has a small fish pond.) He did really well most of the day, but certainly had some toddler moments, especially at the end when he desperately needed a nap but couldn't fall asleep in the busy hospital.
We have two more appointments before we leave next week. Depending on Tommy's recovery process, we might try and do a few things during our free days. If not as a family, Caleb and I will at least explore the local towns once or twice and see some friends of ours that are stationed here.

So far, so good!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bruges and the Drive to Germany

Oof. It's hot in Germany. It was hot in Belgium. Weeks like these make me miss living in the States where everyone has A/C. our stinking cars don't even have working A/C, and lemme tell ya, that has made for some miserable long drives. Sleeping at night with no A/C can get pretty uncomfortable, too.

The ferry ride to Dover was quick and easy. Caleb enjoyed going to the top deck and looking out as we watched the cliffs of Dover grow smaller and smaller. The other two decks we were allowed on had a couple of coffee shops, a restaurant, a bar, some shops and some general seating areas. We spent most of our hour and a half trip chasing after Caleb who has no concept of sitting still.

The drive through France was unremarkable and fast. We had no problems finding Belgium, but got a bit lost trying to find the B & B we had reserved. I have to say, the lesson for this trip is that no amount of planning can adequately prepare you for the actual trip. Both the GPS and the printed sets of directions have led us astray on many occasions so far. The nice thing about the GPS, though, is that you can get SOME sense of orientation after you've driven through a town four times. Fortunately, the owner of the B & B was able to find us and we followed him to his gorgeous home.

We ventured into Bruges next. What a beautiful city! We only had a few hours to spend and managed to squeeze in a boat tour of the canals and a half of a horse and carraige tour. We also managed to eat too much chocolate and some waffles.

I guess I was confused about what half a horse and carraige tour meant. I thought we'd take a mini-tour and end up back in the same spot. Instead, we were dropped off way on the other side of town in an area we hadn't been to yet. Now the nice thing about this is that you get to see another side of Bruges that we might have otherwise missed. The not-so-nice thing is that I was so engrossed in eating my waffle that I didn't pay any attention to where we were headed and became completely lost. We hadn't gone far, but we got so turned around on the tour that it took us ages getting back to our car. We passed the same church three times. By the end we were just ready to get back to the B & B.

This morning, we ate breakfast at the B&B before setting off to German. The four hour drive ended up taking almost six due to a severe traffic accident and stops necessary for maintaining toddler sanity. We did have to fuel up for the first time since leaving base, and it was painful! €80 to fill our tank. OUCH! That's $114 on that day's rate. And we Americans complain about high gas prices!

While driving through France was unremarkable, the drive through Belgium and Germany were beautiful. The hills and country side were very picturesque. I wanted to take pictures, but as I was driving, it wasn't feasible. There must have been hundreds of windmills, though! I am so distracted by windmills. I find myself wondering how on earth they were erected, what would happen if those giant blades suddenly fell, how much power they really generate, and all kinds of entertaining ideas while I drove up and down the hills of Belgium.

We got to our TLFs (temporary living facility - complete with our own kitchenette and living room) by about 3 pm. Tommy's first pre-op appointment is tomorrow, and we'll know for sure if his corrective eye surgery is a go. In the mean time, we're trying to make the best of this hot weather and the lack A/C.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Day in Dover

Mm, I’m tired. I’m going to sleep that deep, delicious sleep you can only achieve by being crazy busy the day of said sleep. I am knackered.

Today is day one of our Great German Adventure. We left our house at about 8 am this morning, as scheduled and made good time to Dover, even though the GPS took us further into London than we would have liked. We had no problems finding the B & B that we reserved online. It’s a quaint, older house in the middle of town that smells like a grandmother and is really cozy and welcoming.

After settling in, we headed for Dover Castle. Although it’s really close to the B&B, the massive hill it resides on and the extensive grounds make it worth driving to, unless you’re keen on being exhausted from the get go. We were able to park in a nearby field and took a shuttle up to the ticket booth near the castle. Caleb wasn't too terribly happy when we arrived at the Castle.

The castle itself is definitely worth a visit. You ever visit a castle or stately home and think, “Huh. This is?” Dover is not that castle. In fact, we ran out of time to explore everything! And by “ran out of time,” I actually mean “ran out of stamina and were frustrated for not bringing the stroller along.” The Great Tower itself is not stroller friendly, but there is a “buggy park,” and the rest of the grounds pretty much require a little help from a set of wheels. I myself was wishing for a stroller to sit in.

We managed to make it down to the Medieval tunnels, which are a really interesting feature of the castle’s defensive system. . We got to go down below the castle and see where the soldiers would have lined their cannons and muskets in defense of the castle.

Unfortunately, we were too wiped out to make it to the war time tunnels, a complex of tunnels which were initially built as barracks during the 18th century but utilized as late as WWII as an underground hospital and operations and communications center, among other things. Unfortunately, we were just too tired to make our reserved time for the tour, so we’ll have to come back another time. It sounds like it is really cool!

Despite our exhaustion, we did make it to the White Cliffs, which are pretty stinking gorgeous. We couldn’t have picked a more perfect day to visit Dover; it was beautiful! We took a nice, slow walk along the cliffs and watched ferries sailing in and out of the ports. You can see the horizon of France from the coast of Dover on a good day. Interesting side note: when I was standing on the edge looking towards France, my cell phone received a text message from Vodafone welcoming me to France and informing me of the rates!

Tomorrow it’ll be our turn to be on one of those ferries! We’re off in the morning for Calais followed by a short drive to Bruges, Belgium. Can’t wait! For now, though, I better get some sleep. :)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

From the Mouths of Little Dudes

[Originally written 2 Aug 09. Forgot to post!]

Why is it ordinary, every day words sound completely new and adorable from the mouths of toddlers?

Caleb is rapidly approaching two and quickly picking up new words almost every day. He's stringing together the words to communicate whole thoughts! It blows my mind. Today at the playground, he managed to climb up a rather scary ladder-like set of stairs that cause my heart to beat fast every time he appraoches them. But for the fist time, he got up to the top all by hisself. As he reached the top of his mini Mount Kilimanjaro, he annouced, "I did it!" I was so stinking proud of him.

He also learned the words "chocolate milk" today, which come out more like "cah-cae mook." And he's keen on adjectives today. Everything is a big truck ("bee cuck!") or a tall tree ("tah tee") or a shiney car ("siney cah"). In fact, the other day as I was squatting down to clean some of his meal time mess from the walls, he pointed at my backside and said, "Butt!" To which I replied, "Yep, that's momma's butt." Caleb responded, "Big butt!" Thanks, buddy! Thanks a lot!

He's also getting better with names. He knows some of his classmates names, his teachers, and a few of his out-of-school friends. And he's finally trying to say his own name, although I don't think he beleives his name is Caleb. One of his classmates calls him "Caybub", and his own pronouciation is more like "Taybuh." But he's getting there!

He recognizes people in pictures and loves to sit on my lap as I browse through pics on Facebook. He recognizes his grandparents - Mama and Bubba are my folks (MamMaw and Bubba Bob), and Nana and Papa are Tommy's (Nana and Grandpa.) And he's starting to get to know his cousins. Sophia is Feeah, and he loves to give her pictures kisses. But my favorite are his names for my brother and his son. Uncle Steve and Ben are "Cheese" and "Bun."

Caleb is also trying to sing along to songs. He'll throw in a word or two in songs he recognizes such as Little Einsteins' theme song, Johnny and the Sprites, and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. But MAN, did it throw me for a loop today when he tried to sing along to Beyonce's Halo! No kidding. We were driving to base, and he was busy sucking on his middle fingers and zoning out when suddenly he popped those fingers just as Beyonce was singing "Baby, I can see your halo, " and he belted out "Hayo!"

Honest to goodness, Caleb's first non-kiddie song was Beyonce. Weird.

It's fun, all this chatter. He loves to say "HI!" to anyone who will listen and tells them what he's up to. "I eat!" He's also rather bossy, and quite often tells me and Tommy to dance if we're eating out and there's music overhead.

At some point, all this chatter will get to be a bit much and I'll wish for a volume or mute button. But for now, it's all novel and new and fascinated, and I love listening to my little chatter box.