Saturday, October 2, 2010

A moving company maze

Finding a moving company is like navigating this WI corn maze.

After spending the better part of yesterday evening researching international moving companies, we whittled our finalists down to five. Our selections process was simple. 

Step 1: Draw a company name out of the virtual internet hat.

Step 2: Find online reviews of the company.

Step 3: Look up the company’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating.

Step 4: If we were still on the fence, we’d critique the company’s website. That might sound a bit strange, but we figured that if a company’s website looks like a fifth grader set it up in the mid-nineties, it probably won’t have the resources to provide a smooth moving experience.

I started putting the company information in a Word document, but my engineering husband hijacked the computer and re-compiled the data into a “much more efficient” spreadsheet. I hate spreadsheets almost as much I hated calculating planetary brightness and flux density in college, so I happily sat back on the couch and let him do his thing.

Today, I started calling the companies for estimates. But I didn’t open the spreadsheet, yet.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A doctor's note

A wake-up call instead of a house call
I, like many people this time of year, have been under the weather off and on for the past couple of weeks. So, while off work on a sick day, I did what any normal person with extra time and unfettered access to the internet does, I researched my symptoms. After a couple of terrifying hours spent analyzing those symptoms … and talking myself into a few new ones, I decided to drag my usually stubborn self out of the apartment to seek professional medical attention. Sorry internet.

What does this have to do with my impending move to Germany, you ask? I’m getting there. I’m sick. Don’t rush me.

After numerous questions and standard tests, my doctor concluded I had bronchitis. Twenty minutes, and a weird hookah-like treatment  later, he changed his mind. It was a common cold … or maybe pneumonia. So off to x-ray I went. 

An hour later, he decided it absolutely, surely might be allergies. So he wanted to set up an appointment with the allergy clinic. Problem was that there were no open appointments until late November. As in, I’ll-be-in-Germany-by-then-late-November. 

Suddenly my move became real. Sure, Thomas and I have been making preparations for a couple of weeks now. But, just like when you jolt awake from an intense dream, I was struck with the very real fact that in about six weeks, I’d being saying good-bye to friends, family, Madison and my English-speaking life.

And speaking of, well, speaking … When I told my doctor why I wouldn’t be able to make the allergy appointment, he replied, “Oh, sind Sie eine Deutsche? Nein? Also, dann müssen Sie sehr gut Duetsch sprechen, ja?” Trying to fake confidence, but feeling my body temperature elevate and my pulse quicken, I simply nodded … resolutely of course. Satisfied that I was sufficiently fluent, he then rattled off a short quasi-soliloquy in German, which I really hope didn’t directly relate to my health as I had no idea what the hell he just said. 

If only he could write a doctor’s note excusing me from learning the difference between Passiv and Zustandpassiv verb constructions. I’m pretty sure they’re bad for my overall mental well-being. But I guess I’ll just need to hit the books hard soon. But first, back to bed …

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Finding that "just right" airline-approved cat carrier

Since we’re moving to Germany with cats, I’ve had to do a lot of research on flying with pets. There’s also a lot of paperwork, vaccinations and specific microchipping rules, but that’s another post.
Some airlines won’t let fly pets in the cargo hold during peak summer and winter months, as the area is not adequately temperature controlled. And most vets strongly discourage the use of tranquilizers (and some airlines forbid it) as the mixture of drugs and changes in air pressure could be fatal for your furry friend.

Depending on the size of the pet, there are two flight options: accompanied cargo and in-cabin (a third option is to ship Fido or Fluffy separately (AKA “unaccompanied”), but I don’t know much about that).

Specific travel requirements may vary, so it’s best to call the airline fist. But here’s what we were told for our Chicago-Munich Lufthansa  flight.

Accompanied Cargo 
Cargo carriers, like the ones we ordered must:
  • Meet IATA regulations.
  • Be hard-shelled and held together with bolts (not plastic flaps).
  • Be tall enough for the animal to stand, with a few inches to spare.
  • Have an attachable water bowl and plenty of bedding for comfort and to help soak up…accidents.
You’re allowed one pet per passenger. But airlines often limit the total number of in-cabin pets to just a few. It seems the best way to book a flight with a pet, whether in cargo or under the seat, is to call the airline directly and mention the number of animals you need to transport and how. This typically costs a bit more than booking online. But you reduce the the risk of being turned away when you get to the airport.

Under-the-seat carriers must:
  • Be no larger than 55cm x 40cm x 20cm.
  • Weigh less than 8 kg (pet and carrier combined).
On a personal note, I’m a little nervous about travelling with my cat Momo in-cabin (Thomas calls him the Red Devil). He’s a loud meower…something Thomas says is karma catching up with me for all the times I complained about crying kids on flights. Plus he’s a skilled carrier destroyer.  But we got a Teafco Argo carrier as a wedding gift from friends last year, and so far he’s only managed to snag the wire mesh. We’ll see how it holds up after the 9-hour flight. Lufthansa also supplies carriers, maybe I should get one as a backup…

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Playing "clerk's pet"

Neighbors disagree about the proper location for dogs to relieve themselves
If I can stereotype here a little…Germans love rules, which is good because they have a lot. For example, there’s actually something called Ruhezeit (quiet time) where it’s forbidden hammer nails, mow the lawn or engage in other noise making activities. Although, sometimes I wish we had that here…especially when my apartment neighbor decides to serve tennis balls to our shared wall as I’m getting ready for bed.

I’ve apparently inherited this favorable disposition toward regulation from my family lineage. In fact, more than once, Thomas has told me that I take rules too seriously. Take this past Friday as an example. In preparation for our move, we had to complete several bureaucratic matters.

To get ready, I poured over the related government websites, ensuring I had all of the proper documentation. And in each case, I got “petted” (as Thomas would say) by the officiating clerk for following directions.

First we went to the Register of Deeds to request a few extra copies of our marriage certificate. You have to show ID (like your driver’s license) to verify your current address, but if it isn’t up-to-date, you can bring in a utility bill and another form of ID. So I did. Once I presented all of my information, the clerk thanked me for reading their website, adding that no ever does that. And when I told her I requesting the copies as I was moving out of the country she said she “really hoped” I would come back to Wisconsin. Wow. And who says government workers aren’t friendly? ;)

Next was the Secretary of State. I needed an apostil for our marriage certificate so I could later attain a residence permit in Germany. I laid out all of my information and documentation just as before. The clerk was very receptive, but I failed in one task: the envelope. I had brought in a stamped, self-addressed envelope, but it wasn’t large enough. My bureaucratic euphoria visibly began to dissipate. The clerk took pity on me and gave me an envelope to address and even told me they’d take care of the postage. Whew!

The last stop was updating the title of our car at the DMV (I paid it off a few months ago, but put off getting a new title). When I got to the window, I stated my case and had a copy of my marriage license (showing my name change) and original purchase receipt for the mileage record. Again, the clerk was very pleasant and complemented my preparedness, something I ‘m pretty sure amounts to a soldier’s medal of honor on the battle field. There was only one moment of awkwardness. He was having computer problems, and I nervously remarked that it must be because I’m from Arizona (not sure why I was uneasy…maybe it was his biblical-themed tie with the words “Revelations” on it). He laughed and proceeded to talk about the immigration issues there. It quickly became apparent to me that we were clearly on different sides there. But I didn’t dare let that show. This man held the final badge in my bureaucratic sash. After what seemed like an eternity, but was more like four minutes, I had my new title. Success!

Now, if only I can be equally victorious once we’re in Germany!

From 0 to kitty-papa in an Augenblick

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, we love our furbabies.  Although for Thomas, saying “love” was no easy task for two reasons:
  1. While emotions are international, the words we use to describe them vary across languages. Germans typically reserve the word “love” (liebe) for their significant others. Even parents don’t tell their children they “love” them. Instead, they say something like, “Ich habe euch lieb.” which is more like “I have love for you.” It might at first sound odd in English. But when you think about it, we do love people differently. Not more or less, just differently.
  2. This is a big one: Thomas never had pets growing up. Like never, ever. Not even a hamster or sea monkeys. I, on the hand, grew up with representatives from each animal kingdom. The first time he woke up with a furry feline wrapped around his head was at my Arizona apartment. So imagine his surprise when he witnessed his first cat hairball. (“Umm…is it supposed to do that??”)
So while Thomas sometimes still hesitates at close-contact nuzzling, he’s come a long way. He scoops the litter box, cleans up hairballs, assists with medication and freely admits he “loves” them…even when they occasionally race across his face in the middle of the night or claw his legs as he’s getting into the shower.

Even his parents (who never allowed animals at home) have warmed up to them. The other day his mom asked how one was doing after a recent battle with a kidney infection.

I may be a crazy cat girl, but he married me. That makes him certifiable in my book. :)

U.S. electronics "bore" German outlets

Thomas and I spent part of the morning picking up each electronic device we own to see if it would work in Germany.

Aside from having different plug thingys (an easy fix with an adapter or DIY rewiring project), U.S. devices use 110 volts and German ones use 230. Thomas casually explained the difference to me like this, "German power outlets are bored with U.S.voltage." The best part was that he didn't even realize how funny this sounded...until I started laughing.

Our assessment: my crappy $14 hair dryer can come (it has a switch to change the voltage), but our $400 PlayStation 3 can't hang. That was costly shock my engineering husband wouldn't dismiss without a fight. Fortunately, some quick research via YouTube suggested a universal power supply might solve the problem.

But most of our electronics won't be so lucky...sorry awesome retro toaster. Looks like I'll be burning bread with, something else in a couple of months.