Coming Back to America

German_American Flags

Six months ago today, we boarded an airplane at Ramstein Air Force Base to return to the United States. For the past three and a half years, Brandon and I had been stationed at USAG Hohenfels in Germany. While adjusting to life in the United States has not been as difficult as it was originally moving to Germany, it has still been challenging at times. We tried to embrace the German culture while we lived there, and the differences between Germany and the United States really became obvious when we returned. What follows is a list of the major differences between German and American life that required us to readjust.

  • Carbonated Water: In Germany, this was the default when you purchased water. While we were there, we learned to like “bubble juice” (as one friend’s daughter called it) and now it’s a challenge to find it! I can’t order it in most restaurants and haven’t been able to find it at gas stations when we’ve stopped. Instead of paying a fortune to buy bottled water, I gave Brandon a SodaStream as a belated birthday gift. For a time, we were going through a 60-liter carbonating bottle every week! While we’ve tried some of the soda flavors, mostly we just drink the plain carbonated water that we became accustomed to in Germany.
  • Beer: As expected, Brandon went through a German beer withdrawal when we moved back. You just can’t beat German beer. While you can get some German beer here in the U.S., it’s not the Bavarian regional specialties of Winkler Bräu Kupfer Spezial, Plank Hefeweizen, or Weltenburger Kloster Anno 1050. (Supposedly, even the Pope has to have the Weltenberger beer specially delivered to Rome. Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of pull to get it here to Kansas/Missouri!)  Brandon shipped a three-month supply of beer with our wine shipment, so he technically didn’t have to adjust until October. Thankfully, there are some good microbreweries here in the United States, so Brandon is finding something to drink. At least he hasn’t had to start brewing his own…yet.
  • Shopping: When we first moved back, I couldn’t believe the selection at the grocery store and big box stores. Bed Bath & Beyond was beyond overwhelming! We needed a washer & dryer at our new house, so we stopped at Nebraska Furniture Mart to look. Silly me, I thought there would be about three options: cheap, expensive and middle of the road. Boy was I surprised to find multiple rows of washers and dryers! I didn’t even know where to start. Luckily, we ending up finding a nice used set on Craigslist! It also took me a while to remember that stores are open more hours here. I had to remind myself that I could shop on Sundays and after 6pm during the week. We even went to Lowe’s after 9pm one night…crazy!
  • Restaurant Service: Surprisingly, we had to adjust to eating out in the U.S. again. Eating out in Germany was an entire evening event. Once you had a table, it was yours, even if you were just lingering over a beer or coffee. No pressure to leave, and you had to ask for the check when you were finally ready. Now we often feel rushed when we eat out here. The food comes out so fast that Brandon doesn’t even have time to finish a beer before dinner. And as soon as we finish or decline dessert, the check simply appears at the table. It is remarkable that we can order, eat, and leave in under an hour! I also have to admit that having free soda and water refills is nice again.
  • Driving: It was difficult adjusting to driving in Germany, and it has been equally frustrating coming back. We got used to driving 100+mph on the Autobahn! Cruise control is now our friend. Many American drivers also fail to observe the “keep right” rule that generally states on multi-lane highways to keep right except to pass and move right if blocking overtaking traffic. While this “rule” is not “law” in most U.S. states, it is the law in Germany and it is actually illegal to pass on the right. Brandon and I are trying to break our German habit of driving super close to slower cars in the left lane until they move over to the right! Finally, roundabouts create some problems here in America. We have a new one right near our house that we have to use to get to and from FT Leavenworth. Needless to say, most people don’t know that you are supposed to yield to anyone already in the roundabout and signal when you are leaving the roundabout, not when you enter it, so there have been some interesting close calls!
  • Mail: For some unknown reason, I love getting mail! This has been one of the benefits of moving back to the U.S. My mail is no longer at the mercy of the Military Postal System. I receive my Real Simple magazines before the issue month begins instead of after the month is over, and packages arrive in days instead of weeks. Also, instead of having to stop at the Community Mail Room on post to pick up everything, and inevitably wait in line to pick up a package or anything else that wouldn’t fit in the small box, my mail is delivered directly to my house, even on Saturdays! It’s the simple things in life that give me the most pleasure!
  • Recycling: The Germans recycle everything!! When we moved into our quarters, Housing gave us a whole packet explaining what could and could not be recycled and how to go about it. Paper of all kinds in the paper bin that was picked up once a month; plastics, aluminum, Styrofoam  etc. in the yellow bags that were picked up every other week; glass of all colors could be dropped off at the facility on post or at the collection site in our little town; yard waste and hazardous materials (including batteries, electronics and light bulbs) were collected on post. It was quite the system to learn, but soon it became second nature. Brandon was trained to wash almost all food packaging and throw it in the yellow bag. While we are fortunate to have some recycling here, it is definitely not as comprehensive! For the first month or so, I’m sure we threw much more in our recycling bag than we were allowed. And I still catch Brandon rinsing out packaging that has to  just be thrown away!
  • Post Gate Guards: This didn’t require a major adjustment, but I was surprised at first by the ease of getting onto Fort Leavenworth compared to garrisons in Germany. In Germany, our military IDs had to be scanned and there was a process to sign in guests that didn’t have military IDs. At Fort Leavenworth, we just show our military ID and the gate guard generally lets on on post. Our visitors have only needed to show their driver’s licenses when they have been with us. I guess it’s a lot easier when the Force Protection level is Alpha! (It never went below Bravo in Germany.)
  • Language: Unfortunately, we never became fluent in German while we were stationed at USAG Hohenfels. This made even simple things complicated in Germany. Google translator was one of my favorite web sites, but it has its limitations, especially when you are not near a computer. When we first moved back to the U.S., I still hesitated to ask questions in stores because most of the time I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed when we were in Germany. Or if I did know how to ask, I usually couldn’t understand their response. Of course, unclear responses are still sometimes an issue here in the U.S., but at least I know how to ask follow-up questions! Understanding the language is a huge benefit to being back in the U.S.

While moving to Germany and now back to the United States has had its challenges, the overall experience is still one of the best of our lives. And we would do it again in a heartbeat!

If you’ve lived overseas for any length of time, what were some of the challenges/differences  that you faced when you moved back to the United States?


E&B 2012 Highlights (a.k.a. The Christmas Letter!)

2012 was a great year for us, full of traveling and transitions. Read on for the details!


At the start of the year, Brandon and I were recovering from our pre-Christmas trip to Mallorca and our week of ski lessons in Garmisch-Partenkirchen between Christmas and New Year’s. Both trips were enjoyable for completely different reasons, although I might have enjoyed Mallorca a bit more since it didn’t involve bruises, blisters and lots of falls! Brandon loved finally getting back on the slopes with the Intermediate/Advanced class while I happily stuck with the Beginners.

I started my third year at the Hohenfels Tax Center on January 3rd. As one of the senior preparers, I played a key role in the training at Vilseck and Bamberg. Brandon continued to work as the Executive Officer (XO) for the Badger Team, the Counter-IED training team.


We knew we would be departing Germany sooner rather than later, so we made sure to get our final “souvenirs”: a custom-made dining room hutch for me and a 2011 BMW 335i xDrive for Brandon.

I continued to play clarinet with the Bläserphilharmonie Regensburg up until our move. In February, we had a weekend of rehearsals at Burg Trausnitz, followed by a weekend of concerts to celebrate Fasching, Germany’s Mardi Gras. The concert featured marches of all origins and genres. The audience was quite surprised when I introduced Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” in English.


After spending a few months around Hohenfels, we started venturing to other countries again in March. I finally made it to Poland to do some pottery shopping with my friend, Rudi. We stayed one night at the Blue Beetroot in Boleslawiec and did some serious shopping in the two days. I definitely should not have waited so long to go, but I made the most out of my one trip!

At the end of the month, Brandon made a quick 2-day trip to Brussels for some NATO meetings.


After the craziness of playing the piano for all of the Holy Week and Easter masses, Brandon and I spent the next week in Slovenia for Spring Break. I actually blogged pretty thoroughly about this trip, so you can read about all of the details here. It was a beautiful country and a memorable trip around Lake Bled, the Julian Alps and Ljubljana. Another place where we would definitely go back!

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia

After Slovenia, Brandon had to go back to Brussels for another NATO meeting. While the long drive was not fun, at least he could bring back as much Belgian beer as he wanted!

With the nicer weather, comes Fest season in Germany. We enjoyed the live music, carnival rides, crepes, and Maß biers at the Nürnberg Volksfest and the German-American Volksfest.

Nürnberg Volksfest

Crepes at the Nürnberg Volksfest

German-American Volksfest at Hohenfels


In May, the moving madness began! After some question about whether the orders for FT Leavenworth would actually arrive, we finally received the Request for Orders (RFO) on May 2nd. We were able to get the official orders on May 8th and could then start making all of the transportation arrangements. There’s a lot to coordinate with an overseas move, including household goods, unaccompanied goods, shipment of two cars, the special shipment of our wine collection, what to sell/give away, and what to carry with us. Needless to say, we worked it all out, and by the end of the month our household goods and my car were on their way back to the U.S.

Loading our household goods into the truck

In the midst of all of the moving arrangements, life went on. Brandon was inducted into the Order of St. George and was farewelled by the Badger team. I wrapped up my duties as the 1st Vice President of the Hohenfels Community Spouses Club and prepared my successor at St. Michael’s Catholic Parish to take over my role as the musician.

At the end of the month, we escaped the moving madness with a trip to Norway to visit my cousins there. (You may remember that we last visited them in August 2010 with my parents.) It was nice that the Norwegian holiday of Whit Monday (Pentacost) corresponded with the American Memorial Day! We flew up to Trondheim on Thursday night and took the train to Oppdal on Friday morning. Over the long weekend, we hiked to the Losvold summer farm, observed muskoxen, and just generally enjoyed the beautiful scenery and generous hospitality!

Losvold Summer Farm


The Bjørndals & Caves


My last day at the Tax Center was June 1st and two days later we were on the inaugural sailing of the Carnival Breeze for our “Last Hurrah Cruise.” It was a 12-night cruise departing from Venice with stops in Dubrovnik, Croatia; Athens, Greece; Izmir, Turkey; Messina, Sicily; Olbia, Sardinia; Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy; Livorno, Italy; Monaco; and ending in Barcelona, Spain. Needless to say, it was a wonderful trip and I need to blog about it in more detail at some point! For now, enjoy these few pictures.

Acropolis; Athens, Greece

Mount Etna, Sicily

Porto Cervo, Sardinia

Via Appia Antica; Rome, Italy

Ponte Vecchio; Florence, Italy

Eze, France
(Nice & Eze Excursion from Monaco)

Carnival Breeze in Monaco

After the cruise, we kept working on the final moving details and tried to savor our last few weeks in Germany. We took lots of walks around Großbissendorf, ate at our favorite restaurants, visited Kuchlbauer’s Bierwelt in Abensberg to celebrate Brandon’s birthday, and enjoyed a final day in Regensburg that included a tour of the Thurn & Taxis palace and Sommerfest.


After finally selling our “beater” car, cleaning & clearing housing, and mailing our final packages, our time in Germany came to an end when we flew from Ramstein Air Force Base to Baltimore on July 10th. We picked up Brandon’s car at the Baltimore port the next day and started driving to our next adventure at FT Leavenworth, KS. On our way, we stopped in Iowa and Nebraska to visit family for a few days, and then began the moving process in reverse! Gradually, we were reunited with all of our belongings and settled into our new home in Platte City, MO.

At the end of the month, we attended the 60th Haugland Reunion at Inspiration Hills outside Inwood, IA.


The first weekend in August, we drove back up to Iowa for the “Fasse Birthday Bash,” celebrating Emma turning one in July and Hannah turning five at the end of August.

The next weekend, I visited my friend Allie who lives in Nixa, MO while Brandon started his coursework towards a Master of Science in Administration through Central Michigan University at FT Leavenworth. On August 13th, Brandon started his Intermediate Level Education (ILE) classes at the Command and General Staff College (CGSC). In typical Army fashion, they changed the name a week later to Command and General Staff Officer’s Course (CGSOC). All I know is he goes to school every day and had a lot of reading and assignments until Novemeber!


Over Labor Day Weekend, my sister and her family were our first visitors to our new home. We visited several kid-friendly attractions in Kansas City, including Science City, Hallmark’s Kaleidiscope, the Kansas City Zoo, and Alldredge Orchard.

My parents and Aunt Sandy were our next visitors a few weekends later. We explored historic Weston, MO on Saturday and then enjoyed the beautiful weather at the Plaza Art Fair on Sunday.


Brandon’s family came to visit us over Columbus Day weekend. Brandon’s dad was born just up the road from us in Atchison, KS, so we went up there for a crafty Oktoberfest and to learn a little family history.

I started the Becker CPA Exam review classes on Oct. 11th. The first review section was Regulation, so at least I eased into it with a topic with which I’m comfortable: individual taxation. There are four parts to the exam and I will be done with the first two parts of the review by the end of the year. My hope is to take those first two parts of the exam in January/February 2013 and take the last two parts by the end of April. While my application to take the exam has been submitted to the State of Tennessee (where we are legal residents), I am still waiting for approval to schedule the exact dates to take the various parts.

This year was my 10th reunion from Wartburg College, so I went up to Homecoming with my sister and her family. I was a little disappointed that more folks from the Class of 2002 didn’t attend the reception, but it was nice to see those that were there. And I always have a great time with Hannah and Emma!

On Halloween, we announced via Facebook our biggest news of the year: we’re going to have a baby in 2013! Little Pumpkin Cave is due May 24, 2013.


We finally found a free weekend to go up to Nebraska so Brandon could be in Lincoln for a Husker football game. Brandon and his dad attended the Penn State game and were treated to beautiful weather and a 32-23 win. I stayed in Omaha to watch the game from the comfort of Brandon’s sister’s house. (However, since I didn’t attend the game, there are no pictures.)

Thanksgiving was celebrated at Brandon’s aunt & uncle’s house in Omaha. It was a nice treat to actually be with family for the holiday and to enjoy a home-cooked meal. Brandon’s mom always gets an Iowa-grown turkey from a family friend in Atlantic and it was delicious!! After watching the Nebraska-Iowa game on Friday, we headed over to Atlantic to see my family for the weekend. (Again, sorry there are no pictures…I’m obviously getting lazy and need to get my camera out more! Is it that seeing family is actually becoming routine again?)


And finally we made it to December! Brandon and I kicked off the holiday season with the Kansas City Symphony’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. I loved it! Brandon thought it was a little long.

Now we are finishing up our classes, so we can enjoy more time with family over Christmas. We will be making a big loop from Platte City, to Atlantic, to Des Moines, to South Dakota, to Omaha and back to Platte City. Looks like there will be lots of time to review my CPA exam materials in the car!

Thank you so much for reading my blog throughout the year, sporadic as it is! The New Year will surely bring us new and exciting experiences as we welcome Baby Cave in May and move again next June. (No, we don’t know where yet, but hopefully the Army will tell us in January or February.)

We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2013!!


Moving Madness!!

We’re still in Germany, but not for long! After an uncomfortably prolonged delay, Brandon finally received orders to FT Leavenworth, KS, at the beginning of May with a report date no later than July 27th. We jumped into action, and by the end of the month, our household goods and vehicles were on their way to the United States.

One last look at my car before it is shipped.

The basement all packed up at the end of Packing Day 1 (out of 2).

Loading my hutch into the crate.

There are so many things that I want to blog about, including the complexities of moving overseas, our last two major trips (Memorial Day Weekend in Norway and another 12-Night Mediterranean Cruise at the beginning of June) and our last impressions of Germany, but I am going to have to tackle those topics a little at a time over the next few weeks. Most of my days are still consumed by cleaning and sorting, and cleaning and sorting some more, so we will be ready to move out of our house on Friday. It is amazing to me all the little decisions that need to be made about what goes in what shipment, what gets packed in suitcases, what gets sold, what gets given away, and what just gets trashed!

We have mixed emotions about leaving Germany, but in honor of Independence Day tomorrow, here are some of the things that we are looking forward to about being back in the U.S.A. (in no particular order):

  • Window screens
  • An attached garage
  • Central air conditioning
  • Being able to get gas at any gas station and pay at the pump
  • Using credit cards without a foreign transaction fee (and having Discover accepted)
  • Asking questions in English and being able to read all signs
  • Having most stores open on Sundays, if not 24/7
  • Being able to mow the lawn on Sundays and holidays
  • Target stores
  • Fast Internet
  • Nebraska football games
  • Being close to family & friends!

Happy 4th of July!!

Photo from

Frohe Ostern!

Happy Easter! He is risen! He is risen indeed!

(And I’m alive, too, although it’s hard to tell from my blog! Was my last post really back in January?? Yikes!! I’m going to blame tax season…but enough excuses.)

It was a chilly Easter here in Hohenfels. There were even snow flurries on my car this morning!

I am proud to say that I survived playing all of the Holy Week services for the Catholic Chapel on post. To be honest, I will not miss playing the Easter Vigil Mass next year! The service was about two hours last night, and I’ve learned to wear my glasses because the incense bothers my contacts. At least there was cake afterwards to celebrate the confirmation candidates! I am also super thankful for my wonderful cantors that assisted me at all four services!

After church this morning, it was a pretty quiet Easter day for us; however, last weekend we enjoyed a relatively new German tradition, the Ostermarkt. Easter Markets are not as prevalent as Christmas Markets, but they are growing in popularity. We went to the Easter Market at the Kuhstallcafe in Illkofen (about 10 minutes from Hohenfels).

Kuhstallcafe literally means Cow Barn Café, which is exactly what it is! It’s a café over a cow barn that is only open on Sundays and holidays and serves delicious kuchen (cakes). Even though we went for the market, we had to stop for cake and coffee/tea. We even splurged and had our drinks mit Schuss (with a shot of liquor)!

Erdbeerjoghurttorte (Strawberry Yogurt Cake)

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake)

While the Easter Market was small, there were some nice things. I purchased the wooden bunny pictured at the beginning of this post, along with a spring door decoration, a metal hanging plant holder, and a decorative wooden basket.

I definitely think we should have Easter Markets back in the U.S. and a Cow Café certainly seems feasible back home in the Midwest! Just a few of the things we will miss about Germany when we move later this year.

I wish everyone a blessed Easter!

Happy 2012!

Happy New Year! Things here are finally settling back into a more normal routine after our enjoyable holiday travels to Mallorca and Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I hope to fill you in on those trips soon.


As our time in Germany is quickly dwindling, my goal is to capture more everyday moments. Today was a crazy weather day in Hohenfels! At times we had rain, light snow, heavy snow, ice pellets, and sun. When I went to the gym it was sunny without a trace of snow on the ground. When I left 40 minutes later, about an inch had accumulated. I have a feeling it won’t stick around very long, but it left a beautiful dusting on everything tonight. This was the view from my living room when I got home.

E&B 2011 Highlights (a.k.a. The Christmas Letter!)

2011 has been another exciting year for us here in Hohenfels, Germany. I’ll just jump right into the details!


The year got off to a rather bad start when our townhouse neighbor turned off her heat before leaving town and her pipes froze. We spent most of the first few weeks of the year dealing with fans, dehumidifiers, and the general mess that the water left behind. Thankfully, nothing of ours was damaged.

I started my second year at the Hohenfels Tax Center on January 10th. Two days later, Brandon deployed to Afghanistan. He was in Kabul for five months as the Liaison Officer for the Joint Multinational Training Center.

I also finished the coursework for my Masters in Accountancy at Stetson University. After a year of intense online classes, it feels great to be done with papers and group projects!

February & March

While Brandon was gone, I stayed busy preparing tax returns, fulfilling my Treasurer duties for the Hohenfels Community and Spouses’ Club (HCSC), providing services as the Catholic Musician, and spending time with friends.

Meanwhile, Brandon found life downrange quite boring. He spent lots of time researching the new Home Theater PC that he would assemble when he got home!


With the warmer weather, life definitely started getting busier! My parents came to visit for about 10 days right before Easter and we traveled to Heidelberg and Colmar, France.


Brandon came home from Afghanistan in May! To celebrate, we traveled to Marostica & Nove, Pisa & Lucca, and the Cinque Terre in Italy. This trip was one of the best we’ve taken. We loved the scenery, the people, and the delicious food & wine!


After our trip to Italy, Brandon started his new job as the Executive Officer (XO) for the Badger Team, the Counter-IED training team. Taking this job kept him out of the Plans shop!

I also started something new, playing clarinet with the Symphonisches Blasorchester der Stadt Regensburg. In English, that would be the Regensburg Community Band!


July turned out to be another super busy month! We had planned to travel to Hallstatt, Austria, over the July 4th weekend; however, we learned that my Grandma Lamb passed away on July 1st. We quickly made plans to fly back to Iowa for the funeral. While the reason for flying home was to mourn, we were celebrating the birth of our newest niece at the end of the trip. Emma Renee Fasse was born on July 8th and we were able to meet her before we had to catch our flight back to Germany.

We couldn’t spend any more time in Iowa because we had visitors coming! Brandon’s sister & brother-in-law, Gillian & Ryan, their one-year-old daughter, Elena, and Brandon’s mom, Linda, arrived in Munich two days after we did. They were with us for two weeks and we showed them a lot of Bavaria! In addition to the Hohenfels area, we visited Neuschwanstein, Regensburg, Munich and the BMW factory, Bamberg, Rothenberg, and Kelheim. Along the way, we also got to spend several days with Ryan’s college roommate, Dan, and his fiancée, Ines.


Since the spring, I had planned to go back to Iowa in August for Emma’s baptism and Hannah’s 4th birthday. I enjoyed being home for happy reasons this time. It was also fun for this former 4-H’er to attend the Iowa State Fair again! I was also there for Hannah’s first day of 4-year-old preschool.


Over Labor Day Weekend, we took our postponed trip to Hallstatt, Austria. We had a wonderful, relaxing weekend in a gorgeous setting!

Brandon started traveling more for work doing site surveys and observing international trainings. In September, he traveled to Slovakia and Macedonia.

The end of the month was also busy as I volunteered countless hours at the HCSC Community Bazaar as the Silent Auction/Raffle Co-Chair. My beautiful custom-ordered dining room table also arrived the same weekend. Then, September 30th was my last day at the Tax Center for the season.


Brandon traveled to Spain at the beginning of the month to observe some training and I was able to join him in Madrid for Columbus Day Weekend. We had great weather and took the opportunity to attend a bullfight…it was definitely an experience!


It seems that the end of the year is always our busiest travel months! At the beginning of November, Brandon went to Latvia for work. Then he had to attend a conference in Brussels, Belgium. Since I wasn’t working, I took the opportunity to go with him and enjoyed four days exploring the city with another spouse that had also accompanied her husband to the conference. We came home with a car full of beer and chocolate!

At the end of the month we were in Budapest, Hungary. We were pleasantly surprised to find a restaurant serving a traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving; although it still wasn’t the same as a home-cooked meal! We also enjoyed the thermal baths and the start of the Christmas market season while we were there.


And finally we made it to December! My parents came to visit us for another two weeks in order to experience the Christmas Markets themselves. We visited more than 14 markets in Amberg, Nürnberg, Regensburg, Munich, Rothenberg, and Dresden. We became quite the glühwein experts!

Now we are preparing for our last two trips of the year. We are going to Mallorca for some sun before Christmas and we’ll be learning how to ski in Garmisch-Partenkirchen between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Be sure to check back to read about those adventures!

Thank you so much for reading my blog throughout the year! The New Year will surely bring us new experiences as we move to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy 2012!!

Blumen Selbst Schneiden

Another rotation has started here at Hohenfels, so that means my husband was working this weekend. L I’m trying to do more shopping on the economy, so I headed to Parsberg yesterday after lunch. On my way to the grocery store, I drove right by the Blumen Selbst Schneiden field and noticed the flowers were in full bloom. This is one of my favorite things about living in rural Germany!

“Flowers. You cut yourself. Self-pay.”

The field in Parsberg grows gladioli and sunflowers.

There are knives provided, so you don’t need to plan ahead to stop and cut some flowers.

Each flower costs €0,60. “Only paid flowers bring joy/friends”. The coins go in the Kasse box on the other side of this sign.

I cut and paid for five gladioli. Once at home, I decided my piano is the perfect place to display them.

Today even more of the top blooms have opened up. It’s nice having some color in the house since the weather outside has been cloudy and gray.