Top 10 Things I Miss from Home

I’ve been in Germany for a month now.  I actually think I’m doing pretty well.  I can navigate about the city and even neighboring cities on my own, go shopping and arrange deliveries, etc.  In so many ways I’m clueless, but I know just enough to get by and for today, that is enough.  I’ve made a few friends and that has been a real bright spot.  I’d be lying  though to say I don’t have a yearning for many things from home.  Of course it goes without saying that the biggest thing I miss are my family and friends, but for this post, I will concentrate on things not people.

1o.  American Grocery Stores– There is certainly enough to eat in Germany.  lol  I’m not starving by any means, but I don’t have many of the ingredients that I use to cook the recipes in my culinary repertoire.  I’m a decent cook, but not a great cook, so the things I make are fairly basic American fare. Ingredients like cream of chicken soup, cheez whiz . Rice-a-Roni, cool whip, etc are often found in my pantry.  These are not things you will find in a German Markt.  That isn’t to say that they don’t have any convenience foods here because they do, but not ones I’m familiar with.  It doesn’t help that I can’t read the directions on the package.  A friend of mine gave me a German cookbook before I left to Germany.  It is packed with my stuff being delivered from the US.  Big mistake….i should have put that baby in my purse!  On the upside, I was happy to find that Germans are big on ice cream. 🙂

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9.  A Backyard–  To my backyard at home, I took you for granted.  You were so multifunctional. You didn’t mind being Preston’s (our dog) potty and all that was required on my part was to open the patio door. No special clothes required, time of day was irrelevant and no stairs were involved.   You were always there when I wanted to get some fresh air while also enjoying privacy.  Yes, taking Preston out to Pee 4 times a day here in Germany has lost it’s luster for both me and CH.  We do have some outdoor space (balcony) that we can set up a few chairs and a small grill, which is very nice, but there is no privacy, and obviously we can’t allow Preston to pee on the balcony……definitely not a good way to make friends with the downstairs neighbors.

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8.  Convenient Banking–  This just may be because we don’t know what we’re doing, but so far banking is a huge pain.  For some reason we can’t get online access to our account.  I miss being a master of my money.  We aren’t even assured we can take care of business if we go into the branch because only one person there speaks English and she may not be there.

7.  Debit/Credit Cards– Germany mostly works with cash.  We have a debit or bank card, but it’s use is very limited.  I remember in the US when a debit card was only useful for getting cash out at an ATM.  The debit card here is a bit more advanced than that, but not much.  Some stores may take it, some may not.  It’s really a crap shoot, so you always need to have a good amount of cash on hand.  You also can’t use it online for many places.  It all just makes shopping less convenient.   That may lessen when I just get used to it more.

6.  My Kitchen especially my Garbage Disposal–  I knew I was going to miss this one!  I love my kitchen at home.  We remodeled the kitchen a few years ago and I designed it.  It was a labor of love. We are very lucky that our apartment in Germany came with a kitchen.  Most apartments here don’t come with one.  Not to be picky….ok yes, I’m being picky, but the appliances are pretty old.  Since we have been here, we have burned 3 meals because the oven is on crack. We often can’t use the dishwasher because the door won’t shut.  AND  The owners are really tall and they custom made the counters for their height.  The bottom counter comes up to the top of my stomach. I look like a little kid playing in mommy’s kitchen when I try to cook in there LOL.  All of that can be changed or adapted though.  The one thing that can’t is that there is no  garbage disposal.  I was told it is against the law.  Maybe someone was BSing me, I don’t know, but you can’t get one here.  It’s just gross having to deal with left over food when you can’t just put it down the garbage disposal, not to mention the bits of food that get stuck in the strainer/stopper to prevent it from going down the drain of the sink.  Who wants to touch that???!  It’s just nasty all the way around.

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5. My Car– I don’t enjoy driving.  I do, however, enjoy getting stuff done quickly.  Starting with an empty apartment, of course we have a number of things we need.  If I had a car I could go to the store and pile in as much stuff as my wallet and car would allow.  That doesn’t work though when you can only buy as much as you can manage to carry and deal with on the train, on the walk home from the train and up multiple flights of stairs.  Another thing I realized that not having a car has an effect on…..footwear.  I’m glad I only brought a few pairs of heels, because I can’t really imagine wearing them.  I don’t see any women wearing heels either.  No one wants to walk to the train, especially through the rain, in heels.  Sensible shoes it is.

4. Linens– Germans only use a bottom sheet and a comforter with a duvet on their bed. Also their bed sizes don’t exactly correspond with the U.S. like King, Queen, Full, etc.  We are having our king size bed shipped here (THANK GOD!) but I’m having trouble finding sheets for it.  Maybe I just don’t know where to look, but it is proving difficult.  We bought a bed from Ikea for our spare room that is 160cm x 200cm but I can’t even find sheets at Ikea to fit the bed I bought there.  Also, I’m having trouble finding real quality linens at reasonable prices.

3. Familiar Stores–  I want my Macy’s and Nordstrom, Overstock.com, White House Black Market, etc.  Many stores will ship internationally but that is very expensive.  I’ve also noticed that when I can find some American brands here they are much more expensive.  Makes sense, but I’m not loving that.  Again, I’m sure in time I will find new stores and brands, but for now, I’m missing my favorites.

2.  Closets!– There are no closets built into rooms in German apartments.  Apparently if they did, it would count as an extra room for tax purposes.  Thankfully we have a cupboard for coats and linens in the hallway and the owners left a big wardrobe in the master bedroom, but where do you put your mops and brooms and vacuum and all the other crap that you want to hide from sight?  I’ve gotten a few other wardrobes, but I still haven’t figured out the storage situation for household stuff.

Drum rollllllllll……..the Number One thing I miss-

1.  Ability to Communicate– I know a bit of German but it is woefully inadequate to communicate on anything but a very basic level.  In my opinion. if one is going to live in Germany, one must learn to speak German.  I feel very hindered by my inability to communicate well with the German people.  I will be starting language courses in a few weeks.  Hopefully over time, this too will get better.

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Missing things from home is something everyone goes through when they move to a new country.  I was expecting it.  There are MANY things that I have found that I really love that is different from the US too.  I will talk about them next time.  🙂

Tschau!

 

Outsider Perspective

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If everyone were required to live for a time in a country where they don’t speak the language or know the culture, I wonder how that would change the world. There is something very humbling about being completely ignorant of your surroundings and how to navigate and negotiate to get your needs met. Other senses are triggered when you don’t understand the language being spoken…listening for tone and timber of voice, watching body language and facial expressions, observing interactions between the people around you, all clues used to help figure out what the heck is going on! Some people thrive in unfamiliar environments, but for those of us that don’t, the experience of being a foreigner, or in my case in Germany ein Auslander, can be extremely stressful. The relief that comes from the kindness and generosity of native strangers, or assimilated expats, cannot be overstated. Luckily, I have encountered many of them.  But most of all, at least for me, I feel much empathy for others that are in similar situations.

Living in the United States and specifically California, I frequently have known immigrants who are struggling in similar ways, many times even managing without the privileges that as an immigrant I enjoy, such as a safe and nice place to live, a formal education, financial security, etc. I like to think I have always been kind and willing to help a stranger to my land. I hope I have. This experience is teaching me how vulnerable one feels in such a situation, how important an empathic gesture can be.
More empathy in the world has to be a good thing.
Auf Wiedersehen

Growing Pains…

I want to preface this blog post by saying that I wrote it right after arriving in Germany following what was a treacherous (to me) move.  I was jet lagged and in pain.  The feelings were real, but even now, on day 7, things are looking brighter.  (Sleep and pain relief will do that. 🙂 )

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Day Two

I feel like I’m in a dream.  I can’t believe I have actually moved to Germany.  To say that I feel like a fish out of water would be an understatement.  I think it’s even more jarring because the move beat the crap out of me, physically and emotionally.  I have a bad back and chronic pain issues and had to push through all of that and tax my body to the max, every day for a week. I now feel like a heap of aching joints. It’s even hard to walk. For my friends and family that are familiar with The Spoon Theory,  I’ve used up reserve spoons through next Christmas.  The 11 hour flight with the dude in the seat in front of me, reclining down into my lap, didn’t help the situation.  OK, I see where this post is going.  It’s going to be a bitch session.  Sorry, that’s just where I’m at right now.  Of course, I’m happy and grateful to have the opportunity to experience a different culture and travel to many places I’ve always wanted to go, but right now on day 2, all I can see is that I am in a strange apartment with no internet, sitting on hard rental furniture, can’t take a shower because 2 of 2 towels we have are dirty and the washing machine takes 3 hours and the towels still aren’t dry.   And…….. all my stuff is on the ocean somewhere right now and won’t get here for approximately 2 months! Whaaaaa!  I want my bed!  Whaaaaa!

The best news I got the today was that my daughter is coming to visit us in September and my French Exchange daughter (she lived with us for a year in the US in 2014-2015) might be coming to visit in a few weeks.  I’m so excited to see them both.  I’m also looking forward to a visit this summer from our U.S. next door neighbor/friend. She is German and will be coming in July to visit family and we’ll be lucky enough to get a visit from her and her daughter too.
Trial and error has never been something I’ve been fond of.  It gives me a lot of anxiety.  I am a bit of a perfectionist and when I don’t know how to do even the most simple of tasks like how to separate the trash (it’s a thing  here-German Recycling Rules), get a cart at the grocery store, how to work the washing machine, etc, it stresses me out.  I’m not a big proponent of Artificial Intelligence, but I absolutely could go for a “Welcome to Karlsruhe, Germany” robot that would follow me around and explain everything and translate for me.  I’m sure that will be available at some time in the future.  You heard it here first.  😉
I’m hoping this first post will stand as a marker for me and something to look back on and chuckle about how I was a mess the first week and how everything is so much better now.  (This is one of those times I wish I was Samantha from Bewitched and could twitch my nose to travel through time).
I’ll end this entry with two wins for today.  1.  I found that condensed milk is a decent substitute for coffee creamer.  2.  I learned how to work the key to the front door of our building.  Yep, even that couldn’t be easy.  I’m a pro now though.  Yay me! 🙂
Bis später!

Where Do I Start?!

I haven’t posted anything in awhile, I think mostly because I have just been incredibly overwhelmed with working and preparing for this huge move by myself while CH is in Germany.  Every time I think I’ve made progress, something comes along to set me back.  (Like a busted water heater flooding my garage the day before Thanksgiving!)

To start off with the good news, we found a fabulous apartment in Karlsruhe that is exactly what I had in mind when I thought of living in Europe….a historical building with 14ft ceilings, crown molding, hardwood floors, balconies, ceiling medallions, an updated bathroom and yes, it even has a KITCHEN! (something I have learned is a rare commodity in Germany, which I don’t think I will ever understand.)  If anyone has any ideas or knows of websites to help me brainstorm on a historic European with a modern flare decorating style, let me know!

Well, that’s about it for the good news.  The rest is not bad news, but it’s a long list of never ending tasks that seem to have completion that remains elusive.  Did I mention I just found out I have mice in my house? (well, in one bathroom)  yeah….awesome.  I have a feeling the mice colluded and laid in wait until CH was gone in order to make their debut.  Little #@$#%&*!  We’ve lived in this house for 7 years and have never had a problem with the vermin.  I thought maybe I just had one singular mouse.   We don’t use this bathroom because it needs work done.  It has been closed off for a year. Last week though my daughter noticed some mouse poop evidence of maybe one mouse in there, so I put down a container of mice poison.  I love that stuff because they eat it and then go somewhere else for their final moments in this world.  I had a contractor over yesterday to give me an estimate regarding the work I need done on the bathroom. We opened the bathroom door and Good Lord! it was like the morning after a mice frat house party in there!  Let’s just say the small amount of “evidence” multiplied greatly…..and the container of poison?….ALL GONE and not only that, but they dragged the container across the room and flipped it over like they were giving me a big middle finger!  Little $*#@$^&!  Anyway, the contractor found where they were coming in.  They had eaten through an opening to a pipe.  He did a temporary fix and I hope that is the end of that.  If I see one actually inside of MY living space, I may have to evacuate and burn this baby down!

Speaking of fury creatures, two that I am fond of have occupied the majority of my thoughts regarding the move, our dog Preston and our cat Angel.

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They are super cute and don’t look like they could cause me any concern, right?!  Well Preston is neurotic, but still cute.  Moving animals is not easy though.  Moving animals to another country is NOT EASY and it is very expensive.  Both of them are about the same age….around 14 years old.  Angel is an indoor cat and other than a few quick escapes, the only time she has been out of the house is to the vet. She HATES being in a car!  She also has a sensitive tummy.  I just really don’t think she would make it through what would be required to get her from California to Germany.  I don’t think that would be fair to her.  So I’m wracked with worry over what is going to happen to her.  I got her as a new kitten only a few weeks old.  She is an awesome cat.  I’m really sad about it.  I’m trying to do what’s right for her.  I have a few possibilities for a home for her and I’m hoping one of them works out.  I will miss her very much though.  Then there’s Preston.  Preston will be able to make the journey, but I still worry about him in the belly of a plane for so long, thinking we have abandoned him.  I’m also worried about having him in an apartment. He’s never lived in an apartment before.  What if he barks?  (he doesn’t bark much…unless he sees a cat outside in our yard, but he’s a dog.)  Where are dogs allowed to do their “business” in a city?  Of course I would pick up any poop, but are dogs allowed to pee on the sidewalk?  CH thinks I’m weird for worrying about things like this, but that is just me.  My brain never stops spinning.  It’s exhausting really, but we all have our crosses to bear.

Then there is the actual moving/storing of our belongings.  We have a large 4 BR home and decades full of furniture and life.  Being married to someone that works in the tech industry has taught me that no job lasts forever, so there is likelihood that we will come home at some point. We are going to rent our house out, but I don’t want to come home and have to refurnish this entire house.  Additionally, it is expensive to ship things and we are cognizant of the fact that everything that we bring over will have to come back or we will have to get rid of it.  Lots of juggling of priorities.  Searching for an international mover has been frustrating, to say the least.  For one thing….you don’t get your stuff for MONTHS when it ships….that’s with all of them.  I looked at the reviews of many moving companies and it was nightmare after nightmare of problems that people had.  I know you have to weigh reviews, but these were really bad.  There was one company though that actually did have good reviews.  They came over a few weeks ago and took inventory of my things and were supposed to have the estimate to me within a few days.  Over a week later when I hadn’t heard anything, I emailed the guy.  He said he just found out he was going to be a new dad and so his work has suffered.  Huge congrats on the baby…seriously, but not a good start to this business relationship.  Is that mean of me?  Probably, but I’ve got things to do!

I just put formal notice in at work and my last day will be Feb 5th.  It will be so much easier to manage everything when I’m no longer working.  I can’t wait until I’m in my new place in Germany, enjoying a nice glass of wine and a big exhale!

Bis bald!  🙂

 

Living in Limbo…

This current situation that I find myself in is an odd one, a marriage and life straddling two continents.  Modern technology makes it easier and I often think about what it would be like without that.  Skype is a lifesaver.  CH and I have settled into a pattern of twice daily Skype calls during the week and more frequent on the weekends.  Because of the time difference, one of the calls is only sleepy ships passing in the night (or morning).  I was never much of a Skyper before this, so I know I’m late to that party.  durlach

I find myself a bit envious that CH is there experiencing new adventures without me.  I’m comforted though that he seems to be settling in well.  His apartment has everything that he needs and is in a small village on the outskirts of Karlsruhe.  Looking outside of his window he can see quaint German architecture,  community open markets and on the weekends the air is often filled with music from local bands.  Grocery shopping and small restaurants are all within walking distance, making everything quite convenient.  This flat is temporary though.  He will be moving into Karlsruhe proper in about another month.  That flat wasn’t immediately available, so he was lucky to find this one in the interim. (Thank you Carmen Sax!)  The new place will put him within walking distance from his office.

My days aren’t significantly different than before CH left, although it’s very lonely without him.  The first week I was like a lost puppy.  I’ve now created my own solo routine, however the silence in the house is still very stark at times.  I miss my friend.  I miss boring and simple things like just watching TV together and hearing him threaten that he is “boycotting The Voice” if his contestant gets kicked off.  I miss sharing meals together and our constant banter that to an untrained ear can be mistaken for bickering.  I miss how he brings me coffee in the morning on weekends.  I miss laughing together.  We get to do some of that via Skype, but it’s kind of like enjoying a beautiful sunset through a picture on a computer screen….it is still gorgeous, but you lose so much when you aren’t experiencing it in person.

I had my 50th birthday a few days ago.  That stung a bit to be alone for that, but again, technology to the rescue!  CH sent me beautiful flowers, my son from San Diego sent me a package with some lovely fruit and I had LOADS of very kind messages from all of my friends on Facebook as well as calls from family.  I am so looking forward to brunch with my daughter tomorrow.  We are going to one of my favorite restaurants in the Napa Valley.  I have much to be grateful for.  I find myself waiting with great anticipation for Christmas when my family will be back together.  We always try to make Christmas special, but this will truly be a wonderful one!

I’m not exactly sure the date I will be moving to Germany.  My son is ending his military service in April and I was planning on staying in the US until he got home.  However, it’s looking like he may stay in Southern California, so I don’t really need to wait for that.  My next step is to put a plan together for the move and start getting estimates from moving companies.  Honestly my biggest concern though is our cat.  She is a part of our family which is no different that any other pet lovers, but she is a senior kitty.  By the time I move, she will be almost 14 years old.  She is in relatively good health, but I really worry about her making such a long trip from the US to Germany. Other than for short excursions like going to the vet, she has never really been out of the house. I worry that such a trip would either kill her or really traumatize her.  I have no idea what I’m going to do. Is it weird that in planning such a big move, my main concern is my CAT?! I don’t know. 🙂  We also have a dog, but I think he will do OK on the journey.  He is also CH’s baby, so there is no way he would leave him behind.  If anyone has any experience with transporting animals….companies that you’ve used and liked, stories about how your pets managed the transition, etc, I would love to hear them!

When I leave I’m sure I will miss home like crazy.  I think I may need to be medicated when I say goodbye to my kids.  However, I remind myself that I am so lucky that at this stage of my life (super cool and hot 50!) that I have an opportunity to experience something so new and exciting.  In the meantime, I will continue to ride the rollercoaster of transition and try to savor each step of the way!

Tschüß!

A Culture of Fear

Over the past two decades especially, the political climate in the United States has become extremely divisive.  I think I can pinpoint 9/11 as the beginning of that change.  When that horrific tragedy happened, Americans came together like at no other time.  How we recovered from the tragedy is what has separated us.  One way has been to become more fearful and less trusting of others.  I think that is probably the most automatic human reaction.  It’s understandable to go into a mode of protection when one has been hurt. As time goes on though, if we stay in that mindset we begin to think that everyone wants to hurt us.  The “us vs them” is further entrenched into our culture. That mindset is contrary to the culture that the United States was founded on.  A quote from Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  That is the idea that has made the US great.  The one filled with hope, strength and charity.

Germany has a different history and culture, but I see them struggling with some similar values.  They have never been the “melting pot” of the United States.  However, in their history, many Germans were the refugees after WWII.  I speculate, but I wonder if that is what leads them to be as welcoming as they have been to the current Syrian refugees.  All Germans however haven’t been so happy about the acceptance of refugees to their country.  The interesting thing to me as an American studying German current events and culture, is that there are so many similarities between the anti refugee crowd in the US compared to those in Germany.  The common theme is fear.

Being concerned about hundreds of thousands of people from war torn countries with a different culture/language and many with a different religion isn’t surprising and doesn’t make one a xenophobe.  With that said though, the vitriol I have read online from some Americans and Europeans about this subject has been really disturbing to me.  There is a lack of humanity in their rhetoric.  Fear that has been carefully cultivated and refined by propaganda.  These are a few of the comments I have read today about the refugees….

“Go home terrorists. Nobody wants you but fools.”…..American

“not migrants not refugees but invaders & criminals”…UK

“Now we know when and how our civilization will end.“… Canadian

Although i reject statements like these, it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand concerns that people have.  The reality is that we live in a world where we have had violence levied by radical Islmamic extremists.  We have also endured much tragedy and violence by radical Christian extremists.  Extremism is destructive.  No one knows that better than Germany.  However, I refuse to allow fear to override my humanity.  I will also not allow it to override my logic.  Logic tells me that since there are 1.6 BILLION Muslims in the world and up to 12 MILLION of them in the United States, that if they were all violent terrorists the world would see much more terrorism than it does now. My religion tells me that even when culture and religion differ, we are all God’s children. My humanity tells me that I have a responsibility to help others when I can.  When I can look at families fleeing across oceans and hundreds of miles on foot to live somewhere safe and I don’t feel compassion for them, I no longer want to live in this world.  When we are so consumed by fear that we lose our humanity then the terrorists have won.

I have more questions than answers about what should be done about the refugees running for their lives.  I agree that there must be checks and safeguards and that one country can only do so much.  I do expect the leaders of the world to come up with a solution to this.  The US has a responsibility.  We have had a hand in the Middle East for many years now.  The destabilization of the Middle East is in part a result of ousting Hussein in Iraq and the vacuum of power that created.  These are difficult problems that require wisdom and diplomacy and can’t be driven purely by fear of what might happen.  What I hope is that we all remember that much of our good fortune is that of chance and grace.  There but for the grace of God go I.

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“Starting Is Easy, To Persevere Is An Art”

I said goodbye yesterday to my best friend and hubby (CH), as he left to begin his new job in Germany.  I have to stay in The States for a number of months to wrap things up here before I will be joining him.  It was a difficult thing to see him walk out the door of our home, knowing that in the next 6 months, I will probably only see him a handful of times.   I’m pretty sure the “Marriage Rule Book” frowns on that.     Rule #749:  Live on the same Continent.  I feel like a whinny baby when I talk about it.  I mean it isn’t unheard of that couples have to live apart for various reasons at some time in their marriage. Military spouses do it all the time under much more difficult circumstances.  I do try though to focus instead on the positive aspects of living sans CH, like no one will cook uncovered food that splatters in the microwave…..or just in general leave messes in the kitchen.  I’m sure there are a few of my annoying habits he will be happy to be free of too, at least for a little while.

The first text I got from CH upon him arriving in Germany was “Shit.  Shit”  That can’t be good.  Nope.  When he was on the DB train from Frankfurt to Karlsruhe, someone stole his backpack which contained a lot of camera equipment, his laptop and money.  The backpack was very large and wouldn’t fit on his lap so he had no choice on the crowded train, but to to put it in the luggage rack above his seat. He thinks it was a duo set up, because when the train was coming to the Mannheim stop, a man distracted him asking for his help with a map.  He thinks while he was looking at the map and talking to the guy, someone else took his bag.  After some choice words to the universe, I’m pretty much over it now. I know it will take longer for CH though.  He is a very calm person and not much ever gets him upset…..except bad drivers or when he loses something.  Those two situations throw him from zero to ten in a flash.   We both know that in the big scheme of things possessions aren’t that important.  I’m grateful that he made it there safely.

For the next month or so I’m going to focus mostly on my German studies  I tried to sign up for an online German 1 class at a Community College, but unfortunately the class was closed.  I’ve been searching the internet for a more beefy curriculum than Duolingo.  I’ve found a few things, but I’m open to any suggestions if anyone knows of something good.  I definitely have some time on my hands.

Anfangen ist leicht, beharren eine Kunst.