Last Week

One of the goals I had for this year was to spend 10 minutes each day writing about whatever came into my head. I missed last Wednesday, but here I’d like to share what I wrote on Thursday evening.

…….

January 7th, 2021, 11:50pm.

Well, less than a week in and I already missed a day. I thought I’d have plenty of time. We had a perfectly nice of evening on a nice, quiet public holiday. Ate a small dinner, made a magnificent batch of popcorn, watched the season premiere of the first Black Bachelor… all lovely. Then we stopped. BV headed for the office, I looked at my phone and… oh shit.

Crazed Trump protestors* storming the Capitol. A meager police force overwhelmed, or maybe allowing them to push through. Some yes, more concerned with getting the Senators, House Reps, and other staff to safety, which they did, but so many questions remain.

Watching it all unfold live was surreal. They went where they wanted, posed gleefully for pictures, defaced property, stole. And then, slowly, slowly, back up forces arrived, pushed them out, and for most of them, off they went. Video footage today showed a full luxury hotel lobby packed with them last night. Drinking, laughing, considering themselves the winners. And why wouldn’t they? The President, in a pre-taped video told them to go home but barely. The emphasis on his stolen election was stronger. His sentiment that he loved them, and that they are very special people, was stronger. Of course they feel victorious. The number of arrests is pathetic, and it seems from the mixed reporting today, that most of those came after curfew at 6pm. By then many of all were already out of the building and bragging about their exploits. Four people have now died; one woman having been shot inside.

They found pipe bombs, and a truck loaded with weaponry. The authorities are asking for tips and the internet is on top of ID-ing many, but why, why is it necessary? Once they were inside, how were they allowed to walk out? It’s unfathomable.

The news cycle today was a mess of who’s responsible, what now, and speculation. This is exactly what so many thought would happen and yet again it seems that the people who have the power to do something, will not. He’s got 13 days left and could certainly do a lot more damage in that time. But do the people who matter have the conviction to do anything? They haven’t so far. I’ve often felt over the last four years, and 2020 was by far the worst bit, that I was watching my home country burn in real time. Yesterday topped it all.

*what they were called at the beginning of the day

…….

It’s now Monday night/Tuesday morning. In the days since, the pictures, videos, and first-hand accounts have continued to horrify. As of now, there have been five deaths, two of them Capitol Police. Many of the insurrectionists involved have been identified by friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, you know name it. Mug shots of many have been released as they’ve been arrested. Others found themselves suddenly on the no-fly list, trapped in D.C., loudly protesting all of the injustices against them as they stormed around airport gates maskless. The injustices against them. Unreal.

The variety of people who showed up for this event is vast. Yes, they were little old ladies and suburban couples, and others that did not appear to be an immediate threat. But there were also a huge number of them who were armed, maybe not with firearms on their person, but with anything else they could find that would do harm. Tactical gear, bear spray, zip ties ready for what? Taking lawmakers hostage until they could march them out to the gallows, A GALLOWS, that was erected outside the building? News crews had their equipment smashed and destroyed, but their cables were stolen and twisted into nooses.

Rioters flying the Thin Blue Line flag were right there as a policeman was beaten with a flagpole attached to an American flag. So the police are on your side? Not today? When exactly?

All of it was unreal to see. It’s unreal to think that it happened, so predictably and seemingly so easily.

And the question of what happens now is still up in the air. Articles of impeachment seem to be ready to go, but do they have the votes? Pence isn’t ruling out the 25th Amendment, but he is? Many lawmakers, mostly on the right, calling for unity, that moving ahead with any of this won’t repair the country.

The man should have been removed during the first impeachment. After last week, let’s not fool ourselves that throwing him out of office even a week ahead of schedule couldn’t stop him from doing more irreparable damage.

Four years ago I could not believe that Donald Trump, the slimy host of The Apprentice, the man with the golden tower, possibly got elected to the highest office in the land. I thought Americans were smarter. I did not understand how the Republican party, the party of fiscal conservatism could get behind such a incredibly bad businessman, who ran nearly every business he was in into the ground. What about the Republican party, the party of family values? So they elect someone thrice-divorced (okay, hey, not everyone gets it right the first time. Or the second.), but then the Access Hollywood tape hit. Beyond that, there was an endless parade of women saying he’d done this, said that, touched them. But that was okay too. I wondered how many Trump-supporting parents of young daughters on my FB feed would react if their girls came home from school saying a boy had done something to them. How could they defend his representing those family values?

When he put out a call to march on the Capitol, thousands showed up. Armed, willing to beat police officers to death with the same flags that represent them. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, people who have been screaming that their guns were being taken away for years and yet they still have guns. Are those the ones anyone wants to align themselves with? Trump enabled and emboldened all of these types to crawl out from the dark underbelly of the internet and feel comfortable and confident enough to step into the light. You might think your lawyer is slightly right-wing but seeing him in camo banging on the doors of the Capitol building should be a wake-up call. If you are marching at a protest and see that the guy next to you has a Nazi tattoo, wouldn’t you think… hmm… maybe this is not a place I should be? These are not the people I should be marching alongside?

It makes no sense. It’s a cult of personality at this point. They are now the party of Trump and it is a train run wild that could destroy the entire country. They spent the last four-plus years putting him forward as the face of something that the party is not, though a lot of Republicans hold their nose and pretend. The myth of the party, if you will.

The only conclusion that I can come to is that anyone saying that the Republican party is still whatever ideal of the Republican party existed in the past, small government, fiscal conservatism, all those things we talked about in A.P. History a thousand years ago, is dead and gone. Now it’s propping up business and failing the worker, stomping for one religion over all others, quashing the hard-won rights of people who look different, love differently, or worship differently than you do. Asking for unity after a Confederate flag walked through the Capitol building.

No. You look and see what you’ve done. You reap what you’ve sown, since the Bible is so important.

Now I’m no expert, but this is what I know. Over the years it has twisted into propping up huge business and that whole trickle-down effect that Reagan promised… never happened. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with working hard and building a successful business. I am, however, saying that the wealth gap is bigger than ever. Jeff Bezos has more money than he could literally ever spend, but his warehouse workers break their backs for peanuts. Drivers are often contracted out, with little to no oversight, they have no security, no insurance, they pee in bottles during their shifts just to make their routes. And the same things happens at countless companies, Amazon is just one example. The days of getting a job at the local factory that had benefits and paid well enough for a small house and a family are long gone but the myth of their existence still lingers. The cost of living has only gone up with the minimum wage far behind in the dust.

Extreme religious conservatives have taken further and further hold, putting every gain women have made over the years into more and more danger, along with other minority groups. And somehow, Donald Trump came along and conned the vast majority of them into going along with him. Donald Trump, a man so religious that he tear-gassed peaceful protestors in order to wave a Bible (a book he’s most assuredly never read as the man DOES NOT READ BOOKS) awkwardly in front of a church. Even those conservatives that may have disagreed were, and are mostly even now, too afraid of his rabid fan base to go against him. And those that agree? I don’t know how they could agree after literally fleeing an angry mob last week, but some still hold out. Good thing so many of their staffers grew up doing active shooter drills in school and knew how to hide effectively.

It’s nauseating. It’s infuriating. It’s been said before but I’ll say it again. Trump is not the entire problem, but he’s a symptom. He’s the face of the problem, he’s incredibly dangerous, and should never have gotten within 100 feet of the Oval Office to begin with. He needs to go, and he needs to never happen again. Nor should any member of his family get within any close number of votes or hope of winning another election.

Normally this is not the sort of post I want to write here. I’ve had a lot of these thoughts over the last four years. I had a lot of thoughts over the summer, what with the global pandemic and the BLM protests sweeping across the country. But no one needs to hear a middle-class white millenial’s take on that. I focused on supporting where I could afford to, educating myself as best I could with various media, and spent a lot of time thinking back on how I was raised. Comments, asides, things that I now wonder about, things that I might now question if they came up again.

When I was 7, we moved from Milwaukee out to the rural suburbs of what is now one of the most strongly Republican counties of the state. Google tells me the distance is 45.3 miles on the route we usually took, so let’s say 45-60 minutes depending on traffic. In the city, I had attended a private, Lutheran school. When we moved, I switched to public. I distinctly remember being asked by my new classmates if I knew Black people. I also remember being 1) incredibly confused by the question… don’t you know Black people? No, some of them had never seen one (at least that they could remember at 7 years old) and 2) where were all of them? My previous school had been a mix of kids from different backgrounds. Here, everyone was White. There wouldn’t be a single minority until we hit middle school, when there was one in my class. Again, the difference is 45 miles. Milwaukee was not the moon, but it may as well have been to some of those kids. To say that the new environment was insular is an understatement. And despite going to the same school, with mostly those same kids, from grades 2-12, I never felt like I fit in.

I got my first job when I was 15, as most of those kids did. Living out in the boonies, learning to drive was a necessity and if you ever wanted a prayer of getting a car, you’d better get to work. I remember my indignation at seeing how much came out in taxes from my first paycheck. I’d covered myself in milkshake for two weeks, wearing horrible white pants that were immediately filthy and sliding on grease on the floor for minimum wage ($5.15/hour at that time) and this was all that was left? Pretty sure my dad laughed at me and told me to thank the Democratic administration that was in power. I was incredibly annoyed at the loss of that money, but I was also 15 years old and working my very first, very sticky, part-time job.

Since then I’ve had lots of different jobs, and some of those in different countries even. And you know what? I grew up a bit, too. Now I understand that taxes… can pay for things! Roads! Infrastructure! Schools! All sorts of fun stuff! And when people pay more into that, the entire society benefits. Fun fact: of all the visitors I’ve had over the years, both here and during my time in Prague, nearly all of them have commented on the same three things.

  1. Wow, there are a lot less crappy cars here!
  2. Wow, the cities are so clean!
  3. Wow, the roads are in such smooth and nice condition! (They’re visitors, they don’t get annoyed at getting stuck at the same construction site constantly for years on end)

Numbers two and three are pretty clear benefits of higher taxes, and number one is down to higher regulation of the cars you are allowed to drive and their environmental impact, as well as their potential for harm to yourself/others. Considering I was once in an old Dodge Dart going downhill with a train track and a stop sign at the bottom of it when the brakes decided not to work, I’m on board with them checking on the cars here every few years.

I don’t look too often anymore to see how much I paid in taxes. It is what it is, and I’m okay with that. I choose to live here, and I choose to pay that price. But there are a lot of people, many of those who were running burgers beside me, or operating presses around me, or slinging laundry, who may never have had that realization. Maybe never will. May never put together that more money in their pocket, or that the tax return they look forward to every year means that Domino’s Pizza stepped in to fix the roads in the community. Yes, that happened. Great publicity for Domino’s, but shouldn’t it be a sign that there’s something wrong? Just like those “heartwarming” stories of teachers pooling their sick days to donate to a co-worker undergoing cancer treatment who has run out of her own. That’s not heartwarming, that’s dystopian. But healthcare is another long rambling post for another day.

Like many, I had former military members in my family and it was something to be proud of. We wore red, white and blue on the 4th, we were rich in ‘Americana’ decor. We were taught that the U.S. was the greatest country on Earth and I never questioned that for a long time. Is it great? Yes. Is it the greatest? No, but I don’t think any country is. They all have problems. Every country, like every person, is fallible. The U.S., like Germany, like every other country on Earth, has things that they do well, and they they do poorly.

It will always be my birth country, whether or not I ever live there again. But I do not recognize it today as we were taught it was. I don’t know if it was ever that way, or if that was all part of the myth… the one that people still try to keep alive. White picket fences (where my parents live, you can’t even build a fence unless you get a special permit and know someone on city council), those steady factory jobs (already covered that), mom in an apron getting dinner on the table by the time dad comes in at 5 (how many of those moms had drinking problems or addictions to questionable ’50s-era drugs for the nerves and how many of those dads stopped at the bar on the way home and maybe whacked her around once in a while, or the kids for that matter). And at some point, the Black family moved in and everyone else moved out.

I can’t say I see the appeal. Maybe it looked good in magazines, we’ve all seen Mad Men, but the underbelly was there. The rose-colored glasses, the nostalgia, the myth, they forget that part.

There is potential to come back from all of this. There is potential for people to learn, to grow, to accept the reality of the country as it is, vibrant, inventive, ingenious as ever, but that myth has to die. There can be a better country, but it has to be better for everyone. Partisan entrenchment can only hurt, can only drive the divisions deeper. I just hope enough people can grow, can learn, can think outside of what they know now, to see what could be.

…..

So that got really long and kind of weird but as I said, I’ve had a lot of these thoughts over the last four years and I just really needed to get them out.

If anyone read all of that, I salute you. I’m sorry it might not make a lot of sense. It’s 5:30am and it had to get out of my head if I have any chance of sleep.

Ten.

On the night of January 7th, I tossed and turned, unable to fall asleep. The previous day had been my first day back to work after the Christmas break and it had also been the first day of getting into my new job. It was a rather fragmented day, and my mind was spinning.

I needed to sleep… the 8th would be my first really full day. I would leave the house at 7:30am and not get home until 8pm. I had several meetings scheduled, and a mental to-do list to get through in between them. I would start a new class in the evening and was running through my list of introductory activities, trying to decide which one I wanted to use on a new class that I had hardly any information about. What to do? Not sleep, that was for sure.

Alternating with these thoughts was another theme… 10 years ago on this same night, I was also not sleeping much. I was on a plane, and sleeping on planes is not one of my strong points. That was the night I flew from Chicago to Prague with plans to do a TEFL course and… not much else.

10 years ago. My god.

Since I wasn’t sleeping, I mentally drafted all sorts of brilliant things to say in this blog post that would wrap up the last decade. But because I wasn’t sleeping, I also spent the next few days alternately running around, learning way too many new names, trying my best to absorb piles of new information, and failing miserably at getting my body back into some sort of normal rhythm. Needless to say, whatever I mentally drafted has been lost, which is probably for the best… 2:30am brilliance can be pretty weird in the light of day.

My second original plan for this post was to have a picture from my first day in Prague, and one from now. Then, the Facebook “challenge” hit.

Via Giphy

Okay, number 1: posting a picture of yourself from ten years ago and now is not a challenge. It’s clicking things on a computer, not performing surgery while blindfolded. Secondly, posting multiple versions of this “challenge” in an attempt to maximize the ‘ooooh, you haven’t aged a day’ comments is incredibly obnoxious.

It was, however, a neat comparison for me personally on how I have and have not changed. Clearly I haven’t changed much when it comes to saltiness/judgement.

Via Giphy

Not the most flattering self-assessment in the world, but I strive for honesty here. *shrug*

On the other hand, all these years in Germany among people with a healthy distrust of social media immediately made me reach for my tinfoil hat, particularly after reading things like this Wired article. Ten years ago, I probably would’ve been all “fun! Why not?” Now? Hard pass. At least, not on FB. Or Twitter. Or the ‘gram.

But luckily, my blog is none of those places… it’s my own little space, and I still want to do it here. Not because of some viral bs challenge, but because these last ten years have been  A CHALLENGE. Like, a real one.

January 9th, 2009 (no photos from the 8th… which given the long travel day is probably for the best). I was 25. I was in Europe with people I’d never met before, wandering through a city covered in snow.

Petrin Hill with magnificent people.

The next ten years of challenges meant making friends and losing them. They meant missing births and deaths and feeling insanely guilty for my life choices. They meant plane tickets and trips to the foreign police and screwing up on insurances and asking for help and muddling my way through the bureaucratic maze that leads you to start considering yourself an immigrant.

They meant learning to appreciate red wine,  and to celebrate any excuse to see somewhere new. They meant visitors and book exchanges and thousands of pictures that spread across continents. They meant abandoning the flared jean and embracing the legging (at least, in the comfort of my home… I still have limits).

January 8th, 2019. I am 35. I usually wear glasses now and I may still have one pair of flared jeans but those are regulated to garden work.

See? Here I am, enjoying Tchibo’s finest leggings and a hoodie (forever a hoodie person), in a very odd couch pose at the end of an incredibly long day.

The celebration consisted of leftover pasta, Sekt, and a very nice bottle of red from South Tyrol’s Elena Walch. BV even stopped at a bakery on the way home and got us two slices of Sachertorte to mark the occasion. Naturally the only classy viewing option for all of these delicious goodies was the season premier of The Bachelor. Because frankly, some things shouldn’t change.

Ten. Wild.

31-Day Challenge 2018: Day 14

What is the messiest room or area of your home?

I’m pretty sure that during this challenge last year I wrote about my quest to move all of my work stuff out of our bedroom and into the office. I’m happy to report that I was successful in doing so. I am less happy to say that our “office” remains an unholy disaster area.

I used to have piles of books that migrated around the house. It’s an unfortunate side effect of teaching 15-20 classes a week, most of which use at least two books, some the same, some not. Those are now mostly housed on a bookshelf in semi-chronological order of their class times. Sometimes though, they wind up on a pile on the floor by Friday, as I’m tossing things in and out of my bag all week.

I also used to have piles of papers that I’ve photocopied and “might need again at some point.” Many of these copies were slightly askew from hurried copying, or had their edges nommed off, as Marry d.K. enjoys chewing on paper at random times. Do those piles still exist? Yep.

They don’t live in the bedroom anymore, but there are at least two piles that migrate on and around the desk, waiting for that fateful day when they’ll be filed. Since some of them haven’t been touched in well over a year, as I’ve made a concerted effort to copy less unnecessary shit, I think it’s safe to say that I could just burn them at this point. I foresee a lot of grilling this summer, and I think we’ve got the paper aspect of firestarting covered.

Besides the book chaos and the migrating paper stacks, the office is kind of a scary place. Since moving in with a normal person who hadn’t been living out of suitcases like I had, BV has his entire life in this house. His parents don’t have random boxes of his shit like most people’s do… it’s all here. All his old school papers are housed in binders and boxes, many of which are filling up those bookcases in the office. Apparently there are more up in the attic, as well.

Bins and binders are joined by random boxes of jumbled electronic equipment. A soldering iron moves around the house, but it often lives under the desk where I trip on it regularly.

Speaking of the desk, it is a behemoth. I honestly do NOT understand how it got into the house. It’s one of those huge, old, metal desks that you only see now in movies set in the 1970s. The interior is actually relatively well-organized, but the top is a moving, living creature. Even more so when the cat leaps up on it while I’m trying to do invoices, and sends a few things flying. She’s helpful.

As it stands, the office is really not a functional space for either of us. We go in there to get things, but rarely do much actual work in it. It actually stresses me out to try to do any work in there. Or it just makes me think about things like taxes, and who wants to think about that? I’d probably save both of us a lot of time and stress if we just went in together and reorganized it, but it’s one of those things that neither of us can seem to make ourselves do. Those tasks that you put off and off and off, and then they are inevitably so much easier than you thought they’d be (not like taxes, this time), are the worst.

 

*****

Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, which will possibly now extend into June to compensate for the vacation gap, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge 2018: Day 9

*Sweet sigh of relief*

I love May. Tomorrow is yet another public holiday, in this case Ascension Day/Father’s Day, and officially my first day of a 12-day break. We started the party this evening, with an assortment of Italian meats and cheeses for dinner, with a hefty bottle of Teroldego to get us ready for next week in South Tyrol.

BV has got a day up on me though, as he had today off too. Since we finally had all the cats (CATS) out of the way, he got started on a couple of things that we need to do which are basically impossible with a pet. Before my parents visited several years ago, we laid down some pressed wood in the hallway, after we had a water incident and had to toss the laminate. However, we put it down just a day or two before they arrived, and didn’t have time to properly seal it. And with the cat, we nearly never had more than a day or two with her out of the house to take care of it. So that was step one. BV sanded the wood, and sealed one half of the length. Hopefully tomorrow it’ll be ready to seal the other side, as we do need to able to walk on at least half of it to get around the house.

It was also a good opportunity to open up all the windows and get some air circulating in here. I plan on some fairly intense vacuuming, which is easier without cats flying in every which direction. In a perfect world, I’d drag out the piles of stuff that I want to put up for sale online, but I feel like that’s a multi-day, preferably BV out of the house task. I’ll settle for a decent deep clean of the pantry and some bathroom tile scrubbing, in the meantime.

Then it’ll be the usual ritual of pre-trip laundry, and the packing of stuff. The forecast for our week isn’t looking too hot, so it’s going to be a lot of layered hiking gear, and a pile of books in case it really does rain all day every day. Cross fingers and press thumbs, if you don’t mind.

*****

Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

Sunday Snapshots: Adulting for Amateurs

Middle Franconia, 2016

Middle Franconia, 2016

This time last year was very notable for BV and me.  One of his favorite methods of procrastination while he should have been working on his thesis was to look at houses for sale in the Nürnberg area. Our price point can best be summed up as “as cheap as humanly possible,” so there hasn’t been too much that we’ve been seriously interested in. Last February however, there was something that sparked our interests enough that we actually went out and looked at it. No, this wasn’t the front door. Although the house we checked out was a fairly old building, this shot comes from the little church in the center of town. I do love a small-town church… at least from the outside.

In the end it didn’t work out, but we did spend a lovely afternoon wandering along the river, driving through the forest, and measuring the distance between a possible future home and the train station. (The verdict? Easily walkable! A rare find… at least at the aforementioned price point.) Oh well.

This Old German House: Welcome to the Cave

Living outside of the city has some major benefits. When I moved in with BV, it was almost triple the space of my flat in Nürnberg, not to mention the beauty of having a garden. I especially love it right now, as early spring turns the garden into a magical fairyland, with no effort whatsoever on our part. Can’t go wrong with that!

We rent our flat from a friend of BV’s, which means that we get a bit of a discount, but are expected to take care of said garden, pick up the landlord’s mail, and keep an eye on things in the empty flat downstairs. The disadvantage is that our landlord hasn’t been around much in the last year, lives far away, doesn’t drive, and BV is sometimes slow to ask him to fix things when they break. I don’t write him because I’m 95% sure he’s scared of me, so it’s probably better for BV to handle things with him.

Which brings me to our current cave. On the whole, I like the house and the space. But it’s an old house, and it doesn’t have nearly enough windows as far as I’m concerned. The living room and bedroom are south and south-east facing, and therefore only really bright in the morning, when we’re either sleeping or not at home. I like a lot of light, and the fact that it’s almost never bright enough to read comfortably without turning a lamp on, drives me a little crazy.

Then, a few weeks ago, tragedy struck. BV pulled on the interior strap to raise the wooden blinds on the bedroom window. One side tried to go up, but the other side didn’t budge. At first we thought that they had just frozen in the recent cold snap, but then every few days we tried again with the same results. Great. Our bedroom was now a cave. I think the exterior blinds that all the houses here have, are quite frankly genius, and I don’t understand why we haven’t caught onto them in the States yet. They certainly block light much more effectively than any curtains or blinds that I’ve ever had before, which when you’re trying to sleep in is absolutely fantastic. But when I’m trying to clean the bedroom, read, or organize papers, I need every bit of light I can get. Having them down all the time is simply unacceptable.

These pictures were all taken in the afternoon on a bright day…

After a fair amount of whining on my part, we finally managed to double team the problem. We opened the window, and while I slowly pulled the strap, BV jiggled the wooden slats of the blinds until they were straightened out enough to shove them up. Woohoo for daylight! I’ve tried on my own a few times in a few different ways, but it seems that opening the blinds in This Old German House is officially a two-man job now, at least for me. BV has long enough arms to be able to do it on his own, but he’s usually in such a rush in the morning that he forgets to open them for me before he leaves. Cave!

Back in November, our landlord and landlady had come by to do some yardwork, and see what else might need doing. They had asked BV about coming by to redo some of the sealing work on the windows in our flat. This would be great, because between the old house and the old windows, they don’t hold heat in the winter worth a damn. However, they wanted to come by on the day when we were hosting Thanksgiving, even after we told them that we’d have 12+ people over. They didn’t think it would be a problem, something with which I heartily disagreed. In the end, BV convinced them to postpone the work, and of course we haven’t heard a thing about it since then. I asked BV to write to our landlord, because clearly something needs to be done about the blinds, and he replied that we couldn’t possibly have them replaced. “But they’re wooden blinds! They’re older than most houses in America!” This could very well be true but it’s not a positive argument, as far as I’m concerned.

Finally, over the weekend, something happened that warranted immediate action. Our doorbell rang Sunday afternoon, and BV answered it to find our next-door neighbor. She told him that the four houses that are down the alley next to us, were all having major plumbing issues. Things were backed up, and some of the bathrooms on the ground floors were having problems.

Everybody with me now, “ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.”

They got the plumber out here right away on Monday, but finally BV had no excuse to avoid writing the landlord. Apparently all those houses are connected to our sewer pipe (all the houses were built by the original owner of our house), and some of the tree roots from our garden caused the blockage. Awesome. As it turns out, the possibility of sewage leaking up into the downstairs flat is urgent enough for him to come over almost immediately, so he’ll be here tonight. On the agenda for this evening’s meeting – which I will happily miss due to my VHS class – checking the plumbing, looking at our bedroom blinds, and discussing what can be done about our windows. Maybe if we strike while the iron is hot, we can even get him to remove a partially cut down tree with giant thorns from the front garden… It looks terrible and those thorns might blind someone walking by one of these days. I’ve wanted that thing gone for a year now, and he isn’t here that often.

Thorny trees aside, I just figure that since spring is trying to arrive, it’d be nice to have a bedroom window to watch it from. Village dreams, my friends.

5 Things I’ve Learned In 5 Years Abroad

On January 8th, 2009, I touched down in Prague. It seems like a minute ago and a thousand years ago, all at the same time. I think it’s been magnified as well, because my sister is actually in Prague right now. She’s doing the same TEFL course that I did, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the first weeks here in Euro-land. There have been major ups, MAJOR downs, and a lot of nights on the couch watching bad TV. Through all of it, I’d like to think that I’ve learned at least a couple of things and I’d like to share some of them with you wonderful internet people. As a disclaimer: of course these are my opinion only, and others may have totally different experiences. And I might ramble. That’s why we blog… to share our experiences. This is what I think, and you can feel free to disagree.Disclaimers aside though… here we go: five things I’ve learned in the last five years…. at least, I hope so.

1. Drop the “plan.”
I’ve done so many things, met so many people (not that they were all good), that I wouldn’t have ever met if I had done what is “normal.” If I had graduated college, got some job, met some guy, etc., etc., none of these things would have happened. Gott sei Dank. That’s “Thank God,” for all of you playing the home game.

Via

Let go of the fact that some people think you “have to do” this, or “must do” that. Do what you want to do. Go where you want to go, say what you want to say. There is no script for life… it’s what you want it to be. And to be honest, I have been feeling a little too comfortable these days. It’s true, my life hasn’t been too crazy, I have no major plans at the moment, but it’s okay. I’m much more settled than I was in Prague for example, but I don’t remember the last time I said, “I’m bored.” I’m looking for new things to see and do, but I’m not bored with what I have now. It’s not a life I ever could have imagined, but I think that’s the beauty of it. 
 

Anything is possible with giant strudel.

2. The only obstacles are the ones you make for yourself. 
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about being afraid to do the strangest things. Some I can agree with; for example, I never risked a haircut when I lived in Prague because I didn’t want to sport a mullet, or purple hair, and both of those are pretty popular in that city. To me, that wasn’t a risk worth taking. But some of the stories I’ve heard about supermarket anxiety for example, just baffle me. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You buy the wrong kind of vanilla?

If you build these things up as impossible tasks in your mind… then sure, you’ll have problems. I got a little anxious just this evening trying to figure out how I was going to climb over people to get off of the crowded train. But when the pivotal moment came, I high-stepped over a backpack and got myself out the door. That’s small potatoes, but it’s the same principle. If you decide that you can do something, you’ll do it. Done and done. 

3. Just because we’re from the same country, doesn’t mean we have to be friends.

I’m not sure, but I think RZ took this picture. If so, thanks RZ.

This one is harsh, but it’s true. And guess what? Not everyone is going to like you either. Expats tend to bond over their shared love of Tex-Mex, and their longing for Target; we are all in the same boat on that one. But, just like in college when there were “bar friends” vs. “everyday friends,” when you’re abroad you have to find the line. A pompous asshat in the States becomes a pompous asshat with a scarf and a stamp in their passport abroad. Again, I know this sounds harsh, and I also know that I’m not always the easiest person to get to know, but I’m at the point in my life where I want to be friends with someone because of their redeeming qualities, and not because of a geographic similarity. Wild, I know.

While I don’t feel the need to trip over myself to befriend every American I meet now… I do feel incredibly lucky to have met some truly amazing people in the last five years. Today they are literally all over the globe, which only means more places to visit in my mind. And that’s pretty sweet. 

4. People will never stop asking when you’re coming (or going) home.
I do want to check this point with some people who’ve been abroad longer (and feel free to weigh in with a comment), but I still get this question a fair amount. Thankfully, my family has never been the badgering type (though we are Badgers – sorry, bad joke), and have never been on the “get married, have babies, etc.” train, and they don’t ask this question very much. Other people abroad ask, like we’re all on some sort of kitchen timer. Students ask, and they seem surprised that I don’t have a timeline. But like I said before, no plan. If this is working for me, I’ll keep doing it. Do I want to teach English forever? No, probably not. It’s working for now though, so we’ll stick with it.

In my mind the question shouldn’t be, “when are you coming home?” because where is home? Home has so many different definitions to me, it’s crazy. Wisconsin will always be home to me, but at the same time, I feel like I am home here. Instead, I should really be asking, “when are you coming to visit?” And hey, we even have a light fixture in the bedroom now. Come on over and check it out!

5. Always carry an umbrella in Europe.
Practical advice is always good, right? If you don’t have an umbrella with you, it’s guaranteed to rain. And that means that your train/tram/bus will have some sort of a problem, forcing you to stand outside and/or walk much further than you had initially planned. You will spend the rest of the day damp, smelling like a wet dog, and annoyed. Also, umbrellas are a good defense against bears, both real and wooden. Although wooden is probably better. 

Bear fighting, Cesky Krumlov, 2009

When you read this, you might agree and you might disagree. You might think I sound like an ass, which I’m sure I do at points. But again, that’s the beauty of the expat experience. We all have a slightly different one, and they’re all equally valid. This is what I have learned, and that’s all I can say for it. I’ll raise my glass of champagne, and celebrate the fact that I’ve done something that seems crazy to so many people, and here’s hoping I can make it another five years. Scratch that, because it’s not a hope. If that’s what I want to do, that’s what will happen. If that’s what you want to do, then remove the obstacles and make it happen. To quote from the fantastic movie Empire Records, “In this life, there are nothing but possibilities.”

Cheers. 

New City, New Symbol

Something I really like in Germany is how all of the cities have their own special symbols, and more specifically, their own coat of arms. I like the word for ‘coat of arms’ even better. In German it’s ‘Wappen,’ which I find inexplicably funny. 

A lot of the Wappen make total sense. For example, this is the coat of arms from the city of Munich…

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This is a very logical symbol for Munich, since the German München means, “of monks,” and that is clearly a monk. He’s missing a beer, which seems odd for Munich, but I guess they don’t need to advertise anymore.

Nürnberg has two coats of arms….

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The blue one is known as the ‘greater’ crest, and has something to do with Nürnberg having been an Imperial city. The smaller one is seen more frequently, as it also appears on the city’s flag. Red and white are the colors of Franconia (this region of Bavaria), and I assume the eagle is because a lion was already taken by a rival city. Eagles, lions, and dragons definitely have the market cornered on city symbols. 

But now we come to this… the symbol of my new city. Okay, town. Maybe a village. Depends on your opinion, I guess. Since it’s pretty small, I’m probably going to refrain from naming it here on the blog, so you’ll just have to guess. I haven’t taken too many pictures around here yet, so I’ll just have to show you our sweet coat of arms for now. Enjoy.

I have absolutely no idea what the story behind this is, and neither does B.V. But, I love dogs, and I love deer, so I think this is amazing. The fact that they have their tongues sticking out isn’t even that weird, since that seems to be normal with the lions/dragons/eagles on all the other coats of arms. I assume the artist just wanted to follow tradition on that. The rest of it is more confusing to me, but I love it. I’m trying to come up with some sort of story for it… anyone care to take on guess on what it means?? 

What do you think, what’s the story with the dog and deer?

This Old German House: Vol. 1

Perhaps the “Volume 1” title is premature, but I’m just trying to cover my bases here.

As you might recall, last month I moved over to BV’s place. This meant I went from living in a semi-modern (about 1950’s) apartment, to a house that was built in 1928. The house has been added on to quite a few times over the years, but it seems that it will need a bit more work than the last place. Considering my previous incidents in a modern apartment*, and after the two months we’ve had over here, I’m a little scared.

Let’s do a little run-down of everything that’s happened in the last couple months:
1. Water damage in the bathroom from a washing machine-related brain fart. (Not my brain!)
2. Living room heater rusted through, staining the carpet and necessitating replacement.
3. New carpet installed in the extra room. (that was voluntary)
4. Painting in the bedroom. (also voluntary)
5. Purchasing of heating oil – holy shit, that’s expensive.
6. Purchasing and installation of enormous new wardrobe.

The question is, do any of those developments answer the questions of the mystery pictures? Well…. sort of. And thanks to those of you who commented… and you got parts of it right (virtual high-five)! Here’s what’s actually going on…

Here are some alternate views from Picture Eins:

I’ve been calling this thing ‘Big Blue’ for the last two weeks, because I have absolutely no idea what it’s called in English, much less in German. I have never seen one of these before and would really prefer to never see it again, honestly. It’s been living in our bathroom and hallway and running day and night in order to dry out the floor and walls. As mentioned above, back in August we had some water on the floor (hallway and bathroom) from the washing machine. It wasn’t all that much, but according to Big Blue’s owner, the water was still in the concrete of the walls and floors around the bathroom. Obviously that’s bad, and would need to be dried out before we could fix the bubbled laminate in the hallway. 

I was a little fuzzy on what was happening when he came to check out the situation, mostly because I thought he was there to fix that laminate. Then I was less than pleased to come home from a very long day to find this monstrosity in the bathroom. And learn that we couldn’t close the bathroom door completely for the next two weeks at least. Fun! 

We did manage to work it out fairly well, but that’s a relationship road that I was really hoping to not cross ever. Much less in the first few weeks of living together.   

Picture Zwei:

Perhaps you were easily able to identify that as the underside of a boiler. You got it… in addition to the presence of Big Blue in the bathroom, we’ve been playing ‘Little House in Germany’ for the last week, as the boiler decided that it didn’t feel like working anymore. I’ve been through this horror before in Prague, when we were hot water-less for more than a week once, but it wasn’t something I was really looking forward to revisiting. The only saving grace was that it happened over a long weekend and so there wasn’t all that much that I absolutely had to do outside of the house or in a timely fashion. That’s good news when washing your hair becomes an elaborate process.

The guy came to repair it yesterday afternoon (thank goodness), but since I had to catch a 6 am train, that meant getting up at 4:30. Heating water in the kettle so I could ‘Little House’ bathe and not miss my train at that ungodly hour is not my idea of a good time. 

Picture Drei:

Oh electricity, you’re the thing that keeps it all together. Until you don’t. Monday night I was in the middle of cooking dinner, when I ran downstairs to grab some beers for the fridge. I looked up and noticed that the spiders were gathering strength above my head. Technically they aren’t in the house, they’re in the stairway, but it was getting a little extreme. Like, three enormous daddy long legs hovering above every time we go in and out. I decided that was it, and grabbed the vacuum. 

I plugged it in, turned it on, and kapew. Nada.

Yep, running all the kitchen appliances, Big Blue in the bathroom, and everything else was too much, and I blew a fuse. I grabbed my phone for the flashlight and tried to figure out the fusebox, but I wasn’t sure which one was the main and flipping things didn’t do anything… great. I went to the front window and was trying to decide if it was worth calling BV since he never has the sound on his phone turned on, when there he was, walking through the gate. Good timing and welcome home, honey. 

The spiders win this one, but I’m planning my counter-attack.

*Other ridiculous home issues in Germany:
The Time I Locked Myself Out Braless 
The Time(s) I Couldn’t Open Any Doors Without Incident 
The Time I Went On Vacation And Workers Trashed My Apartment
The Time I Ranted About Hot Water

A Quick Photo Challenge

“When it rains, it pours.” Old words, but wise words nonetheless. Sometimes it means that a person’s social calendar is action-packed, sometimes it means that they’re loaded with work projects, and sometimes it means that it’s raining a lot. The latter is pretty standard here in German fall. But I digress. 

In this case, none of the above is true for me… but there has been a lot of ridiculousness going on. In that spirit, I’d like to pose a challenge to anyone who’s still checking this blog of mine, since I’ve been a pretty craptastic blogger of late. I’m going to post three mysterious photos today, and you can leave your guesses as to what they are in the comments. On Thursday (I swear! I’m drafting it now!), I’ll reveal the correct answer and send a virtual high-five to anyone who gets them right.

First though, a pseudo-clue:

While I don’t know if I want Bob Vila to show up, I feel like we could qualify to go on
 ‘This Old German House.’ 
Picture Eins:
Picture Zwei:

Picture Drei:

Alright… if anyone is still out there reading, give me your guesses in the comments!