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.


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.”


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…


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….


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!


Moving On and Moving In

Quick notice before the post… Lately I’ve been trying to comment on some of your blogs on the WordPress platform, and the comments have been disappearing. I have no idea why they’re getting spam filtered or whatever, but if you check the spam folder, you might find some. Have any other people (especially non-Wordpress users) been having this problem? Or does anyone know what to do about it? 

And back to our regularly scheduled post… 

One of the things that happened while on our America trip in June was that BV and I started discussing the idea of moving in together. I’ll assume that means that the trip went well, and that he wasn’t scared off by my sudden proclamations of “Woo America”-type sentiments. Kidding…. mostly.

Maybe premature, but here’s hoping! Via

At first we talked about looking for a bigger place in the city, as there’s no way we can both fit into my 37 square meters… dude has a lot of stuff. But after perusing the internet a bit, we decided to just move me over to his place. It’s not in the city, and will lengthen my commute by quite a bit, but it’s just such a good deal it seems idiotic to give it up. BV rents from a friend of his, which means he pays (what seems like nearly) nothing for the entire upstairs of a house. No-one lives downstairs, so the whole place, including the giant garden, is just for us. It’s about 90 square meters, and even with all his stuff, there’s an entire empty room right now. Pretty awesome.

Side note: when I told my parents that it made sense for us to move in, they didn’t seem to like that reason. Of course, that’s not the only reason…. totally apart from the fact that it does make sense at this point, we are (almost nauseatingly, I hear) happy and all that sort of thing. Everything is sunshine and daisies, even if he won’t let me get 10 dogs because that’s “too many,” or “crazy.” (Like there’s such a thing as “too many” dogs.) But yes, things are good. Just in case anyone was wondering. 

Officially my move-out date is the end of September, but I’ve hardly been at my house at all this last month. We’re trying to get his place a bit more liveable and a little less chaotic in the meantime. We spent most of the first half of the year at my house, which resulted in things getting thrown down somewhere and then forgotten about when he came here once a week to empty the mailbox. Coupled with his love of technical things and lack of shelving, it makes things very interesting. So far, we’ve accomplished the following things…

  1. Ordered an enormous new wardrobe that will hopefully have enough room for both of us. We got it on eBay and need to pick it up sometime at the end of the month. If any of you have a truck and a desire to help BV disassemble it and move it over here, we will happily pay you in beer and pizza. 
  2. Looked at paint. Now we just need to go back to the OBI and actually buy it, a ladder, and assorted other supplies. My job is to paint the bedroom sometime this month, while BV studies for his first semester of Master’s tests. I think I get the better deal. 
  3. Death to the curtains! Full disclosure: he has some really questionable things in this house… the good news is that most of them came from somewhere or someone else, and he’s not all that attached to them. So the red, velvet-y looking curtains that flanked the grandma’s old lace white curtains in the living room are gone. They were quite awful, so much so that a friend asked about their origins when we had Thanksgiving here last year. I advocated for their burning, but he thinks they belong to his landlord so they’re now in a box in the attic. I’d bet 50€ that the next time we open that box we’ll find a cozy red mouse nest. But since his landlord is a category 3 pack rat, they’ll wait in the attic until he can part with them himself. 
  4. Speaking of pack rats, BV has some slight tendencies too. While looking for a place to store couch cushions the other day, I was perplexed to find random boxes of electrical stuff behind nearly every door I tried. I thought it was mostly all in the “office,” but it was everywhere. Our Monday night project thus became “clean out the Wandschrank (a giant piece of furniture in the living room with TV, stereo, wineglasses, fondue pot, etc.) so Heather has somewhere to put her things too!” We managed to make some room, mostly by relocating things… not so much throwing things out. Since my Tuesday classes were cancelled, my project was then to clean/polish/dust the Wandschrank because it would totally fail my grandma’s dust test. Fun! 
  5. This evening we’re going to pick up a small shelf for the bedroom that I found on a moving sale message board. They have two which are similar, so depending how much space we have in the car I’m going to try to talk BV into taking both of them when we get there. Shhhhhhhhh. Mostly I just don’t want to put all my stuff on the floor when we move it over here, because that’s about the best place for it now. Shelves are our friends!

That’s about as far as we’ve gotten and there are a lot more things we’d like to do. I keep reminding him to pace himself, and that we don’t have to do anything in the first 10 minutes, as neither of us are millionaires and things like his tests have to take priority. We looked a bit at bookshelves last night, which are needed pretty desperately. His office has some but they’re completely full, and the rest of the room is full of boxes and toolboxes all piled on top of each other. I don’t have a ton of stuff, but if we want to get it in there, we’re going to have to do some reorganizing. He’s also anti-IKEA and anti-particle board furniture, so any suggestions of buying some cheap shelving usually don’t go over very well. Ideally, we’d have something like this…

Via Pinterest

…because who doesn’t want a library with a ladder? But I think we might have to compromise. One step at a time, right?

Know anyone with a truck who enjoys beer and pizza? Any tips on semi-good quality furniture places in DE? Or any sage advice on moving in with the significant other? Leave it in the comments!

Ode to Kaylee

Why my dog was the best dog. Of all the dogs.
I’m very happy that this weekend was so gorgeous, and as I promised yesterday, a full post on that is to come. However, yesterday afternoon was full of bad news, which put a bit of a damper on my mood. 
I’ve written before about how hard it can be to be so far from home and feeling helpless when bad things are happening, and yesterday was a painful reminder of that. But just like last time, I think that writing about things will help. Or at least, I hope it will. 

To say that I’m an animal person is a bit of an understatement. I am definitely one of those people who “squees” pretty much every time I see something with fur. Every time I pass by a dog I want to be friends with it, and I’m convinced that people who don’t like dogs have no soul.* Germany is a great place to be if you’re a pet owner, and it’s rare to see a restaurant that doesn’t have a doggie bowl ready and waiting for their canine guests. This is something I love here.
But all the dogs in Germany were lacking, in that they weren’t my dog. This was my dog…
Photo courtesy of my sister
Her name was Kaylee, and she was awesome. Unfortunately, she was also 15 years old, and her age was showing when I was home last month. And in the last month, it got much worse. Finally this weekend, my parents had to make the decision that we all really, really, really, wanted to avoid.  I know my parents did what they thought was best, and I’m trying to be okay with that fact right now. Thus this post….

She really was the best dog ever. I know everyone (or mostly everyone) thinks that about their pets, but she was. I’m happy to back up this claim with some evidence, so for your consideration, here are ten reasons why….

1. If you ever wondered how English Springer Spaniels got their name, all you had to do was meet Kaylee. Within the first weeks that we had her, we learned that she could jump over the back of our fairly-high backed couch from a stand. No running starts needed. In winter she took particular joy in bounding through the snow, no matter how many  nice potty-paths you shoveled for her.
Winter, 2006

2. For the last 15 years, my parents haven’t really needed to wash the floors in the kitchen or dining area. Any food that reached the floor was immediately hoovered by our furry vacuum cleaner. Anything that is, except grapes. Or lettuce. 

3. She was very concerned with keeping the herd together. If we were in different rooms, she would go from place to place, checking on everyone. She was the most relaxed when everyone was in the same place at the same time. 

4. She was very courteous, and always let you know when she needed something. If it was outside time, dinner time, walk time, you always knew when she was ready for something. In fact, she was much more vigilant than we were sometimes. One summer afternoon I was getting out of the shower when I heard her nails going “click-click-click” across our deck to go out. An hour or so later, when watching the baseball game with my parents, I said, “hey, where’s the dog?” As I said above, she liked to be where everyone was, so her absence was strange. Neither of my parents remembered letting her out, which marked their first joint Senior Moment. We all went out hunting for her, and eventually found her halfway around the neighborhood, licking the bottom of someone’s grill that had been left outside.
Plastic hot dogs < real hot dogs
5. Determination was her middle name. If she wanted to carry a 6-foot long stick around the beach when she was a tiny puppy, she would drag that thing all over the park. If she wanted to swim for freedom from the canoe when it started raining, it would take all of my sister’s energy to keep her in the boat. Basically, if there was something she really wanted to do, then not even an electric fence would stop her. I was not as smart though, because I never learned from my mistakes. Often mornings looked like this: I’d let her out and stand in the doorway while her nose went up in the air, sniffing. Then she’d glance at the house, the nose would go up again, another glance at the house… and she was off.  What’s the problem with that? Well… usually I let her out in the morning while in pajamas, shoe-less, and bra-less. Having to race around to find shoes and appropriate neighborhood clothing in a Wisconsin winter is particularly fun all the while she was off trotting around the neighborhood to see her doggie friends. 

6. Springers are hunting dogs, and her sense of smell was amazing. Since she was basically the baby of the family, she used to get all kinds of Christmas presents. But even when the rest of the gifts were wrapped and waiting under the tree, we had to hide hers. Even if she never saw it come into the house, somehow she would sniff out whatever belonged to her, and unwrap it early. Much like having small children around, we always had to stash her toys, new leashes, boxes of treats, etc., and only put them under the tree on Christmas morning.

7. Her other hunting instincts were pretty impressive, considering we never taught her to hunt. When she was a puppy, she’d point at birds. And when she stole your stuff, she never destroyed it. Instead she’d sit with it in her mouth and wait. One day my mom came home from work to find my cat, Frodo, batting around the stick from her hair piece. Kaylee was just laying in the living room, with the leather part in her mouth. Just waiting. 

She was also lightning fast. If you were having a conversation while holding a cookie in your hand, sometimes you’d go to take a bite and it was gone. Only then you’d notice her on the other side of the room, crunching away. And God help you if you had popcorn…

Action Kaylee
8. Speaking of Frodo, turns out that a cat can teach an old dog new tricks. One area of the house that Kaylee never attempted to reach was the counter. Then Frodo came into the house, and after a period of careful observation, Kaylee was able to conquer the counter too. Sort of. I came downstairs one day to find her standing on the counter looking at me. She was about 10 at the time, and although she knew she could get up by jumping on the bar chairs, she was also smart enough to know that the laminate floor was too slippery to jump so far. So there she was. 

The A-Team of naughty, right here
8. Besides being smart enough to know her limits (how many people can say that?), she was smart about everything. She was great with tricks, but sometimes failed on the execution. But when there’s a treat coming, who’s going to notice if you combine the shaking/rolling over/playing dead into one spastic doggie flail? We also had names for all of her toys, which led to some great games. A particular favorite was called “Where’s Bill?” This involved taking her squeaky plush Bill Clinton doll (he was dressed in jogging gear and had a chicken on his shirt…. don’t ask), and hiding it somewhere in the house or outside while the dog was sequestered in her crate or the bathroom. Even when you tried to trick her by making a racket all over the house, she always hunted down Bill. 

9. She had trick hair. Part of the reason we chose her from the litter was that she had very unusual markings for a Springer. She was missing the usual white stripe on her face, and she was almost half-and-half brown and white. Oddly, the brown half of her seemed to grow at a much faster rate than the white side, which led to a half-fluffy dog. She also haaaaaaaaated haircuts, so when the time came it was often a 3-4 man job. She was small for a Springer, but all muscle, so it was a bit of a challenge. Unless of course, she was doggie drunk. 
One memorable afternoon, my parents returned from the vet. My mom came into the living room saying, “Hmmmm, why don’t you hear doggie toenails on the floor? What’s going on?” Of course, I freaked and ran around the corner, to see my dad carrying Kaylee in, while her puppy head lolled over his arms. Turns out that after a couple of shots (clarification: vaccinations, not alcoholic shots), a punch-drunk dog should be an easy haircut target, right? Well… easier than usual, yes. But much harder to stop laughing when every time we turned the razor off, and she tried to stumble off of the bean bag and escape, falling over like a college freshman on the first weekend away from home. 

10. A lot of dogs get kind of cranky as they get older. Not this one. She was always happy to see anyone, and wanted to befriend anybody who crossed her path. This was a particularly valuable trait in my teenage years, when I’m sure that my family had about enough of that angst-y nonsense. Not Kaylee. Always happy. 
For the last few years, I’ve joked that Kaylee was the most co-dependent dog in the world. She could be laying right next to you, but if you stopped petting for a second, she would let you know. But now that I think about it, I think we were dependent on her. These days more than ever, it seems that friends are fickle, and even family can come and go more easily than maybe it should. But not dogs. At least, not my dog. 
For my sweet-faced girl… the most beautiful girl in the world. I will miss your announcements, your nose snuffling at the door in the morning, your full-body tail wag. I’ll miss your floppy ears, and your big sighs when it’s time to go to bed. You were the best dog anyone could want, and I knew you would be from the first time I picked you out of the mass of wriggling brown and white. 

Normally, I’m not one to discourage comments, but just once I’ll say this: If anyone has even a thought of leaving a “it’s just a dog, not a person,” please don’t. Just don’t.

*Also, people who don’t like the Beatles.

Semi-Functional Living and a Worker Warning

Bad blogger.

I fully admit it… every time I go on vacation I spend some time thinking about all the future posts that I can share from the trip, but when I get back I pretty much die. The latest U.S. trip was no exception to that. I had good intentions of posting quick pics from along the way, but when you only go “home” every year and a half, the internet doesn’t rank high on the priority list. So I find myself woefully behind on posting, responding to comments/emails, and reading all of the other fun things that I follow. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. So I do have plans to share some of the many, many, (too) many things that we did, but it might not be in the next 10 minutes…. please bear with me.

Keeping with tradition, I’ve spent the last 10 days being incredibly lazy/comatose. This trip was action-packed and there were things to do nearly every day. BV accompanied me, which was awesome and a lot of fun, but since it was his first time in the States, I wanted to make sure we saw as much as possible. That didn’t leave a lot of room for down time. In fact, the list was so long that we didn’t have time for everything. More importantly, there wasn’t time for everyone, which is unfortunate. There were a lot of people that I didn’t even try to get in touch with, because I knew it wouldn’t be possible. The expat curse continues.

When we got back, Germany was in the middle of a heat wave, with temperatures in the 90s and the humidity through the roof. The only good part was that I was so exhausted, I had no desire to do anything except collapse on the bed when I got home. My apartment was too hot to function, so the less movement, the better. A couple of days later we got a pretty epic storm that broke the heat, and since then it’s been in the 60s and raining. 

Hey, German summer? You suck. Get it together. 

Today is actually a fairly decent day, and I’m typing this on my balcony because it’s sunny and at least 15 degrees warmer than inside the house. But I’m still wearing socks, pants, and a hoodie. Less than ideal at the end of June, but at least I’m not melting. A happy medium would be great… not sure if it’ll happen but here’s hoping. 

BUT weather is not what I want to talk about. Instead, I’d like to offer a little public service announcement to all the other expats or wannabe expats here in ze Deutschland, about workers. In your house. And why you should probably babysit if you’re planning on having any repairs done.

For those of you that saw my House Hunters International episode and were concerned about my apparent lack of bathroom, I do have one.* This is what it looked like when I moved in….

Pink. Very nice, right? Honestly I didn’t love the color, but that paled in comparison to the other issues. I’m not sure whose bright idea it was to start putting wallpaper in bathrooms, but I am firmly against it. My bathroom had that lovely pink tile about two-thirds up the wall, and then a faux-plaster wallpaper up to the ceiling. My landlord knew that there would probably be a problem eventually, as the previous owner had repapered and retiled, but just put the new stuff over old paper and tiles. Great.

After a year or so, I started getting a lot of mold on the bathroom ceiling, no matter what I tried. Windows open a lot, a little, closed, shorter showers… no difference. I cleaned the mold off the ceiling, but eventually it got to the wallpaper. The final straw was when a whole corner of wallpaper fell off, and my suspicions were confirmed. More mold. This was gross. 

My landlord and I discussed options, and he decided to just go ahead and renovate the whole bathroom. After talking to an assortment of workers, he found one who was willing to do it on short notice while I was in the States. So the day before I left, I turned over the key and then flew off. 

This is best-case scenario, right? A whole new bathroom, without being inconvenienced at all! Score. There must be a catch. And don’t worry, I found it.

The last day I was at home,  my landlord called me to tell me that the bathroom was finished…. perfect! So Tuesday morning, I arrived back in Nürnberg, completely bushwhacked from 15+ hours of traveling, but excited to see my house. Oh, and to sit down and relax. 

We dragged the suitcases up the four flights of stairs, opened the door, and said. “What. The. Fuck.”

(this is kind of anti-climactic, and I’m sorry. I was too annoyed to take a picture for posterity.)

So this is what my living room looks like when it’s clean….

That’s pretty much what it looked like when we left. I had cleared out the bathroom for the workers, and put the rack full of toiletries into the living room. There was also a drying rack out, with a few laundry items that weren’t quite dry before I left. But other than that, clean. Because I hate coming back to a mess. Fail.

When we walked in, it looked like a bomb had gone off. Everything was off of the bed, and on the couch, semi-covered with the mattress protector. The contents of my hall closet (jackets, BV’s bike stuff, scarves), were thrown on the floor in the corner. The coffee table was shoved up against the desk and covered in odds and ends (some of which were not mine). The suitcases, laptop bag, and some boxes from under the bed were also thrown in the corner. The old radiator and mirror from the bathroom were sitting in the middle of the floor, along with some buckets, the vacuum cleaner, and a step stool from the kitchen. And everything, everything, was coated in a nice layer of plaster dust.

Bottom line: All I wanted to do was collapse on my couch and relax, and I couldn’t find my couch.

Apparently this is what happened. When the workers were installing my new shower cabinet and/or moving the hot water heater from one wall to another, they accidentally went through the wall between the bathroom and living room, right over my bed. That meant they had to make a bigger hole, and then replaster the whole thing. My landlord said he saw it, but I don’t know if he didn’t think the mess was that bad, or just didn’t want to mention it over the phone to me while I was on vacation. Either way, I was incredibly annoyed to come home to this. Just what everyone wants to do… spend their first three hours at home cleaning. Right? No.

When I relayed this story to my students, they all just nodded their heads and said that if you have workers in your house to do anything, you should stand there and watch them the whole time. They also said it’s standard procedure for them to not clean up after themselves. Call me crazy, but I think that’s some serious BS. Even if I wasn’t out of the country, it’s not like I could stay in the house while they were renovating because a bathroom is a pretty essential thing to have around. They were also supposed to remove everything from the old bathroom, and the fact that they forgot the old heater and mirror (which is big and heavy), is now my problem. They’re out here on the balcony with me now, so if you know anyone who wants an old-school radiator, feel free to drop me a line. 

I do think the new bathroom looks fine, if a bit (a lot) generic. It pretty much looks like every single bathroom in every single company I’ve taught in here…

Hopefully this new tile and paint job is a bit more mold-resistant. The workers also didn’t put the light fixture back on, instead they left it in the kitchen, so I only have a light bulb right now. They also didn’t install a TP holder, or any towel rods, so I’m not thrilled about that. Drilling holes in the brand-new bathroom is not on my list of things to do. 

Oh, and speaking of the kitchen… they also removed my broken dishwasher, and installed a new washing machine. My landlord had told me that he was thinking about it so he could give up my little washing machine room in the attic, but I was a bit surprised to see that he just went ahead with that too. So the kitchen was also a disaster area, and some of my kitchen towels were apparently casualties of the renovation, but at least I had a shorter walk to the washer to clean everything else. 

SO. Even here in Germany, land of order…. do NOT fall prey to the best-case scenario. If you’ve got guys coming into your house… keep an eye on them. And the next post will be of more fun, vacation-y things. Just had to get all this off my chest.

*I suspect none were shown on the show because they were all miniscule and/or claustrophobia-inducing. Trying to fit three “hunters” plus the camera and sound guys inside was pretty entertaining.

Balcony Rehab: Spring 2013

I don’t know about all of you, but now that it’s May I’m really hoping that The Long Winter is over. Although as I’m typing this, it’s my favorite shade of Flat Gray outside, so that’s a great start to the day. 

One of my main priorities for this spring was to get my balcony in order again. It went through a few incarnations last year… I wrote a helpful guide to getting it in shape, which you can find right here. That lasted fairly well until I went on vacation for two weeks and everything died. That meant I had to do a frantic rehab afternoon on it before it ended up on TV since we shot the day after I came back from said vacation. Stress! Tip: try to find someone to water your plants if you’re leaving for two weeks and then immediately having a film crew in your house.* Back to this year.… Here are some “before” shots.

Ugh. So depressing.
Seedlings from a friend, lettuce, strawberries.

The process was of course much easier this year (thank God), since I of course had all the planters and even some dirt left over. That makes the hauling much less painful. Additionally, BV has a friend who’s a gardener, which meant that all we needed was one Friday evening visit to his nursery. 

Last year I had wished for a strapping young German gentleman to help me carry things up the stairs. And boom! It worked. Now I’ll wish for a million Euros… let’s see how that goes. 

By the time we got back from the nursery it was raining pretty hard, so planting had to wait until Saturday. Even minus BV’s run to OBI because we were just a little short on dirt, it went super quickly and I am very happy with the results…

Mini herb garden

The seedlings for lettuce, radish, and tomatoes went into this new planter along with the strawberries and romaine lettuce. I’m not sure how well it’s going to work if and when they really start to grow, but we’ll see. Plus those planters were only €1 each at Woolworth’s. Yes, you read that right. There is still a Woolworth’s here. My Grandma couldn’t believe it either.

Everything has been in for a couple of days now, and seems to be doing okay so far. I’ve got my fingers crossed that we get a little more sun now, it’d be nice to sit out there and enjoy it! 

*That is oddly specific advice, but could be helpful to someone. Maybe.