Resolutions of an expat

January 19, 2012

The pot (or in this case, domes) of gold at the end of the rainbow? Wiesbaden (literally). Ahhh.... I love where we live.

Let me be up-front in admitting I've never been much of a New Year's Resolutions kind of girl. I've never understood why I should even consider something like working out when I hate the gym or swear off overindulging at friend's dinner parties so I stop stumbling home afterwards (although I'm sure much to the enjoyment of the youth hanging at the kebap shops at two a.m.), just because these are supposed to make me a 'better person'. I quite like the curve of my hips - not to mention the treats that get them that way - and the great wine and conversation I get to enjoy with friends. I also hate the idea of making promises to myself that I know very well I won't keep. 

But seeing as my new life here in Germany leaves me with a fair amount of, shall we say, downtime, I realized it wouldn't hurt to inject an aspiration or two (or six) into my rather unstructured existence. I think the serious malaise of the holidays culminated at the start of the year with an intense desire to get shit done - starting with some apartment projects I insisted we do on January 1st. While my project is still half done - in the form of still-to-be-filed piles of paperwork and junk I don't need - it did inspire me to put pen to paper and start a list of the things I hope to do in 2012. With any semblance of a professional career 'on hold' and my now-deep immersion in Hausfrau status, I think having some goals for myself will do some good. Publishing it for all to see will hopefully guilt trip me into actually doing it.

1. Improve my German!
I realize this is kind of a no-brainer, but when I really sat down and thought about how much I did not study the language of my new home last year, I was really disappointed in myself. Sure, I can now calm my brain enough to actually focus on - and lo-and-behold, actually understand! - what other people are saying to me and can even attempt unrehearsed conversations without crapping myself, but I've still got a loooooong way to go. My confidence has definitely enjoyed a boost by just floating along and just taking in all the German around me, but my vocabulary (and grammar - oh, heinous German grammar!) will never improve without an active attempt on my part. And so, I'm going to take charge of my German language education this year with more German TV (so good for more realistic conversational vocab), more Pimsleur and other audio lessons and (finally!) finishing my workbooks from the courses we bailed on after they began digressing too much each time a new student started the class. I might not be able to call myself fluent in 2012, but I'm going to try my damndest to make serious improvements!

2. Improve my French!
This is in particular in response to two things that happened at Christmastime: (1) the concert tickets for a show in Paris my husband gave me as a Christmas present, and (2) our trip to Strasbourg which was full of me starting interactions with "je voudrais..." only to end them with "bitte" or "dankeschön". It's very clear that years and years of study done a lifetime ago do not a fluent (or let's face it, even remedial) French speaker make. Being around all that French also reminded me of why I chose French as my foreign language in school all those years ago, unlike most of my contemporaries who took Spanish: it's an incredibly beautiful language. So I'm dusting off my study materials from *gulp* over a decade ago and focusing on Pimsleur French for the next couple months, so that when it comes time to hang out in Paris, I don't sound like just another ignorant tourist.

3. More trekking/exploring
This one's twofold, really: I'm a creature of habit and tend to do the same things over and over again if you let me. There were so many new things about our very own town that we discovered last year, I couldn't believe we still had so much to learn about Wiesbaden and the surrounding countryside. So I'd like to get out more and challenge myself to see new things, but also just to get OUT and do more walking around. Being one of those anti-gym people, I prefer to get my exercise in just getting outdoors and getting things done (walking the dog, walking to the grocery, walking into town for errands...). I want to see more of what our little part of the country has to offer, not to mention walk off the overindulgence of holiday treats that have taken up permanent residence on my thighs.

4. Get my German (EU) driver's license
Honestly, this one scares the bejesus out of me. My 'temporary license' that automatically exists upon coming over has long since expired and now it's officially illegal for me to drive here. So if I want a good-for-life EU license (2013 is when they're making the switch to having expiration dates), the time is now. I've always been a good driver and have been driving some form of motorized vehicles since I was about seven years old, but the idea of going through all the steps of getting a license in a country where I do not fluently speak the language and has a whole new (and much more strict!) set of traffic laws terrifies the perfectionist, well-established driver in me.

From what I understand, I can take the test in English (which I felt incredibly guilty about, until I learned it's upwards of 1,000 questions - egads!), but all the courses would be in German. For my fellow expats here - as well as anyone who's even visited and driven on the Autobahn - you know how serious the Germans take their driving. The thought that I might miss something in class or mix up a translation of some rule has me quaking in my boots. I've seen the little chart of traffic violations and their resulting monetary fines/points deducted from your license (which result from even the most minor of infractions) - it's no joke.

Since no one else I know has had to go through this (my German friends don't have their licenses and the expats I know have all been able to just 'convert' their licenses; disclaimer: my husband did have to take a first aid course in German to do the conversion, but that was all. No test required. Damn him.), I feel as I'm the lone ranger going out into uncharted territory. What if I screw up? What if I fail the test too many times and I can never get a license? What if they insist I drive a manual (which I can manage only if my life depended on it) for my driving test? I suppose all I can do is take the first step...

5. Apartment projects
We still have apartment to-dos that have been on the list since the first day we walked into this place. It's seemingly unending. Again, I sense fellow expats will feel me here. It seems that apartments are much like the American fixer-upper home, only we don't own these places and never intended on funneling so much money into a space that, at the end of the day, belongs to someone else. *sigh..* We learned this the hard way when we had to wait weeks and weeks to be able to buy our fridge, washer and dryer upon our arrival in Germany, because you can't make purchases here with a credit card and - of course! - your apartment doesn't come equipped with such things. Now that we know we must save diligently and pay cash, I've got my sights on a few projects this year, including buying a new kitchen countertop (that's not infested with mold), getting a small couch for our TV room (to encourage the watching of more German television, of course), investing in some helpful and much-missed appliances (how have I possibly lived this long without a blender for margaritas?!) and finally (finally!) repaint the hallway in a color that I actually like. Seems like not a lot, but then there's this to consider...

6. Plan travel for the year
After going travel-crazy our first year here and then having this last year's budget taken up mostly by our trip back to the states, I'm ready to get back into exploring our new continent (and hopefully, beyond). Changes with Russ's job have also shown us that this wonderful opportunity we have to be here may not last forever (please, don't let it be so!), so we're going to to make the most of it. Aside from the spring trip to Paris that was part of my Christmas present, we've got a couple other trips on our wishlist, including finally getting to Thailand and back to the Med. Balancing between all the apartment needs may prove challenging, but I'm doing my best to keep my eye on the prize and be a better saver this year to get there. *dreaming of toes in the sand...*

And so with that, I set off into 2012 with high hopes for myself. I just hope I can live up to it all...

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

The holiday black hole (aka - where we've been for the past few weeks)

January 09, 2012

Gorging ourselves on treats was just the beginning...

There's both something wonderful and something almost stifling about the holidays here in Germany, at least speaking as an American. With a week of nearly mandatory time off, as everything is shut down, it's difficult to not fall so deep into the holiday-ness that crawling back out to resume everyday life is nothing short of painful (coming from years in retail, Christmas day was often the only day I was relieved from the daily grind). Some days, we just stayed on the couch and watched episode after episode of American TV shows. Other days, we were ambitious enough for hikes in the mountains and even a day trip to France. Then we tumbled right back to the couch, ignoring all else - including blogs, social networking and even an email or two from the folks (sorry guys!). 

So what did we do that was so important it was worth all the neglect? Well, here's a bit from all our holiday goings-on...

We did a marathon tour on the final night of our local Weihnachtsmärkte: Mainz, a stop for margaritas (& cinnamon tequila shots!) at our fav Mexican place, then ending at our own Wiesbaden Markt (phew!)

Courtesy of very thoughtful family, we had even more presents than we knew what to do with
(seriously, Christmas morning lasted hours...)

One of my favorites? My mom's handmade treeskirt for our little family, which she whipped up in just a few weeks.

Even Bailey-dog got representation on the family treeskirt, chasing an Eichhörnchen, of course

OK, OK, this one might be my favorite present: a concert in Paris! I can't wait!

Bailey's favorite was clear - a new, stuffed toy to tear apart
(fittingly, a pink bunny, just like on A Christmas Story)

I also scored in the scarf/snood department (obviously)

I made yet another turkey (because really, once you realize how totally easy they are, once a year at Thanksgiving 
is not nearly enough!)

I made enough Christmas cookies for an army, rather than just the two - ahem, 2-1/2 - of us that were around for the holidays

Still no holiday snow, but our hike in the Taunus Mountains provided an abundance of spooky fog

Bailey's 2nd trip to Strasbourg, although this time she got an "Oo la la, le chein!" from a passerby. Seems she's even more popular in France. 

The Strasbourg Christmas market at the foot of the impressive cathedral - where it's been for over 400 years!

OK, so I lied. Apparently the French make potato sweets as well (???).

Loved all the French in Strasbourg (if only I could still speak it properly...)

My husband - who's birthday is unluckily sandwiched between Christmas and New Years, which means it's forgotten or unacknowledged by most - turned a year older. I did my part to make him feel special. 

Our whirlwind tour of holiday markets means we've amassed quite a collection of Glühwein mugs. Might need to have a Glühwein mug party just to put them to good use!

Bailey, learning to love & appreciate her stuffed toy - as opposed to immediate & total destruction 

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische