Settling in...

July 29, 2010

The dreaded hall-painting project

It's hard to believe that we've been here for over eight months. While time has flown, there are also so many ways that we are still behind: mastering the language, getting our driver's licenses, finishing up projects in our apartment. Luckily, our impending first houseguest has pushed me to wrap up a lot of things I had abandoned due to the crazy heat wave - and all the summer fun we were having. Thank goodness light storming has resumed so we no longer just sit and sweat.

Before (note the dirt outlines)...          and After (clean!)

So while my latest painting project didn't turn out as I'd hoped (rather than a subtly-colored neutral, we have Easter egg lavender in our hallway), it at least means all rooms look clean and new, rather than the dirty way it was rented to us. It also means I no longer have any major house projects looming over me and I finally feel like we are settled rather than still adjusting to our new home - and that's a great feeling.

Bathroom paint and picture project - complete!

Kitchen painted & new light fixture installed! 

New cozy office rug & TV makes for a better place to hang out

Our next hurdle ... the German language. Some days, I pat myself on the back (or buy myself an ice cream) for managing to communicate or understand in Deutsch. Other days, I stutter and stumble my way through the words I know and still don't manage to make any sense.

One good sign that I'm making progress - at least from the Deutsch side of things - is that my other language skills are suffering. It appears that I can no longer spell in English and if I even try to think of how to say something in French, only German comes to mind. It's like all the German is pushing everything else out of my head. How some people can speak four or five languages without their head exploding blows my mind. If they have a secret of how to do this, I'd love to know it!

Until then, I will continue to struggle though and hopefully, each day I will understand more of what I hear. Just excuse my poor English in the meantime...

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

Die Deutschen Don't Dance...?

July 19, 2010

Nikka Costa and her biggest fan, before the Frankfurt show

The week of Nikka has sadly come to an end, but I am so thrilled I was able to see her twice! The Frankfurt show was at a club so small, I was literally two feet away from her on stage. We were also able to chat with her guitarist before the show, AND get a photo and autograph from Nikka! And a huge thanks to my husband for supporting my Nikka Costa adoration and driving more than six hours total this week in order to see her. My recommendation: if you don't know her, get to know her. She's amazingly talented!

Nikka gettin' funky at Nachtleben in Frankfurt

While gettin' down to Nikka in both Frankfurt and then Stuttgart, a cultural difference between Germans and Americans blatently presented itself - Germans do not know how to cut loose. Granted, this is a generalization based only on what I've seen, but with two shows (one with a variety of German performers) providing the same observations, I can't help but come to this unfortunate conclusion.

I have become gloriously used to not sticking out like a sore thumb here in Germany, like I did back in California, being of European decent and towering over the majority of people there. As a German concert goer, I no longer fit in. While I boogied down and clapped along to Nikka's funky beats, everyone else either stood stock still or barely swayed a little and looked around more at everyone else than the act on stage. While I sang along with every word (I said I was a fan!), I noticed people staring at me like I was an alien (or perhaps, just an American). 

Nikka rockin' a rather sedate crowd in Stuttgart (note the one girl with her arms up)

As an avid concert-goer in the states, I couldn't understand this reserved behavior. Live music is where you get to rock out like you do when you're alone in your car. These people looked like they were watching a Kenny G concert on sedatives. Are Germans just more reserved in front of strangers? Was the crowd too full of self-conscious teenagers? I'm really curious about this side of German culture, as I identify with them for the most part in their reserved, rule-following, type A ways. Perhaps I need to head to a few discotheques and test out my observations. Germans must know how to let their hair down... don't they? 

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

America v. Deutschland: Products

July 13, 2010

All kinds of goodies from the US of A

My first trip to a US military base here was an experience in conflicting emotions. When we drove into the main center, I saw immediately why it's referred to as "little America." I was astounded to see all the fast-food American brands I hadn't seen in months - Popeye's, Cinnabon, Seattle's Best Coffee, Baskin Robbins. All this was shipped overseas to create a 'home-like" experience for Americans serving their country overseas, but I had to wonder, coming from the land of amazing culinary experiences in the likes of San Francisco, New York and Chicago, Popeye's and Burger King was the best they could do? And don't even get me started on Baskin Robbins versus European gelato! The fact that this was what was representative of American culture had me wary of what I would find inside.

I went with my mind set on picking up just a few of my favorite comfort foods from the states: JIF peanut butter, Kraft mac & cheese, real brown sugar (which unfortunately, by the time we got to the commissary, I completely forgot). What I did not expect to see was all the superfluous items, and in such abundance - at least 30 different kinds of Coach handbags, entire aisles dedicated to a comprehensive line of products from Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, and so many different cleaning products I wondered how I managed to keep our apartment clean without it all. It really drove home the cultural differences between Europeans' and Americans' need for choice, and in general, stuff.

Some of America's finest offerings (not going to lie, that cinnamon roll was pretty tasty)

All that said, there were some things that the American in me found very exciting, namely because of poor alternatives offered here in Germany. The aisle of Yankee Candles was especially enticing, considering German's aren't really big on the scented stuff and having a stinky dog dictates that we must invest in good-smelling products. The tortilla chips, (real) cheddar cheese, JIF, deodorant and Tide pens also topped the list. Germany has its version of all these, but they just don't live up to the American ones. 

While it was a fun trip, I am so glad we live in this new country and have all of its amazing offerings to fill our lives and home with: Apotheken filled with amazing skin products from La Roche-Posay, Vichy and Eucerin; kebap instead of fried fast food; the soda made with real sugar; and pretty much everything without all the preservatives and fake additives. Now if only Germany would get with the baking program and offer self-rising flour, brown sugar, pecans and vanilla, we'll be all good. On that note, America should once and for all jump on the metric bandwagon. 100 degrees is boiling and 0 degrees is freezing point - it just makes sense and frankly, everyone else is doing it.

Deutschland winning the match for 3rd place

As I am giving props to my new home country, I must congratulate Germany on its impressive showing at the World Cup as well the dedication of its fans. People here were die-hard supporters of their country - wearing face paint, leis and team jerseys to every public viewing - but also willing to concede, and congratulate, when another team outplayed them. The team was welcomed home this week by an airport of cheering fans, rather than animosity for not winning (Brazil, anyone?). I think the world could learn a thing or two about sportsmanship and how to be a good fan from Germany. 

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

Happy birthday USA (& Ich liebe Deutschland)

July 06, 2010

Fireworks in Wiesbaden (courtesy of US military base)

Could last week have been any hotter?! With temps in the 30s (90s for you Fahrenheit folks) and sticky humidity, I've been ending my days properly drenched in sweat and with searing headaches. As a former California girl, I'm just not used to this. I'm thanking my lucky stars that this week has brought overcast skies and a light breeze to make things more bearable. 

The highlights last week were some killer shopping deals (found my new favorite store - Peek & Cloppenburg - who knew long-sleeve tees existed that are nearly too long for a sasquatch like me!), a lovely lunch prepared for me at a friend's equally lovely flat, and of course, the big Fourth of July BBQ in Mainz. 

The BBQ spread

It was nice to have a traditional BBQ to celebrate an American holiday - burgers, potato- and macaroni-salads, beans, watermelon... and of course a couple batches of my cupcakes (PB/Banana & Key Lime). I wasn't sure how these would go over since the whole cupcake thing is fairly new to Germany, but everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy them, so I was happy.

Bailey struggles with being close to the cooking meat and the resulting heat stroke

The lovely rooftop terrace where we enjoyed the BBQ

Our new friends and hosts for the day were amazing with their hospitality and everything they had prepared for us - and for putting up with Bailey's drool and shedding problem (I have extended the offer of my personal maid services as a result). They even mixed up Caipirinhas with Cachaça from a recent trip to Brazil!

Our party enjoying a sunset walk

After dinner, and a significant drop in temperature, everyone decided a walk would be the best way to end the evening. We walked along the river and stumbled upon a Biergarten that looked too good to pass up. Once the sky turned an ugly shade of brown though, we decided to head home just as the rain started to fall. 
Ahh...Biergarten ambiance

As the party wound down, it was nice to discover we could see the fireworks of the Wiesbaden U.S. military base from the terrace. It was the perfect reminder of what the holiday is in the states, but enjoying it in the country I love living in now.

All this visiting of other apartments has made me second guess how much I love our place. The things I had once seen as benefits - old detailing, a finished kitchen - now just look shabby when compared with newer apartments, ones with a little more TLC and the opportunity to build your own brand-new kitchen. And don't even get me started about tree-lined streets and balconies!

So I've been dog-earing the kitchen pages of the Ikea catalog in the hopes we can upgrade once our visas are renewed for at least a few years and make it worth the investment (oh, what I wouldn't give for a working dishwasher, an oven that cooks evenly and cabinets that actually match!). While we can't do anything about not having a balcony, I'm focusing on our amazing location - two blocks from a beautiful park and a five-minute walk from the Stadtmitte - and the last few projects I have to finish up to settle in.

A friend who is coming to stay a few days with us on an extended layover from Israel back to the states after nearly a month away, anxious to be gone for so long, recently asked how I could move so far away from home. This concept of home has come up a lot when talking about our decision to relocate overseas and while I do catch myself referring to "back home" on occasion, I have started to consider Germany our home. It helps to have a family with me (albeit one very furry, drooly family member) and very thankfully some new friends, but home really is where you make it.

Why does home have to be one, unchanging location? I love the idea of bouncing around Europe for the rest of our lives - and why not? There's so much more here that appeals to us than the lifestyle we left and the unsustainable "American Dream." I only hope the people we've left behind get the opportunity to see where we live now and understand why we made the choice we did.

Ana - It all starts with you. We can't wait to show you around!

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische