Monday, March 30, 2009

Big Sigh....

Finally have some time to post. The last 10 days have been exhausting. Hopefully get back to some regular posts now. We are moved into our place in Tamm! Here is the google map:

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We rented a truck/van (like this) to pick up our ebay items. Worked out pretty good--our friend Matthias helped me translate and load the stuff. We travelled all around Stuttgart, North, South, East and West to pick up our cheap, used furniture. It was worth it. All the stuff is surprisingly quality, just a couple complaints. The computer desk I am on right now is starting to not smell like smoke anymore. That kind of stuff. We only had to go to the 4th floor one time. I was surprised--all these apartment blocks around here and we lucked out with 1st floor and garage items. I was dreading that. Our 1 euro couches are great and our 12 euro bed is awesome. That was a long day. We picked up all our boxes from our other apartment and moved them over here while we had the van. No more angry neighbor and 5 floors of stairs! Oskar can pee freely now, just open the door for the lil bastard. :) We also made 2 trips in 3 days to Ikea. These are not just pop in and pop out trips, either--we spent probobly 6 hours each time in there! Luckily Mayzie likes their meatballs. We had to rent a truck from them for 1 hour to get all the stuff home. Scheduling that and dealing with people being late, means lots of waiting around for the truck. Sure is a hassle not having a car sometimes. I had to return the bed slats that we bought, and had no is how it went down when I came back with the correct bedslats, in MUCH larger packaging. It worked, although I must say that my quick analysis and engineering intuition was being questioned the whole ride home. These things were heavy and long.

Anyways, we are pretty much moved in--still need a rug or two and something for the walls, but we have everything we need. Even German satellite TV with 500 channels of nothing. Gotta get better at German to appreciate those. Our friends the Linke's let us borrow their clothes dryer (yay no more leaving the clothes on the radiators for 2 days!), bed mattresess for us, and dining room chairs. They are so good to us. It almost feels like they feel sorry for us sometimes "Poor American refugees, they have nothing--we must help!". Mayzie loves her room--I must say it is the best room in the house. 

Today was a beautiful spring day and we all spent some time outside in the back gardening (Jenna and Mayzie) and cleaning up the bikes (me). It felt really good to be here today in our new place and we are eager for some good weather, it has been a ridiculously long winter. Too long. Even went for a nice bike ride through the old part of Tamm, which we didnt even know existed.

Nothing new on the job front...all of our eggs are in our German basket now so I hope the basket don't fall, if you know what I mean. They did send me to Hamburg for a 1 day training class on wedensday. The topic? TAKSYS. I have no idea what it means, but it was a course on Airbus' (the airplane company) drawing and documentation system. Not sure if they are thinking of me for some aerospace jobs ( I have no experience) but I am open for that, for sure. The class was boring and was something you could learn the first day on the job (it is actually similar to Freightliner's outdated documentation ssytem, so I knew its idiosyncracies), but I met some cool people that are all in the same boat I am--getting paid but not working. Nice to know that I am not the only one who will get screwed if this all falls through! That was a long day--a 1 hour flight at 6am and return back at 8pm for a 3 hour class. Luckily beers are so easily available and cheap--had a few with my German travel mates while we were waiting at the airport.

My friends in Agalloch are on tour throughout Europe from March 21-29 so I saw them on two of their dates. The first one was up in Wurzburg (2 hours north by train), where I met a friend of Jason's who snuck me into the hostel after the show so I could get some sleep. The show was awesome, but I didnt really think about where I would stay the night (I kind of get a weird satisfaction of doing things spontaneously..I so rarely do this that when I am by myself now, I put myself in these kind of situations, just to see what happens. It so rarely works out..I end up sleeping in a field or in the train station, but this time it worked! If I had plans, I would have never hung out with this guy!). I was kind of expecting to be waiting at the train station after the show and hanging out, until the first train back at 6am. So that was cool that he snuck me in. This guy was great--from Montana, been living in Germany for 6 years--he is some kind of atmosphereic chemist.  The other show was a 5 hour train ride north, near Dusseldorf. Another great show, but I caught the 3am train back that time, so I got some sleep on the train, but still pretty tired. It was great seeing those guys and Jason and I had some beers and a pretzel and some good conversation. First visitor (kinda)! It's really cool seeing old friends having such success with their band. LIVING THE DREAM haha (aren't we all).

Gearing up for Mayzie's first day at kindergarten on wedensday, April 1. We are very excited for her, and are confident she will thrive there. Last tuesday we went in for a tour of the facilities and they are so great. Everything is small(chairs, toilets, benches, doors) and there are tons of activities and crafts there and the playground is immense. There is a little bike track that goes around the building. So cute. One of the 3 teachers that she will be with speaks OK english so we were able to communicate. We told her to not speak english to Mayzie unless she has to, so Mayzie will be blowing us out of the water with her German skills soon. There are 22 kids for 3 teachers in her "module". She will go 9am-1:30pm everyday. They feed her lunch, but we will eat breakfast at home or we pack something for her. Jenna took her last friday to a meet and greet kind of thing with the other kids for a couple hours. Guess Mayzie did pretty good, except for when it came time to eat lunch, Mayzie wanted to keep playing and had a fit. So there are some things that she will need to work on. Our friend Annett gave us a gift to give to Mayzie after her first day at school--some tradition they do here. Not sure what it is, its all wrapped up. Those kinds of things make me appreciate Germany. Like this easter egg tree...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The weather has cleared... we are out on our bikes. Check out this ride along the Neckar. This is about 2 miles north of Stuttgart. I was surprised at how little industry there is right along the river so close to town. I guess most of the industry is in the south... the north is where the grapes are.

Ready for school

Look at our big girl with tired eyes. She has a new backpack and is ready for school. All the papers have been signed and we have an appointment for her doctor on April 7. We should be settled in our new place by the end of March, and she will be starting April 1, so I hope the whole transition goes OK. She is very much looking forward to it!

Taste Test: Salty Heringe

Basically, fish shaped black licorice pieces, coated in salt with some peppers thrown in for good measure. I am not always in the mood for them, but when I eat do eat 'em? SO DAMN GOOD.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Honeymoon is Over

Our friend Annett's husband works for a company that hands out a Moving to Stuttgart guide for their foreign workers, so she copied it for us. Very useful, like 2 months ago! Anyways, there is a section in there about "Preparing For Reality: Making the Best of Your Culture Shock". Until I read this, I always thought I was immune to culture shock, but I am showing classic signs:

Culture shock usually hits expatriates after a phase of initial euphoria and is followed by a phase of gradual adjustment and a stable state of adaptation or biculturalism. In the initial honeymoon stage, newcomers are happy delaing with daily life and local people. Similarities between the host and home country are highlighted. Life is great. There follows a stage of irritability and hostility. This is a period of relative bewilderment and disenchantment. Gradually your focus shifts from the similarities to the differences. No longer intriguing, these differences may suddenly seem enormous and troubling. You might find yourself blowing up at small, seemingly insignificant deviations from your own personal norm. The honeymoon is over. You have reached the stage of culture shock.

We gave up high paying jobs, an awesome house, a stable environment for Mayzie, and relative ease and comfort for our move to Germany. When things don't go smoothly, or we are worrying about money, these things are easily highlighted versus how we are living now. I know it isnt fair to do this, but it is natural to lean towards these thoughts. I often feel guilty for dragging Jenna and Mayzie (especially Jenna) out of our comfort zone and into a situation where most things that are super easy and convenient at home are a struggle. This is the stage we are in right now. I know it will pass. 

Some days are really good. Today was a good day. Yesterday we signed the papers for our new apartment, and we have the keys, so we are going to start moving some things over there next week. We have been buying lots of cheap furniture on ebay, so I have to coordinate a rental truck so we can pick it all up. It's surprisingly affordable to furnish a house if you dont mind used stuff, which we do not. So we are happy about that. We are scheduled to be out of our current apartment on March 31. We toured a kindergarten nearest to our new place and it was awesome. Huge playgrounds, a very european/german building--you know, modern, smart, classy, I guess. The lady spoke english and it is a 4 minute walk to our apartment. They have 2 open spots so Mayzie will start April 1! It is 81 euro a month which I think is affordable, that is monday to friday 7:30am (yeah right--Mayzie, you are in for a culture shock of your own!) to 1:30pm. She can actually show up until 10am, so Mayzie's 9am (at least) wake up time might not have to be adjusted too much. The focus of kindergartens over here is not academic--its more about playing and crafts and such. But thats OK. She was so excited about the school and going to school---I know she will do great. She knows "Danke" and "Stuttgart" and "apfelzaft" like they are her normal words now. 
Our tenants are in our house in Portland now (a single mom with 3 kids). Through our rental agency company asking for Jenna's social security number, we found out that the tenants are Section 8, meaning that the government is helping them pay the rent, like 70% of it. So we were a little concerned about that, but it seems like its a good thing since we know that the rent will be paid every month. We have been on Skype with Jenna's parents and my mom, so that makes it a bit easier too.

Got Mayzie a bitchin new bike for 5 euro. Decked it out with a bell and a basket in front. She is stoked beyond words....

It's kind of hilly around our apartment, but our new place is nice and flat so she can ride like the wind there. Plus, it's still cold and rainy here so not good bike weather, although my rides (even in the rain)  to my class at night are great. It's what I love about Europe...the cobblestones and the huge market square here in Ludwigsburg...the bike is the perfect vehichle for exploring.

Keep on keepin on....

PS. Somehow (I guess because of my IP address) the computer knows that we are in Germany, so spell check thinks I have every word misspelled because it's in English. So please excuse the mistakes, I have no computer watching my back, keeping me straight. mkjndjncjincijni!


I am a week into my "Integration Course". Basically, it is learning practical German with an emphasis on coping in society.  It's been really great so far, and I am finding myself understanding the teacher more and more each time. She speaks english, too, but refuses to do so, which is good for me. There are around 10 people in the class--one other guy from Chicago (military guy...been here 10 years? Weird), a girl from Brazil, 3 people from Turkey, an Italian, a Greek, a guy from Gambia, a guy from Iraq, and a girl from New Zealand. So, from all over. It's interesting speaking German to my classmates and learning about them in German and their lives. Pretty cool. Some of them have been here for 6 years or more! Can't imagine not knowing the language after that long...sometimes I wish we were around all english people, but I know the way we are doing it is more difficult, but will be better in the long run. I certainly havent been saying "dude" and "whatever" and "lame" at all. I gotta learn the German equivalents haha

We are learning grammar and basic stuff like family members, how to fill out forms, and how to say where you live, where you are from, etc. The classes run Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 6pm-9pm. This will continue for almost a year! I should be reading german literature by then haha. Kinda puts a damper on travel plans, but its not a big deal to miss a class here and there, and anyway, I am glad it is so intensive. I am not working, so bring it on. It really feels good learning this stuff and being able to use it immedietly. I was in the park pushing Mayzie on the swings and a 12 year old girl was there and we chatted a bit--stuff like how old are you, where do you live, etc. That sounds strange but she was happy to speak english and I German, and I was surprised how well she spoke, being 12. They start them learning english at 6 years old over here, if not earlier, depending on the parent. Our friend Annett has her 3 year old in English classes.

We are definitly gaining confidence. Shops and bakeries and weird stalls that I had shied away from a few weeks ago, I am easily able to order something and not feel awkward or have to explain myself in English. Being able to properly pronounce is nice...the alphabet is so close to ours, but the pronunciations are different. That really helps the comfort level for sure. My goal: all I want to do is understand what the hell these guys are talking about on sunday morning while they drink beer and eat pretzels:

Jenna starts her classes May 4. Hers are Montag, Dienstag, and Freitag from 0840-1150. I know she will enjoy these classes, so I am looking forward to practicing with her. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Forlorn Calculating Device

Once my soulmate, my work buddy, my tool of choice. You were my companion in the ebb and flow of decimal places and millimeter/inch conversions. We were a fantastic team. Now look at you. Relegated to the toy shelf in Mayzie's room. I am not in a huge hurry to use you everyday again, but I do wonder when that day will be. Soon, you may get called up, summoned to perform and consistently provide a thankless task. But, I am thanking you now! Godspeed to your return, calculator. And please do not break under the pounding hands of our 3 year old. She does not appreciate your abilities. Stay strong!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

German Playgrounds

The playgrounds around here are plentiful and amazing. The thought and ingenuity put into each playsite is awesome and we love searching out new ones because you never know what you will find. Today, we discovered one with an in-ground, weather proof trampoline!

Who comes up with these ideas? Is there a playground guru out there, creating plans, and sending them out to his minions to be built? If so, the dude is amazing...check out some of these playgrounds we have found. Many of them are hand carved pices, and all are sturdy as hell.

Check out this flying saucer swing....

And this huge circular rotating disc thingy...this would not pass code in the US....

And this GOLIATH of a slide was closed when we came upon it, but our new apartment is near to this, so we (meaning I haha) must go down this thing.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Finding an apartment

We hit the pavement running monday morning, searching for an apartment that is right for us. Living in an apartment on the 5th floor really makes you appreciate the ground floor, so that is a requirement. Also, a garden so we can just let Oskar out the back door, is also a major requirement. We also need to have an installed kitchen, because many apartments have nothing in the kitchen--no counters, cabinets, nothing--just a couple pipes sticking out of the wall. We are not having any of that action. Because of the job situation, we were thinking about a furnished flat, but the costs and quality of the furnished apartments we have seen was not good. You end up paying 400-500 euro per month more for a furnished place, so we are opting for unfurnished. This means basically buying a whole house worth of furniture. DAMN.

There is a major website used for rentals in Germany, so, armed with Google Translate, we had found 3 apartments that fit our criteria. Actually, 1 of them was up on the 3rd floor, but it was in a great location, near the center of Stuttgart. I made the phone calls to the agents (Maklers) who handle the places and BANG 3 for 3 english speaking! Nice! So we setup appointments. We went out to a suburb of Stuttgart, north of Ludwigsburg, called Freiburg (Freebird haha) for the first one. Here is the ad (you can translate by using google translate or babelfish or something, although there are pics). It was about a 10 minute walk from the subway (which will take you 20 minutes in Stuttgart), had an awesome back garden, and was very quiet. 2 bedrooms, pergo floors, complete new kitchen. We liked it alot.

The second place was near the center of Stuttgart in an apartment block above a grocery store, so that would have been convenient. Here is the ad. This place was pretty 2 minutes to the subway, modern building. But the lady who showed it was shady. She showed us the apartment, we liked it very much, but luckily our friend Annett was with us to translate. The lady was decieveing about the price, the apartment she showed us was actually 300 euro per month more than her ad says. The cheaper one was in another building and looks and feels completely different. LAME. Not sure if we would have taken it anyway (no garden), but we were kinda peeved that she dit that.

Moving on, we went to another suburb in the north called Tamm. Here is the ad.10 minutes walk again to the apartment from the subway. This place was great--quiet, 3 bedrooms (so we could have an office), a very nice backyard with a swingset and a beautiful German terrace with a grapevine running across it. The kitchen was very small, but the appliances (oven, dishwasher,sink, cabinets) were all new. The layout is a little weird, kinda looks liked they added on, but the rooms are generous. The backyard is great and there is only one neighbor above, perfect for us. We wanted to have our friend Annett with us to have a second opinion and to speak with the agent, so we went back again to the apartment. This time, the owner happened to be there too, so we met her (through our translator) and she was a sweet old lady from Croatia. She really liked Mayzie and Annett and was blown away by Jennas knitting skills (Annett's daughter had on a hat Jenna made for her). She told us how she wanted a family in her house, so we got her approval right away. Annett really liked it, too, so we said we'll take it! 

We explored the area a bit. The grocery store is about 10 minutes walk away, and there is a huge shopping area close by with Ikea and mall type stores...thats about 10 mninutes walk away too. The train is great for going into Stuttgart (23 minutes), so when I do start working, that will be easy. There are kindergartens and countryside and bike lanes right around us, so it really is a perfect location. I am sad that we are not closer to the city, but thats the sacrifice we needed to make to have some space. If it was just me and Jenna, we would be in the city for sure, but its not, so we will all be happier with some elbow room.

We walked over to Ikea to see what the damage would be if we got all our stuff there--TV, beds, dressers, washer/dryer, rugs, light fixtures...all that crap will be about 2000 euros. DAMN. I must mention the costs involved in securing the apartment, too. First there is a "kaution", a 2 month deposit for any damages. The rent is 850, so that will be 1700. We get that back at the end if all is in order. Then, and this is ridiculous, there is a fee we must pay the agent, called the "provision". This is 1.8 times the rent, so 1530 euros. For all her hard work at showing the place and putting up an internet ad. LAME. And of course we will never see this money again. So that is a total of 3230 euros before we even move in! Luckily my work will front me this money and I will pay it back over 1 year. Otherwise, that would break the bank for sure, with all the stuff we have to buy.

In other money news, I got my first paycheck. They took out 34% in taxes. I was used to around 30% at home, so I guess the extra 4 % should be expected for the healthcare we get here.

So, we are excited, and our expected move in date will be last week in March. Will be nice to have our own place, and feel more settled than we do now...but not too settled haha. 

Monday, March 2, 2009

Job Update + Bonus Life Update!

So I spoke at length with my boss last week. He discussed how difficult it had been to find qualified and trained staff like myself, and that there is virtually no way that they will get rid of me. They will pay me beyond the current crisis and into the timeframe when these automotive compaines start hiring people for their developmental projects. The money is there, its just that the compaines do not want to spend any while the crisis continues. They will wait until it calms down, and my company will keep me until this occurs.

So that was a relief to hear that. We have to trust them and we have to commit ourselves to staying here longterm. Which means to start looking for an apartment that we can call home and start the language coarses, get Mayzie in kindergarten, etc. At least we have time to look! We found a few listings of apartments, so the awkward phone calls will begine this week. Our main criteria is a ground floor flat with a garden, so that Mayzie can stomp without us peeving anybody, and Oskar can pee without us taking him down 5 flights of stairs. We shall see how this goes...I bet it wont be easy. More German beuracracy. I am so bitter now! We are turning into the people we are annoyed with! Gotta be careful of that.

In other news, the weather was awesome the last 2 days...50's and sunny. Man, it has been awhile. We went for a bike ride yesterday and to the zoo today with our friends Mathias, Annett and Lara Joy. Here is our new bike setup, complete with Mayzie's trailer...

There is secured bike storage in our apartment, so all this stuff is safe. Oh, and Oskar turned 2...we liked his apfelstrudel cake...

Our friend Annett will help us find an apartment, so we are glad we have a local on our side.

Bring on the spring!

Maastricht, Netherlands

We spent 3 days in our newest favorite place, Masstricht, Netherlands from wednesday to friday. The mission: to enjoy the fine offerings of dutch society, and to bring back a bike for Jenna. Both were achieved successfully. We spent 6 hours (8 hours on the way back) and 5 trains to get there, with Oskar in tow, so it was not an easy trip. Add a bicycle and a late departure to the mix on the way back, and we pushed ourselves to near breakdown. But, our time in Maastricht was very pleasant. I had booked a small apartment before we left, and was blown away at the beauty and character of the place when we arrived. It was located along the medieval walls of the city, down a cobblestone lane. 

The inside was quaint and stocked with everything we needed for a comfortable stay. Jenna was impressed at my room booking skillz. We got down to business and picked up Jenna's bike:

A modern cargo/city bike. Front rack, front and rear disc brakes, 3 gears, smaller wheels for heavier carrying loads, a very very sturdy bike. Mayzie likes to ride on the front rack (don't worry, Jenna wont let me ride with her on the front like that haha):

I rented the Bakfiets, so that we can all go out on a bike ride:

One funny thing happened. I had taken Mayzie and Oskar out on the bakfiets to a small park near our apartment. I didnt see any signs (we are not in Germany!) about dogs so I let Oskar of the leash. We played for around 30 minutes, throwing the frisbee and running around. In the distance I saw an old man approaching. As I realized he was walking right to me, I thought for sure he was going to ream me for having the dog off the leash. My german defenses were on. He walked right up to me, smiled and handed me some soccer cards for Mayzie. Oh man, this is Holland! 

Ate some good food, and enjoyed some quality Belgian beers in a cafe overlooking the main square. The town is magical, day and night, and I am very glad we "discovered" it. We shall return for more biking in the summer time, now that we know about a great place to stay.

I am trying to forget about it, but our journey home was a nightmare. We had 3 bags to carry, a bike, a 3 year old and a dog. 5 trains in 8 hours (delays and waiting times included) with just me and Jenna would have been an irritable mess. But having a tired kid and a dog who is not comfortable and a large, heavy bike to lug around and we nearly lost it. We left Maastricht at 3pm and arrived to Ludwigsburg at 11pm. At one point, the lady at the train station said that we would have to wait 1 day because we did not have a reservation for the bike. What? No way. We got on the train, there was PLENTY of room for the bike, and the conductor didnt give us a hard time at all for not having a reservation. Sometimes there are just too many rules. Friday night in the middle of winter is not a popular time for bikes on trains. So that was stressful. Knowing which carriage that the bike is able to be put on is a huge stress...every train was different and they only stop for a couple minutes, so you really have to know where the bike should go before it arrives so that you can stand in the right place. We managed, but damn. A huge struggle and one in which is a good example of when traveling is a huge pain in the ass. "Its not about the destination, its about the journey." BS! Even Mayzie was pissed...

I must say something about Mayzie. We are blown away with her patience and perseverance and her ability to adapt and change as we are doing all this crap. Unbelievable. We are lucky parents. Many kids would have FREAKED.