Whasaaaaaaaap?

I apologize for using a seventeen year old commercial as my subject line, but it’s kind of appropriate.  It feels like it’s been at least that long since I really posted anything, not counting that one post with the yummy cinnamon rolls.

I’ve tried to come back to the blog numerous times, but each time I do, that blank post box just stares accusingly at me, asking why I haven’t fed it.  The further you go between posts, the more difficult it is to wrench yourself back to regular blogging.

So getting back to where I’ve been and what’s been going on since my last truly informative post, let’s start with the stuff that’s not changed:  My relationship with Amelie is still great, and we have loads of fun together.  My family is all pretty much the same as they were before.  My dad is doing a little bit better, actually-  he was diagnosed with some form of Parkinsons and the medication they gave him specific to that has helped his mobility quite a bit.

For the changing things, though-  my apartment lease ended on December 9th, and I moved into my brother’s spare room as a transitional thing.  I’m still there.  My job ended on December 15th, and the following Monday I took a six month contract doing pretty much exactly the same thing I had been doing previously.  The difference is that now I’m working from home instead of an office, except for that one time that Dave and I tried a Regus co-working space.  That was kind of neat, actually, and maybe I should have used that experience as a blog post.

Although my departure from Mr. Company was in December, it’s not until the first of April that the company that hired me in 2002 is really and truly dead.  The last few people left at the office have their last day at the end of this month, and there’s going to be a final happy hour near the old office-  I plan on going, but I suspect it will be a fairly somber outing for a happy hour.    The death of my fourteen year career with my former Mr. Company might be an entire separate blog post in the future, because there’s a lot to unpack there.   I’m still waiting for the actual realization that it’s truly over.   I suspect I’m in some form of denial because I’m still doing more or less the same work, at least until the end of the contract.

The biggest thing happening in my life at the moment is that I’m relocating.  You may have noticed that most of the concert dates in the sidebar of this blog have started to be located in Central Florida.  That’s because Orlando is where I’m heading.   I’ve already moved everything that was in my storage unit here up to Orlando, during a surprisingly fun day with Amelie, a fifteen-foot U-haul truck, and the assistance of several friends and family members.   Most amusingly, my Orlando digs turned out to be on the same street as my friend and fellow blogger Jenn.  The universe is full of very silly coincidences.

I’ll be spending time flipping between Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale throughout April and into May.  My Orlando residential address is a temporary situation- once I’m up there full time, I’ll be looking for a new place of my own.  There’s all kinds of great little apartments for rent near Lake Eola and downtown, and the rental rates are way lower than they are in South Florida.

As for the jobbyness,  Amelie and I are both hunting for new gigs in Orange County as my contract starts to wrap up.  Looking for something new before the month of April is sort of pointless for me, because the contract doesn’t end until May 30th.  Amelie could start something new much faster than me, but it would be pretty convenient if we’re starting new things at roughly the same time. In the interim, I’m trying to learn some new things and perhaps get a certification or two to make myself more appealing to employers.

So that’s what I’ve been up to…  how about you?  Whasaaaaaaaap?

The New Apartment Checklist

As I pack up my apartment and prepare to move for the fifth time in six years, I find that I have learned a great deal about what I don’t want in an apartment.  I also have a short list now of things that I do want in a future residence.

First, there are a few non-negotiables:

  • A clothes washer and dryer in the apartment –  The condominium that I owned from 2004 to 2011 didn’t have a washer and dryer.  It didn’t even have hookups to buy them.  I could have converted the front hall closet into a washer and dryer nook, but it would have been cramped and I would have lost a valuable closet.    Instead, I spent more than seven years doing my laundry down the hall, using many, many quarters.    Never again.
  • A dishwasher in the apartment – Most US apartments have a dishwasher, but my flat in Germany barely had a kitchen at all.   For three years, I hand-washed all of my dishes.    I’d rather not go back to that.

Most (but not all) modern US apartments have my non-negotiables, so I’m not too worried about finding them.  What I really have to focus on while looking for my next apartment are these other niceties that come with having space:

  • Deep sinks  – There are several things I do regularly that are hindered by shallow sinks.   For example, I have an 18 cup Pur water filter on my counter, and another one inside the refridgerator.  In order to refill them, I have to use a pitcher as a medium step.  In my previous apartment, the faucet had one of those extendable hose things at the end, and I could use that.  It would be nice to just be able to put the entire tank inside the sink and fill it right from the tap.  (Or maybe just have a fridge with a water dispenser in the door- that would work well also.)
  • Lots of storage space – In the apartment before this one, there was a small walk-in closet off the bedroom and a mediocre amount of kitchen cabinet space.  The space under the bathroom sink was tiny.   That was it for storage space inside the apartment.  It was a miniscule place, with tiny amounts of storage.  The apartment I’m in now does well on that front-  there’s tons of cabinet space in both the kitchen and the bathroom, with lots of drawers for stuffing things in.   I even have one kitchen drawer that never really got used at all, except for a label maker and some kitchen gadget instruction manuals.   This is the dream, folks- so much storage space that you can afford to mostly ignore an entire drawer for a year.
  • A wide bathroom counter – My bathroom in Germany had no counter around the sink-  the sink attached to the wall and if I wanted a cabinet underneath it, I had to put it in myself.  There was a five or six inch deep ledge set into the wall over the sink that ran the length of the bathroom.  That’s where I stored all the things that you would normally have out, like a toothbrush, shaving stuff, and so forth.  There was also no medicine cabinet there, so my regular pills were on that ledge.  Anything I didn’t need often was stuck into the tall cabinet that I purchased for the bathroom.
  • A kick-ass shower – I never really take baths, but every apartment shower is also a tub.  I hate having to step into a tub to take a shower.  I would much rather have a dedicated shower.   Maybe something like this:ad-amazing-unique-shower-ideas-for-your-home-19
  • Lots of counter space in the kitchen – I have learned that if I don’t have a lot of counter space in the kitchen, I won’t try to cook very much.  It’s important to have room to prepare things.  In my condo, I had very limited counter space and most of my cooking was of the nuke-and-eat variety.  In Germany, I had no counter space at all, and I rarely even went so far as to microwave stuff.  I brought fantastic cookware back from Germany that had barely been used at all.
  • A good layout – This is the sort of thing that you only figure out after a lot of moves, but the right layout is very important.  A washer and dryer on the patio means going out into Florida humidity to get your freshly laundered but somehow already swampy clothing.  A bathroom door too close to the toilet means never being able to step into the bathroom without some sort of interpretive dance.  A patio that looks out onto a parking lot means you’ll never really get to open your window blinds in the evenings unless you want to entertain all of your neighbors.

Above all else, privacy and a quiet apartment are the things I hold most dear.  I’ve lived in places where you hear the nearest road very clearly and I don’t ever want to endure that again- it’s a subtle, slow moving stress that builds up over time, until you’re ready to do truly nefarious things to loud people outwside.

What are your must-haves when seeking a new place to live?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?

With apologies to Grandmaster Flash.

There are a lot of things that have been stressing me out lately.  I’m basically this puppy on the best of days:

stressedpuppy.jpg

Here’s a short list of the things that are stressing me out:

Looming unemployment:  I haven’t spoken much about this yet on the blog, but I found out a few weeks back that after more than fourteen years, my last day with Mr. Company is the 15th of December.   This is something that we’ve all known is coming since certain announcements were made during the summer of 2015.   Knowing that it’s coming at some vague future date is not the same thing as knowing precisely what your end date is, however.

I know I’ll be able to get a job, but I’m nervous about what type of job that might be.  After all, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.  Still, this is not insurmountable and I know I’ll get through this.  I just have to plan for it and take some time to process everything.

The end of my lease:  My apartment lease ends on the 9th of December.  Armed with the foreknowledge of my end of employment, and certain that I want to move out of South Florida, I chose to let the lease go.  Over the next month, I will be putting my things in storage and relocating once more to my very gracious brother’s spare bedroom.  His rent is much more reasonable than any South Florida apartment, and the company is marvelous.

Large crowds and long distance travel:  You’d never know it from all the trip reports in this blog, but I do have travel anxiety, and I definitely have problems in large crowds.  This runs contrary to that thing where I keep going to concerts at big venues in faraway cities, but that’s my personal circle to square.

My father’s health:  This is another thing I don’t talk about very much on the blog, but it’s a huge stressor for me.    Last winter, my dad fell and broke his hip.   One year previously he had broken his other hip, so his recovery went much less smoothly this time around.  His mobility has never quite recovered, and he uses a walker now.   I go to visit him when I can, but that’s never more than once every week or two.  It’s traumatic and astonishing to see my father change this way-  my dad is about to celebrate his 78th birthday next week, but it’s only in the last two or three years that he’s really ever seemed old.

The irrational fear of robbery:  I have a minor OCD tick in which I check my door lock several times before I leave for the day.  I do this every day.  Intellectually I know that the door is locked the first time.  Furthermore, there’s almost nothing in my apartment that is irreplacable-  I usually take my laptop with me to work, and most of the things that are valuable to me would be worthless to another person.

This thrice damned election:  Every time I read anything about this election, it makes my heart beat faster. I had to stop listening to Rachel Maddow for a while because it was just too much.  I have full blown election anxiety, and I’ll be really glad when it’s over.

Change:  After moving to Germany without knowing the language and having never been to Europe at any prior time, you might think that I take change in stride.  In some cases, that’s true.  I can handle small crisis with unflappable grace- a flat tire, a burned pizza, an unexpected cancellation.  Those are easy.

Now, however, I find that for the first time in literally decades, I don’t know what’s next.  I’m changing my job and my residence all at once, but I don’t know what either one will be.  I know where I’ll be as 2016 ends, but I haven’t got the foggiest idea of where 2017 will take me.  I have a vague mental image of finding a dream job and getting the hell out of South Florida with Amelie by my side, but I don’t know entirely what that looks like.  I’ve barely had time so far to process the changes that are coming, because I’m still too busy closing the books on all the things that are ending.

What stresses you out?  How do you combat your stress?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?

America vs. Deutschland: A partial list.

During my time here in Germany, I’ve been spending roughly two weeks in the United States out of each year.  Last year, it was the week immediately after Thanksgiving and the first week of December.  This year, it was the first two weeks of November.

Spending two weeks back in the States puts a strong focus on the differences between the two countries.  It reminds me of what I miss about living in the US, and it suggests the things that I might miss when I return home at the end of my contract here.

Whenever someone asks me what I miss most about being away from the US, I skip over the obvious- friends and family- and go right to food.  I miss tater tots.

There are dozens of potato preparations in Germany, but none of them are precisely the same as the tot, nature’s perfect fried potato cylinder.  I’ve tried to explain tater tots to native Germans, and there’s always a bit of a blank expression.  I’m digressing a bit, though.  Let’s start the comparison.

America wins: Tater tots.  And steak.  My German colleagues all go to steakhouses any time they have a trip to the United States, because the steaks here just aren’t quite as good.  I don’t know if it’s the meat preparation or if it’s just the different types of cows.  Steaks are just better in the United Steaks of America.  There’s a variety of other food areas where the US takes the lead.  It’s rare to find good Tex-Mex here, which is why every time I’m in the US I try to hit Tijuana Flats with my brother.

Germany wins:  Inexpensive beer.  I read somewhere that they actually had to pass legislation to ensure that there would always be at least one beverage on a bar menu less expensive than beer.  I don’t know if this is true, but it has the flavor of truth, because beer is dirt cheap here.  It’s also damn tasty.

America  wins: Shopping at 2am.  Or on a Sunday afternoon. Sometimes I like to do my grocery shopping in the middle of the night, and nobody does 24 hour availability like the Americans.  In most places in Germany, the sidewalks roll up at around 8pm.  Everything for shopping is closed on Sundays, with certain exceptions.  Restaurants are usually open.  Movie theaters are usually open.  There are typically one or two pharmacies that are designated as 24 hour locations for emergency situations.  Shopping locations inside of Bahnhofs often have special Sunday hours as well.  If you want to do your clothing shopping or most grocery shopping, Sundays are right out.

Germany wins:  Relaxing Sunday afternoons.  Having one day that you can’t run errands outside of the house is actually kind of peaceful.  After living here for a while, I’ve found that it’s nice to just chill out on Sunday afternoons.

America wins:  Comfortable and large bedding.  The bedding sizes are smaller in Germany.  The largest size bed you can purchase in an Ikea is actually not much different than an American “Full” bed.  I moved here with my Queen-sized sheets, and they’re actually too large for my large Ikea bed.  I can still use them, but I have to tuck a tremendous amount of fabric under the mattress.    German beds don’t have box springs either, and the mattresses tend to be thinner.  Whenever I go to a hotel that has American-style bedding, I get a very, very good night’s sleep.

Germany wins: Smart and efficient bedding sizes.  I hated the German bedding sizes at first, but I’ve grown to appreciate the genius of it all.  Most German couples have two smaller comforters instead of one large one-  that way, each person gets their own and there’s nobody hogging the covers.  I’m still of mixed mind about the giant square pillows that are typical here, but they’re not all bad.

America wins:  Apartment shopping.  When you look for an apartment in the US, you go to an apartment complex, review floor plans, see a model, and pick one that’s becoming available in the near future.  Apartment complexes try to woo your business.  When you move in, they have closets, kitchen appliances, cabinets, and clothing washers.  These amenities are all selling points.  The refrigerators are all full sized, too.

In Germany, apartments are a real-estate transaction. You have to use a sort of real estate agent called an Immobilien, sometimes called a Makler.  They’ll show you apartments and you’ll pay an outrageous fee to the Immobilien for whichever one you select.  An apartment in Germany will not typically have any closets, so you have to buy something like an Ikea Pax wardrobe to store your clothing.  You have to specifically look for built-in kitchens because the normal German apartment does not come with any appliances.  If you are lucky to find built-in kitchen appliances, the waist-height refrigerator is far more common than a full sized fridge.  German kitchens don’t usually have in-sink disposal units either.   I still don’t know how to get rid of certain types of food items without just throwing them away.  One helpful colleague suggested using the toilet, but that won’t work for everything.

Germany wins:  Mayonnaise in a tube.  I cannot understate how amazing it is to not have to spend time trying to get the last of the mayo out of those small-necked jars they sell in the US.  I always wind up getting mayo on my knuckles and having to wash my hands immediately afterwards.  Mayo and mustard in toothpaste-styled tubes is brilliant because you can roll up the tube to get hte last bits.

tubes

America wins:  Cookies.  Germans don’t quite understand the art of the cookie.  It’s not a common item in German bakeries, and when you do find them, they don’t taste quite right.  The Ebner bakery near my office has a chocolate chip cookie which plainly shows a lack of understanding of the art.  The thing is three-fourths of an inch thick, with a larger diameter than any cookie has any right to have.  The best cookies I’ve had in Germany have been at the Subway restaurant chain, or at the San Francisco Coffee Company, another chain I was surprised to find here.    The cookies at Starbucks and McDonald’s don’t quite cut it here-  the American Starbucks cookies are better than those of the German Starbucks.

Clearly, I would write a great deal more about cookies.  I love cookies.  I’ll spare you the tedium, though, and move on.

Germany wins:  Everything else in the bakery.  The fresh breads, pretzels, pastries, and regular cakes are all amazing.    For a while, my breakfast every day was from the bakery.  I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been because I can’t stay away from the beer and pretzels.

There’s something here called a Butterbreze – a buttered pretzel.  Basically, they take a fresh baked pretzel, cut it in half, slather butter on the exposed breading, and slap it back together as a pretzel-and-butter sandwich.  They’re amazing and deadly and altogether addictive.

America wins:  The sheer volume of choice available in grocery stores.    This picture of the peanut butter and jelly aisle in an American  grocery store is my only defense for this point.  Yes, I said peanut butter and jelly aisle.

erdnusscreme

Germany wins:  The wide variety of non-dairy and meat-free options in the grocery store.  America is great for a wide variety of brands for most things, but the vegetarian and lactose-free set has more support in grocery stores here than I’ve ever seen in the US.  I do miss the Silk brand of soy milk, but there are plenty of options here that make up for its absence.

America wins:  Birthdays and Anniversaries.  In Germany, the custom is that on your birthday or anniversary, you bring the food to the office.  You pay for people you invite to your own birthday dinner.  The American custom is to make the person having the birthday the guest of honor.

Perhaps this custom arose from a desire to have people keep celebrations to themselves.  I don’t know, but I hate it.  I do not want to bring pizza to the office on my anniversary.  I do not want to bring cake to the office for my own birthday.  I would much rather just not tell anyone when my birthday is in the first place.

Germany wins:  Public transportation.  Unless you live in a major city in the United States, the public transportation pretty much sucks.  In South Florida, you need a car to get by- taking the bus takes five times as long, even for short distances.  In Germany, you can get anywhere in Germany using public transportation.  Inside most cities, you can get almost anywhere you need to go with the bus system.  In bigger cities, you have S-bahn (streetcars) and U-bahn (subway) systems as well.   I’ve been able to travel from my apartment to Amsterdam, to Prague, to Vienna, to Salzburg, to Berlin, and even just to my job without ever requiring a car.

That’s not to say that there aren’t down sides.  There are still some more remote or rural locations which have little bus coverage.  Bus lines tend to stop running around midnight in most places, so you have to plan ahead.  When waiting at bus stops, you’re at the mercy of nearby smokers (and there’s a lot more smokers in Europe then there are in the US).  In the summertime, you also have to contend with the reality that most bus lines don’t run air conditioners, and the guy next to you might not have showered since Christmas.

All in all though, it’s still better than driving in Miami.

poop-shelfAmerica wins:  Toilets.  I’m not even talking about the dreaded European washout toilet or shelf toilet- those things are disgusting and I don’t like the idea of seeing my business before I flush.  I’d rather it just disappear into the water, never to be seen again.  Luckily, I don’t have one of those poop catchers, so I’m spared that weirdness.

No, my issue with toilets is that it’s just really difficult to keep them clean here.  In the US, you can just pop a bleach tablet in the tank and that’ll keep things from growing inside your bowl.  They don’t sell the super strong chemicals here that they sell in the US, though, and so you have to brush your toilet at least twice a week, just to keep things from looking sketchy.  Additionally, the weaker strength of toilet cleaning products here means that I go through significantly more of those little things that dangle inside the bowl to treat the water than I would in the US.

stallGermany wins:  Fully enclosed bathroom stalls.  The majority of the toilet stalls in public restrooms here have fully enclosed floor-to-ceiling doors.  I was used to the American version where there are gaps from floor to shin and where the top is open.  I thought it was strange when I first arrived, but I totally get it now.  After two years with proper stalls, using the more open version that you find in the US left me feeling kind of exposed.

This is a good stopping point for this list.  I could probably keep listing like this for a good long while, but I need to save something for the mandatory comparison post that every ex-pat blogger writes when they have to go back home and repatriate.   As you can see, Germany and the US both have their strong points.  There are definitely things I’ll miss about Germany when I leave in a year, but the most important thing for me is that it’s never felt like home.

Fellow ex-pats: Do you find any of the differences between your homeland and your current home to be interesting or unsettling?

Ikea In The Mist

I’m feeling a little foggy…

The weather report (well, one of the weather reports; they don’t all agree) says it’s going to be unseasonably warm tomorrow, and I don’t think I should believe it.  The weather has been hovering pretty close to 0C, sometimes just above it and sometimes just below it.  It’s been cold and wet and foggy and just generally not sunny for most of the time I’ve been here.

Here, to illustrate my point, is an Ikea. No, really, there’s an entire Ikea store in this picture!  A giant enormous Ikea!  Just up the hill there:

Ikea In The Mist

That picture was taken on my first Monday here.  I have since seen the building a little bit more clearly, but never with the sun shining on it. The sun shone a little bit my first Saturday, and a lot on my first Sunday, and then only once since then.  It’s just been misty and foggy and generally gloomy.

Hoop DreamsWhen I’m taking the bus into work in the morning, I rarely have a good distance view of the countryside.  The basketball hoop pictured to the right?  I’m not entirely certain that there’s not an entire high school basketball team back there, hidden just out of view in the fog.

The days here are incredibly short right now, and I find myself looking forward to a month from now, when the planet turns just slightly and the days start to get just a little bit longer, day by day.

But first, and more importantly, I badly need to find an apartment.  I’ve been looking since I got here, but it’s been difficult.  For one thing, I don’t speak enough German (yet) to navigate this without help.  I’ve been relying pretty heavily on the people in my office to help me make sense of everything.  They’ve been helping me by finding listings, making phone calls for me, and even going with me to look at flats when I can arrange to meet the Immobilien (basically a realtor for those of you back home.)  I’m approaching the end of my second week in the hotel, and I’m starting to get a little stir crazy.  Eating out every night is only fun when it’s a choice and not a necessity.   I want my pasta boat, damn it.