Friday, November 23, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving (an "I Love..." replacement)

I lieu of an "I Love" blog, I decided to run through an exercise suggested to me years ago.  When you're feeling overwhelmed by the negative aspects of your life, twist them to the point of gratefulness until you find the positive side.  It doesn't always work, but often. 

So here goes.

I am thankful for the fact that my children wake me up in the middle of the night.  It means I've managed to be the type of mother who can make their pain or fear go away through nothing but my presence.  I'm five-one, but I banish bellyaches, thieves, monsters, giant robots and vampires on a semi-regular basis. 

I am thankful for the hundred emergencies each week at work.  It means I have job stability.  I have an income.  It means I can prove my worth to myself and those around me.  It allows me the opportunity to make a positive difference.

I am thankful for my husband's griping about his job.  Similar to my own moans, it means he has an income.  It also means I have him.  Every day.  Not a husband constantly on business trips or living in another state.  Or one who won't share with me.  Or no loving husband at all.

I am thankful for hearing about Hurricane Sandy.  Of course, not for the hurricane itself and the damage it did, but the reports renewed my appreciation for what I have.  Our windows may need paint and the fence around our yard may be rotting, but we're safe, in a house with heat, clothes, furniture, family pictures and irreplaceable crafts the kids made when they were toddlers.

I'm thankful I miss my mother, because it means I loved her.  Wow, this is harder to write than I'd anticipated.  It also means the ache hasn't lessened too far - she's not lost yet.  Maybe someday she'll only be a distant memory.  I was lucky:  I had her for longer than some children have their parents.

I am thankful I live so far from my family…..  Lots of deep breaths here.   I get the opportunity to know and understand more than one culture, and my children do too.  I get to have loved ones on both sides of the Atlantic....  I'm finding this one isn't quite working.  I have to bend the rules here and say it would be much easier to be thankful if we had the technology to beam us together on occasion.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I Love...Ben & Jerry's

Let's get specific. I love Ben & Jerry's Half Baked.

Consider the brilliance. Cookie Dough is delicious, but a bit too sweet to consume large amounts (I know, I've tried). Chocolate Fudge Brownie is sinfully intense. Again, too much of a good thing can actually be too much.

Add one amazing idea: mix them together. Out comes a pint of heaven. No sense in bothering with those dinky single serve containers.

Even the name is wonderful.


Okay, you might not know it, but I actually do research when I write. I was over at Ben & Jerry's website, and I saw all the flavors that exist. I noted with alarm that they don't have them all here in Germany! We have like...six flavors – max!

I'm struggling not to get jealous, but to hold onto my positive I Love feelings right now.

The website lists delicacies like Cheesecake Brownie, Chubby Hubby and Cannoli

That. I. Can't. Buy. Here.

Not to mention the frozen yoghurt versions (one-third the calories so you can eat three times as much!).

Forget the ice cream, I'm the one who's melting here!

So here's what I'll do:
  • Take several deep breaths.
  • Get the kids into bed.
  • Grab my pint of Half Baked.
And it'll all be good.

Friday, November 16, 2012

How Not to Write a Check

I've lived in Germany since 1995.  Not once have I written a check here.

Germany generally deals with payment in one of three ways:
1.  Bank transfers, like my paycheck, which is a direct deposit, or my electric bill, which is an automatic withdrawal.
2.  Debit Card, which my husband says I should avoid using because I'll lose the feeling for the money I'm spending.
3.  CASH. Lots of it. We had repairmen come to fix our roof. 6oo EUR please. Right now. Cash. Not kidding. Same thing for the COD on our 1200 EUR couch.

In theory, and in some instances, you can also use a credit card, but they just aren't very popular.

Checks are considered antiquated.

So I recently wanted to send someone in the States money. I traveled down to my bank and asked for advice. They requested the person's bank account number....

Which I didn't have. The money was supposed to be a gift. I couldn't very well go asking for the person's bank account. How suspicious would that sound? And they probably wouldn't give it to me anyway. Definitely not by unsecure e-mail.

Next suggestion: A Verrechnungsscheck. After a lot of Q and A, I understood that any person who happened to get their hands on the check could cash it. It didn't matter what name was printed on it. Plus the Verrechnungsscheck would be sent by the bank, not by me. Certainly not with a little rainbow drawing from my daughter meant to cheer up someone whose life had been turned upside down by a natural disaster.

Other suggestions? "Why don't you just send cash in an envelope?" Yes, that was really the teller's suggestion. I didn't bother answering with words. My scowl was enough.

Moving on. Orderscheck. The bank could order a pack for me. Minimum of 20 at a cost of 20 cents each. Then I could actually write and send the check myself.

This solution was actually sounding good, like an American check, until the infamous words "I don't know what kind of fees you'd be looking at" slipped out of the teller's mouth.

Hmm. If the bank didn't know, who did? I googled. It was looking like up to 50 EUR in fees from two to four banks along the Germany-to-USA chain. I wasn't sending that much money. Definitely not worth the high fees.

Next, I spent days agonizing over my plan. Maybe I just shouldn't bother. After all, it was money I wanted to send, not money I had to send.

But the thought of giving up when I was trying to do something positive just because the system made it difficult irritated the heck out of me.

Then I had an idea. The bank A gift card. Sure, it isn't as flexible as cash, but you can buy almost anything there.

I don't want this to sound like a commercial, but it was simple. Done within minutes.

And so ends my story: I've been in Germany 17 years, and I still haven't written a check.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Sometimes living an ocean away can be an advantage. I don't have to hear minute by minute insults tossed back and forth between political parties during the presidential election, for example. I don't have to wonder how my loved ones can stand that guy, or even worse, promote him.

Culinarily speaking, there are hardly any Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in Germany, which is good for my waistline, especially at Halloween. I haven't felt the need to sneak anything from my son's plastic pumpkin goodie basket.

Usually, living on a different continent is a mixed blessing.

When my parents divorced years ago, I felt bad for not being there, for not providing a shoulder to cry on. Selfishly, I knew I was also missing the tension. Despite the guilt, I knew that was easier for me. I didn't have to hear whose fault everything was. I didn't have to take a side. I didn't have to deal with the tears.

Unlike my friends and family back home, Sandy didn't affect us here in Germany. Thankfully, we have a house and jobs and power. So here I sit with boxes of clothes the kids have grown out of, a set of dishes I no longer need, some extra pots and glasses.... I'd love to be able to help, but sending them to the States by mail would be astronomical. It would make more sense to write a check.

I'll have to look into that....

Sometimes being far away has no silver lining whatsoever.

My sister is due to have her first baby in about a month. She's a twelve hour flight from here. I'd love to go stay with her for a week or so to help out. But it's looking like 100 EUR per hour on that a time when our car has been in the shop twice, and my husband has already taken a ton of vacation to make up for my unexpected, unpaid overtime. Gotta love being salaried.

So it's a choice between abandoning my husband and kids at Christmas or not being there for my sister.

I don't know what I'll do yet. Besides being so far from family, the worst part about distance is how the consequences seem to be that much higher, decision-making that much more difficult....