Friday, February 26, 2010

A New Low

Yesterday was one of the worst days we've had since arriving. Adam's boss very kindly told us (after being asked several times by Adam) that he was going to reduce Adam's hours to zero. Reduce Adam's hours to zero? Is that the nice way of saying, you no longer have a job? Apparently, it is. So, our sole source of income has been canceled and our house in Seattle is not renting. Awesome.

I think I went into shock, a little - it doesn't seam fair after working this hard to get here that we should have to turn around now.

So, we aren't going to. We are OK through the end of March and I'm confident that our wonderful property manager will get our house rented as soon as possible. Once the place is rented, we don't really need that much money to survive here. I'm going to try to get a job (turned down the first one because they weren't going to pay me enough...oops), and I think, if worse comes to worse, we can live off my income alone. Rent in Magdeburg is dirt cheap - about $400 a month for everything including utilities - and as long as you buy food in the grocery stores, food is relatively cheep as well. We won't be able to travel much or go on any expensive outings, but we're in GERMANY - we don't need to do anything but explore.

I'm trying to sound positive, but this sucks. I'm so mad at Adam's boss for laying him off like this. We spent all day yesterday looking for a telecommuting job for Adam - keep your fingers crosses (or press your thumbs, as they say here).

We leave tonight for a quick weekend trip to visit our friend, Sebastion and his family. Its about a 4 hour train ride, but by this time tomorrow, I'll be looking at castles and marveling at the history that this country holds.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Traveling Is Not What It Used To Be

I remember wandering around the deserted streets of London at 3am, alone, just to just to see what the city was like at that time of night. I was young, fearless, and anxious to see the world, and I prided myself on never worrying about being lost. I felt confident that I could get out of any situation and eventually find my way to something familiar if I just walked far enough. After all, being lost is part of the adventure of traveling.

That adventure, like so many others, has become part of my BB life. Before Baby.

A couple of nights ago, Adam, Ilya, and I went to dinner at a friends house in the main part of Magdeburg. We left early to get Ilya home to bed and hoped on the number 5 tram which has always taken us to our part of town. This night, however, for reasons unknown, the number 5 tram decided to go in a completely different direction. About ten minutes into the ride, I realized that nothing looked familiar - in fact, things looked depressingly ominous. The buildings were all boarded up and street lights were few and far between. I kept waiting for things to look better, but as we got further away from the city center, things just looked worse. Eventually, we decided to get off while we still could (by this point, there was just us and one other person sitting in the front), and emerged on a completely deserted, dark, boarded up street straight out of a scene from a horror movie.

"Previous Me" would have made some sort of joke and started walking back towards the city center. "Previous Me" would have been fearless and excited by the adventure.

"Current Me" was terrified.

Fear for my baby girl overshadowed all my logical thinking. My heart was racing, and I was convinced that we were going to be mugged, probably at gunpoint, right then and there. Thank God Adam was there to figure out what tram we need to take to get back because I was useless. It didn't help matters that Ilya decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to squirm, scream, and try to get out of the carrier.

Not to keep you in suspense (and worry my parents unnecessarily), we made it to the tram stop going back to the city center, caught a tram, then caught another one that did actually take us home.

Everyone tells you that becoming a parent changes everything, and you believe a point. I never thought, in my wildest dreams, that becoming a parent would change the very core of who I am. I'm not better or worse. I'm just different.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Where am I?

My camera is fully charged! Finally! In honor of this occasion, I would like to play a little game I like to call, "where am I?" Here goes.

This is the Earth

This is my street

This is the bar beneath my flat (the open door is the door I go through to get to my flat)

This is my building (notice that the door to my building is right next to the bar the is beneath my flat)
This is what it looks like as you enter my flat. This hallway area is like our "mudroom." The door to the left is the bathroom and straight ahead is the rest of our place.

Here is our bathroom sporting a lovely little girl used to show size comparison.

Here is our living room/office/kitchen. The door straight ahead leads to our bedroom.

Here is our fridge - I've had meals bigger than this fridge. Notice the lack of a microwave, dishwasher, washer, and dryer.

Here is our messy bedroom.

I hope you've enjoyed this pictorial tour. Stay tuned for more.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Germans know how to have a good time

I say this because as I write this, 40 voices are drunkenly raised on off tone song accompanied by clapping hands and stomping feet. I am not actually partaking in these festivities - I save that privilege for those who are young enough to stay awake past 10pm and who are not responsible for a sleeping toddler in the next room.

I don't need to go anywhere. I can hear every shouted chord through the floorboards of my flat.

Just in case you were wondering, living above a bar is not as much fun as it sounds. At least the music is decent. It would REALLY suck to live above a country western bar or heavy metal club. Not that I don't enjoy me a little country twang or death head now and again, but it just doesn't have the same beat as this little ditty currently be blasted through my floor.

Its not so bad, really. The loud music only seams to happen on Friday and Saturday nights which means that 5/7th of the time, its relatively peaceful here in our little corner of Magdeburg. Plus, I can officially cross "live above a bar" off of my "things to do before I die" list - which I will eventually write...when I get around to it...

Maybe instead of a "things to DO" list, I'll write a "things I've DONE" list. Probably more interesting and will create a greater sense of accomplishment.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Mailman thinks I speak only French

Adam and I are committed to spending as little as possible on household items as we will be leaving Germany at some point over the next year, and it seams silly to spend a lot on things that you will just have to get rid of. Up until this point, we have managed to get almost everything we need from kind donations from our friends, the street outside, and the German equivalent to the dollar store.

There are a few things, however, that we simply have to have immediately which we ordered from One of these things is sheets to cover the windows so that our neighbors can't see what we are doing every second of every day.

Thus far, I have manged to get by using the following words, "hallo" (hello), "Danke" (thank you), and "Chose" (bye). If anyone starts to talk to me in German, I simply nod and try to run away as quickly as possible.

Today, while Adam was conveniently working at a coffee shop, I got a call on our "front door" phone.

"Hallo" I answered confidently.

"Blah blah blah blah lots of German that I don't understand blah blah blah"

"ein moment" I replied as I hung up (this theoretically translates to "one moment" although my accent is so atrocious that I don't even think it could qualify as that).

I walked downstairs (carrying Ilya) and saw the mailman waiting for me with our package of sheets in hand.

"hallo" I tried again.

"blah blah blah German blah blah blah" he hands me the signature pad. No problem he obviously wants me to sign for the package. I can do that. I do. I reach for the package. He pulls it away from me and scrutinizes my signature.

"blah blah German blah blah blah..."

I smile uncertainly and prepare myself to say the one sentence I've memorized, "Ich spreken kien Dutch" (I don't speak German). He looked at me as if I were speaking martian. Obviously my carefully memorized sentence does not have the right accents.

"blah blah German Blah blah..."

At this point, I went into frantic mode and started saying everything that I could think of to get him to understand that I don't speak German (which, thinking back on the event, was probably painfully obvious). Unfortunately, when I am trying to say something in German and I can't think of the words, I substitute French words instead. Is that weird?

"Je ne parle pas Dutch. Je parle un ptite Francaise" (I don't speak German. I speak a little French). He literally did a double take in my direction with a look of surprise on his face.


"Francais" I responded - we were communicating! What we were communicating was far less important than the very fact that we were indeed communicating!

"Ah," he looked relieved, as if me being French explained everything. "blah blah blah. Francise blah blah." It dawned on me that he thought I was French! He handed me the package.

I took it and ran.

Creating Community in Unlikely Places

Its strange that I have travelled half way around the world to a little corner of Germany that no one visits of their own free will only to discover a wonderful community of people.

This evening we had our friends, Brendan, Stina, Robert, and Stabastion over for dinner. Brendan and Stina live right across the courtyard from us and Robert and Stabastion live just one flight up and across the hall. I didn't stress about what I was making or if the flat looked presentable (its hard to go wrong when you only have four chairs and a table occupying the entire room). Instead, I focused on the company.

Almost every night since we arrived in Mageeburg we have spent some amount of time with friends. Its wonderful for Ilya to be around so many people that adore her, and it really helps us feel less isolated out here in the middle of nowhere Germany.

I want to be part of a community like this when I get home, but I'm not sure Seattle is set up for such a thing. Maybe I just need to be more proactive in inviting others over, but it really does help having friends who live two minutes away.

Update on the photo situation: I was certain that I brought my camera battery charger, but TSA must have have stolen it because it I can't find it anywhere. I ordered a new on, and it is currently sitting in a German post office waiting for me to pick it up (of course, first I have to figure out where this post office is located and how to get there - not such an easy feat when everything is in German).

Friday, February 5, 2010


I have now been in Magdeburg almost two solid weeks, and I am beginning to move from "survival" mode (what do I need to do right now in order to be fed, clothed, housed...) to "settled" mode. We FINALLY signed the contract for our very own apartment - even though the property manager was rude and seamed to think that Ilya was going to single handedly tear everything apart. We've found grocery stores that carry the foods we need, and we know how to get pretty much anywhere via public transportation. Not bad for two weeks.

Here are some sweeping generalities I've noticed about Germans (please note: the following does not apply to every German, it just seams to me to be a general trend).

1) Germans have a much tighter "personal bubble" than Americans. People will walk right up behind you, and you can either ignore them or get out of the way. Its kinda like tailgating for walkers. It makes grocery shopping a bit challenging as no one moves out of the way and people push right up against you. Just imagine grocery shopping as an extreme sport and you have a pretty good idea of what its like.

2) Outwardly, Germans don't appear to be friendly. They don't smile at you on the street when you make eye contact. They don't apologize for bumping into you when they pass you on the street. They make no effort to keep their smoke out of the faces of young children. However, as soon as you start to interact with them, you discover that they are actually far more friendly than most Americans. They patiently wait as I struggle to order something in German. They are fair and straight-forward. I don't know how to better describe them, except to say that I have liked almost every German that I have met (with the exception of a certain property manager who hates children).

3) There is dog poop EVERYWHERE - like little smelly landmines littering the sidewalks

4) While the government seams to be obsessive about recycling (different containers for just about every type of material), the people tend to toss things in which ever bin they feel like, and by "bin", I really mean "sidewalk." I have found so many things laying on the side of the road - a toaster oven, a vacuum, a fan, two or three mattresses, a couch, a rug...

5) Their public transportation system is amazing - I want to bring it back with me to America.

It is starting to warm up, which I am going to assume means that this awful "freeze" was simply a fluke and spring is on its way. I love that it is sunny more than it is cloudy.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

apartment hunting

I think the the property manager for the apartment we want works for the German equivalent of the CIA and only uses his status as "apartment manager" as a cover. I say this because there must be at least 30 vacant apartments on this street alone, yet despite our shining rental application that "looks great" (his words) he is taking FOREVER to get back to us. You would think that a property manager would jump at the chance to have someone rent a vacant apartment (I know I would feel a whole lot better if I had a signed lease and tenants moving into my house in Seattle), but he is not getting back to us.

So, I have come to the only logical conclusion one can draw in such a situation: he works for the German CIA and has been away on a secret undercover mission. I mean think about it: he speaks English perfectly. He won't tell me where his office is (he says something like, "its very far away" - very far away, hu? Like in America!). I'm conflicted. Should I tell the US that I have uncovered a secret spy? Or, should I keep my mouth shut in hopes that he will be so grateful that he will actually RENT ME THE APARTMENT!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Establishing Roots

Today I accompanied by friend, Brendan, to the school that he works at in hopes of achieving gainful employment myself. Its an English immersion school for little kids (yikes!) not too far from the University. It felt strange - trying to get back in the workforce after being absent for almost two years, but after spending an hour with the kids in the school setting, I felt so rejuvenated. My presence there had nothing to do with being Ilya's mom - in face, the topic of my daughter didn't even get brought up. I was just Lena, applying for a job doing what I love to do...kinda.

In Germany, when a person leaves a job, it is their responsibility to find a replacement for their position, which worked out great for my friend, Brendan, who had just given his 6 week notice (they also give VERY long notices here - usually three months). The problem is, I'm not sure I want to be doing Brendan's job. For one thing, he works with little little kids (first graders aka ankle biters). For another, and I could be wrong about this, it seams to me like he takes care of the students in their non-class time (lunch, recess...etc...). I'll find out for sure on Wednesday when I'm going to follow him around all day.

I will say this, though, despite my fear of ankle biters, his group of first graders was VERY sweet. One of them even drew me a picture. I miss that. None of them speak English very well - which could be problematic because, as I might have mentioned, I don't speak German. At all.

I am planing on treating this job interview as practice negotiating. I know that they need me, but I also know with my training and experience, I am worth a certain amount. If they are not willing to work within my (granted) strict limitations, then I will simply walk away. I don't have to work. Its a great position to be in. I told them I could only work M, T, and Wed (this ensures that either Adam or I will always be watching Ilya) and they still wanted me to interview, so that is a good sign.

I have also decided that I am not willing to work for less than $3000 Euros a month (for a 40 hour week of which I would only be working about 20, so it would come out to about $1500 Euros a month). That is right around what I would be making if I were teaching in America, so I will probably ask for $3500 a month but accept $3000 a month. I am telling you all this so that if I update my blog stating that I accepted an offer for less than $3000 a month, you will all have my permission to throw rotten tomatoes at me - digitally. This will help me stick to my guns.

On an unrelated note, I learned a fun German phrase that I want to incorporate into my vocabulary. When you want to speak alone with someone, you would say, "I want to speak to you under four eyes." I like the image.