Monday, November 28, 2011

Cookie Monster

Cookies, cookies, and more cookies!

Friday morning Nadine dropped Buddy off, so he and I hung out and played until Felix was done with his phone meeting. The plan was to go into Mainz to pick up my package from the Zollamt (customs office) and then register me with the amt in Nieder-Olm before Felix had to be home for his next phone meeting. Unfortunately his first meeting ran long by 45 minutes, so we quickly accumulated the documents we needed and got Buddy dressed in his harness and headed to the Zollamt. They are only open on weekdays from 7:30am-12:00pm. We arrived at 12:13pm and had a bit of a walk to the actual building from where we parked. Felix just has this air about him that seems to always make situations work in his favor. I waited out in the hall with Buddy since the floors had just been mopped while Felix went up to the desk and asked if they would please help us out and let us pick up our package. 5 minutes later, Felix comes marching out of the office with my package (and my purse :)) in his hands. Despite arriving 15 minutes after closing time, we were able to pick up my box of happiness.

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My friends sent me a box of brownie mix, 3 boxes of cake mix, a bag of sugar cookie mix, a bag of blueberry muffin mix, 5 Christmas cookie cutters, cupcake liners, chocolate chips, marshmallow fluff, a sticker book of reusable Christmas stickers, mascara, cotton balls, and 2 nail polishes! They also threw in a few silly little kids toys referring to inside jokes and notes on the backs of business cards from the people in my old department at work. It was absolutely heart warming and so special. I already painted my nails with the green glitter polish and baked cookies using the brownie mix with some of the chocolate chips. Delicious. :) And the Christmas stickers are actually the perfect decoration for our apartment. I can't visualize a space that would be really good for a Christmas tree, but since Felix isn't religious, Christmas has never been a super special time in his life. He doesn't get into the decorating for holidays, but I do. I can't justify buying a bunch of Christmas lights (that are expensive here and cannot be used when we move to the States) or a fake Christmas tree (that we wouldn't have space to store or be willing to move with us later) or cute statues or figurines. So far I have accumulated the stickers from my friends, 2 little stuffed Santa heads complete with hats and wavy white beards, and a very cool tea light holder. 

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I put up a video on facebook of it in action, but in case you don't want to go check it out, it is a horizontal fan blade that balances on a spire with 4 reindeer that dangle off the blade. When you light the tea light below, the heat causes the fan to spin of its own accord. I LOVE it. It is very unpredictable though. Silly thing will spin as soon as I light it and continue moving until I come back to check on it later (make sure I am not burning the house down and all that) only to find that the flame is lit and it is standing still. I tried several new tea lights and it wouldn't move at all, so I took the whole thing apart, put it back together and the stupid thing kept spinning for the next half hour. I have no idea what fixed it, but as long as it keeps working, I am happy. (side note* I just lit it and it began spinning immediately.) I also picked up a string of purple beads and some small and mini silver ornaments to put on either a mini tree or a wreath. Most wreaths here that I have seen are set on a table instead of hung on a door or a wall and decorated with advent candles. The Winklers have 2 advent wreaths. One is HUGE and hangs from the ceiling and the other one is on the rim of a black wire bowl.

Back to the original story! The office for me to register in closes at 12:30pm, so we didn't make it back in time. The next attempt will be this Wednesday before I go into work I believe. Nadine came to pick Buddy up around 8:00pm or so and I was sad to see him go. He is roughly the size and personality of Holden, so it was really nice to have a dog again, even if termporarily.

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So cute!
Saturday we went shopping in Ingelsheim for the few things we have been wanting for the apartment: a rug for the bedroom, baskets for our bedside tables, a wall light to go above the mirror in the bedroom, etc. Nothing exciting. We came home and I set to getting the apartment ready for the evening and baked cookies while Felix went to play soccer with some people for an hour. At 5:00pm, Felix's dad, Jina, came over with our new dishwasher. I chopped the veggies for dinner while Jina and Felix replaced the old dishwasher with the new one and carried an old stove from our landing downstairs. We ate dinner, had ice cream, and then Jina left to go celebrate what was left of his 1 year wedding anniversary with Ranva.

Sunday we went over to the Winklers' to bake Christmas cookies with Iris. Felix was incredibly excited. Apparently these cookies are his favorite part of the holiday season, but for the last 3 years, he hasn't had any cookies because he was either visiting me or in Bali. I don't really like the cookies and cakes here, but I was interested to see how they bake without any baking powder. Because we didn't end up getting there until 1:00pm, Iris was already in the middle of making lunch. We sat down with Ralf, Iris, Niki, Nelson, Niki's girlfriend Chantale, her brother, Felix, and myself for a lunch of schnitzel, baked cheese, feld salat (field salad), and fried potatoes. It was delicious, like usual. Afterward, Felix, Iris and I got to work making 3 different types of cookies. One is coconut with marzipan and I don't really know how to describe the others. 3 cooks were too many, so when Felix's mom came by, she asked if I wanted to go with her to the Nieder-Olm Christmas Market. We walked ”downtown” and looked at all of the different booths, lingering at the jewelry and liquor stands. We tried a couple of the liquors and Manisha bought her brother Robert a birthday present. After we went back to the Winklers', Manisha left to go home while Felix and I stayed to finish watching the Mainz soccer game. We got home around 7:50pm and I talked to my mom and sister at 8:00pm.

All in all, it was an eventful weekend, but not particularly exciting. Today I am going to get the filling replaced that fell out of the tooth I had a root canal in before I left the States. Never a dull moment with this tooth. Wish me luck that this filling lasts!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Scratch That

Felix and I took the trip in to Mainz to speak with the people at the language school tonight around 7:00pm. It certainly didn't go as I had hoped. Going into the building, my biggest concern was whether I would have to start off in their basic level course and be bored or possibly be put into the intermediate course and be in a little over my head. At no point did it cross my mind that I wouldn't even qualify for the basic course, but that is what came out of the meeting.

I knew it was a bad sign when we walked into the room and sat down across from the instructor and he looked completely bewildered after I told him, in English, “I need to learn German.” After he and Felix talked for about 10 minutes, Felix translated a bit and asked if I had any questions, we left. Turns out this school only begins at the A2 level and its focus is on preparing people to go on to get their Bachelors degree after a 2 year language program. Because of this, they don't offer the basic A1 level. The A1 is a transition course for immigrants.

I'm not gonna lie, I was unreasonably upset about this news. Yes, it is frustrating that I am back at square one in finding a language school and it feels like all of those hours I spent forcing myself to complete my Rosetta Stone levels were pointless (though I know they weren't). However, it was mostly the straw that broke the camels back for me unfortunately. I miss my dog and my sister. I miss my coworkers and having a job where I showed up and knew what work there was to be done. I miss having my own money and being able to develop my hobbies (aka, buy more craft stuff and nail polish, ha, ha.) without having to ask Felix if we have money for it. He is the sole breadwinner for now (besides the alleged 100€ I will receive at the end of each month) and he absolutely never makes me feel bad about it. He supports my hobbies, but it is just my personal issue with being completely dependent on someone else for money. I cannot drive here, so I am reliant on the bus or walking 2+ miles whenever Felix isn't around. Tomorrow we are going to pick up a package for me from customs from my awesome ex-coworkers. Felix has to work tomorrow, but I cannot interact with most people well enough on my own to go alone. I also need to register as a resident here before I can get insurance, but I can't go there alone either.

The hardest part is feeling like your life isn't your own anymore. I know that I am still in a transition period and making a move to another country isn't something that you can instantly adjust to, but up until now, I had been doing a good job of going with the flow and letting things work themselves out.

It also doesn't help that my sleep cycle has become BONKERS again. I was sleeping through the night just fine for the last couple of weeks, then BOOM! I woke up at 2:00am after going to bed at 10:00pm on Tuesday night. Finally at around 6:30am, I was able to fall back asleep, but had to get up at 8:00am to get ready for work. Wednesday I slept just fine till about 8:00am and now here I am, awake since 4:00am after going to bed Thursday night at 11:00pm feeling exhausted. I have no idea what the cause is. Am I too hot? Too cold? Is it the heartburn? Is it the computer shutting down? I have no idea. Can't figure it out.

On a completely different note, everyone survived today!!! I managed just fine with the kids today and I only had to shout once. Of course I did it in English, so I don't know how many of them actually understood me, but they didn't kick the ball at the ceiling after that, so I am going to call it a success. :)

Now to end on the good stuff!

Picture from Fall 2010. Buddy is the black dog on his hind legs on the right.
Tomorrow will be a happy day for me. :) Some of my ex-coworkers sent me a package that is awaiting me at Customs in Mainz. I know it has some cake mixes that I cannot wait to turn into delicious cookies! This may not seem like a big deal, but after eating the baked goods here, which I find dry and dense, I am super excited. :) In just a few hours at 10:00am, Felix's cousin Nadine is dropping off her dog, Buddy, for us to watch for the day and possibly over night. Her boyfriend, Alex, has an interview in east Germany tomorrow, so if they get back late, we will be keeping Buddy over night.

I know it's past midnight even in central U.S., but HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Deutschekurse Schule

Okay, so there is a slight update to my language school plans, but nothing is set in stone still.

I asked Marie on Monday for this mythical list of language schools Ralf gave her and told her to contact to see which ones could get me in and which would be a good fit. She printed out some information for me (all in German) from one school’s website. I don’t know if she had already pared down the list or if Ralf’s “list” was just this one school. I went to their website to gather their e-mail address. Despite the website being in German, it IS a language school, so I figured if I sent and e-mail in English, someone there would be able to write me back. Lucky for me, they also translated most parts of their site and compiled them into an informative site when you click on the “English” option at the top of the page. After reading through their English information, I was really excited because the program sounds well rounded. The website says that most of the learning is done through textbooks (which I LOVE), but there are also the teachers with 1v1 time and outings to discover the culture and history of Germany.  They also teach about the German government, which is something I have only come to understand through Felix’s eyes. He may be 100% German by blood, but there is still a LOT that he doesn’t know or fully understand about the history, culture (particularly the more obscure holidays, like St. Martin’s and the German version of Thanksgiving), and government because he didn’t live here growing up.

The least exciting part about what I read is that the courses are in 8-9 week increments and the last one before JANUARY began on October 24th. I wasn’t even part of the DJK until November, so it wouldn’t have been possible for me to begin at that time. The website sort of makes it sound that because the October course already started and there is a “Weinachtenpause” (Christmas break), that January 9th would be the next time I could start the course. I e-mailed the language school on Monday to see which of the courses are the best fit for my goals with the language and my current skill (or lack there of) level. I am eager to start the school because I truly think it is my best chance at putting my German learning into overdrive, so I asked, in my e-mail, if I could start any sooner than that. 

(here is the link if anyone would like to check it out: )

I was surprised to receive a response less than an hour later, but it was sort of a mixed response. Martin, the man who responded, said that I should come in to their office so we can assess if I am a better fit for the Basic course or the Intermediate I course based on what I currently know. If I should start the Basic course, then he said I could start right away! However, if my Rosetta Stone training has prepared me well enough to qualify for the Intermediate course, then I would have to wait until AT LEAST January to begin, and even that isn’t certain. They would have to see if there would be room for me in the course because most of their students from the Basic course tend to go on to the Intermediate course.

When Felix called from work later that day, I filled him in on the response I received. I told him the disappointing news. I told him that if I have to take the Basic course where they teach me Mann, Frau, M├Ądchen, Junge, Katze, Hund, Apfel, Hallo, Auf Wiedersehen, blau, Schwartz, etc., I would shoot myself. Yes, this is a very dramatic statement, but I have known these words since my first trip here in 2006. It was a struggle to make myself complete the first several lessons in my Level 1 Rosetta Stone because it was all words I have known for years. It seemed kind of like someone was trying to teach me how to add 2+2 again. But... Felix made a good point, like he usual does when I get a little dramatic. He said that it would still get me out of the house, practice speaking German and hearing it (the 2 parts of the language I have the hardest time with), meeting new people, and that it would give me something to do besides sit around the apartment. I agree completely. So tomorrow evening around 7, we are going into Mainz to meet with someone from the language school and figure out the best course for me.

Thankfully, the course at this school is very reasonably priced at between €240-340 per level per semester. It may sound like a lot, but the higher end of the price range are the more advanced levels of the school. Felix said that even if, for some reason, the DJK cannot or will not pay for my courses, we can still afford it. I don't know if it will be necessary, but from what I have read online, once I have turned in my 50€ depost to the school, my spot in the course is secured. They will then send me a letter that I can take to the insurance company (if necessary, but I don't know why I would) and to the visa office. I believe that enrolling me in a language course will allow me to apply for a student visa, so if for some reason this other visa doesn't work out, I think we have a back up option.

Felix also called the insurance company again on Monday to try to get our questions answered. He recieved different information this time that contradicts what he was told the first time (isn't that always the way), so now the order by which we do things has changed. According to this representative, I cannot get the public insurance without the piece of paper from the "county" that I am a resident here. I read online some places that this document is also required to get married here, but when Felix asked the woman in THAT office about it, she said it wasn't necessary. I also need my visa or residency permit before I can get insurance. All this time, we were under the impression that I needed insurance first before I could get a visa. I guess not. So now we are putting pressure on Ralf to talk to the connection he has in charge of the visas. We need him to prep her so when we go in to talk to her, she understands the situation and we aren't just everday random people. ha, ha. If she refuses to give me the visa and I end up not being able to get a student visa through the school, then I really don't know what my options are other than to apply for every job I can find and hand out my resume on the corner in the city. :) I am hoping it doesn't come to that though. Honestly, I am trying to just go with the flow in this situation. I know Felix and his family love me and have no desire to see me be forced to leave the country without doing all that they can.

Whew! And there you have it, straight from the horse's mouth.

Oh, and as a little side note, tomorrow is normally one of my off days. However, Marie asked if I could take over her basketball group  BY MYSELF because someone she has known for a long time passed away and she wants to go to the funeral. I am a little terrified since this age group doesn't know enough English and I don't know enough German to really communicate, but mostly I just have to keep an eye on them so they don't get into any trouble, light things on fire, or kill one another in an epic gang war. Here is hoping we all survive!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Job Expectations and Part 2 of Work Day 1

I think it will make the most sense to stop at this point and try to convey how my job expectations have evolved over time.
Originally, while I was still in the U.S. many months ago, Felix asked me if I would be interested in a book keeping position, of sorts, for the DJK and another club. I majored in Accounting for a while, so it sounded interesting. He told me I would have to present the financials at the end of the club's fiscal year, in German, to a group of about 60 older men who are the big wigs of the club. The club would provide me with a work visa, allowing me to stay in the country past my 90 tourist days, and would pay for me to go to language school to develop my German skills. It sounded like a great opportunity to have a job while I was over here and to be able to go to language school for free. I was excited!

Then the position sort of expanded. Felix's uncle Ralf, the head of the club, is interested in setting up a sort of exchange program between their basketball players and those at universities and colleges in the U.S. Eventually, he wanted me to spearhead this project. I thought this would be something I started about 6 months in, once I had a better understanding of the club and its operations. At some point, the book keeping gig morphed into general office work.

Fast forward to my third week in Germany... We went to the Winklers' house on a Sunday afternoon to talk with Ralf about work and when I could get started. He wanted me to come in the following Wednesday. He and Felix talked about all of the plans and arrangements in German, so I couldn't follow all of the conversation. Felix then relayed to me that I was to show up at 11:00am and that Ralf and I would go to lunch with a man named John. He is from the U.S. and is a former coach at Ole Miss. Currently he is the assistant coach at the club after stepping down as head coach because he wanted to play as well. Ralf wanted John and I to talk about his connections back in the States and their expectations and vision for this exchange program. Ralf also said he wants me to paint the DJK logo on a wall in the office. Last Tuesday, Ralf told me he also wanted me to sell tickets at the H1 team games on Sundays.