Friday, January 29, 2010

Testing out the New Signature!

We have a new signature! I'm pretty excited about that. :)

I've been inspired to be more creative after reading dozens of blogs by others who clearly have a better handle on the whole thing.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bucharest, Romania

Are you asking yourself...
Why Romania?
Why NOT Romania?
We were asked these questions about why we chose to book tickets there for the weekend. We love to travel in eastern Europe because of the culture, the people, and the prices. It's really inexpensive and you can have a great time learning about other cultures.

After checking into our hotel, we headed by Metro to a nearby mall. Since the weather was in the single digits and teens, we wanted to go out, but didn't have anywhere to go. We also like visiting places that locals hang out at to get a real feel of who they are. The ground was incredibly slippery because the entire country was white and icy--so we were extra careful. I'm quite proud of not falling (though nearly about a dozen times) since my track record hasn't been so good!

Here's the interior of the mall. There was a permanent ice rink, water bumper cars, a children's play area, and a huge slide in the food court area. The mall also had an IMAX, regular theater, and the same upscale stores you would expect inside a U.S. mall.

For dinner, we ate at a potato bar resturant called Mr. Patata. You could choose you own toppings. The meals came with a pancake dessert. Mine was filled with apricot. It tastes exactly as you would imagine. Extra preservatives, please. Ha.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped off to check out this frozen water. Pretty cold temperatures for sure!

Here's the Palatul Parlamentului (Parliament Palace). Our hotel was the closest one to it at just 1/4 mile down the road. This is the world's most expensive and heaviest administrative building and the 2nd largest building in the world (square feet, not height)-- 2nd only to the Pentagon. Much of the design and building was done under Communist Ceauşescu, but he died before seeing it fully built. The construction began in 1983 and Nicolae and his wife were executed on Christmas day of 1989. The Romanians are quite proud of this building. All of the materials and labor were entirely supplied by, from, and for Romania.

We're about to head inside for our tour at this point.

The snowflake in front of my face shows the obvious-- it snowed ALL DAY. We were just happy it warmed up to the low 20's rather than the single-digits they were the day before!

Here are some photos from the inside of the building:

This room-- was designed by Ceauşescu to seat all 60 communist party members. His chair was meant to be larger and far more fancy than the other members. This "dream" was never realized because he was executed before the room was finished. They finished the room, minus a few of his interests.

These symbols were placed in marble all over the palace grounds. It's actually a representation of the palace layout.

Here we're walking down this lovely street of Piata Unirii. Notice-- no plowing on sidewalks. They simply leave it as packed snow. While it is more difficult to walk because you're constantly walking on what feels like mid-wet sand, we were pleased it wasn't ice! One more fact about Ceauşescu: 20% of the entire city of Bucharest had to be demolished because of the palace plans and the plans to make this street fancy. Those people had to be relocated, all for the greed of the communist leader's fancy visions he never ended up living to enjoy. When those people were displaced, they had no where for their dogs to go. Many abandoned them in the streets-- to this day, Romania has a stray dog problem. There are about 8 bitings/day. We saw 11 stray dogs during our visit.

Ray standing in front of a fountain on Piata Unirii. It looks like THIS in the summer!

I took a bunch of church photos, as always. There's just so much richness in the architecture. Romania's churches look a lot different than churches in Germany.

The church-- St. George's (same above as below) has a metal symbol in front of it called the Kilometre Zero. Like many other countries, there is often a symbol located in their main city-- they use this point to measure out toward other cities. It's basically the "dead center" of the city according to Romanians.

Charming clock, I thought.

A little mix of modern and old. In German, they say modern/unmodern.

The lamps were beautiful... and so were the massive amounts of birds.

I don't remember what this building is. Either way, they have serious security. Before I could even snap the camera, the security officer was already closing the gate and giving me a serious stare-down.

This building, The Ateneul Român, was inaugurated in 1888. It is said to be one of the finest Romanian buildings. Its construction was funded nearly entirely from residents. Today it is used as the Romanian Philharmonic. We got some dirty looks by the 12 women clearing and mopping away the snow on the steps, so we took the hint and left without entering.

This is the Palatul din Piata Victoriei -- it's home to the Romanian government.

We visited a museum--Muzeul Taranului Roman-- Peasant Museum. Per person at full price, we paid $2.06 to enter. If you're a student (which she assumed we were, thank you), admission is only 50 cents! Can you believe the prices? This museum is also known to be one of the best in Romania. They have artifacts from mostly Bucharest & Transylvania (yes, Dracula's castle is there about 25 miles from Bucharest as well as his grave). I love their style and culture. We really enjoyed ourselves walking around though I was yelled at by two security women (who were everywhere) because:
1. I sat on a stool undereath a huge amout of reading material. Apparently, the chair wasn't for sitting. That makes sense. No.
2. I took a photo of the windmill (below) that they preserved and relocated inside the museum. I guess-- though there were no signs or warnings... I wasn't allowed to take photos. Oh well. I have a few! 

Jesus. In case you didn't know. Haha.
In nearly every artwork, his hands were held like they are now. I asked the cashier and she told me that the ring finger & pinky symbolize Adam & Eve. The other three brought together symbolize the trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). Some looked different than others, but that's what she told me!

Here's that "illegal" windmill photo I took. Just picture a mean-looking Romanian women scolding me as I take this.

We had a great time! We spent less than $100 and bought 3 handcrafted souvenirs, had dinner and lunches  (including a Romanian beer and appetizer with our dinner one night!), admission to the museum, tour in the parliament building, and bottled water, etc. (no drinking water there, we were warned), and a taxi ride to the airport. Of course...that doesn't include the flight cost or hotel. All in all, we were impressed. We felt safe the entire time, security guards were everywhere, and the prices were beyond reasonable for a great experience!

...and here's the journaling I've been writing...

Donnerstag 14.01.2010 (day 122)
Man, time is flying. We are leaving in 2 months, 1 day—not including the time we’re spending in the U.S., Romania, Switzerland, Denmark… it’s looking like only 3 weeks of normalcy before the beginning of the end really peaks through. It’s getting even more exciting looking at houses online because now we’re actually in talks with a real estate agent in Naperville about visiting houses when we visit in February! It’s real! It is less than a month away before we start thinking seriously about things! This morning was a little rough. We’re just tired from having dinners until nearly midnight all this week so far. We were really looking forward to tonight because we have some of our favorite shows downloaded (we’re catching up on American Idol tonight!) and a relaxed meal to eat. While fancy dinners are nice, it’s also sometimes necessary to chill at home with something really simple. We were meant to start our German lesson between 9-9:30, but Sabine arrived after 10… so we waited to start until then. This also meant that since we didn’t start until late, that we would end later. It’s like having snow days and having to make up school days at the end of the year. Okay, so I’ve never had a snow day… but maybe in the near future? So of course… we had our lesson from just after 10-1:15ish. Sabine overslept, so that’s why we started so late. I will speak no more about that. Our lesson was fine. My brain can only handle 3 hours or less, frankly. It’s not just memorizing vocabulary anymore (though I don’t feel like my word knowledge is a lick over 1,000)… it’s conjugation, tenses, and all things I hated about high school Spanish. But, I love to learn… so this should be easy, right? Wrong. I am just not good with memorization. I sometimes turn into a high school kid when I think of how much I will forget when I get transplanted back to American soil. No one uses it there… so will I forget it? And if I do, why learn it at all? Ridiculous to say… because knowledge is important and learning is important for our brains. The teacher in me knows this, but the teenager in me doesn’t want to hear it. I really appreciate how much I’ve learned about other cultures during this journey, thus far. I have really grown and learned a lot. Ignorance is bliss… and I’m very thankful to shatter that interest of blissfulness and branch out into the rest of the world where things are different. Not bad, but different. Actually, often times they’re better. Like the ice cream. The rest of the day I spent my time downloading fun TV shows for our weekend (which also probably means inadvertently downloading viruses… oh thank you Norton Antivirus) and updating the blog with the Venice post. Since I have been posting so many photos from our travels to share with family and friends, I actually exceeded the limit set to me by Google. I erased some old albums and a couple videos of my students dancing (from last year) and was able to drop my consumption down to 65%. I may have to invest in buying storage. So much for free, world wide web. We also invested in some other people: the victims of the Haiti earthquake that stuck on Monday. It left a devastating disaster for the (already poor) people. We also had a delicious soup made by one amazing woman in the office, Siegrun. She really is fabulous. She is just one of the most friendly people and speaks great English. She actually made two soups: chili goulash & carrot soup (veggie—because another girl about my age, Manuela, is also vegetarian…yay!). It was divine. These Germans really know their cooking. Siegrun is also the woman who put together my birthday surprise and made me the cake. We’re supporters of World Vision. When we got home, we finally had some time to relax… after our German homework. Once that was out of the way, we had a leisurely dinner and watched the two first episodes of American Idol that aired this week in the U.S. It’s so nice to keep up with my favorite shows, even if that means watching them later than the rest of the country. I missed the German Idol last night (they call it DSDS—something like Deutsche Superstar), but it will replay on Saturday. One last thing: we rarely do… but we decided to watch a little German news tonight (to understand about 15%, hey… progress…) and the weather reporter had a woman next to her using sign language! Right on the news. I’ve never seen anything like it. The rest of the news was sans interpreter, though. I guess that’s the “non-rehearsed & changeable” section they can’t prepare with subtitles ahead of time.

Freitag 15.01.2010 (day 123 = it’s been 4 months!)
I’m so excited it’s Friday! We haven’t had a weekend of relaxation in awhile, and I’m looking forward to spending that time with Ray. I didn’t wake up to head into work with him this morning as I have done for the past couple days. I didn’t really sleep in, either. I had a bit of a nightmare that I was in Europe (Rome particularly, though I’ve never been there) and on a train that was taking me somewhere… but that somewhere I did not know. It stopped and everyone else got off, but not me. I was lost and I had a next destination, I just didn’t know what it was! Pretty weird. The funny thing is, I’m not at all afraid to travel. Having done a decent amount in the last few months, I feel pretty cultured and in the swing of things. I have enough knowledge to survive alone, though I must prefer having my husband there beside me. I finished naming all the photos from our Venice trip and that took forever! I was extra conscious to take photos this trip because my friend Jessica, a teacher, wanted to share them with her class. They’re reading a book that’s based in Venice. Wanting to help out a fellow teacher, I was picture happy. I guess it’s better to have more, than less, right? Ray came home and we had taco salad for lunch before heading back to work where I posted more photos online and tried to figure out how to convert flv files to wmv files without downloading/paying. I am determined to keep up with those favorite American TV shows! I also had to complete the German homework I never actually ended up finishing last night. Our lesson was scheduled for 2 p.m. When Ray got home, he told me that he had a meeting for around 2 p.m.—meaning we wouldn’t be able to have our scheduled lesson. He didn’t bring the phone home, so I facebooked her to let her know we wouldn’t be available. We went to work and I sent her a message by phone canceling our lesson. Well, she arrived and still expected to have class, despite my message. While I try to maintain a positive attitude, I didn’t think appreciate it. We did have class for about 1.5 hours in between meetings and the entire time I was in a sour mood—not because of the lesson itself, but because she did not respect my request. As often as she is late and cancels, you’d think that I would be allowed to make a decision every now and again. Moving on… I’m not sure if I’ve noted this is my writing before: people do not like to turn on lights in their offices! It can be dark outside and I’d say about 60% of all offices have lights off, but maybe a small desk lamp on. They dislike overhead lights. Interesting observation, right? Ray had his meeting and we packed up to leave around 6. We walked out with Lothar, per usual. Rather than head home as we do every day after work, we drove to Iserlohn. It’s a large city about 20 km away from our home in Neuenrade; 30 km from Werdohl, where were coming from. I wanted some takeout Chinese food and we had previously (before Christmas) some there at a place for a really reasonable price. We arrived, found the place and went to order. The woman was really nice and spoke no English. It’s usually no problem because we know how to order in German and ask for what we want and tell them what we don’t want. However, this woman felt like talking. She wanted to add many things and ask many questions we weren’t familiar with. We understood her when she said they were out of rice, but would only be able to give noodles. We managed fine, but it’s still so humbling. We obviously don’t have it all together, but have learned so much. I got exactly what I wanted and I was pleased. Ray didn’t much like his noodles and preferred the rice they were out of. We headed back to the parking garage and walked into another grocery store. This one we’d never visited before. We love this market called Kaufpark, but this one is called Kaufland. I’m assuming they’re affiliated, but there isn’t anything other than their names to lead me to believe that. We loved it! I would compare it to a regular grocery store in the U.S. but at discount prices compared to the other stores. We plan to come back tomorrow and do a bigger shop. We headed back home and watched a few episodes of Lie to Me (love that show!) and an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I wasn’t such a fan of the latter. It was the first time we watched the show because my brother loves it and I wanted to check it out. It was definitely slapstick, and less clever than I hoped. I think I’ll stick to The Office for our comedy needs. Great night and kickoff to our relaxing weekend!

Samstag 16.01.2010 (day 124)
I woke up at 10:30. Ray, 11:30. We deserved it. Well, Ray more than myself. He’s been working hard and hasn’t really slept in without alarm for nearly a month. This was such a treat. Totally indulgent, but worth it! We had a late breakfast around noon (bagels!) and showered up and hung out a bit before heading out around 2 to Iserlohn again. We planned to have a late lunch at Subway—we had free subs from filling up stamp cards—and off to Kaufland for a shopping trip. Since we have a few trips to embark on before our Germany stint is up, we don’t have a ton to shop for. We have supplies for many meals at home already, some thanks to our wonderful families who hooked us up on their visit here. We just needed complete meal options. We also bought a few fun German teas & a Haribo gummi bear variety to take back with us to the company people in Downers Grove. We want to share a littler Germany with them, and also bring back some America to the Germans. Create a little cohesion, if you will. Here’s something different about Germany v. America: there are no grocery baggers. NONE. Not a single grocery store has one. And, all of the cashiers sit down. That is less weird, because it can be seen in the U.S., but it’s still more rare. Companies work for their people in Germany. People work for their company (and customers) in the U.S. We care more about image, waiting on your every waking need, etc. Back to the original comment about baggers. While some discount markets in the U.S. require you bagging your own, the top majority don’t consider this an option. Someone just does it for you. I don’t mind working a little, personally; especially if that little effort means a cheaper product bottom line. Also, bags (all bags) cost money. Some cost as much as 25 Euro cents each! Everyone brings their own reusable bags/baskets. Some people even put the food in their car sans bag. It’s not uncommon to see someone walking down the street carrying lettuce, cereal, and toilet paper. No one stares or wonders where their bag is. It’s a culture of minimal judgment of image. People simply don’t care what you think of them, nor should they have a reason to. I love that! We headed back home after spending 30 Euro on everything (including gifts for Chicago people), unpacked, and relaxed. I opened a bottle of wine, made some pasta and cut a fresh baguette for dinner. We had such a wonderfully relaxing evening and also watched another episode of Lie to Me. With only 3 more free weekends here in Europe (all the rest are booked with traveling!), it’s nice to appreciate the slower pace of life we’re living here compared to the States. Maybe we’ll miss it when the hustle/bustle of life get to us. Or… maybe we won’t miss being able to go to Target on a Sunday afternoon. I don’t think anyone could miss that!!!

Sonntag 17.01.2010 (day 125)
Talk about a lazy day. We woke up much earlier today than yesterday but have little to show for our time awake overall. The weather was finally above freezing today, but it rained. I’m not sure whether I’d rather it snow and be below freezing, or be a few degrees above and have rain. It didn’t matter much, since we didn’t actually leave the house all day! We had pancakes for breakfast—our lovely American treats we have! We don’t have syrup, but the amazing French jam we buy over here makes up for it ten-fold! I finally learned how to properly make them here, too. We have limited cooking supplies (and I cannot wait to get mine out of storage and into our “new” house!) here and the only frying pan capable of pancake cooking is enormous. I use it all the time, but since our stove is small (European everything = way smaller), it actually almost fits over two burners. I finally got smart. Turn both burners on and pour the batter in the absolute opposite sides of the pan to have two cooking concurrently! It took me only about 4 months to get smart on that one. Learning curve! I have a perfect stove skillet that remains on my stove that is perfect for many pancakes at a time. Oh… how I miss that… and my rice cooker… and my blender. I just get so excited thinking about moving into a house that we own! While we won’t have much furniture to start, we will have a pretty rocking kitchen, thanks to our wedding and the lovely guests, of course. After breakfast, we watched more news on Haiti and while devastated, we’re equally bummed that it’s literally the only thing on the television in English. While Americans can turn the channel for a little “pick me up”, we are left with the television off unless we want to see images of death. While I’m glad we’ve helped, I don’t like those images to cloud. I see its importance—so people will be convicted to donate. I get it. It works and it’s required. But… it’s terribly saddening to see over and over again. We had a late lunch of randomness and we each did plenty of reading. I’m about 2/3 done with the Anne Frank Diary and Ray has finally finished all the magazines that his parents brought over from the States for him! We had his Economist subscription re-routed to his parents while we were overseas for this 6 month stint. His mom saves them for us and we are presented with them in a lump sum. It’s nice to have good reading aside from the Internet (though the Internet is amazing. I cannot imagine doing this without it!). I managed to complete my German homework—not on the day it’s actually due like usual. I also did a few lessons in Rosetta Stone and I’ve graduated to the 2nd level! The program has 3 levels and I am barely making it to the 2nd. Of course… I didn’t complete the little review lessons for the most part, but learned all of the lesson content. I made chili and had it simmering on the stove all afternoon. I love the smell! That’s another reason why I want to learn how to use a crock pot. I have one and I’ve tried using it a few times. Everything just seems all dry after being in it all day. I just haven’t had a single success. I am hoping for some fool-proof recipes to come my way. We had dinner and watched another episode of Lie to Me and Ray did some Rosetta Stone while I spent time on the Internet updating my teaching applications for the school districts in Chicago. I’m getting so excited… but time also feels like it is standing still. I just want to be looking at houses, getting paperwork filled out, going to doctors appointments (our dentist checkup is like… now!), and making phonecalls to see that our transition is smooth. But… we can’t here in Germany. It’s quite limiting. We haven’t received a single piece of mail forwarded from Illinois in an entire month. With the holidays, we knew it would be slow to start… but a month! I have been waiting for something from the Illinois State Department of Education about my credential deficiencies I need to iron out (I can guarantee the only issue is that the California folks haven’t sent my exam results) since they sent it on November 30th. It’s been 1.5 months and I’m still waiting. In due time. I need to learn patience and trust that God is keeping it all under control. We’re blessed. Ray’s job is allowing us to live on one salary for as long as we need to and I need to be content with that for now.

Montag 18.01.2010 (day 126)
Nightmares last night. I dreamt terrible things happened to friends of mine. It was quite unpleasant. Aside from that, the rest of the day went smoothly. I woke up as Ray left and did a little more reading, tidying up and lounging around. Winter absolutely makes you want to sit on the couch I’ve realized. Since this is my first winter, I also now finally understand why people talk about putting away their summer clothes and pulling out their winter sweaters. You literally do not touch your shorts for the entire season. In California, we had such random weather that it could be mid December and we were wearing bathing suits on the beach. Perhaps I’ll miss that. I reheated leftover chili for lunch and some mashed potatoes. It was a delicious and relatively lowfat meal. I spent some time with the calendar this morning and realized that in 19 days, we’re going to the U.S.! I am so anxious to check out houses with Ray. Total, we have less than 60 days until we’re living in the U.S. again for good. My feelings are bittersweet. I don’t necessarily want to leave our adventure and the amazing travel, but I also want to get on with the other things of excitement in store for our future. I want to buy a house, teach, decorate, watch TV, go out to restaurants, call people on a real phone, have friends, and get involved in a good church. I also want American food. I’ve done a pretty good job with the food recently. It does help we have awesome family and friends who have hooked us up with a few comforts, also. I have recently boycotted the German pizza, too. It’s not good. They don’t use mozzarella cheese! How can you even call that pizza? After visiting Italy and having real pizza, I just can’t bear it any longer. But, for the most part, I have made my way around with the food and I’m more comfortable and content with it all. I sure do look forward to a Fuddrucker’s veggie burger though. Yum. We headed into work around 1:15 and I had a chance to do more teaching research. I’m not sure that’s a good thing considering I am so limited to my ability to make things happen here, but it makes me feel a little productive. I was able to print a few documents I may need in the future. Since all of our things are in storage, I’ve had to resort to visiting libraries just to print things while in the U.S. To save myself some time, I printed them here so I can get the ball rolling when we arrive in Chicago. Well, there’s always a hurdle. I guess it’s not so bad, but the paper in Europe is not the same size as U.S. paper. Why? Well, because the U.S. is the only country in the world to uses custom units (i.e. inches). I hope the size of the paper I printed my documents onto won’t cause problems. I also had to print a paper, sign & date it, then take a photo of that paper to then upload and send via email to a University I attended for a few teaching courses. All of that just to have them send me transcripts I had to pay for. I’m not really complaining, but it was definitely a jump-through-hoops kind of experience! I will, however, be super bummed if those transcripts are somehow lost in the mail because of all the forwarding that is taking place with our mail right now. We haven’t received a piece of mail in over a month. That can’t be a good thing! Moving on to our German lesson: we had one from 4-6. We wrote sentence after sentence and then were assigned homework before we packed up and headed off for the evening. At home, we had a family dinner making experience. Ray was a good cutter of all things vegetable for me as I layered and put together our spaghetti casserole. I used cream of mushroom soup as the topper and I hate mushrooms. But… since life is just so darn hard for me as a vegetarian and it seems everyone assumes and therefore wants to serve me mushrooms as a meal item when cooking for me, I am trying to like them. I am willingly (baby steps) using a soup that has small chunks of the stuff in it. I’m still scared of portabellas, though. Those monsters are massive fungi and I’m having none of that! As we waited for dinner to cook in the oven, we turned on the 5th episode (of 10) of Lie to Me. It’s such a compelling show! We had a late dinner with some red wine and called it a night. Quite a nice Monday I think!

Dienstag 19.01.2010 (day 127)
Well, most of today was great. I was planning to report great news. Until, our mail was once again not delivered (turns out we will get mail soon from Chicago, but shipments have been minimal). That’s not the problem, though. I received an email from the Illinois Department of Ed. telling me that my documents have been returned by the postal service. They were supposed to have been sent to our P.O. Box. Of course, we called the post office and the guy had already left for the day. Apparently he works until noon. We’ve had trouble with our mail from the moment we left LA in August. We arrived in Chicago after a month on a road trip (expecting mail to be in our P.O. box. Nothing. It turns out that my change of address form was never entered into the system in LA. We had major issues dealing with them on that and not answering their phone. I thought I had dealt with the worst. We had already struggled with the Lisle (Illinois) Post Office because they would not allow us to open a P.O. box without a paper from online. They wouldn’t give us this paper—we had to beg the librarian down the street for access to the computers to print out a document they should’ve already had on hand. Last time I checked, you have to pay for a P.O. box. That being the case… aren’t they working for us? We returned with the paper. Then I went online and had to pay $1 convenience charge just to assure that our mail could be forwarded from the P.O. box to Mike’s address in Chicago—where one of the employees would then pick up, sort, and send our mail to Germany. Well, they rejected this request to forward from the P.O. Box to Mike’s address because “you can’t have two forwards going at a time.” We managed to make it work. We have been receiving mail, albeit infrequent and many documents 1-2 months old… until I received a notice from the IBOE telling me that my credential (oh, that little paper telling me I still have a career title… kinda important) was sent back to them by the post office. The post office? The people who WE PAY to have a P.O. box with? I checked the address and indeed, it was the correct one. So, I had to supply them with the company address instead. As if I weren’t trying to draw attention to myself or anything. Way to be difficult to the people who hold my ability to teach in their hands. And, to add more pain to this, we have no idea what other mail is being rejected, if our mail is landing in some abyss, or what—because the guy went home at noon. Oh, and finally, our German postal service was also rejecting our mail (though we live here in this very house) because our name wasn’t on the doorbell. We have gone without receiving packages and various cards our relatives and friends have sworn they sent. This is the point I have a minor breakdown, too. I just really want an address. We’ve been “homeless” since the end of July with no stability and no address to assure we can receive documents. Normally, the documents don’t matter because we pay all bills online, but it does matter when the documents have value. I have lots of items sent to my mother-in-law just because I simply have no where else for them to go. I’m ready for stability. Aside from this… as I cool down… the day was decent. I went into work with Ray this morning and was able to watch The Bachelor on the computer as he worked. He went off to lunch with Lothar and Karston to a “typical German restaurant” (as said in German by Lothar when I asked him, “Was hast du heute gemacht?”—What did you do today?) and I stayed to finish watching the show. I left shortly before 2 and headed to buy stamps and a postcard for my brother’s birthday—but the store was closed. For some reason, stores liberally close midday for a few hours at random and close at the end of the day early. How do they get any business? I heated leftovers and finished the rest of The Anne Frank Diary. Man, that’s a sad story… but having experienced being in her house, I really wanted to re-read it since I felt a connection to the history. It still doesn’t make it easier to read. I forgot a lot of what happened in her diary because I read it so long ago. I drove back to work around 5:30 and hung out for awhile as Ray finished up his work. They are in the process of hiring two engineers and the resumes are coming in. We learned some interesting things about applying for jobs in Germany (or perhaps the EU as a standard)… the following are listed on applications: photo of oneself, age, marital status, children, and hobbies. Even so much as asking these questions can get you in the hot seat when hiring in the U.S. We consider this discrimination. It’s obvious that they have different standards. I also read on a blog recently (written by a woman who is an expat in Germany for 6 months now) that she has been searching for an apartment and has specifically been asked by the lesser if she has kids, is a certain age, etc. Such things would never be allowed in the U.S. I am not saying whether I think this is right or wrong, just different. This is such important information to us understanding and respecting other cultures in our attempt to internationalize ourselves. You simply don’t see outside of your life bubble until you are invited into the lives and countries (or states, regions) of others. What an amazing learning experience this has been. Everything has been great except the stinking mail situation. I just have angry words about that. The rest of the night was good. We had dinner and watched another Lie to Me episode.

Mittwoch 20.01.2010 (day 128)
After yesterday’s complain-fest, I feel much better today. It wouldn’t be a “journal” if I weren’t showing my true experiences and feelings, right? Before going to bed last night, I registered for the APT teacher test that is required by the state of Illinois to receive my official teaching credential. I only have 7 months to take and pass the test—of which there are only 3 dates I am eligible for. The first date is the weekend we’re looking at houses. I’d prefer to devote all of my time to that because it’s kind of a big deal. Scratch that day. The next option is over two months later (tick tock on my credential expiration…) in April. I signed up for that one. If for some reason I fail this test, I would have to take the one in June and pray that the scores come in time before they cancel my credential and make me re-apply. I think I can do this. Gotta give myself a nice little peptalk. I also called the CCTC (California Commission on Teacher Credentialing) once again—I’ve called maybe 50 times with no response in the last 6 months—and finally… they answered. It turns out I was always calling during their “off” hours since they only work 3.75 hours per day. Regardless, the question I needed answered came very quickly after my 30 minute wait time. Though I’ve already sent the paperwork countless times and had no response, I finally got a hold of the person I needed! She was a huge help and I finally got the correct address and contact that will send my exam results to Illinois so I don’t have to retake them all! It saves, time, headache, and money. Thankfully. I had emailed a few people yesterday with the hope that it would work… and they also emailed me back! They confirmed the information I was given on the phone and therefore feel very confident about the documents being sent and my deficiencies lifted at the Illinois DOE. I also received a substitute teaching email from a lady at DuPage County who let me know that since I am cleared as a credentialed teacher in Illinois, I am already allowed to sub. But, I must fill out applications with separate districts in order to work for each one. It is a similar situation in California. Unfortunately, getting into separate districts can be tricky. They usually only hire in during certain months or maybe even not at all in a given year—it all relates to the amount they currently have and need on staff. I will miss out on Naperville’s substitute hiring that takes place in about a week—but luckily we’ll be back soon and I may take advantage of the next one. And… and little about the daily routine: I woke after Ray left, checked some emails, and worked out for about 30 minutes. As soon as I finished, Ray walked in the door! He was quite early, so I had to quickly get ready and cook up some lunch before we left at 12:30 back to work. While there, I downloaded American Idol for tonight’s viewing (yay!), printed out a bunch of documents related to teaching (study guide for APT test, emails, sub application just to have on hand), and collected my thoughts. We received mail today! It’s been exactly one month since we received our mail last, so it was nice to have some correspondence. I received a wedding invite (though we can’t go since we’ll be house hunting that weekend), a coupon for a free bag of Stacy’s Pita Chips (the little things… I tell you!), and 2 gift cards I won online! It was a little like Christmas! We also called the post office because we were concerned that they were returning some of our mail. It turns out, they did return my credential sent by the Illinois DOE because it had a clause, “do not forward” on the envelope. By law, they must. I had that document re-routed to Ray’s work so there would be no confusion and I’d surely get it. It turns out the post office is very familiar with us troublemakers. We have two forwards, and that’s not allowed. We just have very few options at this point and we’re trying to keep calm about our lives being in disarray for so long. Thankfully, (good or bad), the guy is familiar with us and said that although it isn’t policy, he’s been forwarding our mail anyway—except ones that are legally binding. PHEW. All I can say is, I owe a lot of thanks to the man upstairs. Every time I stress out, it works out. It may not be conventional and it’s certainly not without pain, but it’s all okay in the end. Ray had a meeting scheduled for 2:00, so we asked Sabine to arrive at 3:00. Well, his meeting was then postponed until 3:00. This happens a lot. I’m not complaining because business does take precedence, but it’s just hard being the one to always explain and apologize for business and our schedule being a little nutty. Luckily, we started around 3:30, so she still managed to get her teaching in for the day. The lesson was fine. We also said goodbye to the German sales rep, Holm, today. He is leaving for another company. We’ll actually be taking over his car after he turns it in at the end of the month. Our car (the Audi wagon) needed to be returned. The lease ended after a few years. We are currently driving the former sales employee’s BMW, but dislike it. We’re more of an Audi crowd. It’s too rigid, bumpy, and the shifter is uncomfortable. At the end of the month, we’re moving on to car #3. Then, in March, we’ll have our real car back and look into buying me something with 4 wheels (and hopefully doors, windows, and some kind of safety). The night was nice. We left work at 6, meant to stop at the store—but forgot—and headed home. We watched an episode of American Idol and we have another to watch tomorrow night. We get to see them a day after they air in the U.S. Technically, “tonight’s show” is airing while we sleep tonight since we’re so far ahead in time.

Donnerstag 21.01.2010 (day 129)
Today was a great day. Aside from having a German lesson early this morning and being assigned a ridiculous amount of homework, it was a nice day. First of all, the weather is really warming up. By warm, I mean in the upper 30’s. This is a huge improvement from our below freezing couple months we just endured. I actually can walk outside with a sweater (sans jacket, hat, or gloves) and I don’t feel like my extremities may break. I would say that this Californian is getting a little used to the cold. That’s not to say that the weather in Chicago won’t be utterly frightening for me, but things are getting better. The weather is so warm that nearly all of our snow is gone. It’s been around since early December and hasn’t melted—so for the melting process to take hold, we’re happy. After our German lesson, I did some research, downloaded the 4th episode of American Idol, had lunch, and then took off with the BMW. I had a few errands to run—first, I needed to recycle some bottles we had in our back seat and buy a few items from grocery store #1, Netto. I bought some carrots for tonight’s stir fry, bananas, amazing Milford Apple tea, and a dessert item (I am a Wilson—as Ray reminded me this evening after noticing that I dusted off the Harry & David chocolate-covered-pretzels and had no self control). Then, I headed off to grocery store #2, Lidl to check on a product they advertised. Rather than carry those plastic hand baskets like we use in the U.S. when not buying a cartful, people bring their own einkaufskorb (shopping cart—though it’s actually a basket). They look similar to a picnic basket. You can see a link here: or here in case one of the links breaks and the other doesn’t. I love them. They’re so chic. Since people don’t use bags here and buy very little in each shopping visit (they simply visit a few times a week and therefore don’t need large receptacles/carts, though they are available for a 1 Euro deposit), these are sufficient as both a shopping basket while you peruse the store, and a bag once you visit the checkout. I really wanted one and I finally found one at a reasonable price. As far as I know, these are only popular in a few countries. I was standing in line and the cashier (kasse) summons me to come in front of her line (though an elderly couple was unpacking their extremely-loaded-I’ve-never-seen-anyone-in-Europe-purchase-so-much-from-such-a-little-store-Walmart-equivalent cart) and cut them since I was only purchasing two items. Luckily, I can understand context and hand signals. Because the German she was so fluently speaking to me was completely beyond the “my name is” stage. After purchasing the adorable shopping accessory, I headed to the card store. They have the strangest hours. I attempted to go there a few days prior, but since I didn’t feel like waiting around, I left. Well, same scenario here, but this time I decided to wait. I bought my postcard and headed back home. I attempted to write out the recipe to Apple pie in German and with Metric Units. Phew. When we leave I want to give our pie dishes away since they’re too heavy to carry and they are glass. Since we already own some in the States and know how hard it is to find them here in Germany, I wanted to give them away. There is one woman at work in particular who is a great cook and is always sharing with us. I thought to give her a recipe with the pie dishes as a thank-you to her for her kindness. As I headed to the car for my drive back to work, I encountered a girl about 5 years old. I excused myself so I could get into the car and she proceeded to tell me that there was a mouse under my car. After a couple minutes of Q&A with a girl who speaks my basic German, I hopped in the car. The mouse must have moved, because she and her friend were excited to see the mouse scurry and the cat follow it. I arrived at Raja to pick Ray up at close to 6, but the door was locked. Luckily, the window was open and everyone who was still there congregated in the conference room. I was able to yell my way to attention. They were working on their presentation for Hydraulics that Lothar and Ray will be presenting in Chicago in a couple weeks. We stayed until halb sieben (6:30, or “half of 7”) and dropped off the postcard before heading home. I made a stir fry with green beans, corn, broccoli, carrots, seasonings, and rice noodles. I think we definitely consumed our daily servings of veggies today. We watched American Idol until the 31 minute mark (of 42 minutes total) when the video shut off. My download must have been interrupted somehow and it only recorded ¾ of the show. We went online and watched the rest. I also had a chance to watch an episode of Glee today which was surprisingly humorous. While the plot is not really up-to-par with my interests, I did appreciate the obvious talent from real Broadway stars singing a lot of recent and past songs. As I write this, we still have to pack for our early morning flight tomorrow to Romania! We’ve been asked countless times, “Why Romania?” Three reasons: World CNN we watch everyday always plays commercials and they obviously worked, we love eastern Europe, and finally, WHY NOT?

Freitag 22.01.2010 (day 130)
Early, early wakeup. We left the house before 7:00. Okay, so it was no earlier than it is when I actually have a job and must get up at a decent hour. No complaints, though. After all, it’s not everyday people get to up and fly to Romania! We drove 60 km to Dortmund—our closest airport. We had never flown out of Dortmund before, so this was a first. We’ve always flown from Köln which is about 30 minutes further from our house. We parked at a far lot that was cheaper than all of the closer ones. We waited a bit for the shuttle, but didn’t want to wait any longer, so we walked to the airport. It was about the same distance as the lot we park in at the Köln airport. Check-in was fine and we had to go through a passport check (like customs) which we don’t usually do when flying between EU countries. We were all corralled into this small room that had 3 terminals. One of the flights was going to Turkey and the other, Romania. Since we were flying WizzAir, a Polish budget airline, they cut costs wherever they can. The two women who checked everyone in were also checking everyone in at the gate. They pressed the “boarding” button before the plane even arrived with the previous flight! There were about 120 people standing like sardines to “board” a plane we couldn’t see. We wouldn’t have cared, except WizzAir doesn’t assign seats. This makes things uncomfortable and everyone gets super greedy about their seating arrangement. I’m not saying we were among them—it’s just yucky to be in the situation. Finally, 15 minutes after our flight was scheduled to depart, we boarded. Though a lot of people were in line, the plane was large enough that we didn’t have a neighbor this time. Nice! WizzAir is definitely budget, though. Your legroom is nonexistent, seats don’t recline, there are advertisements on your seat pockets, and the usual no-drink/snack. We chose the airline, so we aren’t complaining. It was just a new experience. Compared to WizzAir, GermanWings is a supreme carrier. The flight was about 2 hours, 15 minutes to Bucharest. As we grew closer to landing, all you could see was white. There weren’t many buildings and the area looked pretty boring, frankly. Though, there is an Ikea just behind the aiport. We knew the weather would be in the teens since we checked the weather report. Yikes! We flew into this bitty airport, went through customs (again…) and attempted to find lunch. It wasn’t hard. Just outside the airport there was a sandwich shop we purchased some quick takeaways for about 14 Lei, their money. It’s about 4:1 Euro. For two sandwiches, we paid about 3.50 Euro. And that was at the airport. Talk about cheap! We transferred a bit of money although the tour books advise against it (our ATM wouldn’t allow money access because USAA wasn’t informed prior to our visit—fraud protection is almost too good!) so we could get transportation from the airport to our hotel. We saw our first of 11 stray dogs—Romania has a serious stray problem. We asked a few people where we could find the bus and immediately, they asked us, “what is the address” so that we might take their unmarked taxicabs. Ha. Yeah right! There is one bus that is advertised in airline magazines that mentions 16 Euro/pp for the bus to get downtown. We ended up walking across the street to take the “city bus” rather than the touristy ones and paid 2 Lei total (about 50¢). The bus ride was long but we managed to see a great deal of the city. We drove by the Arcul De Triumf that was built in 1922 to commemorate Romania’s Great War dead. It looks similar to the L’Arc de Triomphe. We somehow missed our stop and ended up getting off the bus after we realized it was heading back to the airport! We’re so lucky we pack light because Ray ended up carrying our luggage around all afternoon. We found a McDonalds and walked in to get out of the cold and thaw off for a bit. Yes, we also had fries. We finally found our way to the Metro which wasn’t so hard to find after all. Having no map of the city makes things a bit hard when relying on handwritten notes. After finding an Intercontinental Hotel and grabbing a map in their lobby, we felt much better—of course, that came with a price. We definitely saw a working girl with a much older man leaving the hotel for his car. Yuck. We eventually found the correct exit to the Metro after leaving the hotel with our new map, but couldn’t seem to find which way our hotel was located on the street. We walked one direction and saw signs for our hotel, but it wasn’t there. Finally, we turned around and walked in the snow back to our hotel and actually found it this time! It was starting to get dark slowly around this point. We checked in and took a train to the AFI Palace Cotroceni (big new mall). It was pretty fancy inside. There was an attached IMAX, regular theatre, arcade, ice rink in the mall’s center, a children’s slide area, water bumper boats, many upscale shops, and a bunch of restaurants. We headed to the grocery store, Real (said: Ray-Al), to buy some water and snacks. It was highly recommended to us not to drink the water in Romania. We took the tip. Our hotel charged 8 Euro for breakfast which isn’t normally a lot, but considering how cheap everything is in Romania, it is a ripoff. In Europe, most malls also have an attached grocery store from what we’ve noticed. We had dinner at a place called Sr. Patata—a potato bar restaurant. What a great concept! Most everyone loves potatoes and you can choose all the toppings you want. Our meals came with a dessert—a Romanian filled pancake dessert. That’s exactly what it tasted like, too. We took the Politehnica exit on the Metro going back to the hotel and walked about ½ mile in frigid temperatures. We walked entirely on snow. They don’t plow much in Romania. We think for a few reasons: labor cost, frequent poor weather so why bother, and… our favorite assumption: it’s less slippery to walk in packed snow than on an icy sidewalk! As a result, though we nearly ate it many times, neither of us fell the entire trip! Back at the hotel, we were pleasantly surprised to have a small variety of English programming, including the Discovery Channel!

Samstag 23.01.2010 (day 131)
We were pretty confused by the time change. For some reason, we just couldn’t seem to get it in our heads that it was an hour ahead of Germany. It’s not so hard, except we counted on our phone that read “Vodafone Ro”, as in Romania, to synchronize and it never did. We woke up at 9:30, but I’m pretty sure it was 10:30. Also, the weather report read 20% chance of precipitation. Wrong! It snowed from the moment we left the hotel (and way before that) until after dark. Though, the day was a lot warmer than yesterday. We walked from the hotel to the Palatul Parlamentului (Parliament Palace) just about ¼ mile down the street. It’s the second largest building in square feet/meters in the world. The first is the Pentagon. We entered and immediately walked into the gift shop which is also the place to buy admission tickets. Since Romania is a new country on our list, we noticed they had an adorable blond couple ornament dressed in Romanian outfits. That was probably the easiest ornament to purchase to date! After visiting the mall last night, we weren’t so sure if we’d have any luck finding ornaments at all. We bought our admission tickets for about 3.5 Euro each. We went through security and were required to wear “visitor” badges in exchange for our passports which they held until we traded in our visitor badge at the exit. The building itself was designed and built entirely by Romanians using all goods found only in Romania. Many of the goods were from Transylvania, the area of the Dracula castle about 40 km away from where we were in Bucharest. We saw a meeting room of which Ceauşescu designed to seat 60 leaders of the communist party. It was expected that a chair be made much larger and greater than all the others, of which would belong to Ceauşescu himself. Unfortunately for him, he and his wife were hung on December 25, 1989 and he was unable to see the building at its finished point. The building construction was first begun in 1983. The building itself was very nice, but we read that much of the building is uninhabited. We also overheard another tourist in our English group of about 20 (many of which were Romanian passport holders) say that much of the rest of the palace wasn’t as fancy as the rooms we saw. We left the palace and walked to Piata Unirii, a big shopping district area in the city. One sad thing we learned: about 20% of the entire city of Bucharest, including the areas of Piata Unirii and the palace were all once habited—Ceauşescu forced the destruction of these areas to build his vision of a great communist area. While beautifully done, it’s sad to know that 20% of residents had to relocate because of his inhumanity. We walked by many beautiful (snow covered) fountains, and outdoor ice rink (#2) and explored a mall. We first walked into a Carefour—it’s a large grocery store/Walmart equivalent. Germany has them, but they are few and far between. We then walked into the mall (Unirea Shopping Centre) that was full of random shops. This was also home to some of the best (and best priced) handmade Romanian gifts we saw during our stay. We purchased a small handmade bowl for 10 Lei = $3.40. We headed upstairs to the food court and ordered pizza at a place called Springtime. It’s a restaurant that you order and then go back to pick up your food when it’s ready. They are really popular in Bucharest. I even saw a delivery car. I don’t see the hype other than the cheapness factor. I didn’t even bother to care that she overcharged us and supplied us with 3 sodas when we only ordered 2. Sometimes the language barrier can do that. After the mall, we headed down the street toward other attractions. We saw many churches and the Ateneul Român—considered one of Romania’s finest buildings designed by a French architect. It was inaugurated in 1888 and built nearly entirely from citizen donations. It’s now home to the Romanian Philharmonic. We kept walking and saw the Palatul din Piata Victoriei—built in 1937 and home to the Romanian Government. Just down the street about a block was the Muzeul Taranului Roman—the Peasant museum. It is considered by many to be the best museum in Bucharest. The building itself dates from 1912 and the exhibits are of Romanian life, religion, dress, communism, pottery… and they even had a read wooden windmill they transported as well as an old Transylvanian church. The Romanians, as we learned, are not people to throw things away, but to preserve and cherish their heritage and what they have. Seeing those pieces definitely gave us that sense. It was a nice museum and cost nearly nothing to enter! I think it was about $4 total (converted) for us to enter total. I also got in trouble by two of the guards. There were tons of guards, also. I sat on a chair that was under some museum reading material—thinking that it was there so you might sit and read; apparently not. I also took a photo and although there is not a single sign in the entire place and the lady at the entrance (who spoke English) did not mention anything about cameras, I still got yelled at. I still managed to get a shot.  After the museum, we started to walk toward the Arcul De Triumf (we saw on the bus), but realized it would be too dark and we wouldn’t make it before the sun set completely. Instead, we headed toward KFC and sat down with a chocolate soufflé (yes, they sell them… sadly, cold), warmed up, and read some more about Romanian culture. We chose to have dinner at Pizza Hut (though there was a real El Torito and Hard Rock in town—but too hard to find on foot in the snow and dark). Before you judge… the Romanians themselves don’t claim to have a “native” food so much as stealing from the Germans or Turks—of which we eat all the time. I tried a Romanian beer, however—the Ursus. It was okay. It tasted mostly like a Coors Light. We had 1 beer, 1 soda, bruschetta appetizer, and a medium pizza with 1 topping all for $15.32 in U.S. dollars. That was including a tip and the 19% tax! Before tip and tax, our meal was $10.21 – I still can’t get over it! We walked to the metro after and ordered a taxi at the front desk for the next morning. We just can’t figure out this place. There was a JW Marriott, Intercontinental, Hilton, and a variety of other high end hotels, but even the magazine in our hotel said this, “Welcome to Bucharest! Here’s a phrase you don’t hear very often. We think (and we are biased) that this is because nobody comes here for pleasure. And if you are the first to do so, please accept our apologies.” If there are all these great hotels, lots of culture, and plenty to see, why don’t more people visit? It felt amazingly safe, there were tons of security officers everywhere, we saw only 2 beggars, the subway was the cheapest we’ve ever been on, and the culture is great! Aside from the few working ladies and 11 stray dogs, we were quite impressed with the whole place. Now back to expensive Germany tomorrow…

Sonntag 24.01.2010 (day 132)
We woke up around 5:30 and made it to our taxi before 6:00. We paid a flat rate of about 60 Lei ($20) for a ride to the airport. If our flight wasn’t so early, we would’ve taken public transportation and avoided the extra cost. This was actually only the second taxi we’ve taken altogether in Europe. The first and only other time was with Nic & Alison when they were visiting and we headed downtown to dinner in Munich. Since that town is crazy, that worked out much better. The ride was interesting. He definitely knows his stuff. Since he found out we lived in Germany (but were from the States—which he was surprised to hear), he began speaking in German to us. It turns out that he lived in Stuttgart for 5 years before moving back to Bucharest, his home city. He drove us by a club that was just closing for the night morning. There were loads of taxis parked outside waiting for the last of the partiers. I just can’t imagine. Sleep is far too precious and it has always been. We checked in just as the sun was beginning to peak above the horizon and the man at the counter said—“Wow! United States passports—it’s been at least a month since I’ve seen any of those. The others must be taking other airlines or something.” After, we walked over to a ridiculous mob of people that was the passport control/security. It was insanity. Discount airline to the max! It was chaos and there weren’t designated lines for anything. Once we managed to cattle our way through security (about 30 minutes later), we spent the rest of our Lei on a bottle of water and donated the last 33 cents or so to one of those airport buckets—of course the lock was broken off and I’m sure my donation will end up in the hands of one dishonest person—let’s hope not. We stood in another line to board the bus that took us to our plane. Again, since it’s WizzAir, the seats aren’t assigned and people get forceful and greedy. Again, the flight was not full and we managed having no one next to us again. What luck! The flight was fine and we made it to Dortmund around 9:30 a.m. We had to stand in another line for passport control (again!!!) and were finally free! We walked the mile back to our car and paid the 20 Euro parking fee before driving the 60 km home. Once there, it was time to relax, eat, and do laundry. We were supposed to pack for Denmark as we had plans to leave tomorrow, but Lothar has canceled due to a family emergency. Denmark may be off the list. I am a little sad, I must say! It was a relaxing evening and we really enjoyed having the entire day to re-coup after our trip. It was excellent and we managed to spend less than $100 (more like $80) in the entire time—including souvenirs! Visit Romania if you’re ever in Eastern Europe! We hear that it’s really beautiful along the Black Sea in the summer, too.

...and in case you're wondering... I am on the 77th written page using 11-sized font, single-spaced! This thing is practically a book!!! 50 days of writing left with 132 days down.