Friday, February 26, 2010

A Few of MY Favorite Websites

I read A LOT of blogs. Ever since we moved to Germany for 6 months (that time flew by!), I have been reading a lot of blogs to stay connected to the world, learn how other expats cope, etc. I found a lot of really great people with really interesting stories. Some of those people are listed on the right of this page. Others, I follow in blogger just to get their updates. I am following a cool teacher in Germany, teachers in Illinois, people in our new neighborhood, and all kinds of good stuff--in addition to my real-life friends. It's honestly more interesting than television. There are also crazy coupon cutter (most stay at home moms) ladies who teach me a whole lot about saving money. Since we're in the process of {trying to} buy a house, it's nice to be in-the-know. Though, I don't think I can ever be as devoted as these ladies.

Aside from learning a ton about saving money--something I'm already fairly good at--I learned about some new websites that I now used daily or as time allows. Here are a couple of those:

ShopAtHome - This site is awesome. I buy stuff online ALL the time and actually prefer it to shopping in stores. I usually get free shipping codes and things end up being cheaper. I have recently gone to this website and typed in the store I want (recent purchases made from The Body Shop, Macy's, Godiva, Barnes & Noble) and they give you a percentage back from your purchase. For example, we bought chocolate for my wonderful sister-in-law and got $1.92 back. I am up to $14.04 just for using the link to any website on Shop at Home. It takes zero minutes extra and it's totally great.

Swagbucks - This one is more work and I'm still not sure it's worth it... but since I just earned a $10 Amazon card just for using their search engine (which is a little annoying, but if you use it once a day, you'll have about a $10 gift card ready for redemption in a maximum of 3 months since usually it will award you 10 free "bucks" per day). I like that I'm getting a free $10 Amazon card, though, I'm not going to lie. Some people get really into it and have purchased like a Wii and other expensive items just on free Amazon cards... so if you're dedicated, you can make some dough. I'm just a lazy user... so it took me a couple months.

Redfin - What a great website for home buyers who are prepared. If you are on a time crunch, want to save money, want to make your own decisions, or just plain hate the idea of a real estate agent running your home-buying show, this site is the best for you. I am not advertising or getting any compensation. We are buying through them and they've been incredible, quick, accomodating (buying a house and dealing with logistics while 7 hours ahead and a big ocean in between is tough!), and professional. If you think of buying a house now or even in the future, it's nice to watch the market and the options for awhile. We did this for over a year before placing our offer and I am happy to say we are pleased with all of the people who have helped us in the process.Though, I think Redfin only works in big cities, for now.

Swagbucks & ShopAtHome give you a kickback if you promote them and your friends use them. I hate spamming friends on facebook, twitter, or email... so I figured if you cared, you'd read this blog post. And, since I actually use them and like them, I don't mind promoting them anyway. I won't post it again... but this are some things I've learned lately about stretching a buck (aside from my uber-excellent economics teacher in high school who taught me to use a credit card for every purchase, but pay it off in full every month). Of course, with that, we also get cash back and free flights, pay no interest, and have a list of all our spending to boot!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Switzerland and the death of a Camera...

We're in Switzerland! We arrived on Sunday afternoon and quickly drove in to see Zurich. Ray has been before but this was my first experience in Switzerland. We drove... then stopped in traffic for way too long before parking and walking into the center of the city. We snapped a couple photos with our new (cheap) camera and carried on to drive towards our hotel--about 45 minutes from Zurich.

This whole camera thing: as we toured houses last weekend, I took our camera out to take a few photos of the very first house on our list to visit and the camera wouldn't take a photo. The lens was abnormally in the "out" position and wouldn't retract. It read "lens error, restart camera." We have a Canon Powershot S5 IS that looks like this. Now, picture it with the lens out and not taking photos = two very unhappy campers. We have only had the camera for 1.5 years (though from the sound of things we read on the Internet, we are lucky to have had it functioning for that long!) and it already died on us. We researched on the web and found thousands upon thousands of complaints from fellow camera owners. I can't speak for other camera makers, but I know Canon has a serious lens issues that have obviously not be resolved if that many horror stories were written to read. In true spirit, I added our experience to the list in hopes that Canon would consider fixing this issue for future customers. Because, as of now, we are no longer Canon customers or owners of a functioning Canon camera.

But what to do when you're leaving back to Europe for a few more weeks and visiting a few new countries to boot? Well, obviously, we needed to shell out some more cash for yet another camera. Between the two of us, this is our 4th camera in less than 4 years of our relationship. Well, we each owned two when we met and those broke as we dated... then we bought the 3rd one together before our marriage... and now we purchased our 4th.

We walked into Best Buy and purchased the cheapest digital camera they sold. Hey, if we're going to buy a camera on the whim and figure it will break in a matter of months like the rest of them, it makes no difference, right? So, anyway... if you're still reading... that's the reason our camera photos are of less quality from here on out (...until we invest in another quality camera. If those exist. Sorry, bitter).

Anyway, I think these photos from Zurich actually turned out decent! Despite my decent tech knowledge, I couldn't figure out how to space between these photos! I've never had a problem before, but I think the new camera is causing me trouble. I'll just write here and you can scroll down. I will figure this out. But, for now, I just want to get to bed!

I posted a photo of an old El Camino car. It was really weird seeing one of these in Switzerland! I also took a couple photos of people dressed in weird costumes. They are dressed, we think, because of Carnival that takes place during Lent. People dress up in crazy costumes and drink ridiculous amounts of alcohol for no reason. I also took a photo of confetti we saw lining the streets of Zurich. We didn't actually see the festivities, just what was left over from them...

 ...It's been awhile since I posted a journal. Three more weeks and I retire from writing daily! Here's what has been happening as we see it...
Mittwoch 10.02.2010 (day 149) --in Chicago
It’s already Wednesday and I cannot wait until Saturday! I woke up at 4 a.m. to a 4.3 magnitude earthquake! Being from California, I know all about how they feel. I knew this wasn’t the snow trucks plowing outside that shook our house. When I turned on the news at 7:45, they confirmed my intuition. I can’t believe it. I guess having an earthquake in this area is extremely rare. I started the day off right with yogurt, a bagel (with cream cheese, thank you), a banana, and Tropicana orange juice. It’s lovely having all the comforts of home. The weather outside is in the early 20’s, but the wind chill all day felt like 6 degrees—so needless to say, I made a conscious effort to stay home today. I did, however, venture outside during the day to walk to the mailbox and clear the foot of snow from the top of the car in the driveway. The company car is here for Lothar to drive, but since we pick him up from the hotel and take him to work, it just stays here. Until our car is off of blocks, I’ve been driving either this one or Mike’s car—but I prefer to drive the red car. It was definitely cold outside to say the least. I received a call from Sandy, the head of IT at the company, asking if I’d like to come over for dinner. Though I have a sinus headache, I decided to go. She and her husband are such nice people and they treated us to dinner one night before in September, too. I talked with Solange and caught up today and Ray called a few times as well. Around 6:15, I headed out to have dinner with Sandy and her husband in the same city we’re staying in, Downers Grove. They live near the high school Ray and I would go running at during the summer. It was really nice seeing them again. We had a delicious dinner prepared by Sandy and some good conversation. I love how nice people are here in the Midwest. It’s going to take some getting used to, for sure! I came home around 9:30 and called Ray. He’s doing well sitting in his enormous Hyatt hotel room with a super large television, he says. He had prime rib for dinner with the rest of the crew and was in for the evening. We talked for a bit and then I watched American Idol on the Internet since I missed it while it was airing earlier tonight. Thank goodness for the Internet! It’s around midnight so I’m getting ready to call it a night! I have a big day tomorrow—buying toilet paper, gas, and visiting a store down the street I’ve never been to!
Donnerstag 11.02.2010 (day 150)
I think I’m acclimated to the time here. I was doing okay the past few days, but it’s perfect now. And in just one week’s time, I have to change my time zone again… and 3 weeks later, it’s back here. Oh, the life! My day was relatively uneventful, but I did accomplish a few things on the small scale. I woke up at a reasonable hour and ran some errands to get gas and buy some toilet paper. I know, try and contain yourself about how exciting my day was. It was really nice and sunny today. Nevermind the 20 degree weather and the slight wind chill that made it feel in the teens… but I have to be honest; I’d rather have sunny skies and cool air than gloomy skies and warmer air. I just love seeing the sun shine. I think I’ll handle Chicago just fine. Though, I think I’ll like summer and fall the best. I visited Aldi market today as well (I actually bought the worst toilet paper ever there). Aldi is a German company owned by the same two Germans who own Trader Joes. They are a discount carrier and the ones in the U.S. look similar to the German ones. I don’t shop there in Germany because they have random brands, inconsistent selections, and it’s not as nice as the others in general. Well, Aldi in the U.S. has similar attributes. It offers a more consistent variety of foods Americans eat and there are almost no name brands of items. I’m not against buying store brands, but I will always reach for the name brand if they are the same price. I saw a few brands, but they looked more like reject items and something Big Lots would sell or something. Frankly, I’d rather shop at Big Lots! I did buy tortillas that were priced at $1 and toilet paper just because I didn’t feel like driving to another store. They have great deals… but you certainly can’t do all of your shopping there. This week they were offering 44 cent avocados. That’s super cheap. But, it’s not worth shopping there solely for getting a 50 cent deal. Unless I happen to be driving by again, I won’t be shopping there regularly. I’ll still with my upscale Trader Joe’s, Dominick’s (Safeway in the Midwest), and Target. The rest of the day was also uneventful. At home I had lunch and worked out for 20 minutes before I got light-headed and had to stop. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been getting sinus headaches lately, the house was too hot, or what. But, I needed to stop. I talked to Ray and found out that House Hunters won’t be picking up our show it looks like because they’ve already done too many shows in the Chicago area. Bummer. It was fun to try! One of the houses on our long list (not the list we’re visiting Saturday) is now off the market. No big deal… it was one of our least favorite that fell into our categories anyhow. That’s about it for today! Ray traveled today from Atlanta to Dallas and of course, it’s highly unlikely for it to snow in Dallas at all (let alone a lot this winter) and it was snowing there… but not in the east or Midwest! Haha! A lot of flights were canceled and schools in the Dallas area were closed, but they all seemed to be pretty lucky with their travel plans. Let’s just hope Ray makes it out tomorrow… because I miss him and we have a huge day on Saturday!!!
Freitag 12.02.2010 (day 151)
Still feeling kind of sick and it was bad enough today that I wasn’t even interested in being inside Target! Gasp! I woke up and after breakfast, I got ready and put makeup on. I figured getting ready and getting out of the house would improve how yucky I feel, but that didn’t work. What did work was rolling down the window while driving. The fresh, crisp air was fantastic. I bought a few things at Target, picked up a Subway sandwich for lunch, and headed back home around 1:00. I took some medicine to calm my headaches (it feels like a migraine that hasn’t gone away for a few days) but it barely put a dent in the feeling. I rested up until I had to drive to O’Hare to pick Ray up from the airport. I went to Target to stall before picking Ray up and then started driving to the airport. It’s not a horrible drive, actually. I received a call from Ray saying they had landed but that it would be a few minutes before they exited the plane and I was worried that I arrived too early. Well, as I was exiting a toll area about 2 miles before O’Hare, I noticed about 5 cars pulled over on the shoulder. I also pulled over. Don’t worry, everyone was going very slow around this turn and is no less safe than being parked on a regular street. As I sat there, 5 more cars pulled up. It turns out, this area is used by locals who obviously know what they’re doing to stall before they get word that the person they are picking up is ready. Ray called so I drove in. Arrivals were a nightmare. I think from now on we’ll be doing all drop offs and pickups in the departures area—which is considerably smoother. We headed home and headed to get excited for our big day tomorrow. Day #1 of our house hunt!
Samstag 13.02.2010 (day 152)
Rough, rough day. It started by getting an email update from Redfin that our absolute favorite house just went under contract. Literally one day before we could get in! Ugh. It happens… I was just hoping we would be lucky. Neither of us were feeling very good this morning, so it was already a rough morning. We met a showing agent at the first house on our itinerary list. It is the largest and most expensive house on the list and we didn’t have any photos of the inside from online. We weren’t too excited. House #2 was even less exciting. House #3, we fell in love with but carried on. House #4 and House #5 were contenders, House #6 was acceptable but not for us, and House #7 was something we highly considered putting an offer in. It was a bit custom, which would be hard for resale. It was really spacious and fantastic for entertaining and had a Naperville address. But, it was too far south. We drove back to House #3 and decided to place an offer on that one. We went to lunch, went back home, called our agent, he ran comparables (and so did I), and started the offer process. We wanted to start it immediately, but unfortunately our agent was obviously busy today and on top of that, it was moving day for him. Ugh. Finally, he printed the contract and we placed a first offer. He asked us to meet him at the house and we would get all the signatures… but as we pulled up, so did another couple. We waited for our agent and sat out in front of the house (hiding a bit down the street) for about 40 minutes and they never left. We finally couldn’t take it anymore thinking that they might also place an offer, so we told our agent and met in a 7-11 parking lot to hand over the papers. He called the sellers agent (which we had to wait about 2 hours for) and he faxed her the offer. We were the first offer, so that’s good. The bad news is that there could be more on the table if they don’t get back to us like fast. We heard nothing back from our agent tonight, which means he heard nothing back from the seller’s agent. This is the most nervous, scary, exciting, unpredictable, vulnerable experience we’ve ever been involved in. It’s just so hard having to wait for others. Since we’re really decisive and proactive people (we were ready to place an offer within 2 hours of touring all houses on our list!), we find it frustrating that we have to wait for so-and-so to call another person to get a counter, etc. We pray that God can find us the place for us… because the way it looks now… we either get this house, or we go back to Germany empty-handed and crying. God has it under control. That’s such a hard lesson for me to learn. Hoping for positive news tomorrow.
Sonntag 14.02.2010 (day 153)
I slept 3 hours last night. I had so much adrenaline and nervous energy that I just couldn’t. It’s also freezing today. But whatever… we bought a house! Here’s the whole story: I woke up at 5 a.m. and we tried a new church (though we already scoped it out 5 months ago and had a feeling we’d love it) and knew that would be home for us. Church, check. As for the house, we didn’t hear anything until about noon when we received an email from our realtor telling us that the agent will be talking to the sellers at 2:00 and that he would contact us ASAP after hearing back. No call until about 5:00 and we were getting pretty bummed and sad—knowing we might be up against another bidder. There were people touring yesterday and this morning, all after us. There were likely many before us, too. It got lots of buzz, but no one else pulled the trigger—fast enough anyway. They countered our offer, not throwing in the refrigerator (oh well) or carbon monoxide detectors (oh well again). They countered about $6,000 less than list. We countered contingent upon a 1 hr callback for $4,000 less, making the house nearly $10,000 less than list. The truth is, we were willing to pay list because it was so nice. But, our realtor was confident and he ended up calling us back within 45 minutes rather than the 1 hour contingency we tentatively set. We got it! We are set to sign the contract papers tomorrow morning and get the ball quickly rolling since they are eager to sell (they’re already moved out, but the house is staged) and we’re eager to close quickly. We leave Thursday for Germany and arrive back here on March 16th. We close March 18th and move in that weekend. U-N-R-E-A-L! Tomorrow morning we meet with our agent to sign papers, get the inspector and all the other stuff moving before we hop on a plane! Things will move fast from here on out and we’re still praying that everything takes off without a hitch and there isn’t anything wrong with the house. It’s hard to think anything could be—considering all the amazing upgrades it has. Who would upgrade a house that nice if there were significant problems? We did see something about well water in the disclosure, but we will get to the bottom of that tomorrow morning. We walked around Barnes & Noble (that’s actually where we got the call from our agent, Patrick) and then had dinner at Bd Mongolian. We of course called close friends and family to tell them the news and drove around the neighborhood for 20 minutes just in awe of God’s love for us. We are so blessed. I must pinch myself.
Montag 15.02.2010 (day 154)
I’m writing this a day late… but I think I have a pretty good memory of what happened (yesterday). I still hadn’t slept much because we were so excited to sign the papers for our new house! We met with Patrick, our real estate agent, at our new house to get things moving around 9:30. We walked in and it felt even bigger and better than I remembered! It’s so gorgeous and we’re thrilled. We stood in our gorgeous kitchen and signed papers and discussed the process we had to get moving immediately. Because we head back to Germany on Thursday, we had to hire an attorney (the procedure in Illinois), hire an inspector, carry out the inspection, set up financing, put down $5,000 in earnest money, and sit back and wait. That’s a lot of people to get on board with only 3 full working days! We started by calling USAA for our financing in the morning. Then, we met Patrick and filled out the contract paperwork. Ray went to work after that and he called to set up an inspection and talk with our attorney about the paperwork/process. In the meantime, our realtor was prepping the paperwork and sending it to the seller’s agent to get the signatures from the sellers. At lunch, we had to drive to the Re/Max office in Naperville to drop off the earnest check we forgot to give to Patrick in the morning. Then, back to work for Ray and I stayed home trying to figure out my life. This whole teaching thing is going to be hard to set up. I’ve applied to every school district in the area (about 6 total) and have received zero calls. You aren’t supposed to show up at the schools because everything is done online. I love the online idea, but it doesn’t give me a chance to show myself. I also realize that no one hires in the winter…especially not people who live in Germany! I think I’ll have to cross this bridge when we come to it in March. Even then, I think it’s going to be tough. I want a job also to help with the finances. Initially, it’s an expensive relocation. We don’t have much furniture (that’s okay…we are totally content with less until we can buy quality furniture), I don’t have a car, and we’ve put down all of our savings to purchase a house. It might be a few months before we’ll be able to afford a car for me. Since Ray will only be working 4.5 miles (door to door, we calculated) from home, we can share a car for awhile. Since I don’t have a job, it’s a bit easier to work out a schedule. I also will be spending lots of time at home in the beginning getting things all situated. It will all work out. It’s just crazy buying our first house! Everything does have a cost. After work, Ray came home and we headed out to Best Buy to buy the cheapest digital camera they sold just so we could have something to take with us back to Germany for the next month. We still have a little traveling coming up, so we knew it was required to have a camera. The picture quality will obviously be lower, but at least we’ll have been able to capture some of those memories. I prefer buying online and taking time to research, but this is one of those cases where we simply didn’t have the time to sit around and wait for the mail to arrive or the deal to come up. I watch the Bachelor (for what I could stomach) and Mike came into town tonight. Ray was supposed to attend a dinner, but for some communication reason, he didn’t go. There will be more, for sure. I also blogged a little today… now…on to tomorrow….
Dienstag 16.02.2010 (day 155)
I was a good sleeper this morning. Since I only had a total of 8 hours the last two nights, I really needed it. I crawled out of bed at 9:30, nearly 2 hours after Ray & Mike left for work and got myself together for the day. I was on a mission to run errands today. I started at the post office, then I headed to the bank and on to the library. We have a weak Internet signal at the condo and I wanted to spend some time searching around for area opportunities for the summer. If I cannot find a teaching job and they aren’t accepting substitute applications, I am hoping to find some kind of job that can allow me to get out into the community, perhaps use some teaching skills (whether it be camp counseling, instructing, tutoring…), and meet people. I sent a resume and cover letter to the Naper Settlement—a huge historical park in downtown Naperville that has camps and tours for visitors. They are accepting applicants for the summer months to work as educators, counselors, etc. I have no idea if it pays $5/hour or $50. I thought it would be worth a shot either way! I plan to call local school districts to find out if they are accepting substitute applicants at this time (though they rarely do at this time of year) also. I headed back to the condo and worked on some paperwork and various little things I wanted to send out before heading back to Europe. Tomorrow I’m visiting our storage unit (I’ve been avoiding) to drop off some of the stuff we brought back from Germany that has been cluttering the condo since we arrived. Then, I’m doing some laundry, checking the P.O. Box once more for any stragglers, hoping my new bedding arrives (otherwise it will be sitting on the porch for a month probably. Haha), and packing. The rest of the night was fairly uneventful. I hadn’t received a phone call from Ray all day because he was having a big presentation today about hydraulic sales in the U.S. I imagine they went to dinner with the sales team after as well. I sit here, watching American Idol and relaxing before our big airplane ride. I cannot stand long plane rides. Frankly, I don’t really even like planes… but it’s required we take them to travel. I think we’re going to have a great last month in Europe. Exciting!
Mittwoch 17.02.2010 (day 156)
I packed up the car with items that needed to go into storage this morning before heading over to our new house for the inspection. That’s a scary process! I arrived 10 minutes early and the inspector and agent were already inside. I walked in and the inspector was upstairs filling sinks, turning on faucets, and turning on all the appliances he could to see if things were functioning properly. Along with his kit of goodies, he checked just about everything anyone could. It was a learning experience, but a bit depressing all at the same time. You just signed up for a 30-year debt and now someone is going to come in and tell you what little things (and big things) you’re also going to have to invest in that you’re being ripped off with. Ouch. Way to move straight from the honeymoon into your first fight. Anyway, it was nice walking around our lovely new house and learning all these flaws. It would’ve been better if Ray was there with me to learn and have the inspector teach us both—but someone has to pay for this place! Ray had some meetings and there was just no other way around it. So, I walked solo taking copious notes and photos for us to inspect later and figure out. Some alarming notes: he thinks the roof may need to be replaced at some point in the future, driveway/walkway uneven and need to be redone (not pertinent), some botchy installation of lighting in the basement, possible musty smell in basement… which also lead us to getting a mold inspection along with the radon inspection. Just write those checks, right? It feels like play money, but sadly, it’s not. It was great to know every bitty light cover or outlet function because I actually had a chance to get to know the house and look for areas to watch out for. After the inspection (lasted 3 hours), I headed to our storage unit to drop off some items and retrieve our ski gear for next weekend in Switzerland. Then, off to the post office where I checked out P.O. box. I wish there was an ability to know whether there was anything inside so I didn’t have to make the trip. I feel like that will happen eventually… checking if you have mail and the quantity online rather than in person. I wouldn’t have gone had I known we had no mail. Unnecessary trip. I came back to the condo and started some laundry, began packing, called to set up dental coverage and select a dentist, spoke to our real estate agent, inspector, and wrote more checks. Ray and Mike came home and then Ray headed out to have dinner with Lothar and Woody. I stayed and talked with a few people on the phone (soon to be turned off for the next month, sigh), had dinner, and finished up the laundry. We leave tomorrow for Germany again! I don’t mind the destination… just the long plane ride…….
Donnerstag 18.02.2010 (day 157)
This morning I spent the majority of the time just getting our belongings together, cleaning the sheets/towels/dishes and preparing the condo for any other guests that may come to stay. I also called the Illinois DOE and asked them to resend my credential and deficiency statement telling me what I need to complete in order to clear my credential from a temporary credential to a permanent status credential. They said they’d tried sending my credential to me twice, only to have it returned both times. Ugh. I asked them to resend it a third time and I’m hoping that it will be waiting for me when we arrive back on March 16th. They did tell me my deficiencies though: APT test, and multiple subject tests. California is currently (I checked through certified mail) getting my scores together to send to Illinois. And, I already signed up for the APT test—so it looks like I was already familiar with the deficiencies and I’m taking action to get rid of them. We were meant to receive a package by FedEx by 10:30 from USAA about our financing and it arrived at 10:27. Way to cut it close FedEx. But, at least they can say they made it on time! We had 1 hour to fill it out, sign the papers, and get it in the mail. Ray came home, we signed, and he took it back to work for sending. Phew. So much going on. A limo was there to pick us up at the condo at 11:50 and we were at the airport 30 minutes later. As soon as we went through security, I received a call from our inspector who also is our mold inspector. He called to tell me that the musty smell was surely mold of some sort. Unfortunately. It was in a small amount, and we realize that many basements have some sort of must or mold… but the idea of any just scares me. Luckily, there were no signs of a single black spore—meaning the toxic stuff that often goes undetected was not evident. But, at the same time, it’s important to get that all out in the open and figure it out. We are now hoping our attorney and realtor can provide some clarity on how to approach the situation with the home owners. We want them, ideally, to disclose any concerns or issues they previously had that we could remedy before going through with a costly purchase. I would never be able to live with myself if anyone were to become sick from our house. What an expensive investment that would’ve been. In my first year of teaching, I had a student who was always sick. His parents had him tested for everything under the sun and couldn’t crack the code. He was absent over 50 days, I remember. It was vivid in my mind and we even had them reported for the situation. Finally, someone recommended a mold inspection close to the end of the school year. It turns out, the level of mold in their house was off the charts. The irony is that because he was always sick, his parents would keep him home from school…sleeping just feet from a wall that was completely covered in spores. He was staying home to continue getting sick. Anyhow, I had to relive that since we have something (on a smaller scale) to deal with. But nonetheless, it is something to deal with. We boarded our uneventful flight back to Germany around 2:00 and took off before 2:30. Unfortunately, tail wind was not in our favor—making the flight over 8 hours. We watched 3 movies and I liked none of them: An Education, Where the Wild Things Are, and The Truth About Lying or something like that. They were all either immoral, depressing, or sacrilegious—in that order. I also thought Where the Wild Things Are would be scary for kids just like the reviews said. We got almost no sleep and landed just before 6 a.m. Germany time—brutal. While we would just be hopping in bed in Chicago, we’re now entering daylight having lost a night’s sleep. Nothing new though. We’re getting used to it, strangely. It’s just amazing that you can go from one continent to another in a matter of hours. Hours! We taxied from the airport to pick up Lothar’s car at the Frankfurt factory and then off at incredible speeds back to Werdohl and our lovely little town of Neuenrade. Strangely, it feels normal being here. We like Germany. I guess this post is a Thursday/Friday post… but we’ll pretend like I’m not writing this at 7:30 a.m. while Lothar is driving the Autobahn. But, I am.
Freitag 19.02.2010 (day 158)
Here we are. Laptops are on our laps, we’re sitting watching Olympic cross-country skiing coverage in German, and drowsy on the couch. Back in Neuenrade, back in Deutschland. It’s actually nice to be back. The weather is slightly warmer than Chicago, though the same amount of snow is on the ground. I guess they had 3 days of intensity while we were gone. We slept the majority of the day as soon as we returned home, brushed our teeth, and managed to heat up this place. Ah, sleep. Uninterrupted, horizontal sleep. Of course, the rest of the German world was out and about, working and whatnot. We woke up around 5:30 p.m. (well, Ray woke up sometime in the middle of me sleeping for 8 hours to get some work done and make a few phonecalls regarding our trip to Switzerland) and he slept later than 5:30 to make up for that. We had Indian for dinner courtesy of my mom. Nice long hot showers completed our day and we headed back to bed after midnight in an attempt to regulate ourselves. Jetlag is rough!
Samstag 20.02.2010 (day 159)
I almost didn’t write this: we woke up at 2:30 today. We went to bed at 2:00 a.m., so it’s not all that unreasonable… but the bad thing is, this hardly helped our cause of getting back on track with the EU time zone. On top of that, we’re having a business dinner tomorrow night after our long drive to Switzerland. I’m just hoping we can make it there in one piece and awake! We are still pretty excited about moving into our new house (given all the little issues are resolved). We’re also nervous about the carpet in the basement. We read everywhere on the Internet telling us not to carpet basements. But, what do you do, then? Tile? I want this space to be usable and not wasted since we can’t floor it. Our day was super uneventful as we spent most of the day on our laptops researching. We spent a portion of time unpacking and then packing again for our week down south in Switzerland. Other than that, nothing big to report! Possibly the shortest update yet!
Sonntag 21.02.2010 (day 160)
We were up and out of the house by 9:30 this morning on our way south to Switzerland. It was a 5-hour drive that took us down through Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Baden-Baden, the Black Forest into the Freiberg region, and finally down into Basel into Switzerland. We had a little while before we had to meet the executive for dinner, so we pressed on another 45 minutes to Zurich—which I had never visited before. Ray had been there after college, but Switzerland was new to my list of countries! A new currency, once again. The drive was nice. We passed a few castles and plenty of ruins. I always enjoy seeing structures on a hill—the idea that people actually spent time building that (most likely sans technology) amazes me. On our way, the GPS in our 3rd vehicle (every time we are upgraded to a better ride—this one is an A6 wagon with all the fixins’) sensed that traffic was ahead and took us on a detour to bypass it. Like magic, we exited the Autobahn about 200 meters before the red lights and didn’t have to wait a minute! It was amazing. After arriving in Zurich—after paying for the 2010 pass of over 30 Euro, we were stuck in traffic. Finally, we pulled off, parked, and walked into the city just to check things out. We saw a bunch of kids and adults dressed in crazy costumes and assumed that they were dressed for the annual carnival (car-knee-val) that takes place during Lent. We don’t know a whole lot about it other than that it’s a crazy event and yet another reason to dress ridiculously, drink uncontrollably, and have one last “harrah” before the serious takes place. It’s all over Europe and although we didn’t see the actual festivities, we saw about 30 people dressed in crazy costumes. Cologne, near our home in Germany, had their carnival last weekend while we were home in the U.S. It happens on different weekends all over Europe for participating countries. We left Zurich around 5:15 to head back to our hotel region. We checked in, got ready, and met a business acquaintance (my attempt to protect company names from showing up on Google…I rarely mention company names) downstairs. We drove to a hotel restaurant about 2 miles away for dinner. The building we ate in was about 400 years old. We had some traditional Swiss food and it was fantastic! It certainly wasn’t diet food, but good nonetheless. The Swiss eat something equivalent to our hash browns and I had some mixed with veggies and covered with cheese. Oh my goodness, right? Back to the hotel we went afterwards and we have until noon tomorrow before we meet up for lunch with more business colleagues for sushi. So far, Switzerland is treating us sehr gut!
Montag 22.02.2010 (day 161)
We began the morning slowly as sun poured through the windows. We have a sheer curtain in our hotel room, so we don’t have much of a choice other than being forced to endure the brightness. We’re not the best two people at waking up. We leisurely made it downstairs for our large selection breakfast and got things together before driving a few miles down the road (nevermind that we get lost everywhere) to the Swiss company we’re spending the week with. They have good relations with the company in Chicago, so it’s natural for us to visit and learn about their products, what they do to connect with us, etc. We arrived for sandwiches. Not normal sandwiches, however. They have some kind of mayonnaise cream, meat or veggies, possibly fruit, and a gel that sits on top to make a cohesive open-faced sandwich. I won’t comment on the “interesting” flavor. We sat in on a Powerpoint presentation about the company and learned a lot. It’s nice to meet someone who has been around the business for 35 years. Since the manufacturing business is just a large web across the world of interrelated companies, we were pleased to meet one piece of this large web. We took a factory tour and were really impressed with their processes. Since this is one of the few factory tours I have been on, I was certainly excited to people cutting rubber using a knife by hand, painting the parts, and other projects. It’s like a real-life version of “how it’s made” rather than watching on TV. We sat down again after the tour for another presentation of information in the conference room, coffee and chocolate (of course—when in Switzerland…), and were joined by another piece to this large web puzzle. He presented who he was, how he is related to the industry and company (him being the president), and then we went to dinner. This restaurant was fabulous. I think this was the best meal I had in all of Europe thus far. It was that good! Aside from giving portions like the Americans (no joke) and the prices being incredibly high (I had a single eggroll on a small bed of diced vegetables at it cost 19 Swiss Francs = about 19 U.S. dollars…and that was just my appetizer! Everyone had appetizers, drinks, wine, dessert, entrees… and there were 5 of us), the food was spectacular. For a meal, I had housemade ravioli stuffed with eggplant, garlic, olives, and topped with diced red peppers, cream sauce, greens, tomatoes, olives, and an incredible shredded parmesan. For dessert, lemon sorbet. We headed back to our hotel around 9:30 and I’m about to post to the blog! For an update on the house… our attorney sent the owner’s attorney a letter of “fixation”—of all the things, including the mold concern, be addressed before we will continue with the contract and purchase. Since the levels weren’t very high, we’re convinced it will all be alright. Honestly, they also have a bunch of books, boxes, etc. down in the basement that smelled musty because they’d been down there for nearly two decades of them living there. As far as we know, it could’ve been those boxes under the stairs that were reading mold count, not the stairs themselves. The basement itself is immaculate and we’re pretty convinced that it will all be figured out. Most home buyers don’t get mold tests done and I think they should. Basements are known to be susceptible to moisture. Frankly, we’re also convinced that any house would have traces of mold—mold counts are found outside too and it’s totally natural. It just needs to be regulated at low levels inside houses. There is a humidifier that regulates the temperature and the mold was detected on the basement stairs for the most part—not the other areas. It will all get figured out. No need to worry. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Just some big HOUSE news!

Here's how our Saturday began...

We woke up and checked our email just to find out that our favorite house had been sold! We hadn't been inside, but we fell in love with the photos and the neighborhood. We were also feeling under the weather, so the morning was a sad one.

We met our Redfin showing agent at the first house on our 8-house itinerary. It had the nicest curb appeal and the was most expensive. At first, we weren't so thrilled. It just didn't feel like home. Neither did house #2.

Then comes house #3. We LOVED it. But, there was one drawback: it is located in the city next to our desired city. But, it has the same schools as people who live in our city (that was my main concern) and it's in a better neighborhood than many of the houses in that desired neighborhood. Actually, over half of the city we desired to live in was out of the question because they were zoned for outside of the city limit schools. So, I got over the whole "but it doesn't have the same address I wanted issue." It wasn't worth having a house I hated in a potential neighborhood we didn't like and schools we weren't interested in having our future children attend just so I could have a name.

We trekked on to House #4 & #5... and each were nice but not as amazing as House #3. Then on to House #6 (no way), we skipped House #7 (based on terrible curb appeal), and landed at House #8.

House #8 was actually our choice for about 30 minutes. We even got so far as to call in for comps to be run in the area. But... as we waited, we walked around the house. While it would've been great for entertaining based on the space, the neighborhood wasn't as nice (though in our desired city), it was quite close to the next house that wasn't as beautiful, and it was super custom. It had been on the market for around 250 days and had a lot to fix. (examples: floors in each room were mismatched, kitchen was small, flow was a little off, kitchen was not a place to hang, paint/wallpaper needed work...and the other place was turn-key, not to mention in a better area.) We needed one final peak at House #3.

Back to House #3. As soon as we walked in the door, we knew that House #8 was wrong and this one was completely right. It was just so right for us. The neighborhood is gorgeous, the houses around look classy and similar, and the exterior/interior are exactly how we would've created them-- aside from some of the wallpaper.

So, we wanted to place an offer. Well, this process is more difficult than expected. We thought, place an offer, done. Right? Wrong. We called our agent (he was moving so we had someone else opening houses for us) and set to meet at the house at 5:00 p.m. As we pulled up, another couple was seeing the place. Talk about ouch! Well, we sat in the car, our realtor pulled up... and we all sat. And waited. For over 45 minutes. Finally, we couldn't take it anymore. We had to leave. After all, we were only there to sign papers... so we did so down the street in the 7-11 parking lot. We put in an offer and had to go home that night and wait. We waited... I slept 3 hours... and nothing. Finally, we got a call 24 hours later with a counter-offer (our agent thinks that they were sitting on the offer hoping for more to come in so they could begin bidding wars--yuck!). They only came down $6,000 from the list price, but since they were already moved out and we felt it was worth the list price (considering location, comps, perfection for us, the fact that we didn't want any other house, how good it felt being inside, all the upgrades), so we were willing to pay it. Frankly, since the other couple spent so much time inside and we knew others went to see it before and after us, we thought surely we'd have a bidding war--forcing us to pay list anyway. Our realtor said we could come down $4,000 more probably and called back with a 1-hour contingency of reply. We got the call back within 45 minutes and they accepted our counter-offer!

Fast forward to the next day...Monday

We met with our agent at our new house (okay, not yet... but it's hard not to get excited, right?) and signed the final contract papers to send back to the seller's agent & get signed by the sellers. Then, we left. We called a billion people (financing people at USAA, attorney, inspector...) because we have to get things done quickly. We're heading back to Germany on Thursday and we had to get things moving because we're scheduled to close on March 18th! That's two days after we get back from Germany.

Monday night... (like, 5 minutes ago...)

The sellers signed the papers and our agent has received the contract back! We have ourselves a house!

...granted the inspection is decent...the finances are completed...nothing goes wrong...

This is the (world wide) web, so obviously I'm not interested in sharing our address or city. Just know that it's in a nice little Chicago suburb in an adorable area about 25 miles outside of the city.

Here are some stats:
  • Two-story Georgian style (looks like a white colonial with black shudders)
  • Double (red) front doors with glass doors (to keep that cold out!)
  • Brand new updated windows throughout the house
  • Corner lot
  • Bike/walking trails right behind the house that run through the whole neighborhood
  • 2,640 square feet (+1,320 square feet finished basement space)
  • 5 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms
  • Fully-updated house with a brand new cherry wood kitchen, granite countertops, slate backsplash
  • In-law suite in the basement
  • Living room, family room, full basement
  • Hardwood throughout first level, stairs, and top level hallway-- carpeted bedrooms
  • Double sinks in attached master bathroom with granite
  • Separate office
  • Attached 2-car garage
Basically, amazing. And it totally fits us. Nevermind that we don't have furniture to fill two rooms let alone a whole house! Rest assured that if you come visit us within the next year, you might be sitting on the floor. We will have a bed for you, though. :)

Here's a sneak peak of the amazing kitchen:

Oh, and the houses from my last post... none of them are the one we chose! The brick one was actually House #1, the one on the top left was sold before we could even visit it, and the bottom one was missing a few pieces, but was very nice.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Earthquake in Illinois!

I woke up around 4 a.m. to shaking. I know that shaking. I know it all too well. I'm a California girl!

But... I didn't think Illinois had earthquakes! It was a shaker, not a roller. I'm not really sure the magnitude but I know it was around 4. I see the high 3's in some areas and 4.3 as the highest reported. Unfortunately, Ray is out of town on a business trip and didn't get to feel the rarity. He only experienced his first earthquake in early 2009 while we were still living in California and it's super crazy to feel one here.

As far as weather... we are in the 20's, but according to the news, it feels like single digits. Brr! We were hit with a foot of snow yesterday and were on storm watch. It was not much different than Germany has been, so I was relieved that I could drive in it when I had to drop Ray off at the airport.

On another note, we're house hunting in 3 days! THREE days! I can't stand it I'm so excited. Here's a peek at our top three. Of course, we could get none of these... but they are a few current favorites (we have about 9 favorites we're considering) from our drive-by and specs. There are some gorgeous houses, but these 3 are in our desired area. It's a hard process, but we're not budging on the location! We have our fingers crossed, but I know house hunting is not an easy process. We're thrilled for Saturday!

As for what I've been writing about...

Montag 01.02.2010 (day 140)
EIGHTY typed pages of journaling. It is possible that we reach 100 pages in this 6-month period! I woke up a little late this morning and just couldn’t get with it. I cooked up some oatmeal and sat down to the computer…and may or may not have played a few games of solitaire… and then, Ray walked in the door way early! He got home at about 11:30 and I admit that I was still sitting on the couch in my pajamas. The morning was pretty yucky for him. I guess he received an email from United asking us to update our information for our upcoming flight. Well, we have a problem. My ticket is booked under Brandy Wilson, and my passport says Brandy Foster. Usually, we just book me under my maiden name and there aren’t any problems. Within the U.S., it makes no difference. If I book under my maiden name, I always use my passport to check in, and if we book under my married name, I use my driver’s license. But, this is an international flight and they don’t accept state driver’s licenses as acceptable proof. But, I’m a U.S. citizen… and going to the U.S., so wouldn’t it make sense to let me back into my home country (but not necessarily back into Germany?). Well, no. That’s not likely to happen because of these crazy (yet appropriate) security measures since recent attacks, etc. We have lots of proof. We have my new and old United Mileage Plus cards with the identical number (of which I had to send them an original marriage license proving my name change in order to get the new card), my driver’s license, credit cards, medical bills, on and on… but, still, they will not allow me through without a marriage certificate or purchasing a new ticket. I have a marriage certificate—in Chicago. It costs a fortune to FedEx in short notice. We spent lots of time on the phone with them and they said that they cannot change the name on the ticket and I wouldn’t be let through without it. So, we called Chicago and asked if they could retrieve our documents for us (in Mike’s closet). It turns out that Mike is in Chicago this week and would be going home in a couple hours and could go through our files and retrieve it for us. Phew! Rather than FedEx, they scanned the document and we’ll be giving the scanned copy to the travel agent tomorrow to hopefully get the change made. Hopefully. We aren’t out of the water just yet. The rest of the day was kind of a blur because we stressed about this so much. We wouldn’t have booked the tickets under my married name (knowing), but they were booked through a travel agent who didn’t know our situation. Lesson learned… I am getting a new passport with my married name immediately when we return in March. We had leftover chili for dinner and watched a couple episodes of Glee!
Dienstag 02.02.2010 (day 141)
This morning around 10:30, we had a knock at the door. Hm. I don’t have friends, who might it be? I answered the door to a man in all black with a backpack on, holding what looked to me like a coil of wire. He immediately began speaking unrecognizable German and I responded with some broken English—he caught me off guard! He immediately code switched when he realized I was clueless to tell me that he came to “fix” the heater. Which heater? He came in and we finally figured out that he wanted to check out the water heater in the bathroom. He was there for a few minutes and used terms like “Oh yes, of course it is” and “See you next time” during the visit. I am humbled every single time. I understand in restaurants, have no problem in grocery stores, etc. when I am soliciting the services, but when they are soliciting me, I just panic! I can barely muster a simple sentence at that point. I’m just glad I wasn’t sweaty and working out (well, it would’ve been good if I weren’t being so lazy…) or taking a shower at that time. I got ready shortly after he left because I knew Ray would be home early to pick me up for lunch. I was ready a little early, had already shut down the computer and was bored… so naturally, given our upcoming trip, I got the suitcases out! We are hoping to check full bags this time and take as much as we can so our March move isn’t so crazy. I was roughly just throwing things into suitcases (small carry on: important, fragile items; largest suitcase: all clothes; medium suitcase: all miscellaneous items we’ll check). It’s quite the ordeal but I think it will make our official travel trip so much easier since this is a direct flight… but our flight in March is a connector. It’s just a load easier to check bags on a direct rather than worry about it not connecting and baggage getting lost. The more we can carry with us on this trip, the better. We arrived at work and hopped in the car with Lothar to have lunch at a “very authentic German restaurant.” It was pretty awesome. You can imagine that for veggies like me, there isn’t much to eat. But, they were very accommodating and fed me a large salad with pickled German vegetables, toasts, and salted & boiled potatoes. The restaurant also has no menu. They make a specific meal for the day and that is what you have for lunch. Today’s meal was beef gulash, chicken and egg soup, and green bean salad. It’s always a 3-course meal, too. That was probably our favorite German restaurant so far (aside from the brewery in Frankfurt that makes the amazing beer French onion soup). Back at work, Ray worked more with a few people on his presentation and I watched last night’s episode of the Bachelor. It was pretty uneventful, really. Next week looks a little more exciting. I also noticed that my converter that allows me to convert videos from .flv to .wmv for viewing is about to expire in “a few days”, whatever that means. I just hope it expires after Thursday so I can convert the American Idol episodes! I have downloaded so many of those converters, it’s crazy! After work, we headed to Netto for some groceries. I created a list of the dishes I plan to prepare until we leave so that I am not being wasteful purchasing foods that could spoil over the course of 2 weeks. While we were in the store, this Turkish family also walked in with their 3 children. These children were incredibly loud! I’m all about happy and excited children, but these we just unruly kids. The Germans in our circle tell us that it’s hard for them to adjust to living with an increasingly high Turkish immigration situation. The Turkish, according to the Germans, are not interested in conforming or blending into the German culture, but would rather keep their own culture. They are also much louder and less reserved than the quiet Germans, which doesn’t bode so well for them. I don’t have a problem with the Turks, because frankly, we’re also expats at the moment just trying to live in another country other than our native one. We try pretty hard to blend, but that isn’t always the case. We sometimes feel like since we don’t speak the language well, that we are an inconvenience, living in their country and being “ignorant” to the language. I see it all the time when friends of mine say, “speak English because you’re in America.” I have a problem with this—perhaps because I have been humbled by living in a country where I communicate with such a limited vocabulary. I also don’t mind the Turks because I feel like they brought their food with them to Germany. But, that’s selfish, of course. I just like variety—though I can’t say I’ve really had much Turkish food since we’ve been here. Anyhow, after Netto, we drove through the nice rain/snow to Kaufpark to finish up purchasing some items I couldn’t find at Netto. Did I mention it’s been snowing cats and dogs? It really hasn’t stopped snowing longer than a couple hours at a time since mid last week. It’s insane! We got home and Ray continued to work a bit (it’s hard when all of the U.S. is working when they shut the lights off at work here… he has to finish up at home in that case) while I prepared dinner—baked penne with veggies. It’s actually my spaghetti casserole recipe with penne instead of long noodles. After dinner, we sat down to complete some of our German homework. She assigned an incredible amount that we simply couldn’t finish. It was just too much and much of it was information we hadn’t learned. I suppose we can teach it to ourselves… but then I guess we don’t need a tutor. One packet of homework was helpful, but the rest was tedious and we didn’t feel like we would be learning—so we used our discretion and simply did what we could do that thought would be of most benefit. Two adults with Master’s degrees can be allowed such decisions. I also feel like there has been less teaching lately, and more homework. I realize we’ve had fewer lessons, but it seems like we are assigned homework just to spend the entire class going over homework—requiring no planning on her end. Being a teacher, it’s not my cup of tea. Anyhow, a few great moments of today: two more houses were put on the market in our desired area—though only one would be of somewhat interest. The other was too far north and fed into a school outside of our desired school district (that’s a deal breaker), and I received an email from a former parent (who I adore) that was really complimentary and encouraging in regards to getting back into teaching. Sometimes sending encouraging emails can really make someone’s day. We’re getting closer and closer to hopping on a plane to our new home!
Mittwoch 03.02.2010 (day 142)
Happy Birthday to my brother, Justin! The morning was pretty uneventful. I spent a good portion of the morning chipping ice with a butter knife from our walkway outside. Super fun stuff. Concurrently, I was lucky to have the tree above my head downpour with ice chunks periodically. Once that was over, I got ready for work and before I knew it, Ray was home for lunch. We had leftovers and headed back to work where I downloaded the American Idol episode from yesterday before our German lesson (late as usual) started around 1:15. The lesson itself was fine. I don’t feel like I’m learning anymore, but besides that, it was fine. We have all kind of checked out. I think we’ll still continue to learn, but in the classroom with our tutor, unlikely. After our lesson, we got back to work and I did more house research. Time is getting closer!!! We left for the evening around 5 and headed home. I prepared dinner and we called the House Hunters people at 7:00. They asked a series of questions about logistics and mentioned that they would have to come to Germany for the pre-taping of where we’re moving from! They sound interested, but it’s also a low-budget show and they’re concerned with the costs on their end. Flying a few people over and getting transportation 2 hours from the airport can cost some cash. We also were sent the application and guidelines for a video we’re required to make about ourselves, where we live, who we are, etc. We plan to make that video tomorrow after work so we can upload it on a better Internet connection on Friday. We can’t upload it from home because it requires more bandwidth than we’re able to provide with our limited “searching” Vodafone sticks. If we don’t upload from work, we’ll have to wait into next week to find an Internet connection when we get to Chicago—which is already limited at this point. We’re excited! Even if they don’t choose us, we are appreciating the distraction from thinking about houses nonstop. It’s a crazy idea, but it will absolutely create some lasting memories. It might be nice to have a tape of where we lived in Germany (taped by professionals), too. After the call, we watched the American Idol episode and another Glee episode. We’re down to 5 Glee episodes and we’ll have seen the entire season! The rest of the night went by quickly before we knew it… it was after midnight (like right now = bedtime).
Donnerstag 04.02.2010 (day 143)
So, my 10-year reunion is coming up. I’m not going. I have my reasons for not attending (cost, distance, inconvenience, I just moved from there…) but I still receive updates on the Internet about the event. I am excited to see photos, but I don’t think I’m too sad about staying in Chicago. It’s held in May (it won’t officially be 10 years at that point) and we’ll have just been in Chicago for 2 months, purchased a house, and I’ll be (hopefully) looking into interviews or jobs of some kind. It’s bad timing and I simply don’t want to waste the money or time flying there when I lived across the street from my high school all up until 6 months ago. I may go to my 20-year… but that’s far enough from now that I don’t need to worry. Ray won’t be attending his either, though he said that he would attend if he were in town that weekend. Today was a bit crazy. I spent the entire morning tidying the house up for our video this evening. Ray came home for lunch and we headed back to work. I had a headache for the greater part of the afternoon and Ray was frustrated over a number of things. As he put it, more things were being added to the list, but nothing was being accomplished in a quick manner. After work, we headed home and immediately got to work creating our House Hunters audition video. There were a series of questions we were asked to answer on camera and we also walked through the house describing things that we have now that we would prefer to be different in our future house, should we be chosen for the show. While I think we’re great candidates, a number of things could prevent the taping: cost of flying the crew to Germany, time schedule being too tight for them to come, and the location of our future home being too “often” chosen for that show. We’ll see. The video is fun and reflects our personality while still giving information about ourselves. Ray spent time editing the video down to 6 minutes 15 seconds while I made dinner. We did some laundry and finalized the video before watching the American Idol episode from last night (next week is Hollywood week on Idol!) and an episode of Glee. We’re down to 4 seasons of Glee before we complete the season! We had fun tonight and it was a great distracter from house hunting. A few more houses came on the market, only one of which I would even consider walking inside… though the kitchen seems like it has a lot to be desired…so doubtful. It is, however, in our absolutely perfect area and has great curb appeal. Tomorrow is Friday!
Freitag 05.02.2010 (day 144)
I thought I made it through the winter without being sick. Unfortunately, no. I have had a headache since Thursday and now I’m starting to feel the usual sick symptoms. My sinuses are giving me trouble. Luckily, we’re heading back to the U.S. in two days and if I need a doctor or more medicine (though we have plenty here in Germany), I can get what I need. I spent the majority of the morning on the couch. I took some 24-hour Sudafed and although I’m feeling a little drowsy, my other symptoms have subsided. Ray went to work this morning and uploaded the video and paperwork to send to House Hunters. We’ll see. I still think it’s a long shot, but it sure was fun trying either way! Ray came to pick me up at lunch and I had already eaten and his meal was waiting for him. But, they are planning to hire someone new and wanted to go out to lunch. So, we left and joined them for the meal. The meals were enormous! We’d been to this restaurant a few times before but this was the first time I’d see portions this grandiose. Back at work, things went along as they usually do. We ended up leaving just before 5 because the entire crew was already gone. They really take Fridays seriously around here. Haha! When home, we basically relaxed. I have a head cold and I’m just not feeling 100%. We had dinner, watched a couple episodes of Glee (only two left and the season’s over) and were all googly-eyed over houses on the Internet. I just can’t wait! But, now that the time is closer, I am considerably more critical. For example, the majority of houses are on ¼-½ acre, but there are a few under that amount. I want a yard. We want a family, so we need a yard. I’m pretty sure I’ll just want to mesh a bunch of houses together to make my perfect house. I also think that we’ll “know” when we walk into houses whether we’re comfortable in the neighborhood, on the street and inside the living space. We’re also getting excited that there are more houses coming on the market in our target area. We’ve beaten around this target area and are willing to live just outside of it, but we have a desire to be in that general location. Two in the last two days have appeared within the area. We’re thrilled to check them all out!
Samstag 06.02.2010 (day 145)
It was just a day of organizing, relaxing, laundry, and packing for us two. We slept in (per usual on weekends) and carried on packing suitcases and praying that the weight won’t cause an overage. If it is, we can either pitch items, displace them, or pay the overage. We’ll see. We have no scale here, so it’s based on the old, “yeah that feel lighter than 50 pounds” method. We had pancakes, eggs (well, Ray had those), and OJ for breakfast. I only mention this because it’s a very American breakfast. We have pancake mix from the U.S., eggs from the store here that we originally purchased to make brownies last week (and Ray ate every bite), and the OJ. Oh, the OJ. In all of this area and all of the stores we’ve been to in Germany, there is really only ONE kind of orange juice worth drinking. And frankly, it’s really good—just as good as American brands like Tropicana or Simply Orange. It is made for this one particular store, Netto, and you can find it nowhere else. It’s only sold in 1-liter containers, so we finish a bottle in 1 or 2 days. Needless to say, we don’t have it much…otherwise OJ would be an expensive commodity. I wish I had more to report about the day. We are trying to finish up food in our fridge and get everything in order here before we leave for two weeks! We also started making a spreadsheet of the “likes” and “concerns” of each house on our top list. Everyday the market changes so much and we have exactly 1 week until we are walking into these houses to get a real feel of what they’re like. We had English-muffin pizzas for dinner and watched the rest of the season on Glee. I still have a massive headache—of which I need to go take care of. Right. Now.
Sonntag 07.02.2010 (day 146)
It’s flying day! We spent the great part of our day on a Boeing 777. The bad news is we were in Economy. The good news is that it was a 2-5-2 plane and we were able to sit together without a stranger. Lothar sat in the center aisle on the end. We dropped our car off at work and hopped into Lothar’s car for our ride to Frankfurt. There was a lot of fog so Lothar drove quite slower (compared to other times). We dropped the car off at the Frankfurt building and took a taxi to the airport. We stood in a very slow line, checked in, and then went through security. Lothar went first and was searched. Ray went next and was also searched. They halted our line at that point. I wasn’t allowed through and slowly I watched a crowd of people surrounding Ray as if he were a criminal or terrorist. After running the suitcase through a bomb detector, stopping the line for about 5 minutes, walking me over to the special laptop scanner (where they rubbed the laptop with a piece of paper and ran it through a scanner to make sure there was no bomb), and finally searching our carry on, they realized what we had was this: I packed my wireless computer mouse and a few cords stuffed into a coffee mug. The only reason I hadn’t checked those items was because they are fragile and I didn’t want them broken. Apparently stuffing a mouse inside a coffee mug looks like a bomb. I am not complaining. I think it’s important and welcomed that they take precautions for our safety and I’m happy that they were persistent and checked on a suspicion. Of course, that means that my perfectly packed carry-on had to be re-packed. That took me awhile but I finally got it all figured out. We headed off, grabbed a few snacks to hold us over and boarded the plane. We waited for awhile because our flight was not complete. We had some late boarding passengers and then we finally took off. Overall, it was a decent ride aside from this one family with small children wailing just about the entire time. I understand they are children. But their parents didn’t seem to know how to handle them. I won’t say any more judgmental things… who knows. Someday that may be us with an unruly child. We watched a few movies: one about a roller derby and another about the biography of Le Bron James. We arrived at O’Hare in the 2 o’clock hour and called for the limo to pick us up. We ended up getting an 8-passenger long limo rather than our normal black car limo. We actually needed the space for all of our luggage. They dropped us off at Mike’s condo and we took Lothar to the Doubletree where he is staying. After, I had a suspicion that we didn’t have our camera bag. I remembered entering the limo with it in my hands, but I don’t remember exiting the limo with it. We stopped to check if it was at the condo and it wasn’t. Bummer. We called the limo and they told me the limo driver was at Midway but would be driving to Downer’s Grove a bit later. We punched the address to one of the houses on our list into the GPS and went to see it. We drove all around our desired area (I LOVE IT!) and saw a bunch of wonderful houses. From the curb appeal, we liked 8 of the 9 houses on the list. The one with the best interior just has lame curb appeal. I just don’t I can hate the way my house looks on the outside. Just because the inside is great, we’re also thinking curb appeal in case we want to re-sell in the future for a larger home, etc. Plus, I just don’t want to drive up to an ugly, cheap looking exterior. So, we think that the Johnson house is off the list. Our favorite from the outside is still the most expensive, but we love the land. Our second favorite is new on the market and the neighborhood is just amazing. So needless to say, we’re anxious. And excited. And we can’t believe that we’re here and a few days away from REALLY looking, for real. No more playing house. As we were driving by the last house, the limo driver called and said he was two minutes away from the condo! We were about 10 minutes away so he promised to wait for us. He handed over our bag and I gave him another tip. Ten bucks is well worth our camera and two cell phones plus all of the heartache. Ray and I are really good (really it’s bad, but we do the bad things well) about leaving items. Ray leaves things on subways, buses, planes… and I leave them in stores, limos… After picking up the camera, we headed to pick Lothar up and took him to a casual Fuddrucker’s dinner. He had never been there and usually only goes to fancy dinners while in Chicago. We knew that we were all tired, Ray and I really wanted some American food, and  Lothar needed to experience a real family restaurant like that place. It was delicious indeed! Cheddar cheese is something I have missed dearly. After dropping Lothar off at his hotel, we went back to the condo and watched some Super Bowl. We arrived just after halftime. As for the weather here, it was in the 20’s today (speaking in Fahrenheit). Although it’s no colder than it’s been in Europe this winter, I can just tell that it can get frigid here. The slight wind chill can make your bones numb. It may say it’s one thing, but feels a lot colder. We’re happy. The houses are amazing, the neighborhoods are fabulous, we are eating great food… and OH. One last thing about the day. There were signs posted everywhere as we went through customs…something like this: Cameras and phones is prohibited in this area. Really? They is prohibited? ARE. It’s ARE. When it’s plural, it’s ARE. I’m wondering why they printed SO MANY of them when the grammar was all wrong. Ah!
Montag 08.02.2010 (day 147)
We were wide awake at about 4:45 and forced ourselves to sleep until about 6:30. Oh, the fun we have trying to reacclimate to the U.S. time zones. Ray got ready for work and I got ready for life. He left and I tried to organize papers and unpack a few items that I needed and finally left the house just before 10. I headed straight to the tire shop to get our tire repaired. When we arrived in Chicago in late August, we got new tires. Two weeks later as we were packing to leave for Germany, we noticed a screw stuck in the dead center of one of the tires, just two weeks old. We didn’t have time to fix that issue so I was left to fix it now. It was a quick process and the tire shop was there to help me within 15 minutes. I went to a few stores after to pick up items before heading to the post office to send some items and pick up the mail we had at our P.O. box. We only had a bag of about 25 items waiting for us since the majority was being re-routed to the condo and on to work where they sent it to Germany. These were the items not allowed to re-route. I love Trader Joe’s. I went back again today and I fell in love all over again. Some of my items were gone, others looked altered, and there were also new items that I can’t wait to try! I went to Target to pick up some things like toothpaste (Ray was taking our tube with him for the next few days on a business trip and I would’ve been without…) and headed back home. At one point, I ran into Ray & Lothar as they came home to pick up a piece of luggage. At home, I organized like crazy. I opened all of our mail, threw away the garbage, made phonecalls regarding the mail, talked with my mom, and talked with Samantha on the phone. It was SO nice to talk with family on the real phone for as long as I wanted. We have something like 5,000 rollover minutes and about 350 expire monthly, so I have no worry using them up. Ray came home after 6 and we went over to get him a haircut before picking up some groceries at Dominick’s (it’s the Safeway/Vons here in Illinois—same exact store and deals). We headed back home, I watched the Bachelor (on East coast time = LIVE!), had dinner, did some laundry… Ray packed, and I continued to organize. We brought so much here and have so much paperwork to sort through since we’ve been gone for 5 months. As I write this, I’m watching the Tonight Show with Jay Leno (though he was replaced by Conan and is now again back) at 9:00 instead of 10:00. It’s super weird watching shows one hour early. Since we’re just one hour off of the east coast, they just air everything one hour earlier. If the tonight show comes on at 10 in Maryland, it comes on at 9 here. It’s good and bad all at the same time. I’m exhausted and I can’t wait to sleep! In Germany, it’s nearly 5:00 a.m. right now—almost 10 p.m. in Chicago. Exhausted! I have to get up and take the guys to the airport tomorrow and we’re expecting a foot of snow. I’m a little nervous about driving in the conditions, but the good news is that I have all the time in the world after I drop them off to slowly creep back home. I’ll be fine.
Dienstag 09.02.2010 (day 148)
Here I am all alone. I’m not complaining and I’m not sad—though I always miss Ray when he’s away for any longer than a day. The good news is, when he comes back, we’re house hunting the very next day! He’s been getting really excited and cannot seem to keep himself from thinking about houses all day either, so this may be good to occupy him. Business trips tend to do that, I think. I’ll admit, too, that I drove around and saw one of our top 3 houses again today. I LOVE the area of the house and can’t wait to call this area officially home! This morning, we woke up in the 6 o’clock hour again to snow. The news tells us that we’ll be getting a foot within 24 hours. We were worried about flight cancelations because Southwest and other airlines already canceled over 200 flights. Luckily, they were flying American into a zone that is without snow, Atlanta. Ray drove and picked up Lothar, then off to O’Hare. We got there in less than 30 minutes with no traffic. The snow was really light so we weren’t too worried. I dropped them off and set the GPS back home. I had no problem navigating and the highway was really easy! It took me less than 30 minutes back and since I was pretty comfortable in the snow at this point, I headed to the post office and paid way too much shipped some packages to California. After, I stopped by the bank to drop off some checks and headed back home around lunchtime. The rest of the day was relaxing as I’m still trying to adjust to this time change and weather. The weather is (honestly) very similar to what we’ve been dealing with for the past few months in Germany, so I’m somewhat comfortable with it. But, it doesn’t make me want to go out and do anything. Frankly, I have very little to actually “do” anyway. I have plenty of time to fulfill the small stuff. I did enough for a day’s work. On another note, I wrote Chipotle to thank them for being such a great place to eat (I have recently started praising companies so they know I love their products—because I don’t want them to stop products. It happens all the time!) and they sent me a coupon for a free burrito and guacamole! Thanks Chipotle! I also received an email from a friend asking if I would have any interest in teaching or team teaching a class online from April to June. I don’t know what it entails, if it’s something that will pan out or not… but either way, I’m interested. I love teaching. I talked with my mom on our billion overflow minutes, made soup for dinner, uploaded photos to the Internet, and watched American Idol. I love that show. It’s so fun to watch amazing talents just flourish. It’s half past eight and I’m exhausted. I’m almost comfortable with the time change. Almost.

Monday, February 1, 2010

What's with all the WHITE stuff?

Winter is welcoming us. We've been getting pounded with snow. I think this is God's way of preparing us for what is to come for the next stage in our lives. We got over a foot Friday night, and another .5 feet the next night... and it doesn't appear to be ending. We're expecting another 3/4 foot tonight.

Here is what we woke up to Saturday morning:
So, since the weather was reminding us that it's winter, we decided to head to a town about 75 km away called Winterberg. How fitting.
Just a small snow hill.
Ski jumps are so terrifying, aren't they?
We didn't ski this time. We have plans to ski in Switzerland at the end of February with our friends Andy & Jen.
I love the contrast of the bold reds in the serenity of a snowy landscape.
In Winterberg, there's a bobsled. So, naturally, we checked it out.
Veltins. It's a beer we own way too much of. We really need visitors. :)
Behind Ray you can see the bobsled track. Ray was just testing out how deep the snow was. Haha.
Here's the moon story:

Brandy: Wow, the moon looks really bright tonight!
Ray: It's funny you should say that. I read an article on the Internet earlier today talking about how the moon will be at its brightest tonight. I just didn't think it would be that noticeable.

Did you notice it?
When we got home on Saturday night, I came across these sunflower seeds. I bought them while we were in Spain at El Corto Ingles (only one of the best stores in the world!) and turned the package over to find out they were made in Kansas. How exotic! (I love to throw these on salads or in PB&J's to add a little extra protein, FYI.)
On Sunday, we set out for a walk around our neighborhood--which we rarely do because we're usually jet-setting on the weekends... and we noticed this: The gelato place has re-opened! They were closed for two months. I remember when they closed for the season. We've really been here that long! Since they've re-opened, I think it's on the required to-do list before we officially leave mid-March.
Here are some sights from our walk around the blocks in our neighborhood. Isn't it gorgeous? I think we sort of take for granted the beauty. I mean, we live in an authentic German neighborhood with adorable architecture and beautiful landscaping!
They have lots of little parks (this one is huge compared), but the equipment is usually very basic, and very sturdy-- thanks to the German engineering, of course. I have never been on a swingset this sturdy and well-built before. Anyone remember lifting the swingset base legs off the ground if you went too high? I do! Not in Germany though folks.
Aren't we fun? I mean, what twenty-somethings in Chicago wouldn't want to be our friends? Do you think I should place newspaper ads? Craigslist? "Two married people looking for friends. We like to travel, dance, drink wine, eat mexican food, and go to Target for date nights on Fridays." 
Spot the snowman!
Of course, you should first notice the landscape... then you should notice the obvious solar panel. The Germans are very green people. Did I mention we separate our trash into 4 different bins? I should photograph that... I'll post one soon.

...and for the family... here's the journaling I've been doing for the week:

Montag 25.01.2010 (day 133)

This morning was great. We got a good night’s rest and woke up feeling refreshed. I’m only still slightly bummed about the news we got yesterday—one of the 7 houses on our list of “great” interest has now been put under contract. Ugh. It was such a nice one, too. From the photos, stats, and Google satellite, it was probably in our top 3. Luckily, number 1 is still up for grabs. I just need to keep the advice others have given and not fall in love with anything. After all, I haven’t even stepped foot in any of these houses yet. Ray tried to ease the situation by saying that the house was on a street that was not only hard to pronounce, but to spell also. Haha. Nice try. Ray went into work and came to get me at lunch as we normally plan for. I checked some emails, did some laundry, and worked out. I wanted something new, so I wrote down a list of 14 workout moves and the counts that I would complete. The workout ended up being a solid 30 minutes and I enjoyed it. Since I am my hardest critic, I found that I would absolutely fulfill everything on my list because I enjoy crossing things off and completing things. I also found a great radio station that plays different music than MTV and the normal stations we listen to in the car. I also heard a station of American news—it didn’t sound like a military station (better quality) and it wasn’t in a British or foreign voice. It was definitely an American reporting the news. Interesting. We had leftovers for lunch and headed in to work at 1:00 because Ray had a meeting about the presentation they are preparing for the trip to Chicago in 2 weeks. I downloaded some episodes of Glee. Ray watched the pilot episode with me yesterday and actually enjoyed it. It’s not the plot. The plot is rather ridiculous and I don’t really care for it—but the singing is incredible. It’s as if you’re watching Broadway. As a matter of fact, some of the stars are former Broadway actors. The music choices are also great and usually remakes of modern songs. You can even buy them after the show on iTunes! This is one smart television producer. I also updated the blog with our Romania photos and caught up with the news that’s going on around the world. We left work just before 6 and headed to Netto for a few things. We made English muffin pizzas for dinner—yum! I am thankful that the Germans like English muffins (though they call them toast brotchen = little bread toasts) because the Wilsons sure love them! We watched another episode of Lie to Me and we’re almost fully caught up on our episodes. We have two more to watch and we’ll have seen every single episode in the 1.5 season run so for. It’s been picked up for another season—yay! Nothing much else!

Dienstag 26.01.2010 (day 134— we’ve been married for exactly 1.5 years!)
Time is crawling. I’m just getting anxious about purchasing a house. Since we’ve poured over the stats and photos dozens of times, I just want to go look at them and walk through them! I get email updates everyday and before I open each one, I silently squeeze in one last plead/prayer that it isn’t one of the houses we love the most. I need to trust that God has this all figured out for us. It’s just hard not getting excited. It’s an adult’s version of going to Disneyland. It seems like these 2.5 weeks will feel like a lifetime. Other than the idea of houses looming through my head constantly, the day was pretty ordinary. I woke up as Ray left and have little to show for my morning’s activities. I did manage to make Mac n’cheese & PBJ’s for lunch—so that was a fun treat. I’m nearly out of all the American food supplies our friends & family hooked us up with. I’m actually intentionally using it all now so that we can clear out the cupboards. We really don’t have much longer. At work, I had a chance to watch last night’s episode of The Bachelor. It was juicy! Unfortunately, I accidentally read a “leak” about who won. I just hope what I read isn’t true…though it seems plausible. Ray worked on the Hydraulics presentation all day and is continuing to work right now—late at night to get a good chunk complete. This is very much his “culmination capstone project”—to use university terms. It really touches on everything he has learned and picked up here. Being able to present a cohesive and meaningful call to action presentation will be great. Since that all happens so soon, he’s trying to perfect it. Having complete confidence in his brain, efficiency and work ethic, I have no concern whatever he puts together will be fantastic. We stopped off at Kaufpark after work around 6 to grab some veggies, granola bars, bread, jam, etc. You know, the staples. I joke that pretty soon we’re going to be living off PB&J’s since we have a lot of PB left. We planned to buy some chicken (for Ray), but the only chicken they had available at this (upscale) store looked speckled. I’m not thinking chicken should ever have black speckles. We passed. Dinner was once again, vegetarian. We ate one of the Indian packs my mom brought over for us. So amazing. I love love love that stuff! Trader Joe’s is my personal food heaven. The rest of the night was pretty quiet as Ray worked hard…

Mittwoch 27.01.2010 (day 135)
I’d say today was a great day. When Ray left this morning, I checked emails (I can’t help it. Some addictions are helpless) and various other webpages/social networking sites I frequent, had breakfast, and did another self-motivated workout for 30 minutes before showering and getting ready for my trip to the store. If there is one thing I adore about living in this small town in Europe, it’s the cutesy opportunities I have to walk about 1.5 block lengths to buy groceries. There is so much of a walking culture here we simply do not understand in many parts of America. Okay, so New Yorkers do. But this LA girl has never really understood this. I love the liberty of walking to grab just 5 or 6 items for a meal. That’s exactly what I did today. I walked to Lidl to purchase some staples: veggies, cheese, granola bars, etc. I came back and began working on our lunch: Asian—eggrolls (one thing Germany does well. Well, we have them in America, I just won’t allow myself to try them in fear I’ll love them and eat them all the time), fried rice, and veggies. I really just wanted to use the leftover veggies/rice I made from last night and added the eggs (for Ray) to make fried rice along with some teriyaki-ish sauce. After we filled up well, we headed to work where we both go to work. Well, all the work I actually did was download our American Idol episode for viewing this evening. But, Ray worked more on his presentation which is determined to be fabulous and I read. I read A LOT online. I consider it just another book. Since I love non-fiction and biographies (learning about people is fascinating!), so reading blogs online is right up my alley. I’ve been reading blogs for years now—since their conception. I have even written my own for graduate work, as a teacher, and now as a traveler/wife. I got back into this “habit” when we moved to Germany because I wanted to connect (even invisibly) with people who had similar situations of being expats in Germany. I found a good handful of people who keep blogs that live in Germany and are originally from the States. Most are here because of military placement, but a few are not. Well, the thing about blogs is… they’re addicting. One persons blog links to another person’s blog… and it never seems to end. There is a plethora of information that I just love diving into. I found this one blog today that actually had me fuming. Why it made me so upset, I don’t know. But, part of me was also fascinated by it. She is a devout Christian, homeschooler, mother. I am not against any of the 3 and I support 2 of 3… but the way she presented the material she addressed was just ridiculous to me. Of course… it was her blog and I was simply a guest. I did learn two things of value: how to cook bread in a crock pot using cans, and how to grow green onions in a flower pot. Anyway, I’m not sure why I read her blog in its entirety, but it was entertaining to say the least. I suppose someone could psychoanalyze my reasons for selecting to read something that I disagreed with… but I won’t go there. We left work around 6 again and headed home for tostadas. YUM. I just love tostadas and had just 4 lonely corn tortillas to use that have been sitting in the fridge for awhile. I am so frugal with the foods we brought from the U.S. In the States, I would never think twice about caring to cater to every item in the fridge. Here, I savor it all and make sure I am absolutely the opposite of wasteful. Speaking of wasteful—since we recycle EVERYTHING into 4 bins daily, I wonder how things will be back in Illinois. I’m just so used to this process and I think I’ll feel guilty not recycling so much. After dinner, we watched American Idol (always great) and completed our insane amount of homework. It wouldn’t be so insane except that we waited an entire week to complete it on the eve of its due date. Of course. As excruciating as it was (okay, I’m highly exaggerating), it took less than an hour to complete it all—4 pages of book work + 3 worksheets. We ended the night with the usual laptop couch surfing and hit the hay!

Donnerstag 28.01.2010 (day 136)
We got to work at 9:00 a.m. for our German lesson. We had plenty of time to set up our computers, check our email, and talk with Lothar before Sabine arrived. I also whipped up some hot chocolate and then we got started with our lesson. Today, we learned a bit of “dative” construction. In English, we don’t use this construction, so I simply cannot explain it. It actually went by quickly and lunch came before we knew it. I got an email from Alison telling me that she is probably coming to visit in October! Yeah… so October 9 months away… but that’s pretty awesome! I spent a good majority of the afternoon reviewing my online school district applications. Before my wonderful family gets excited for me, they must first know that posting your online portfolio is required to even be considered for any job in Illinois. I don’t have any jobs that I am up for, though I am hopeful for the future! I am not too concerned about it, even if that means having to work part time or waiting for the right opportunity. While sooner would be preferred, I’m thankful that circumstances have allowed Ray to work and support us. In due time! With all that said, I reviewed, revised, and updated the 6 online applications I have placed online for districts in general area of our new neighborhood. They range from 0 miles to about 15 miles away from where we hope to purchase a home. That’s what I spent the rest of my day doing—dreaming of houses. We have some top contenders and it’s so so so hard being patient as we wait for another two weeks (and two days… but who is counting?) just to see them on the inside. Within those 16 days, they could be purchased. But, I am trying to be still and calm about it all. Trying. After work, we headed home in a complete mess. It snowed heavily off-and-on the entire day. We drove home the long way (which never happens!) to avoid any accident concerns. The way we normally go home is steep and it’s doubtful that they salt and prep the roads. We entered the long street uphill and knew we were driving on snow covered ice. There was a layer underneath everything. We stopped on a hill and all of the cars were skidding everywhere. Trucks were completely pulled over being of the conditions. The bus system was halted and people were stranded. Thankfully, our ride home only took about 25-30 minutes when normally it would take 1/3 of the time. We aren’t complaining, however. We just hope that others were able to get home safely and out of the rough weather. The weather reports don’t show signs of relief soon, either. As for Chicago, it’s super cold there right now as well. The weather report said it is 7 degrees (that’s in Fahrenheit!) but it feels like -9. Gotta love that Chicago wind chill! Brrrr! I think owning a fireplace will come in handy! We watched an episode of American Idol and had pesto pasta with tomatoes and broccoli for dinner. Pretty good day!

Freitag 29.01.2010 (day 137)
We woke up this morning to about a half foot of snow. So much for Ray’s amazing shoveling job last night! It doesn’t feel that cold, but the snow is still coming down. I have a feeling this weekend will see similar patterns. It has been hanging just around freezing and providing us with rain-snow. It’s the kind of snow that melts immediately and makes you quite wet. I did a 30-minute workout this morning, laundry and prepared lunch before Ray arrived around noon. We had lunch and headed over to Netto to pick up a few items for a colleague. He is working tomorrow (Saturday) and Ray wanted to grab a couple items (chocolate chip cookies & Coke… so American) to leave on his desk for a surprise when he arrives to work tomorrow. Ray says he wants to thank and continue to motivate him for hard work. He is such a hard worker and it’s important that his efforts don’t go unnoticed. It’s rare that a German (or European) works on a weekend. We appreciate him. We headed to work and Ray got ready for his meeting with Lothar. They’ve been going over their presentation and tweaking things. Lothar really liked what Ray put together and he’s been in a great mood ever since their meeting! Happy husband = happy Brandy. I worked a bit on the blog adding a couple things… but I need to figure out why it takes so darn long to load! I am sure it’s not fun waiting for our family either. I’ll work it out. After work, we headed home and cracked open a beer for a little marriage happy hour. It was fun just sitting and catching up. We rarely just sit and talk for a decent amount of time without external stimulation of the TV, radio or computers. We’re both just super excited about house hunting that we’re finding it hard to focus! I have plenty of shows downloaded to distract us this weekend and all through next week. We sat down in front of CNN with dinner, watched the final episode of the season of Lie to Me (Ray’s favorite show—he announced tonight) and plugged away at our computers doing various things… and the weekend has begun!

Samstag 30.01.2010 (day 138)
Hooray for it being the final days of January! I think February is going to be a much bigger month for us and we can’t wait until the countdown to our house hunt is actually in the same month (of February!). We woke up this morning to about 2 feet of snow outside. I’d say it’s the most snow we’ve ever received within a period of time so far this season. I’m glad we don’t have to go to work today! We hung out on the couch for awhile and finally had lunch (totally skipped the whole breakfast thing this morning) around noon before shoveling snow for about 20 minutes. After digging the car out—oh, did I mention we traded in the BMW and now have an amazing souped-up Audi? Man, I love this car!—we hopped in and headed toward Winterberg. It’s a city about 75 kilometers away from Neuenrade that is known for winter sports, some skiing, and has a bobsled. We just wanted to check it out. We don’t have skis or even ski clothes so we had no intentions of actually partaking in these sports (this time). We started our drive but went the complete wrong way and had to turn back around. After that, we drove for what seemed like forever, aka 2 hours, and finally arrived in Winterberg. What a gorgeous drive, though. Snow covered everything. We drove through towns we’d never seen before and mostly through towns rather than on the autobahn. That’s why 74 kilometers took 2 hours, because towns have a maximum speed limit of 50. That means s-l-o-w! We arrived, parked, then walked up to where the bobsleds are. We walked about as tall as the chair lift was carrying the skiers (so kind of steep) and finally arrived half-frozen to watch a few people take the bobsled track on. It was pretty neat. We plan to eventually do this in Salt Lake City, whenever we actually go there for vacation. I am foreseeing a ski trip in our future. After, we drove around and checked out the town, climbed on some tall snow hills, and headed back out of town. Since they are one lane roads, the traffic was nice and slow out of Winterberg because it was starting to get dark as we were leaving, which also happens to be when everyone else was leaving! We stopped off to have dinner at a Chinese restaurant our new spiffy GPS found for us (Tom Tom, you’ve been replaced, beat it!). We were happy with everything, except for the scrambled egg all through my meal. Ugh. I just wish it was posted on the menu. Every once in awhile they throw a scrambled egg in my vegetarian meal just to throw me off course. Really, I appreciate their extra effort. I just don’t want it! I spent the majority of my mealtime picking out little pieces. We left the restaurant and headed home with a very bright moon shining in the sky. I mentioned that to Ray, and he told me it was so funny that I had mentioned it—because he read on the Internet earlier that this would be the brightest moon of the year. Ha! I hadn’t even read that and I definitely noticed. I thought it was just because we don’t spend much time driving at night one slow streets and I had time to notice and talk about it. At home, we baked some brownies (Yay for Ghirardelli box mixes in Germany!), folded some laundry, and carried on with our laptop-on-lap-sitting-on-the-couch routine. You’d think we weren’t newlyweds or something… but we really do spend time with one another! We actually spend most of our time comparing what cool things we pulled up on our computers. Dorky!

Sonntag 31.01.2010 (day 139)
We had a late start this morning since we stayed up until after 2 a.m. last night talking. Sometimes it’s just fun to sit and chat with my husband. This time here is Europe has given us that time to just spend with one another and we’re really grateful for the slow pace we’ve been living (though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want things to speed up soon!). I made pancakes for breakfast and we used jam to substitute for the syrup we don’t have. Around 2, we went for a walk around our neighborhood and I made sure to snap some shots of this gorgeous little town. It may be sleepy and there isn’t anything open on Sundays, but I did manage to get some gorgeous views that I’ll be posting to the blog to share with everyone. I realized that although we’ve been here for almost 5 whole months, I didn’t really have any photos of the city we live in. There are a couple of Christmas trees and our apartment, but not many of the other streets, houses, and landscape. I made sure to change that today. We also found this cute park (they have them everywhere… but they usually only consist of about 2 swings and maybe 2 other pieces of small equipment) and decided that we’d overcome the massive amounts of snow and go for a swing. It was a lot of fun. When we got back to our place, we watched one of the episodes of Glee I had on my computer and started dinner. I like my pot of chili to stew on the stove for a couple hours before digging in. The flavors are so much richer that way. In the meantime, we had this huge bag of onions just sitting on our counter… for the past couple weeks. In Germany, you can’t just buy one onion—like potatoes. Since they are so much of a staple in their diets and every recipe calls for them, you must buy a bag of onions. I think there were about 12 in our bag and it cost us about .50 (Euro cents). They’re dirt cheap, but I just hate being wasteful. While I made the chili, Ray got to work cutting onions for me so that they would be ready to throw into recipes. He was such a trooper and our eyes are still burning, hours later. Those things are potent! We had dinner around 6:30 and then watched another episode of Glee. It’s okay… I really just like the music. For dessert, I pulled out my French sorbet that I love so much. It is too hard to scoop right from the freezer, so I set it out to thaw a bit. Three days in a row I’ve had sorbet, and three days in a row I have forgotten it was on the counter and it melts. Three days in a row!