Well, the time has finally come to toilet train our two year old (a newly turned 28 month old but who’s counting). I did my research, read the book “Potty Training in 3 Days” by Brandi Brucks, purchased 2 packs of underwear and gathered up the rewards (sticker charts, stickers, and M&Ms). Luckily we scored a Toilet Trainer Seat with Ladder from a friend because not all European toilets are the same shape and it didn’t fit on her toilet. We rolled up the living room rug and were ready for a 3 day staycation (not leaving the house for anything) as well as a 3 day electronic break (no phones or tv to really give the toilet training kiddo our full attention).
The original plan was to start on a Saturday but because Germans are following CDC guidelines like wearing masks and practicing social distancing some regulations have been relaxed. I was able to go to Dusseldorf for a ladies night out, dinner and a movie. It was delightful…but also not fair to Jeff who would be toilet training by himself the first night while also taking care of Christopher. Not that he couldn’t do it, it just wouldn’t be fair. So, we started on a Sunday so both parents could be home the whole first day. Additionally, we were babysitting another kiddo that day.
Day 1: The day began with Carson gathering all of her diapers and throwing them away. This way she knew that diapers were no longer an option. Initially she was interested in wearing “big girl underwear” and using the toilet but became frustrated with us constantly reminding her to tell us when she needed to use the toilet. Getting Carson to pause what she was doing and run to the toilet when she “felt the urge” took some time. We quickly went through 11 of the 12 pairs of Elsa & Minnie Mouse underwear. Around pair number 3, Carson would pee a little and say “WET”. We would run her to the toilet and she would finish. She definitely got the hang of getting to the toilet to pee by the end of the day. Number twos were a different story.
Day 2 &3: A complete blur…many successes, a few back slides and finally a number two on the toilet! I was starting to think it wouldn’t happen. According to the book, you don’t actually leave the house for 3 days but if things are going well, you are able to venture out for a little bit on day 4.
Day 4: We ventured out to the park, and for longer then the recommended 30 minutes. Needless to say, accidents happened. I only brought one extra pair of underwear so after she peed in the second pair she had to continue wearing them until we got home (not too long).
Day 5: We went back to the park. Carson told me she had to pee. After quickly ripping off her pants, she decided she didn’t want to pee in the park. She also didn’t want to put her pants back on.
Day 6-present day: No pee accidents! We try before we leave the house and again as soon as we come home. Even when we are out for long periods of time, Carson holds it in. She is also getting better with number twos. Only 2 number two accidents since Day 1. It seems like Carson picked it up pretty quickly. She has also been waking up dry from nap and night time. This afternoon I tempted the fates and let her take her nap in regular underwear, not the sleep underwear (pull-ups). No accidents! Fingers crossed her success story continues.
Back in September when we found out I was pregnant, we never would have guessed that we would be bringing a baby into this world during a global pandemic. We announced the soon-to-be arrival of baby Grimm #2 in cute ways and our biggest concern was that he arrived healthy, 10 fingers and 10 toes.
Except for the fact that I was extremely tired and taking care of a toddler, life continued as normal. I was still meeting friends daily at the gym, walking everywhere to run errands, and we were still traveling the world as a family. I was able to find a wonderful OB/GYN within walking distance from our house. There were some differences in prenatal care but for the most part, everything was the same.
It was important for Jeff and me to have a babymoon, like we did when pregnant with Carson. One last trip where we were a party of 3. We had originally planned to visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates but due to political turmoil (aka the US killing an Iranian general therefore creating instability in the region making Americans unwelcome) we decided to head to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. It was a wonderful week on holiday with tons of sun and pool time!
Then COVID-19 hit and spread like wildfire. Flights were grounded, borders were closed, and social life looked a lot different.
March 24, 2020 (email to friends): First, yes, we are doing well. Germany has some pretty strict rules in place such as “no more than 2 people can be together at any given time unless you are a family”. But much like Illinois all non-essential stores are closed and residents are being asked to stay in their homes as much as possible. Borders from Germany to most neighboring countries have been closed but that was mostly because countries with stricter rules were coming into Germany to panic buy supplies. Speaking of supplies, I never thought I’d be so happy to find things like flour, pasta, and toilet paper in the stores! Granted our grocery stores are about the size of a small Walgreens but I’ll take what I can get…when I can get it 🙂 For the past 2 weeks, Jeff has been the one to run the errands. The culture here is that you go to the store every day or every other day because living spaces are much smaller then what we are used to in the US. For example, our freezer is the size of a dorm room fridge…seriously.
The biggest challenge for us has been Jeff working from home. He is able to get his work done but Carson is so excited “dada” is home that she will call for him until he responds to her. Some of our friends from Australia were sent home from this project because Australia has closed its borders and no one knows when they will reopen again. When our friends landed, they had to sign a contract with the government saying that they would self-quarantine in one place for the full 2 weeks or face a $50,000 fine! Yikes!
Second, we have scheduled the C-Section of baby boy Grimm for Tuesday, April 7. My OB/GYN is calling Carson’s birth a traumatic birth so it has been fairly easy to schedule. It is preferable for women to have a natural birth here in Germany and they are hesitant to schedule a C-Section without a pre-existing condition such as a traumatic birth. Weird thing in Germany is that it is extremely rare for the doctors to practice in their own office and in the hospital like in the states. In other words, who I have been seeing for prenatal care is not the person who will deliver Baby Grimm at the hospital. I will have a completely different team, one that exclusively works at the hospital in deliveries. Additionally, since we have private insurance the head of the Labor & Delivery department will be the one to do the delivery. We’ve met her twice now and she is wonderful and speaks very good English.
In other news, I will also be helping with the birth*. After the incisions have been made, they drop the curtain and I will push from the top of my abdomen. I was already reassured that there would be no blood sighting and that its really cool. This is one of the only hospitals in the world to do C-Sections this way. They think it helps the mom bond with the baby because she get to help. We’ll see… However, due to the Coronavirus, there is a strict no visitor policy in place at the hospital. Jeff will be with me in the delivery room for Christopher Willis but once he leaves the hospital, he is only permitted in again when picking me up…after the mandated 5 day recovery. I think in all of this, that is what makes me the most nervous especially because while the doctors speak English, the nurses don’t. Guess I’ll be living through google translate.
April 18, 2020 (email to family): As many of you know, we welcomed Christopher Willis Grimm to the world on April 7, 2020 or as the Europeans write it 7/4/2020 (Carson was born on Grandpa Dieter’s birthday so for me, the European way of writing the date is our little nod to Grammy Dieter).
Thankfully the planned C-Section was/is much easier to recover from then the unplanned/emergency one with Carson. Christopher is 11 days old and I’m feeling much better this time around. Jeff, Carson, Christopher and I go on daily walks around the abandoned messe (convention center) near our house. We’ve even found a large, empty parking lot for Carson to run around. Being cooped up in the house is not great for a 2 year old with a ton of energy.
Giving birth in the time of Covid-19 and in Germany has definitely been interesting. Jeff was allowed into the delivery room for the C-Section but after about 3 hours in the recovery ward, he was kicked out and not allowed to visit. As you can see from one of the pictures, he and Carson visited but we could only wave from the windows. Additionally, I got to experience the very German way of eating and some extremely traditional German meals while in the hospital. For instance, breakfast and dinner are composed of the same things…2 pieces of bread, a pad of butter, 2 slices of deli meat & 2 slices of cheese. Lunch on the the other hand was usually some sort of gravy covered meat, a potato option, and white asparagus.
I was originally slated to stay in the hospital for 5 days but with the virus, they want healthy moms and babies to go home as soon as possible. Luckily for us, that meant only 3 days in the hospital. In other words, Christopher and I have been home for a week and our family is slowly adjusting to being a family of 4. Carson is asserting her dominance/control over food and only requesting chocolate bunnies for every meal (thanks a lot Easter Bunny). Other then the occasional meltdown and additional screen time, she seems to like having a baby brother…so far. She likes to identify his nose, eyes, & ears and thinks he’s “cute.”
Speaking of Carson, she just had her 2nd birthday. As you can see by the pictures, she loves everything Elsa/Frozen. To say she is obsessed is an understatement. At this point she has seen Frozen I & II so many times that she repeats lines and can sing many of the words to the songs. Since all non-essential stores are closed in Germany, I tried my hand at making her an Elsa Barbie cake. I still have a lot to learn but think its pretty good for a first attempt and all from scratch. She loved it and that’s all that mattered.
I’m sure there are a million more things I could share but lack of sleep is preventing me from remembering. We would love to hear from you. Please email, call, Facetime, set up a Zoom. We miss you all and miss sharing this experience with you.
July 18, 2020: The time of COVID-19 is not over yet but because of Germany’s strict policies regarding social gatherings and mandatory mask wearing, we have mostly resumed normal daily life. Everyone is required to wear masks in stores and public places where social distancing is not possible. Yes, there are a few who protest the mask but for the most part Germans understand that in wearing the mask they are doing the most they can for the community. It is much less a “me” society and more of a “we” society in regards to COVID.
*I was not able to help with the birth and “push” because as the doctor put it “he was hiding”. But, they did drop the curtain so Jeff and I were able to see him for the first time at the same time.
*This took place in early February, before social distancing.
Great news, I’m not the only pregnant lady in the friend group! One of Jeff’s coworkers is expecting in early March. Like in every culture, there are traditions around the arrival of babies and baby showers in Germany. For one, they don’t do baby showers.
The belief is that its bad luck to celebrate a baby who isn’t in the world yet. Instead of showering the mother or couple with gifts BEFORE the baby is born, they wait until AFTER. Then everyone, on their own terms, visit the new baby and parents at the house where the new mother serves her guests beverages and cake. Yes, you read that correctly…the NEW MOTHER serves beverages and cake to the guests, who come whenever they want! Um…no.
Luckily for us, she allowed us to throw her one classic “American Style” baby shower!
Since the couple decided not to share the baby’s gender, we decided on a Woodland Animal theme. We also decided against some of the traditional baby games (How big is mom’s belly, What’s in the Diaper? because one is degrading and makes the mom feel like cr@p and the other is just gross) and instead played Baby Jeopardy, Guess the Gummy Bears, and a Diaper Raffle.
One of the things I love about our expat family is that we are all in different walks of life and are all from different places. Some attendees to the shower are grandparents and have done this sort of thing numerous times while others are young professionals and this was their first time attending a baby shower. Needless to say, a good time was had by all. Baby Jeopardy was a huge success with categories including Baby Animals, Disney Movies, Baby Trivia, Things Found up a Toddler’s Nose, and Baby Babble. All teams were given a dry erase marker and board to provide their answers. I’m happy to report that the new parents team won!
Our gift to the soon-to-be new parents was a diaper cake & grooming kit. This was my first time making a diaper cake and it won’t be my last. It was fairly easy once I had all the supplies.
If you are anything like me, you look to each year as a fresh start. A way to fix or correct all of your bad habits from the previous year. Also, if you are anything like me, you have had the same new year’s resolutions since, well, I can’t remember….2015?🤷♀️ Its the end of January (now mid February) and I am just now jumping back on the blog. Clearly 2020 is off to a good start. 😉
This year I am writing down & sharing my goals, not resolutions, in hopes to keep them and build better habits. I’ve also created a calendar/daily tracker to help keep me motivated and on track. When an item has been completed, it gets crossed off! (Clearly this example hadn’t been used yet.) I have found that this system really works for me and keeps me accountable.
Up at 7am (or when alarm is set)
This is difficult for me. Carson naturally wakes up between 8 and 8:30 every morning. Pregnancy sleep (or non-sleep) and dark mornings make staying in bed seem extremely desirable. However, I am a morning person and once I am up, I am productive. If I wait until the end of the day, things don’t seem to happen. Jeff leaves for work around 7 so getting up at that time allows me to kiss him goodbye and have an hour of “me” time.
Exercise 30 min daily (gym or home)
Luckily for me, the gym has good coffee and free kinder care. Its also lucky for me that I have 2 good girlfriends that I meet up with almost every weekday at the gym for a little sweat session and a coffee chat. Jeff easily convinces me to join him at the gym on the weekends. Lately my gym workouts have consisted of a 35 min walk followed by a series of either arm or leg machines. It is much harder for me to get motivated to workout at home…but I’m trying.
Focus on blog (write & schedule, post weekly)
Obviously 2020 (aka January) was not off to a great start…as in, I didn’t blog once. I have some content scheduled but need to just focus and write it! Hopefully this post will be my turning point.
Read or listen to a book 30 min daily/Read 12 books this year
Not sure why it has taken so long but I have finally discovered Audible. Listening to a book has become part of my weekday morning routine. I listen when I make Carson’s breakfast and when we sit down to eat.
Between listening to and reading, I completed 5 books in January! (Educated, The Last Mrs. Parrish, The Silent Patient, Where the Crawdads Sing, & Little Fires Everywhere) February has been a little slower, as in I have only completed 2 books but I am working on my third (Such a Fun Age, The Overdue Life of Amy Byler and Before We Were Yours)
Its important to take time to realize and list the things in your life you are grateful for. Every morning during breakfast, I write down 5 things I am grateful for, big and small. In minimizing all the extra cr@p around my house, I keep one calendar/agenda that holds everything: calendar, to do list, meal planning, gratitude log, etc which is what you see here.
Not sure why it took so long but I just discovered the Calm App. It was originally downloaded when we returned from the US after Christmas and I needed a way to beat the awful jet lag (I had heard wonderful things about the bedtime stories). Within a week I had discovered the meditation part of the app and introduced it into my morning routine. I love the 10-15 minute meditation sessions! If you haven’t tried it…try it now!
Develop & stick to morning & night routine
Seriously, how did I make it into my 30s with never having a morning & night routine. I never made it a priority to wash my face, clean up toys/stuff, get dishes out of the sink…until now. Sticking to my routine and doing a few little things daily has made a huge impact on my happiness…especially when I wake up in the morning (to do my daily meditation). The house is picked up, dishes are in the dishwasher and clean, and I feel refreshed. I guess it just took my about 10+ more years then others in my age bracket.
Log food/eat more veggies
In the past few months, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say that I can eat whatever I want in whatever quantity because I am pregnant. If I do this too often, it will be impossible to get rid of the baby weight once baby 2 is born. Using Beachbody’s 21 Day Fix portioning, I have been consciously adding more fruits and veggies into my diet and less carbs (even through carbs are delicious, fast, and easy).
No phone/less screen time around Carson
This one has been exceptionally hard, especially since my US friends are up and on social media around the same time Carson is up from her midday nap.
Fingers crossed these healthy habits stick 🤞. Hopefully your 2020 resolutions and/or healthy habits stick too.
When Carson was little and experiencing food for the first time, she loved it all. She would try just about anything and it was wonderful. Now, in her toddler years, she has become a super picky eater. She has already determined what she likes or doesn’t like before she tries it, I guess not unsimilar to some adults. In searching for a potluck friendly dish, I came across this Chicken Pot Pie Casserole recipe from the No Biggie food blog. Carson absolutely loves it and usually asks for “more”. Needless to say, this dish has become a staple in our household.
Below is the recipe, including my modifications because, well, Germany.
1 can Pilsburry Grands Biscuits 8 biscuits (can’t find 8 so I use the can of 6)
2 tablespoons butter
1 small package frozen veggie mix: carrots, peas, corn, & green beans (I use a large package and add mushrooms)
2 chicken breasts cooked and shredded (I cube the chicken before cooking and break it apart in the cooking process)
1-2 cups chicken broth: adapt to your preference (this is non-existent in Germany, I create my own broth/cream mixture using chicken bullion)
1 can Cream of Chicken Soup (again, non-existent in Germany…see above)
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 200 F (about 200 C)
In a large sauce pan, cook the cubed chicken. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove cooked chicken and set aside.
Step added/adjusted to make chicken broth/cream sauce: In a small sauce pan on medium heat, add 8 oz cream, 4 oz of milk, chicken bullion (adjust to your liking), and a little bit of flour (about 1/4 cup). Whisk until all ingredients have combined. When concoction is bubbly, adjust heat to simmer and allow to thicken. Whisk in the chicken broth and the Cream of Chicken Soup. Let the sauce simmer for 1 minute to thicken. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. If following the extra “German” step, don’t add any salt as the chicken bullion is salty enough.
In the same large sauce pan heat the butter on medium heat (use the fond for extra flavor). Add the frozen veggie mix (and mushrooms) to the pan. Saute until the veggies are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste (we add Tony Chachare’s Creole Seasoning and pepper for a little spice).
Turn off heat and add the cooked chicken and cream sauce to the veggie mixture, stirring until the mixture is well combined.
On a parchment lined baking sheet, bake the biscuits for half of the time listed on the can (about 7 minutes) for a “pre-bake”. Take them out of the oven.
Pour the filling into a 9×9-inch baking dish. Top the filling with the biscuits (partially baked), flip them over top to bottom to ensure even baking on the other side. (I break the partially baked biscuits in half, place the baked side down into the mixture and leave the middle exposed on top.) Bake for an additional 10 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Coot for 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
One of my dear friends in Germany is the ultimate stay-at-home mom role model. She is always coming up with amazing Montessori activities, making play-doh and baking healthy snacks for her kiddo. After hearing about her amazing momming moments, I am forced to try them at home for Carson. Forced is a strong word. It’s more like, she had and executed a great idea and I should probably do the same because it’s a perfect enrichment activity for Carson as she isn’t in a kindergarten (preschool) yet.
One day, her little one was carrying around homemade animal crackers…let me say this once more for the people in the back, HOMEMADE ANIMAL CRACKERS! I thought to myself, I can do that. And I did! I used Pinterest and found an animal cracker recipe from A Modern Homestead. They turned out wonderfully. I have since made this recipe 3 more times because not only does Carson eat the crackers but so do her parents 😊. Below is the recipe.
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/3 cup butter at room temperature
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 F (or 170 C). Line baking sheets with parchment paper. My German oven only holds 1-9×13″ baking sheet so I prepare 3 parchment sheets.
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon. The original recipe calls for an electric mixer but I do it all by hand as my American electronics don’t work in Germany and I don’t see the need to purchase something I’m only going to use sporadically for another year.
Next add in butter, brown sugar, sugar, vanilla, honey and milk. If you are using an electric mixer as suggested, hold off on the milk until your dough looks like small peas. Then add the milk and process until your mixture forms a ball. Again, I stir it all by hand so it’s easiest for me to add the milk with the other ingredients.
Divide the dough into two balls. Dump one of the balls onto a well floured surface.
Roll the dough as thin as you can 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick.
Use your mini animal cookie cutters to cut shapes. Place shapes on lined baking sheets until a tray is filled. For the first batch, I used a variety of mini cookie cutters. For the last few batches, I have stuck with a heart. I can quickly stamp the heart shape and can get quite a few of them on each tray (extremely helpful as I only have the 1-9×13″ baking sheet that fits into my oven at a time).
Bake for 9 to 13 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to completely cool and store in an airtight container. I have found that if left in for 9 minutes, the cookies have a soft texture. If left in for 13 minutes, they are quite crunchy. My family likes the crunchy version so 13 minutes is our wait time.
Repeat with the remaining dough until all the dough has been used. This can take quite awhile if you are not utilizing the surface of your dough to its maximum advantage (see: heart shape).
As mentioned earlier, I lay out 3 pieces of parchment paper to line the 1-9×13″ baking sheet that fits in my oven. When my production is in full swing 1 sheet has cookies cooling, 1 sheet is in the oven with cookies baking, and 1 sheet is getting lined with raw cookie dough. Its a system that works for me and keeps things moving along in my small European kitchen.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you the story of Cinderella. However, here’s a quick recap…scullery maid who is treated like garbage by her stepmother meets, falls in love with, and immediately marries Prince Charming. The 1950s Disney movie ends with Cinderella and Charming riding away in a horse-drawn carriage with the storybook closing and the last page reads “…and they lived happily ever after.” For the sake of this post, I am going to ignore the fact that Cinderella ran around town in a pair of high-heeled glass slippers and had very little to actually pack then move into the castle.
Well, my story is nothing like that of Cinderella’s. The only parallel is that I too met, fell in love with, and married my own version of Prince Charming. He is smart, handsome, funny, and above all else an amazing father and provider. So, when this amazing man got the opportunity to work in Germany, we packed up our things and moved! Unfortunately, unlike Cinderella…we came with a ton of cr@p, er, stuff and I definitely didn’t run around in glass slippers.
All of our belongings were packed up on October 3, 2018. Lots of movers arrived at our condo in Chicago and packed everything…literally everything (yep, including the almost empty bottles of shampoo and wet outdoor rug). I was specifically instructed to create two piles for packing. One, the smaller one, would be everything we needed for daily life, also known as “Air Shipment.” The second, the larger one, is everything else, also known as “Sea Shipment.” The air shipment was to take one to two weeks to make it to Germany while the sea shipment was to take six to eight weeks. For us, those instructions meant pack everything the baby needed in the air shipment and everything else in the sea shipment. Knowing we would be moving into a fully furnished apartment and that none of our appliances would work meant that we also needed a third packing option, also known as the “Moving to My Mom’s” shipment. (Sorry mom, it was a lot of stuff…and thank you).
Jump forward a few weeks…we moved out of the hotel and into our German apartment on the European 2nd floor, the American 3rd floor (aka 43 stairs). We also had our meeting with the city to get our resident cards. While we didn’t walk out of the immigration office with resident cards in hand, we did walk out with a paper stating that our resident cards were coming. Our official cards would be coming through Deutsche Post in a few weeks. Everything was going well, right? Wrong! Let me be clear, the rest of the world thinks Germany is very efficient. They are not. Even with the paper promising our resident cards, NO ONE could move the rest of the process along. Everything we needed was at a standstill because we didn’t have the official plastic card. Ugh!
Things that can happen after receiving the physical residency card:
air shipment can be processed and arrive
sea shipment can be processed and arrive
the process of leasing or buying a car can begin
Yeah, you read that correctly. The air shipment, remember…one to two weeks until arrival from the packing date, couldn’t be processed or sent until we had the official plastic resident card. So, everything we needed for baby didn’t leave the US until early November. However, the sea shipment was already on its way. Let’s just say we made many trips to IKEA to purchase things like a play mat and high chair so I could safely set Carson down every once in awhile.
Fast forward, again, to November 26th, the week of Thanksgiving. We got word that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING had arrived in Germany. All items had been processed and would be delivered bright and early Monday morning (if you are counting, that was eight weeks without our things). It was also the week that we were heading to Paris to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, see previous post. To say I was stressed doesn’t even begin to cover the wave of emotions I felt.
Monday morning arrived and so did the truck, all of our things, and about 5 German men to unpack everything with only one speaking a little English. 4 of the 5 moving men worked tirelessly to carry up and unpack our boxes. The other one requested a fresh pot of coffee for himself while he watched the others work. (I never did get the coffee mug back…) The men had a system in place for unpacking the boxes…carry the box upstairs, unpack the box onto any available surface, remove the box. Unfortunately for us, they brought up the empty furniture, like the dressers AFTER they had unpacked everything onto all available surfaces. Again with the efficiency thing, not sure why they wouldn’t just bring the furniture up first, then unpack the boxes into the empty furniture…but then again what do I know? I don’t own, run or work for a moving company. The absolute last thing the moving men unpacked was the air shipment…you know, the one with all the baby items that was supposed to have arrived within 1-2 weeks of us moving to Germany. Two days later, we headed to Paris only to return to the mess a week later.
After we returned from Paris it took about 2 weeks to get all of the items sorted and put away. Some items that were packed we no longer needed and we had to find storage for them. It took another couple of months for me to organize, rearrange, and toss items for our apartment to start feeling like a home.
We have lived in Germany for over a year now. All of our things were delivered and unpacked a year ago and I am still salty about the whole thing. Needless to say, I now know what NOT to do when we move back to the states or should we make another international move.
Before leaving Chicago, Jeff and I had quite the social circle. We loved spending time with our friends who, to be honest, became family. We knew that in moving to Germany our social group would change and possibly be nonexistent. I’ll just say that Lady Luck dealt us a pretty great expat hand.
Our expat community is large and includes members from Australia, the UK, Scotland, Spain, France, Germany and of course the US. We spend a great deal of time together but about once a week the ladies break away for Ladies Night (Montag oder Mittwoch fur Mädchens, Dienstag oder Donnerstag fur Damens, Freitag fur Frauen…you get the picture). Usually it’s a nice dinner with good wine, thoughtful conversation and belly laughs. Sometimes it takes us on an adventure or a weekend away (more on that in another blog post). Every time we are together I think to myself, these girls get me. We’ve all chosen or been thrown into the expat life and are surviving with grace.
I want to take a blog post to recognize these wonderful women, friends. Expat life comes with its challenges. These women are strong individuals and believe in celebrating each other rather than bringing each other down. They are trustworthy and honest, compassionate and non-judgmental, extremely supportive in good and bad times, humorous and are overall enjoyable to be around. We don’t need specific reasons to meet but occasionally it’s to celebrate a birthday or enjoy one last night together before an unfortunate departure.
As a stay at home mom, I live for these nights out. Please don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter with 100% of my being but I do love my nights away where I get to be “me” again. What some fail to realize is that stay-at-home moms don’t get to leave work or have weekends off. In fact, sometimes our “boss” can be a real pain, especially when tired, hungry, or well, it’s a Tuesday. My boss comes with me everywhere! And, not sure how your vacations are but mine are always work trips where my boss flails her little body around in a 2″ x 2″ space on the airplane.
Our ladies nights usually take place in restaurants around Essen. Essen is the town where the majority of us live. Coincidentally, essen also means food or to eat in German. However, as mentioned earlier, sometimes our ladies nights turn adventurous. Duisburg is a little town about 20 min from where we live. It is the home of an unusual attraction called “Tiger and Turtle”. This walk-in roller coaster like attraction was opened in 2011 and built atop a former dump. A climb to the top, promises beautiful views of Duisburg and the Rhine River on clear days. And the answer to your obvious question is no. No, you cannot climb upside down on the loop…but wouldn’t it be cool if you could?
Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities. Forget about your worries and your strife. I mean the bare necessities, old Mother Nature’s recipes that brings the bare necessities of life.
Have you ever heard of the peach and the coconut? Yeah, me neither…until the cultural training we had a week ago.
It is said that Americans are like peaches, soft. Americans tend to be extremely friendly, smile at strangers, offer personal anecdotes and are very helpful. Americans ask how you are doing and expect small talk in return. Americans say things like “we should grab coffee sometime.” But, just like the peach, American’s have a hard inner pit. They are extremely private and do what they can to protect themselves. So, while they say things like “we should grab coffee sometime,” it probably won’t happen.
It is said that Germans are like coconuts, hard. Germans do not appear to be friendly, do not smile at strangers and will not start a conversation with a stranger. It may take a few cracks, but with time the hard exterior eventually breaks and Germans become friendly and loyal friends. When Germans say “we should grab coffee sometime,” they will set the time and date. If you ask a German how they are doing, expect a lengthy answer on how they are actually doing, good or bad.
Upon first moving to Germany, I had an experience in which roles were reversed. I was the coconut moving through unfamiliar places with my hard outer shell. During a trip to the grocery store, I tried to get out of a vinegar tasting by saying I only spoke English. Unfortunately for me, the sales girl also spoke English. When she wasn’t completely sure about an English translation, she would ask the another woman who was also experiencing the vinegar tasting. The other woman was a bit older, in a wheelchair and knew the English translations right away. After the tasting, I went about my business and continued through the grocery store.
About 20 minutes later, I run into the other woman in one of the aisles. She proceeds to introduce herself, Barbara, and ask questions. Were we visiting? How long have we been in Germany? Would we be interested in having dinner at her house? Yes, you read that last question correctly. I was a little taken aback at this peach like behavior but said yes anyway. We exchanged phone numbers and went our separate ways. Before I had returned home, Barbara had already texted to set up a time and date…very German.
When Jeff got home from work, I told him all about my day…and how we would be going to a German couples house for dinner that Sunday. He, like you, had many questions about the whole situation. Where did I meet this woman? How did dinner become part of the conversation? Would we get murdered if we went? (Well, the last question may be a little extreme.) I finally convinced him it would either be a great time or a great story to tell later.
Barbara and her husband Dieter* were wonderful hosts. Barbara loves to cook and just wanted people/friends to cook for. She said that most of her recipes are for four to six people, so when she cooks, she ends up having too much food leftover. Barbara had prepared a four course meal and it was clear she spent a ton of time preparing for this dinner.
Their German apartment was completely decorated with an autumn theme; leaf plates, napkins, serving platters, etc. There were garlands of leaves hanging from the bookshelves and around the windows. Barbara, as we found out later, loves to decorate for the changing seasons and various holidays. She also loves collecting dinnerware and serving sets from the states.
Back to the four course meal…the first course was roasted pumpkin soup with crostini and pumpkin seeds on the side. The second course was salad with baby field greens, apples, cranberries, walnuts, and a balsamic vinegar dressing just like the vinegar we had tasted at the grocery store. The third course, the main course, was a millet salad with cranberries and pistachios and a veal and potato tagine dish with roasted vegetables. The fourth course consisted of a variety of fruit marinated in orange liqueur. Start to finish, our meal was spectacular! The conversation never stopped and was extremely rich with information, travel stories, a minor German history lesson and a lot of getting to know each other. Four and a half hours later and a diaper change in the middle of their living room, we were on our way home, talking about how wonderful the experience was and how we were glad we stepped out of our comfort zone to share in a dinner with Barbara and Dieter. (I’ve added links to recipes that are similar to what Barbara made).
*Side note: My middle name is/was Dieter. In my world, Dieter was my mother’s maiden name. While I knew that Dieter was a first name, usually assigned to boys, I have never met a Dieter…until now. Dieter, Barbara’s Dieter, thought it was hilarious that my middle name is/was Dieter. He explained that in Germany, boys were named traditional boy names and girls were named traditional girl names. Carson threw him off a bit because it is traditionally a boys name. He said that it has always been a bit shocking to him that American’s can name their babies whatever they want.
**I wish I had known Barbara and Dieter well enough at the time to take pictures. The dinner really was absolutely spectacular and should have been captured!
Yesterday was the first time I experienced a real sense of culture shock.
It doesn’t help that Carson has a cold and therefore is extremely grumpy, irritable and not sleeping well. It also doesn’t help that Jeff and I finally got our “Cultural Training” about how to live in Germany. During the training we were told that culture shock is like a roller coaster with highs and lows. Yesterday was definitely my low.
One of the things on my “To Do” List was to find a pediatrician for Carson. I was provided with the name, phone number and location of an English speaking pediatrician by two of our cultural specialists. Luckily for us, the doctor was less than a five minute walk away. As I wasn’t able to dial the German phone number (yes, I have since figured it out. Apparently one needs to drop a zero in the area code after dialing the country code.), we paid the good doctor a visit.
Talk about a failure! After waiting for half an hour, the receptionist didn’t speak any English*. Thankfully a mother of one of the patients waiting did. She helped translate. I was told that this particular pediatrician was not seeing new patients. When asked if there were any other English speaking pediatricians in the area, the receptionist just shrugged her shoulders. While I stayed composed, this wonderful mother, the same one who had helped me before, saw that I was upset and was able to provide me with the name, phone number and address of another English speaking pediatrician.
Defeated, Carson and I went home. After Instagram messaging with a friend from home, I got the courage to call the newly recommended pediatrician. Again, the receptionist didn’t speak English* but she tried. Success! Not only was this pediatrician taking new patients but I was able to set up Carson’s one year check up (the U6 as it’s known in Germany).
Most days are great. They are, for the most part, easy. Yesterday was not. I need to remind myself that while this has been an amazingly wonderful, once in a lifetime experience so far, I’ll have rough days too.
*Side note-I know I reside in Germany and German/Deutsch is the language spoken. With that being said, many people speak English. If they don’t speak English perfectly they say they only speak a little but in reality, they are mostly fluent and can carry a conversation. My German language instructor has told me that anyone under the age of 35 has probably had five or more years of English in school.