30 January 2012

Having a Baby in Germany, Part I

This is the first of a two part series on my experiences with child birth in a foreign country. I promise to not give too many details.

Having a baby, you would think is pretty much the same in every country. This was not my experience. First, I need you to see the most gorgeous little girl ever here. She was my third, and I wasn't exactly over the moon to be expecting again. Alas, I am completely in love now.

As far as OB care goes I was very happy. I chose the doctor that I had heard the most about. In Mannheim. In Heidelberg. Personal reference is best. I saw Dr. Lauk, whose office is only a stone's throw away from that water tower up there. (Be advised that his website is 90% correct English, but him and at least one of his staff speak impeccable English) You can also find him here, although I would caution you against reading this page's FAQs while pregnant. It may induce uncontrollable crying while at work. Interesting though.

Let me give you a bit of my history: 1st child born early b/c of preeclampsia, 2nd baby born late and almost 10 pounds. Not a good track record. Because of situation 1 I  had about 6-7 ultrasounds (and they still had the sex wrong). This, to me, was a lot! Baby 2 I had the normal American ultrasounds: one to confirm the pregnancy and one at 20 weeks to see things like the lungs and the heart chambers. This is about the most a 'normal' pregnancy would get in the US. He had a lot of breathing problems when he was born though.

In the spirit of honesty, I was very angry to find out I was pregnant this go around. I was alone and finally getting my career back on track too (infinitely more difficult than I ever imagined). Who would want to bring a child into an already bad situation? So, I was about 12 weeks when I went to see my doctor. I felt comfortable almost immediately . They did a urine test - for a whole lot more than a bladder infection - and the normal weight/blood pressure check. This actually surprised me - they put me in an office to meet him before the exam. Why was this strange? We went over my medical history then he did the normal well woman exam minus the breast exam (also strange). He gave me an abdominal ultrasound.

This is where it gets weird. He said he wanted to see me back in 3 weeks. I assumed this was b/c I tried to pretend that it wasn't happening and my mental state was just not good. The next time I was there the same thing: ultrasound and see you in 3 weeks. On my third visit I decided that I should inquire about this strangeness. He told me that anything less was just not enough. I thought this was great. I have an -un-American appreciation for conservative health care.

Fast forward to the fall: my stubborn child was breech. OMG, I was so scarred. I remember sitting in his office in mental overload. On that day I had also gotten some really bad news about my son's genetic vision loss. After everything that happened to me in 2011 I could not take anymore. I was terrified about this child having issues too. I desperately wanted something to go right for me.

Now, I had heard that German doctors do not deliver babies, midwives do. As you can see here that is not true for this guy.  To say that I was terrified of having another child with potential problems was an understatement. When he was trying to explain to me how the birth would happen I remember watching him, but not hearing him. I did make him promise that he would be there for me when it was time. He did this without any hesitation. I literally could not think, so it took a couple days for the barrage of questions to flood my mind. He had given me his handy number and told me to call if I needed to talk. I called and still only felt a fraction better. Being told on Friday that you would be birthing a breech baby on Monday is a LONG time to be inside your own head. However, I trusted my physician, and this made me feel good about a less than ideal situation.

23 January 2012

Fake It Till You Make It - Language Edition

Fake it till you make it. Good motto, no? Who needs to know anyway? This is what I tell myself about speaking German. I can understand like 65% of what I hear, but am terrified to make it come out. I must sound like a 5 year old. Reading is even more difficult, but definitely getting easier. :) I thought I'd share a few strategies I use in learning a foreign language:

1. Listen. German radio has a lot of talking and the news/traffic reports. I listen at the office and in the car (I can always switch to Drowning Pool when necessary). I've gotten very good at the traffic: Stau=bad traffic Stuttgart=Stau Got it? In 2010 I was working in the office that all incoming personnel, family members and local national workers had to go through to get base access. A few people assumed I could speak German - no way! I also got good at saying 'Right index finger, Left index finger. Sign here, there are three copies.'

2. Read. Yes, as much as possible. My choice is children's books. I want my kids to learn German too. Kids books are simple, and familiar. My favorite right now is Der Gruffalo. It's so much fun to read in either language. I find books very cheap at the library sales, the second hand stores and Flohmarkts (both the normal ones and ones for kids). Sometimes we trade with friends too. At the librar I've found books with German on one side and English on the other (Diary of a Wimpy Kid).

3. Magazines. Celebrity mags are great, but I always feel a little guilty buying them. These are good b/c the captions are just snippets, small bits of info at a time. I also like the little newspaper like mags for women. I forgot the name of the one in the US, you know it's like a buck or two and there is always a fad diet on the front. Yes, that one. There is a German version too. Not so much the diet part, but it has lots of recipes, fashion and feel good stories. I usually don't read everything, just what catches my eye (the same with English mags).

4. Bulletin Boards. Lots of stores and gathering place have boards that people can sell or post things they are looking for. Handwriting is still handwriting, but there are always print outs too. If I don't have time to figure everything out I will just snap a pic and look at home when I have more time. I've found flohmarkts, and classes for the kids this way.

5. German Textbooks. I bought about 3-4 language programs. None are great, but they give you a heads up. I prefer ones with a cd b/c pronunciation is hard! I also have a few vocabulary books. Rosetta Stone is available to AKO users - only service members and DOD employees. Mission Europe is fun too.

6. Forcing yourself in uncomfortable situations. Would you say something in an awkward silence. Absolutely! If I would say something in English, then I should say the same thing in German. I've been ignored and answered in English. Not so good for self confidence, but at least an attempt was made. I also love to shop for produce at farm stores. German, at least a little, is a must here. I have been know to mix English/French/German all together. I've even used sign language - this brought enormous amounts of laughter from my ex husband.

7. Dictionary. I have one, but prefer the free translator app. It's great while you're out, but is only useful for small blocks of text.

8. Language schools. I took a couple classes at the Viernheim VHS (Die Volkshochschule-night school) a few years ago. These are fabulous for the price, extremely reasonable. I think a 6 or 8 week class, 2 nights a week is about 60 Euro. I believe all or most cities have a VHS. There are more expensive and intensive schools: Goethe Institute, Berlitz, F + U Academy, Heidelberger Paedagogium. There are plenty others. If you want more info let me know.

I believe this is about all. What are you doing? To those of you that have mastered a second language what advise can you give to the rest of us?

21 January 2012

Das Ausberger Kasperle

Das Augsburger Kasperle is coming to Heidelberg! No, I have not seen the show. I  believe it to be a little puppet show. They check out their website for pics, but it didn't work well with my machine.

Tomorrow they will be in Schwetzingen at the Messplatz. Show times are 11 and 3pm. Then they are moving to the Heidelberg Messplatz from 23 - 29 January. Shows are at 3 pm everyday and 11 on Sunday.

Ticket pricing are a little in question. Their site says that kids day is 5 Euro and on family days adults pay child admission prices. Hopefully I can walk over there and find out for sure. If you go give us all a review!

Dining Out with the Mums

Tonight I had the chance to go out to dinner with a group of mom friends. I have just one question: How do German restaurants stay in business? In America you go in, eat, then leave and someone else will take your place. In Germany they love long leisurely meals with great conversation. This is wonderful unless you 1) have children or 2) have to get home to your children. Maybe going out to dinner is more of an occasion here than my typical 'I don't want to cook, meet you at restaurant X after work.'

I've had to ask for our food to be brought, and you always have to ask for the check. A few months ago I had gotten a rather large group of people together for a steak dinner. We sat there for like 4 hours. It was very enjoyable; we took up 2 of their tables. Our bill was a couple hundred Euros, but surely they need to sell more to sustain a business.

Tonight, there was 6 tables and one take out that I saw (we were the only party more than two). I was there from 7:45 to 11 pm. I was early for the reservation, so I walked around a bit. I passed Asian and Italian restaurants and a bar/restaurant in a very nice hotel. None of these establishments had patrons. On a Friday night. On the way back to the tram I walked the same route. You guessed it: only a handful of people at the Sushi bar. I don't think they had a deluge of customers while I was at the Indian place.

So, my question is: How do German restaurants stay in business???? If you know something that I don't please tell me! What is a dining out experience like where you live?

13 January 2012

2012 Pfenning Bazaar

*****UPDATE:  Mannheim Pfenning Bazaar will be at the Rosengarten on Feb 2-4. The hours will be Feb 2 10-1800, Feb 3 11-1800, and Feb 4 10-1400. Happy Shopping!*****


Every year the German American Women's Club sponsors the Pfenning (Penny) Bazaar. Its basically one huge yard sale. I mean huge. The club takes the donations to fund various projects. I know they do a lot with kids.

Before we go any further, I know that there is one in the Rosengarten in Mannheim (also across the street from the Water Tower). I can't seem to find any info on it though. Even though the bases in Mannheim are rapidly closing I believe that the club is intact and will have a sale. It was always mostly German women anyway. If you have any info on them please let me know.

The sale in Heidelberg will be Feb 23-25 (11-1800, 10-1800, 10-1400). The collection days will be Feb 18, 9-1500, and Feb 20 from 10-1400. This year they are taking donations of clothing, home textiles, linen, curtains, shoes, jewellery, toys, hats, scarves, gloves, belts, books, records, CDs, DVDs and Videos. They are NOT taking electric appliances, porcelain dishes, tableware, glass ware, vases, bathroom rugs, flatware and cutlery, plastic/wooden items, flower pots, winter sport clothing, pictures/paintings, home decoration items, quiltsbaskets, baby carriage/umbrella strollers, furniture, computers and monthly magazines.

Let's talk about the good stuff. If you like the weekend markets then you should like this one. There is so much stuff in one place it is almost overwhelming. The prices are reasonable; just remember it is a charitable organization. If you volunteer to go help sort everything out then they will let you shop before you leave. Big discounts too.  Be prepared to dig for your treasures.

If you go:
Internationale Gesamtschule (IGH), Baden-Badener Straße 14
Entrance: Erlenweg, 69126 Heidelberg Hasenleiser

This is the school that is used as the start hall of the annual Heidelberg Volksmarch. It is behind Nachrichten Kassern, where the American clinic is located.

Donations accepted:  Feb 18, 9-1500, and Feb 20 from 10-1400
Sale dates: Feb 23-25 (11-1800, 10-1800, 10-1400)

Let me know what you find!!

12 January 2012

German Health Care

Being affiliated with the American military means that my family receives our health care from the American clinic on base. Most of the time when you need a specialist you will see a German doctor. This can be intimidating if you don’t speak the language, but I feel comfortable with them. To paint a broad stroke German health care is a lot more conservative than American care. What does this mean?

In July 2010 my son fell at a playground. It was obvious he had a head injury. He was not put in an ambulance and taken to the nearest hospital; instead he was sent via helicopter with a doctor on board instead of first responders. This would have been great except it took them an hour and 45 minutes to finally get him there.

At the kinder klinik they told me he had a very bad concussion. He wasn’t even three, and I wasn’t sure if he was going to make it or not. He finally woke up a few hours later. I’m pretty sure that I was saying the Rosary the whole time. As a mother I do not want my children to hurt, ever. I assumed they would give him acetaminophen (Tylenol). They gave him NOTHING! The explanation was that they wanted to see his behavior without medicine. I appreciate their point of view, but nothing at all? Poor little guy!!

Other differences, that I have personally experienced, are that hospital stays are generally longer, the food is better, not all gynecologists give you something to cover with and, the biggest one, is that the doctors take their time at your appointment and listen to you. (This is just my experience! I am not a fan of Army health care.) I don’t know if that is necessarily a German thing, or that I just really liked my OB doc. He made me feel very comfortable and indulged my lists of questions. But, he did laugh when I asked what to do if they baby came at home. :)

My oldest son has a vision loss. We waited months to see the person we were told was the best in all of Germany for this sort of thing. It took hours and many, many tests to get a diagnosis. This doctor sat with me and explained what was happening and what would happen in the future. He answered my questions and continued with things I hadn’t even thought of. I appreciated that the time I had was mine and I was not rushed.

This is truly funny: twice I was asked where I was from and both doctors knew my city in Louisiana. Random.

One last thing, if a German doc tells you that they do not speak English well they probably speak better than most Americans. Only once have I been at an appt and the doc did not speak English. I am comfortable enough with German that it wasn’t a problem. All he wanted to talk about was New Orleans.

What have your experiences been like? Do you have any advice for the rest of us?

09 January 2012

Year End Financial Wrap Up

Do you make new year resolutions? Do you keep them? I don't make resolutions per se but I set goals for myself and constantly reevaluate them. I believe that you should set goals that are almost out of reach. Here is an example: While in high school/college I was a waitress at a Waffle House in an industrial area. When I was 19 I was in college, financing a car and living in my very own apartment. At the start of a midweek graveyard shift I told my very financially motivated boss that I was going to make enough money that night to pay my car insurance. When I told him it was $190 he laughed. That evening I worked hard and made about $100. Completely unheard of for a midweek shift. I was very proud of myself, and I have been making goals like this ever since.

My goals for 2011 were to get out of debt, start investing (took way to long!) and to save $50K in liquid savings. Completely unrealistic since I make around $31K at my primary job. The Hubster makes a few thousand more. (I'm catching up though.) This is a huge change in lifestyle because we almost lost out house in 2010. I will never let myself run out of savings again! Here is how I did:

Bills
I paid off my car in Nov 2010. I was amazing to get the title in January
Paid off the last $1500 in student loans
Paid credit card 1 off at about $1200
Paid credit card 2 off at $3200
Paid $1500 towards signature loan (not paying off early on purpose)
Repaid a government debit of $3000
Paid $1500 towards the funeral of a family member
Total Bills paid:$11900

Savings
Savings acct 1: $2200
CD: $1000
Savings acct 2: $5250
IRA 1: $7500
IRA 2: $4000
Savings acct 3: $9000
Total Savings: $28,950

Earnings
My income: $30, 577
His income: $35,000
Total Income:$65,577*We do get $1035 in rental income, but the mortgage is $1300/month. It doesn't feel like income. I wish we wouldn't have bought. Sigh.

So, $65,577 in income and $40,850 (bills paid + savings) not spent on junk we don't need. That would mean we used 62% of our income wisely. This is amazing! I am beyond proud of myself. It is so difficult to make this lifestyle change. Big difference. (Those numbers don't even seem real)

Goals for 2012:
Continue to work towards $50K in liquid savings
Continue to save for retirement at 35%
Buy a new car (that $9K is earmarked for this)
Fully fund the Roth IRA with supplemental income
Start a new investment account

I wouldn't be shocked if this doesn't happen. We are flying out two family members this summer, hopefully taking a Scandinavian vacation, going to Disney Paris, taking a trip to Pisa and Rome and we'll going skiing once in Garmisch and a couple times in the Black Forrest. We'll also do as much as possible in the Rhein-Neckar area too. Maybe my ideas are too lofty. Humm. How did you do on your goals?

08 January 2012

Its Pronounced How?

Recently I found out that I had been pronouncing a few words incorrectly. For YEARS! How is it  that no one bothered to correct me before now? Of all people it was the ticket taker for the boat ride in Luisenpark. It was 'erwachsene'. An adult. It should sound something like 'err vaxs e nay'.*

I knew this one though! As an American I would say Euro as 'Eur-O'. Right? Not so much. Germans pronounce the 'eu' as 'oy'. So Euro becomes 'Oy-ro'. Americans can stick out here like a sore thumb, so I try my best to have good pronunciation. The same way I try not to sound like I just walked out of the bayou.

I've know about the 'eu' thing for forever, so imagine my surprise when I learned that 'Feudenheim' does not sound like 'feud-enheim'. I still can't figure out how I've lived here for so many years and just can't even say the neighborhood name right. I have so much to learn.

06 January 2012

Real

I hate going to Walmart in the States. However, I did love it while they were here. They had better quality items than the original. Alas, the Walmarts here closed in 2006. I've heard rumors why but I'm not sure. There was one in the Vogelstange neighborhood of Mannheim. Now it is a Real (Re Al). Real is similar to the old Walmarts but not identical. There were Reals here and Walmart. All three of the old Walmarts (that I knew of) in this area are now Real stores.

In search of a birthday present for my favorite 1 year old we headed to Real. It is a normal Hypermarket.  Food on one side, shoes, bikes, toys clothes and house/office items. What do they say about not going to a grocery store hungry?

I was able to find a few things that other expat bloggers seem to have trouble with. Things like marshmallows, marshmallow fluff (what do people do with that stuff?), pop tarts, maple syrup.
Baby formula is cheaper here.
The 'American' shelf: mayo, mustard, spray cheese, BBQ sauce, hot sauce, beef jerky, powder mac in cheese (almost 3 Euros a box!!) and tomato soup. A good representation of America? I think not. Check out those prices!! Don't forget it is more expensive in Euro than Dollar!
You do know that Bisquick is really just flour, baking powder salt and shortening, right?

As much as I detest Walmart I really enjoy Real. It's so easy to go and pick up a few groceries and a pack of Legos for my kid.

Holiday In the Sun

One of the greatest joys of working for the government is that you don't always get to chose when you take your holiday. We're staring down at the end of February. I'm guessing it'll be either the Canary Islands or Northern Africa. So, to my European readers: Do you have any suggestions or tips for us? Thanks!!

03 January 2012

New Year's Traditions

In the Southern US on New Year's Day it is tradition to have cabbage and black eye peas. It is supposed to bring you money and good luck. Since I don't believe in superstitions or luck I cook it because it's just what we do. I think that you should make traditions your own and they should mean what you want them to mean to your family.

On the 1st I made a pork roast, rice and gravy and smothered cabbage. I skipped the beans, because lets face it, that is already a lot of food and my kids aren't going to eat it anyway. I will make them soon to have with the roast leftovers. 'Smothering' is a southern way of cooking slowly and with lots of onions. Warning: I kinda burnt the cabbage tonight. I usually get about 8 servings from a medium head of cabbage.

I started with a little bit pork belly. I cut it up and cooked it for a few minutes while I sliced the onion.

I used two onions. I threw them in and cooked for a bit while I was wrestling the cabbage. Slice it up, but too small, it will cook down a lot.  Once the cabbage is in just put the lid on and turn it down to a low medium heat.
Ready? Et Voila!
I would have cooked it down a lot more but I forgot to turn the heat down and the bottom burned. It should take about 45 minutes to one hour or until your happy with the crunch. Don't forget the Tony Chachere. Can I blame this on Mommy Brain? Tony's is a great all purpose seasoning that has cayenne as the base. I use this on all my meat, salad and fresh veg/fruit. (I do not use this exclusively like some people) Enjoy!!! If you try this let me know if you like it.

02 January 2012

Goodbye Normann

Today we are saying tschuss to Normann. We my will miss him, but I'm happy to get house back in order.

01 January 2012

Happy Neu Jahr!!!

Here is a huge AUF WIEDERSEHEN TO 2011!!!! I hope that 2012 brings blessings to you all, and something to go easy for me. Be safe!
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