Monday, January 31, 2011

Death of a Power Converter

Tragedy struck our household last week. My 750-watt step-down transformer, absolutely central to my life as a Hausfrau, gave up the ghost. It has powered my coffee maker, my mixer, my blender, my vacuum. Clearly, I cannot go on without coffee, baked goods and clean floors.

What is it, you ask? I had never even considered such a device until we planned our move to Europe. We came here with all our household belongings, including appliances that were designed for 110 volts of power, what comes out of the walls in American homes. Here, however, the wall provides 220 volts! All that power would just fry anything that we plugged in. It turns out that it's not as simple as getting a plug that fits the big round shape of the outlets. We had to buy a device to decrease the voltage to 110. But it's not only about voltage; there's also wattage to consider. Bottom line- appliances that mix, heat up or suck dust draw a lot of watts and a converter has a limit to how much it can handle. That means of course, that it's hard to find one that will meet the requirements of our appliances. We've only ever found them from U.S. companies. So, here we are just months from the end of our European experience- close enough that it seems like a waste to buy a new one and have it shipped overseas, far enough that I can't really get away with not vacuuming again.

Aaron and I had numerous discussions about the replacement of the the power converter and ultimately decided to buy another one. And that was the big happening of the week. Isn't it strange the things that can occupy so much of our time and energy? Things that are so essential to day-to-day life but really so mundane and trivial. I suppose that's just part of the business of living.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Life without a passport

When you don't have a passport, you can't leave the country. This is hardly a newsflash and hardly matters to any of you. But when you are living in a foreign country, being without your passport is a distinctly uncomfortable feeling. A week and a half ago, I sent off my passport to the U.S. Embassy. It's still valid for another five years but I ran out of pages. The government was happy to tape in about 20 additional pages for just $84, and was anxious to get it taken care of since I have no immediate travel plans.

Nevertheless, I experienced a moment of panic as I handed the envelope over at the post office and began thinking of all the scenarios that would require me to immediately travel back to the U.S. I even imagined situations that might require me to spontaneously present my passport to the authorities. Which authorities? I couldn't really say. Aside from my annual trip to renew my residency permit, I have never been stopped or asked to show my passport by any authority anywhere in Europe. BUT, it could happen. Then Aaron had an unexpected day off work, giving us a 3-day weekend. I thought it would have been great to go to Amsterdam or Copenhagen but remembered that I probably shouldn't go traipsing about without any identification. I don't actually know what the rules are about this but it does seem unwise to cross international borders, even in these days of the open borders of the EU. We stayed home quite contentedly and I probably only felt like going somewhere because I couldn't.

Happily, the taping in of new pages only required my passport to go to Berlin and not all the way to the U.S., as passport renewals have to do. I was relieved when the doorbell rang and the postman handed me my self-addressed stamped envelope with my newly amended passport inside. I still have no plans to travel, but there is something comforting and freeing in knowing that I can!

Friday, January 14, 2011

God bless Deutsche Post!

I haven't sent a lot of mail since moving to Germany, which has been sad because I have more time to write letters and remember everyone's birthdays. Maybe I'm stingy but paying 1.70 Euro (about $2.20) to mail a card seemed exorbitant to me. But however outrageous the price, sometimes I just need to get something to the U.S. So, I went to the post office last week with a stack of things to mail and the total price already calculated in my head. The woman at the counter said there were new prices this year and I thought, "Great- even more money!" So when the total was 2.50 Euro LESS than I expected I thought she must have made a mistake (a highly unlikely scenario). I paid, asked for a price list and got out of there before someone figured out that I'd paid too little. Sure enough, DP streamlined their rates with the result that mail going out of Europe is now cheaper than it was two weeks ago. Sending a normal sized card or letter now costs just 0.75 Euro, a 0.95 Euro savings! Wow! The news just made my day! It's just the little things in life, isn't it?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Slow down!

Whoa! Time is moving too quickly for me. I've barely had time to reflect on the experiences I've just had before new ones come along. I didn't even finish writing about the trip to Italy and now the holidays, along with our visit to the States, has come and gone and we're already into the second week of a new year! It seems impossible to summarize so where do I pick up?

2010 was undoubtedly a banner year. It will be hard to top in terms of new experiences and new places. As Ol' Blue Eyes sang, "It was a very good year," and ended with the best of all- celebrating Christmas with our families back home.

And now begins this year of transition, bringing with it a multitude of feelings. Both glad and sorry that this season of life in Germany will be ending. Excited and anxious about the new opportunities and possibilities of life in America. Overwhelmed by the arduous process of packing and preparing for an international move. Nervous about my ability to write a convincing resume, interview successfully and jump back into a career that I've been away from for nearly three years. And yet I am enthusiastic to return to my job, the feeling of doing what I love to do, what I'm trained for. Looking forward to being part of a professional team and making a positive difference in peoples' healthcare experience.

With so many great memories of our recent experiences and so much to anticipate about the life that lies ahead, I am finding it difficult to stay grounded in the moment and continue with the activities that make up day-to-day life here. And yet one lesson that has been repeated again and again for me is the importance of living each day, enjoying each moment to its fullest. I heard it put this way once- you have traded a day of your life for this day and it will never be again. Make the most of it!