30 May, 2007

Magical moment

B has suddenly started reading and I've been astounded by this newest cognitive leap. It was only later that I realized that S has been teaching him the basics-- just walked in this morning and found them entrenched in their latest lesson. (Believe it or not these photos aren't staged in any way-- they were so concentrated that they hardly even registered the camera.)

29 May, 2007

Ready for dentures and a walker

I don't know if it was the birthday or just general philosophical musings but I've really been feeling my age lately. Not really feeling old, but just astounded that I could actually be nearing 40. That I'm married to a man nearing 40. And that I have t-shirts in my drawer that are older than most of the people who are serving my lattes. Talk about unnerving.

The other night I had a friend over-- M was away and we were taking advantage of the balmy evening, hanging out on the balcony watching the falcons circle over the valley and filling each other in on our respective backgrounds.

She asked me how I ended up in Moscow after I graduated and I gave the usual answer: "Because I was there studying in August 1991 just before everything fell apart." and looked at her meaningfully.

Blank stare.

Moscow?! August. 1991. ???!!!

Still nothing.

She started laughing. Umm, Betsy? I was, what? Nine years old back then?! I have no clue what you're talking about...

24 May, 2007

What a difference a day makes

It felt good yesterday to vent about 1&1 and get the whole thing down into words-- blogging can be so cathartic! Aside from an appointment to talk to the consumer protection agency I'm going to just try and put the whole fiasco behind me.

Heza is right, I've got a lot of sweetness in my life, and it's nice to turn my attention back to the things that really count.

S came home from school yesterday bubbling over with excitement. We had some confusion at first-- he started off in Dutch: "Ik stond op de tafel in class today." (I stood on the table in class today.) I was a bit alarmed: "Hang on a second! What were you doing on up on the table???"

But apparently he meant to say the German "Ich stand auf der Tafel" (or something like that), which sounds about the same, but which means his name was written on the blackboard.

Anyway, his name was written on the blackboard because of a reading contest they're doing. They log into an Internet site whenever they've read a book and take a quiz on the content. Points are awarded for correct answers and are weighted according to the difficulty of the text. And S is currently in 1st place! (And this is the kid who couldn't speak a word of German this time last year!) I know the achievement is all his, but I'm enjoying it vicariously!!! :-)

This morning B had his physical at the school to determine if he's ready to enter first grade. The doctor was very friendly and checked his vision and hearing and verbal skills and then she started laughing and said: "He's ready! PUT THIS KID IN SCHOOL!"

Tell me about it! The kindergarten has been very good to him but it's definitely time for B to move on...

The weather is gorgeous and M gets back home tomorrow. We've planned to celebrate my birthday on Saturday-- so then I can really enjoy the day and do it right! :-)

23 May, 2007

The whole ugly affair in brief (sort of)

A couple of you asked for the background on the whole 1&1 debacle. I meant to include links to related posts yesterday but was just so disgusted and wiped out that it didn't materialize.

Basically 1&1 charged us on two separation occasions for "Mehrfacheinwahl" (multiple dial-in). They claim someone used my password / ID to hack into my account and surf the Internet, and the onus was on us to prove that this hadn't happened. They refused to provide any further information about the charges-- I have no idea when this happened, how often, or for how long each time. All I know is that they debited EUR 600 from our bank account for 48,000+ minutes of internet use. (Despite the fact that we have a contract for unlimited use of the internet.)

We changed our passwords and lodged a formal complaint with the police, as 1&1 requested. We were then advised by the police, the bank, and acquaintances to contest the charges, (Wir haben sie in Widerspruch genommen.) We took back our money and then paid 1&1 for the remainder of the bill. They responded by cutting off our internet and turning us over to a collections agency.

We have legal insurance but that doesn't cover any of this since the problem started back in February and is considered a preexisting condition. I've contacted the Verbraucherscentrale for Baden Wuerttemburg for advice but they are taking too long to provide an answer.

In the meantime the costs are adding up for reminders, late charges, and now an additional EUR 117 for the collections agency. I honestly don't know if I've truly exhausted my resources since I'm no expert on German civil law, but I do know I've exhausted my patience and the faith that we will be vindicated in this absolutely rediculous situation.

The final straw was a letter yesterday from the collections agency saying that if we didn't pay the full sum within 3 days a legal proceeding would be started against us. And since we don't seem to have a leg to stand on I can only see the costs continuing to increase.

In the States, or the Netherlands or Belgium I would have better known what to do and whom to contact. I would have been able to write effective letters, generate publicity and know exactly what our rights are. But we are new to Germany, and thus handicapped; a fact which leaves me feeling frustrated, angry and completely helpless.

And, of course, when it rains it pours. We're living under the shadow of DaimlerChrysler's messy divorce anyway and the stress related to those insecurities coupled with 1&1 hell are wearing me out. It was time to cut our losses.

Thanks for all the friendly birthday wishes! I think the only positive part of this story is that I should be back Online again soon!

22 May, 2007

Happy Birthday to me

My track record for birthdays isn't exactly stellar. And this one ranks right up there. It started off normally enough but is ending up in the toilet. Maybe literally, because my stomach is lurching even as I type this.

They won.

After exhausting our resources, including the police, the better business bureau, worthless legal insurance and advice from everyone and their Aunt Edna we are officially throwing in the towel. We've got a collection bureau now beating down our door and I've had it.

For a big, fat birthday present I got the pleasure of transferring EUR750 to 1&1.

Now please excuse me because I've got to go rustle up some spray paint so I can scrawl obsceneties on all of their billboards...

15 May, 2007

Nosiness, big-ass caravans and streetwalkers

Ellen left a comment yesterday asking for more stories about language gaffes. My German is definitely improving, but I still have days when I create horrific misunderstandings-- at least that keeps things interesting.

Some recent examples:

1. Strawberry season has begun and there is no shortage of roadside stands where one can buy 500 grams of sweet, juicy ecstasy. We just can't seem to get enough of them! I am, however, ever mindful of pesticides. Strawberries are one of the "dirtiest" fruits you can buy and I've read that it's best to avoid them if they come from Spain.

Last weekend when I stopped to buy our latest fix I was hoping the produce was locally grown, so I asked the saleswoman: "Woher kommen sie?" (Where are they from?)

But for some reason she thought I'd asked "Woher kommen Sie?" (Where are you from?) And she eyed me suspiciously before admitting that she'd been born not too far from here.

2. As I mentioned in our last post our caravan is ridiculously large. Being Dutch, M has always cherished the common childhood dream of schlepping a 6+ meter monstrosity to the far-flung edges of civilization. It's actually quite obscene. But then again, our new caravan has got a microwave in it, so you won't hear me complaining any time soon.

So anyway, this thing has two axles, which is actually prohibited on some campgrounds so I'm always a bit defensive when I have to reserve a spot.

Yesterday I called the campground to book a place for us for the long weekend. And the conversation went like this:

"Hi. I'd like to reserve a spot on your campsite for this weekend."
"OK, what kind of spot?"
"One with electricity for our caravan"
"How long?"
"Six meters fifty."

Dead silence. "Wie bitte?! Wie lange?!" "Six meters fifty" (a bit louder this time.)

3. Today in class we were talking about Germany's new ranking as fattest country in Europe. We were discussing different options to correct the situation and education came up as an important countermeasure.

The teacher said that one very effective method would be to hire "streetwalkers" talk to people about their eating habits. !!!??? (She actually used the English word "streetwalkers" so it's not like I could have misheard that one.)

(Afterwards I found out that that's what they call people who approach other people on the street to spread public service messages. But I actually liked my interpretation better-- It's so much more colorful!)

14 May, 2007

Mini updates

Chrysler's sale today actually might mean good news for us. I've been losing sleep (and a good portion of my sanity) these last few weeks worrying that another move was imminent. But since Daimler will be keeping 20% share in the new company it looks like our spot here in Stuttgart is somewhat secured.

M says that he was told today that international operations will continue to operate in their current form for the next three years. Which is the best possible outcome we could have hoped for...

Mothers Day was good. I received some perfume from M and the boys. It's called "Escape". But I haven't. yet...

In a surprise manoeuvre M circumvented some German bureaucracy last Friday and received his upgraded driver's licence. Which means we're now free and clear to pull our monstrous caravan. Fate has been kind to us and next weekend is Himmelfahrt, which is a four day weekend. So we're off to explore the Bodensee-- I've heard it's gorgeous and can't think of a better place to christen the camper on its maiden voyage. Those of you in Germany: be sure to look for us doing 80km/hr and clogging up traffic in the right lane all the way there...

It's sad that I haven't been able to blog as often lately. I don't know how many of you are left reading this, but I just wanted to say: thanks. :-) I hope to be back in the saddle sometime in the near future...

10 May, 2007

Good question!

M squashed a mosquito yesterday and was busy rinsing the remains off of his hands when S walked in and said:

"Papa! That mosquito was a living thing and now you've killed it!"

"Oh. Ummm. Yeah. Well, maybe it wasn't dead. I just thought it might like to have a swim down the drain."

"OK, but then why are its head and arms still left in the sink?"

06 May, 2007

Enjoying the banquet

M is finally back at home! :-)

And instead of a stale day-old biscuit, life now seems more like a seven course meal complete with french cheeses, a bottle of Barolo and fresh strawberries dipped in dark chocolate...

04 May, 2007


Hi everyone. Believe it or not I'm still alive and kicking. Still no internet service to speak of, but am borrowing a friend's computer in exchange for housesitting while he's in Hawaii. And at some moments I'm so happy just to have e-mail that I start to wonder if maybe I got the better end of the deal! :-)

The connection is slow and unreliable, however, and that's meant a blogging blackout of sorts. Am climbing the walls without Internet-- you never really realize just how addicted you are until your dealer cuts off the supply and you start weighing the merits of felony-level crimes in exchange for THAT. NEXT. FIX.

Streaming's out. Podcasting's history. Forget about the online German / English dictionary. Can't check addresses. No online banking?! You've got to be freaking kidding me!? Am wondering about Chui Hsia's new house and how Sloth is feeling. I'm starting to twitch even as I'm typing all of this!

If it hadn't been for an emergency music infusion from my own personal DJ I might already have died a slow, excruciating death... (Mwah!)

Got a very apologetic letter from ze police earlier in the week. They don't have enough information to go on and will have to drop the case. 1&1 is now saying that they'll be turning our account over to an independent collection agency, who from the sound of the letter will probably try to extract Mehrfacheinwahl fees in blood.

The only good news on this front is that 1&1 have stopped charging us for the Internet service that has been discontinued. We're biding our time, just dragging our feet until our legal assistance insurance kicks in and we can start talking to a lawyer.

In the meantime we're looking into cable internet. The DSL connection was very unreliable anyway so I'm hoping at some point we'll be back in business again...