20.2.12

Endings and Beginnings

This blog has been a constant companion over the last 6 years.  It originally was started to capture my attempts to find a project in Germany so I could pursue both my career and a relationship, and if successful, to follow my experiences as an expat and in an intercultural relationship.

In the meantime, life happened, and both the relationship and my career as a consultant are well behind me.  Meanwhile I have found the blog has grown rather stale.  While I still enjoy writing and updating from time to time, the topic of being an expat seems a bit 'been there, done that'.  My most recent posts seem more like a dry how-to have a baby and survive the bureaucracy of Germany than anything insightful, humorous or even interesting.

I am increasingly aware of the drumbeat of time and in just a matter of weeks I will return to work and have very limited free time, making it more unlikely that I will rejuvenate this blog.  And really, who wants to hear about how busy I am all the time?

So I have started the process of closing down this blog.  I am working on publishing a copy of this blog in book format, something I wanted to try a couple of years ago but ran into some technical issues and put it on hold.  Hopefully it will be off to the publisher before I head back to work and will be a little keepsake of my years here to this point.

A big thank you if you read or have at some point read this blog.  I have always been a terrible two-way communicator on this blog but it always was nice to read comments and advice left behind by readers.

There have been many people that I have connected to via this blog and back through their own blogs.  I noticed many of my favorites have also slowed down considerably or stopped writing altogether but I still think of you as a virtual community who I learned from and who I shared a special experience with. So please don't be shy if you would like to be in touch.  I can be contacted at dcsoxgirl at hotmail dot com and also have a well-used facebook account, which I can link you to if you contact me by email.

Finally, I mentioned in the post title 'beginnings'.  I still am naively optimistic that I will have a little time for a fun and creative outlet of my own after I go back to work.  With the encouragement of the Saffa and friends and family, I want to dig deeper into my photography hobby, which has been an ever growing passion over the last years.  The Saffa and I planted a little seed this weekend and started the development of a website where I can showcase some of my current and future favorite photos, do some light blogging about photography and perhaps lay the groundwork for my pipe dream to eventually do some professional photography or occasional freelancing.  I'm a brutal realist, but hey, a girl can dream!!

Some Food Photography Fun in the Future!

So more or less, this is the end of Jeweled Concrete, the expat blog.  If somehow the photography website does ever get legs, I will update here to share it.

As the Germans say upon farewell (and I have always though was lovely), 'Mann sieht sich zweimal im Leben.' / 'You always meet twice in life'.


Posted from Munich

4.2.12

Rebalancing

I was at lunch on Wednesday, the weekly lunch I call the Mommy lunch, and a friend mentioned that she had a good article for beating the baby blues and making sure you keep an identity outside of being a mom.  I replied that I guess we all have different challenges, even with so much in common at the moment.  In this case, there are no women I have met at the Mommy lunch who have any concrete plans for a return to work.  It's a 'someday/maybe' kind of thing for them right now.

For me, the return to work is on the near horizon and the last thing I am feeling is baby blues, any kind of identity crisis or that I might spend too much time focused on my baby at the expense of myself.  I love being Pea's mom and I am cherishing every undistracted minute with him.  Well, except for the moments of fearing that when I go back to work I am not going to be there enough for him.

Because of this fear, I have played through all the options and scenarios - returning as planned, not returning to work for the time being, going part time, changing jobs and possibly location, weighing the impacts of these alternatives on the Saffa, guessing what they would mean to Pea and to my career - and not found the perfect 'have it all' option.  It doesn't take a genius to understand there are 24 hours a day and fitting in precious family time, reaching personal goals, achieving financial stability and enjoying life is either going to mean giving up on sleep and burning out or, more realistically and what I think will be crucial to navigating the next months, prioritizing, compromising and rebalancing our lives as a family.  (Unless we win the lottery.  We'll hang onto that as Plan B for now though.)

With the holidays in the rearview mirror, this was all weighing heavily on my mind when I received a call from the new C-level responsible for my part of the company's organization (the predecessor resigned end of 2011).  Before this call, I had tossed and turned and spent a sleepless night trying to decide what I should say to him.  I worked closely with him previously before his promotion, had asked him to be my mentor when I joined the company last spring and have a great deal of respect for him and in turn he knows me, my strengths and weaknesses pretty well.  I viewed his promotion positively for both the company and for my future endeavors.  However, I could foresee that with my new personal priorities and the intensity of my responsibility for establishing a new organization and managing the current fires that I could be entering into rough waters and, to be quite honest, was feeling overstretched before even returning to work.

So when the first question he asked in the call was if I felt I could handle my position alone in the coming months, I told him honestly that I had some concerns.  He shared with me his personal experience from when his second child was born, his family was living isolated in a foreign country and his work situation was stressful and requiring beyond excessive hours.  The impact on him and his family was as you could imagine.  He then offered to adjust my responsibilities for the next 6-12 months by partnering me up with a more senior woman in the company until we get over the the hump of some of the challenges at work and to allow me a better work-life balance on re-entry.  It still won't be an easy road and I am stubbornly independent by nature, but I felt flooded with relief and had the sense that a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

I have a month to think about the offer and we will discuss how to proceed in the beginning of March.  While it may mean slowing down my career trajectory somewhat, I think it is the right thing to do for Pea, the Saffa, the company and myself.  A first compromise and re-prioritization.  The first of many, I suspect.

Posted from Munich

24.1.12

You've Come A Long Way, Baby

Back in August last year, I posted about the paperwork and bureaucracy nightmare we were facing with the arrival of Pea.  It seemed overwhelming all of the paperwork we needed to fill out, we had choices to make about citizenship and we wanted to be sure we did not miss out on any benefits we were eligible for but did not know too much about all the rules and how to apply.

So now it's five months later and how are we doing?


  • German birth certificate - the hospital took care of sending in the appropriate information to the correct office in Munich.  However, they would only issue it with Pea having my last name as the Saffa and I were not married.  It would have been ok if the Saffa had his birth certificate, however, he needed to request a copy from South Africa and this did not arrive until we already had a birth certificate for Pea with my last name.  
  • Once the Saffa's birth certificate arrived we applied for the German acknowledgement of paternity (Vaterschaftsanerkennung) and had the birth certificate re-issued with Pea's last name changed to the same as the Saffa's.
  • We then had a separate appointment to file a German Statement Regarding Custody (Sorgerechterklärung) and for this one we were required to bring an interpreter as neither of us are fluent in German and they want no misunderstandings in this area.  We made the acquaintance of a very nice lady who helped us with the interpretation for a reasonable rate and if anyone in the Munich area needs her contact info, please feel free to drop me an email.  
  • After all this (plus being a new mom) we were down to about three weeks before our planned trip to the US and needed to get Pea his passport.  We decided to go with the American passport first and spent the morning at the Munich consulate.  In the end they cared nothing about most of the documents we were told to bring and didn't even look at them.  They were most interested in whether or not I was really an American.  I brought my graduate school transcripts to prove I had been in the US for several consecutive years and also my first passport, which was only issued in 2003, meaning I should have spent my first 30 years in the US.
  • In less than two weeks, we had Pea's report of birth abroad and certification of citizenship through 'documentation' and his US Passport.  His social security number arrived last week.
  • We clarified that he is not eligible for German citizenship as I have not had a permanent residency for the required 8 year minimum and German citizenship is not conferred through location of birth.
  • The Saffa is just starting the process to apply for Pea's British citizenship but the Brits seem downright disorganized about this compared to the process we went through with the US, so we'll see how long this takes.  The Saffa is still deciding about South African citizenship. 
Regarding Kindergeld and Elterngeld, I also used the interpreter's help for the applications.  The Kindergeld application I could have done on my own, this was relatively easy.  We also received the feedback after a couple of weeks that we were approved and the back payments were already made and now we should receive the monthly payment going forward.

The Elterngeld was considerably more complicated to fill out.  I sent it in at the same time as the Kindergeld but received a response that we did not submit one document. Unfortunately, I am nearly certain I put it in the application and it is no longer in the house that we can find.  It is a document that cannot be re-issed in copy to us but must be directly requested now by the agency responsible for Elterngeld.  Hopefully we are not at an impasse as this is this more significant money we are entitled to that is meant to recoup some of my wages that I do not receive while on maternity leave. 

So all said and done, we are slowly making our way through the process and learning bit by bit.  My advice to any expecting parents is to first make sure you have all your own documents in order (birth certificates, divorce papers if applicable, proof of citizenship if you are going for American citizenship for your child and so on).  If you are bored on maternity leave, I would also recommend to fill out as much as possible before the baby comes.  Afterwards it gets a little busy!

Posted from Munich

19.12.11

Advent Calendar December 10

 
Christmas Party.

The Saffa and I decided to host an open house holiday party this year.  We thought it would be fun to invite our friends by for some food and drink so we could see everyone before the end of the year and before we headed off to the States to spend the holidays with my family.  Knowing it was a busy time of year, we made the invitation for an extended 8 hours and asked people to drop by when convenient for them and stay as long as they liked.

The Saffa and I went into a shopping, cooking and baking frenzy in the days leading up to the party.  We made way too much food but we had a blast doing it.  After years of hoping that the Kitchenaid mixer price would come down to the realm of affordable for the common folk in Europe (compare 240-320 USD to 400-500 EUR), I finally gave up and we decided to by a Kenwood kitchen machine.  We gave it a good workout for the holiday party and since and I will say that although for a pure mixer, I still like the Kitchenaid better, the attachments on the Kenwood have been really cool (citrus juicer, blender, food processer and the yet to be tried juicer, meat grinder and some of the slicing and dicing blades).



For posterity, our menu:

Appetizers
Nuts
Cheese Platter
Smoked Salmon Spread
Cocktail Meatballs
Spinach Artichoke Dip
Veggies and Hummus
Chicken Liver Paté
Baked Brie en Croute
Crackers and French Bread

Desserts
Gugelhupf
Mini Cheesecakes with Blueberry Topping
Christmas Cookies (Spritz, Linzer Cookies, Vanilla Kipferl, Michigan Rocks)
Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream
Fudge

Drinks
Augustiner
Red Wine
Pink Prosecco
Homemade Egg Nog (Recipe from Betty Crocker, this was outstanding!)
Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows
Coffee and Tea

We lit the fire all day, the weather cooperated with a beautiful, steady snow all day, our Christmas tree glowed and it was a warm, cozy day filled with fun and friends.

I would happily do it all again next year but would simplify the menu a bit as there was just too much food for the number of people and I think some of the dishes got lost in the crowd, if that makes any sense.




We're all warmed up for the holiday season and ready to make our way over to the US on Wednesday!

Posted from Munich 

5.12.11

Advent Calendar December 4



Decorate the Christmas tree.

As a child my parents usually got us an advent calendar, the kind with the little doors that opened to reveal a chocolate surprise inside.  I always loved that although I am not sure how commonly children in the United States have them.  They have these same type of calendars in Germany.  All of the chocolate manufacturers produce at least one version, if not multiple.  I haven't had one in years and decided I would get one for us this year.  I came close to buying one several times but never could decided about one over another.

Then a few weeks ago I was in Tchibo and saw an idea I liked even better.  They were selling a set of felt pockets labeled 1 to 24 that you could fill yourself with anything you like.  I picked it up and on Friday we started our own family tradition.  For each day I put a little piece of paper with an activity that we could do together.  This kind of 'fill yourself' advent calendar is very popular in Germany and comes in many different forms.  In fact, the advent calendar itself was invented by German Lutherans who started the tradition of physically counting down the first 24 days of December.

The Saffa pulls out the day's paper each morning and then sometime during the day we do the activity.  For example on Friday night, the activity was a dinner date, Saffa's choice of restaurant.  When he got home from work, he had made his selection and the three of us bundled up and headed out for some sushi.  It's hard to have a peaceful dinner when you are out with Pea.  Not because he isn't good - he is very easy to take along and we have done so on numerous occasions - but because he attracts a small fan club where ever we go.

Yesterday's activity was to decorate the Christmas tree.  Although we will spend Christmas with my family in the US, I still wanted to get a tree and decorate it.  It's our first Christmas as a family and I wanted us to get into the spirit together.  We're also planning to have a Christmas open house next weekend and it didn't seem right to not have a tree.

We picked up a tree just down the road from our apartment on Saturday, a gorgeous Nordmann Fir, and set it up yesterday.  We also lit our first fire in our wood stove and at dusk lit up the tree candles.  While it makes me nervous to have open flame near a tree, there is really nothing as beautiful as the tree lit up with little white candles.  Magic.



All in all, I hope this becomes a family tradition every year as it has been a lot of fun so far and I am looking forward to the activities for the rest of the month.

Posted from Munich