Saturday, December 20, 2008


I changed the layout. How do you like it?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow ...

We had another snowstorm last night and now we have A LOT of snow. A lot of kids got "snow free" today and didn't have to go to school. As a kid I always dreamed of getting a day off for too much snow. It's the greatest thing - you don't have to go to school and you get to play in the snow. What more can one ask for. Now I think - poor parents - how do people deal with that if they have to go to work and their kids get off school unexpectedly? 

I still love the snow. But then I don't have to go to work yet. I am sure if I'd have to drive or go to work with snow drenched shoes, I wouldn't like the snow as much.

I thought I'd post some pictures of the neighborhood, including some pictures of the nice Christmas decorations some people have put up.

Cars buried in snow

unfortunately not all sidewalks are as clean as this one

If you think that's over the top you haven't been to America

a red wreath on a red back round - a bit diabolic but pretty

I have seen bigger icicles

That's an alleyway - that's where you put your trash and that's where peoples garages are.

Things I like - Trader Joe's

What is Trader Joe's? 
It's my local grocery store. 

Living in Holland I often missed the pretty, Austrian grocery stores. I especially missed the products, the good cold cut meats, the sweets, the cakes, the bread, ...

But I never really missed the concept of the supermarket, the people who worked there, the service.

Trader Joe's is the first grocery store that makes me feel "at home".

When I first went there I was confused, even taken aback by the staff of Trader Joe's. They are not like your every day grocery store staff - you know - depressed, kind of in a daze, just wanting the day to end, ...
They almost look like they are having fun working there. They talk to everybody and they enjoy talking to everybody. I have seen people making friends and exchanging phone numbers at Trader Joe's. 
My first time at Trader Joe's I thought "Why are they talking to me? Why are they asking me all those questions?" But I have come to enjoy it because the people seem genuine. 

Also - it's an all organic store. They have stuff like organic Cheetos (which sounds like an oxymoron). And I don't know how they do it but they are cheaper than all of the other grocery stores in the area (that includes the non-organic stores).

Everyday they make a tasty little dish that you can taste in the store and easily recreate at home. 

There are definitely fancier supermarkets - like Whole Foods which have fancier and sometimes tastier food but nothing makes you feel as cozy and at home as Trader Joe's does.

And no, they don't pay me. But they can if they want to.

"I love" and "I don't love"

Enough of me complaining about how I am trying to find myself and all that stuff. You guys are reading this blog to find out how I like the US and Chicago.

So I decided to have two new sections:
I love
I don't love

I don't want to use "I hate" instead of "I don't love". First of all because "hate" is a very strong word which I generally don't like to use and second because there isn't really anything (yet) that I hate. There is stuff I don't like so much but well - there is stuff I don't like so much everywhere.

Living in Holland for 7 years, I always disliked the kind of expats who had nothing good to say about the Netherlands. I said it before - if you hate it - leave it. 

I don't want to end up sounding like a whiney, unthankful foreigner - so for everything I don't like I will write about something I like.

Also - everything I write will be an observation. I haven't lived here long enough to say that all of my observations are accurate. It's going to be how I see things - that doesn't mean they really are exactly like I see them. 

I am a very protective and opinionated person so if somebody bitches about Austria or the Netherlands or my friends or anything that means anything to me I get very defensive. Since I am like that myself and I know that a lot of people are like that I will try my best not to offend people with my "I don't like" section. As I said before - these are daily observations. I am open to discussion, I in fact often change my mind about topics if somebody respectfully explains their point of view to me. I consider myself a reasonable person.

Most of all I want to point out that me not liking some things about America does not mean I don't like living here or that I want to leave. It does not mean I am homesick beyond means and am so sad that I am going to start doing stuff to myself. I just like to observe situations and since that is something people are interested to read about I will write about it.

I hope you like it!

(There sometimes will still be touchy, whiney posts about myself)
(but less)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What's my age again?

I was born in 1981. Some of you readers will say - jeez - that's young! Others will say, wow, I didn't know she was that old already.

Age means nothing to me. It's a difficult thing to explain. I am not sure I will be able to but I'll give it a try.

When I moved to Holland the group of friends I made (who is still my core group of friends or how the young kids would call it - my "homies") were all a few years older than me. Most of them were three or four years older then me. I was the baby. I was (according to them) so innocent, so sweet, I was the little angel. I was however not taken seriously at all. You could say my first year in Holland was solely used to make myself look and feel more mature and less innocent. And believe me, I worked hard on that one.

It took me a few years. I don't know if nature simply took it's turn and I just grew up. You know, like people do when they get older or if it was the rough life I was living, moving every few months, having not really enough money to live on, going out all the time ...
Anyway, I guess I grew up or at least I was accepted as a grown up in our group.

A few years later I met E. E is 9 years older than me. People who don't know that but who know us are always surprised about that - I guess because E looks like in his mid-twenties - or like a teenager if he shaves. So when I first met his friends in Holland (a lot of them even older than E) it was difficult. There were rocket scientists and security network specialists and engineers and they were interested in things I had no idea about. I had never spoken to a rocket scientist before and I was intimidated. It took lots of nights out, lots of Jaegermeister and an Icelandic drink called "Black Death" to  break the ice and bring us together. The more I got to know them, the more I realized that we weren't really that different. We all were foreigners in Holland, we all wanted to have fun. That's a good common ground to build friendship on.

Now, years later, I can talk to anybody. I don't have issues with age, I don't see a problem with having older friends. One of my friends just became a grandma. Who cares. It really doesn't matter.


Now I am starting to feel old. 

One reason for that is the fact that people in the US are getting married and having children much earlier than in Holland (and I guess Austria but mostly Holland). It's quite normal here that people get married at let's say 23 years old. 
E and I were engaged for 1 1/2 years - one of the reasons being that I did NOT want to be married at 24 or 25. It might sound silly but I just couldn't imagine being that young and being a wife. Don't get me wrong, I very much enjoy it now but any younger would have just been wrong (for me).

And then there is another issue. 

My whole life I planned to do a masters degree but I left to go to Holland when I was one month shy of 20 years old. I always had the intention to go back and finish my studies but I never did. I sometimes feel like I am stuck in a time zone were I am still 20 years old, ready to go to University to get my masters. I have strange moments, like once when I sat on the train with a bunch of 20 year old students and I felt like I was one of them (that happened about 6 month ago).
When I meet people who are younger than me who have their freakin' doctors degree I feel like that can't possibly be possible. There are lawyers, doctors, professors, archeologists, ... out there who are younger than me.

What did I do with myself in those last 7 years?

I guess living. That's what I did. I lived the life. I had fun. I grew up. I learned.

I don't know if I still need a masters degree but I know once I finish my correspondence classes in Photography I will take classes at a university. Not to get a degree but to keep my brain alive. To learn new things. To stay focused.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My five month plan

I got the idea from Marie who posted this entry on her blog. She is talking about her five year plan.

I gotta tell ya, I am pretty confused as to what to do with my life right now, so I can't tell you what I am going to do in five years, just what I am planning for the next five months. I always had lots of plans but just as many excuses as to why I am not pursuing them. (By the way H - I asked for the book you recommended for Christmas, if I don't get it, I will buy it myself.)

First I lived in Austria.  I didn't like it there and it's tough to get into the (to me) interesting fields of the entertainment industry or Arts. Austria is based on something we call "Freundlwirtschaft" - The economy of friendship also called "Vitamin B" (Beziehungen) which basically means if you have friends or family who can get you in, you get in. 
I first noticed that after I got my degree in Marketing when I was still living in Austria. I applied to about 25 Marketing agencies for an internship and I got invited to one interview. I didn't get the job.
Another marketing agency sent me a list of questions to answer. One questions was "One of your clients likes to chew on coca leaves. Since they contain cocaine they are illegal in Austria, how do you make sure he gets them anyway?". Another question was "Your client needs a curl of hair from the American president for an auction. How do you get it?". 
I thought I was very clever in answering those questions but didn't even get invited to an interview.
A girl who went to the same school I went to, two years younger than me, obviously had not done her degree yet,  had parents whose friends were friends with somebody at Saatchi&Saatchi (a famous advertising agency). She got a job there without interviewing or even preparing an application. And I saw a lot of those friendship deals happen around me.
My mother's friends were people who sold herb pillows and homemade candles at flea markets, so I knew I would run into some troubles pursuing a career in Vienna relying on the Vitamin B. To be fair, that was only one of the reasons why I left Austria.

Then, in Holland, I of course had the problem of the language. At that point I was not really interested in a career in advertising anymore. I got really into Photography and I took a few classes. I thought, that's something I am pretty good at and it's something I am passionate about. Maybe this could be my path. I met a lot of people working in the field. It was an exciting time where I got to hang out in the "scene" and get inspired by other creative people. However, I soon noticed that if you come to Amsterdam as a foreigner and you are not already an established Artist, you don't stand a chance to make it. I met quite a few trained photographers who were working in call centers because the Dutch only wanted to work with the Dutch. Unless of course - you were famous already. But getting an internship with a Dutch photographer - impossible. 

Anyway, I did take up classes with the New York Institute of Photography last year. It's a correspondence course that teaches you everything you need to know to become a Photographer. You also have to do assignments and and technical knowledge tests.

Back to the original topic - so I am here in Chicago now and a world is opening up to me. I have no excuse to not follow my dreams anymore and to be honest it is a bit freaky and quite a bit overwhelming.

I have thought long and hard about it and have come to the conclusion that I need to use the next 5 months to make up my mind what I want to do with my life. And to do this I have to do the following things:

a) Get busy with my Photography studies - I need to get back into it, get the passion back

b) Find a job - I know I said I am afraid I end up in some kind of job I don't like but I really need to have a steady job. You need a reason to get up in the morning. So I decided to look for an administrative part-time job. Something where I don't have to answer the phone, or at least very rarely and nothing that includes the term "customer-service" unless it's very minimal and has nothing to do with complaint handling. Given the economic situation here right now, I know it won't be an easy task. More than half a million Americans lost their jobs in 2008 and I don't know why I would be better for a job than any of them. So I might not find a job immediately ...

c) Get back to the gym. I am most focused when I work out. I feel strong and confident when I am physically strong. I want to lift weights again and run on a treadmill until I feel dizzy. I found a gym not too far which sounds perfect, I will join beginning January and try to walk as much as I can until then.

So that's my plan for the next 5 month. 

Monday, December 8, 2008

Baby it's cold outside

It's really cold now. Like, Chicago cold. I am not even getting the "Oh that's nothing" from the locals anymore, it's that cold. I only go outside wearing long, silk underwear, jeans, boots, two pairs of socks of which one must be winter socks (woolen) and two to three layers on top. Plus of course, scarf, gloves and hat. One time I didn't wear my hat, I swear my ears felt like ice cubes when I got home. It hurt my fingers to touch them. It's that cold.
It's even cold inside. Our cat spends most of her time either wrapped in our duvet or on the heating. Here she is in our bed:

Luckily our lovely, yet environmentally aware neighbors helped us with the "cold inside" issue (we have central heating which is in their apartment).

But to be honest, I don't mind it so much. We have a lot of snow and I really missed the snow during my years in the Netherlands. I missed the snow and I missed Christmas. For those who don't know - the Dutch don't celebrate Christmas that much, they celebrate "Sinterklaas" on December 5th (by the way - Happy belated Sinterklaas to all my friends in Holland!).

America is very good at putting you in a Christmas spirit. I can imagine that the "Christmas buh humbug" people of the world will find it annoying. But I am not one of them. I love it. I love Christmas decorations, I love Christmas music (except "Last Christmas" by Wham, which is the only Christmas song that they play to death in the Netherlands), I love Christmas trees and TV programs on how to decorate and make Christmas cookies. I love egg nog. I even love Christmas shopping (I did pretty much all of my Christmas shopping online this year, no crowds but you still have the shopping satisfaction). Right now I am listening to the Christmas song radio channel. 

I have to say when we lived in Delft it at least had the advantage of being really pretty. They would hang up some clear lights around Christmas time and it looked somewhat christmasy since Delft is just so damn cute.
But the weather - well - ask me in a few years but so far I'd take 4 or 5 month of cold and snow  but sunshine (Chicago) over 7 month of non-stop rain and humidity (the Netherlands).

Two days ago we got our tree. It's the first Christmas tree I had since I left Austria and I am very excited. Unfortunately I pulled a muscle in my back yesterday when we went to get some ornaments from the store (we bought a dresser too and I pulled the muscle by trying to lift it). It's pretty painful and since I don't have health insurance yet (I get it in January) I just have to sit it out. It's been getting better though. 
Anyway, pain or not - I had this beautiful tree in front of me, so I had to decorate it. I popped two Aleve and took my time but ended up with a nice tree I think:

In the back round you can see our yellow walls.

And some close up pictures:

We also have some other decorations in the room but I will take pictures of that some other time when everything is finished.

Hope you guys are excited about the upcoming holidays!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Snow in the city

It's been a while. A thick layer of snow is covering Chicago. It's pretty.

As you know or may not know it was Thanksgiving last week. E and I were at my in-laws in Ohio almost all of last week. And that's my excuse why I haven't blogged. 

To be quite honest with you - it's not a very good excuse because my in-laws do in fact have internet but oh well.

The good news is that it was a productive week for me. Not only did I experience my first real American Thanksgiving (in America because I have celebrated with American friends in Holland before) but I also made my own Christmas decorations, bonded with my new nephew, did some driving and got a haircut.

But let's start with the first one: The Thanksgiving dinner
My mother in law spent literally the whole day cooking. She made cheesy broccoli, stuffing, gravy, rice, baked sweet potato with marshmallows, of course Turkey, cranberry sauce (which strangely to me comes in slices), salad and brownies as a dessert (I now know where E has gotten his brownie making talents from). My mother in law makes incredibly rich food all the time. They are originally from the South and southerners love their butter. Every time I eat at my in-laws I go into a coma after the meal. In America the Thanksgiving dinner is supposed to 
be the fattiest, most filling, most indulgent meal of the year - so you can imagine how I felt after a Thanksgiving dinner prepared by my mother in law. I couldn't sleep all night, my stomach hurt so much. And I hadn't even eaten that much, knowing that I would regret it.
It was very tasty though.  See the photo and please be aware that the turkey is already cut up but this wasn't even half of the meat.

Christmas decorations are expensive here! So I decided to make some of my own. We are planning to have a tree this year, so I will need a lot of decoration. My plan was to buy cheap stuff and spray paint it silver and/or glittery. In Chicago they do not sell spray cans because they worry that it might be used for gang wars (I hate when they have all those glittery Christmas grafitti). So when we were in Ohio I went and got some spray paint. I also bought a bag of pine cones and some stars made of carton (to spray silver). Since I wasn't sure if I could bring the cans on the plane, I did it all right there. I might have ruined one of my mother in laws little tables though. Sorry about that. 
I don't have a picture of that yet but I will post some pictures before Christmas when we have all the decorations up.

My new nephew is really cute. He was born 12 days ago - 2 weeks early but he already weighed 5 1/2 kilos when he was born (they actually induced labor because he was so big). I wonder if he still thinks he is in the tummy because he spends pretty much all of the time rolled up in fetus position, asleep. Nothing can wake him up when he is asleep. Maybe the day he was actually supposed to be born he will magically wake up and be a lively baby. Anyway, he is still a very cute boy and I am glad that the "I am still living with my parents" t-shirt I gave his parents as a present fits him.
Unfortunately due to his enormousness my sister in law had to have a c-section and has not fully recovered from that yet. She is going to be OK but obviously she is exhausted and in pain and will be for a while.

I am not sure how many of my friends know that I have a drivers license. I took my driving exam (and passed) a few month before I moved to Holland, so I didn't practice a whole lot in the last 7 years. And I had always been terribly afraid of the streets. I know at some point I will have to drive here though. Once we have children in a few years I am sure we will have to get a car. I actually have to re-take my driving exam here after six month because America does not accept the Austrian license. So I went out with E to drive around Akron and the neighboring towns and I did pretty well. First of all of course all the cars here are automatic which makes it much easier. I never really liked driving a manual and changing gears. Also with age I lost the fear, I got much more confident and much more alert. I used to have real issues concentrating on the road and I feel that I am way more focused today than I had been. So we went driving three times. I went on the highway, I drove at night, I even drove at night on the highway ... and I think once I practice parking in the city I will be ready to take my drivers license here. I am planning on doing it in February, so I can get some more experience around Christmas and then in Chicago after that.
Being able to drive felt like a real achievement.

As I said above - I also got a new haircut. I have this hairdresser in Ohio which cuts both my sister in laws and my mother in laws hair. It costs 12 dollars to get a cut and 22 dollars to get a cut and style. And I think that woman - who works at a hairdressing chain called Famous hair - is one of the best hair dressers who ever gave me a haircut. So originally I just wanted a trim. I looked like a shaggy hippie and some of my hair needed to go. But then, sitting there and waiting for my hair dresser to be done, I decided I wanted a new haircut too. It's not crazy different. I pretty much got the same haircut I used to have my first few years in Holland. It's shorter in the front and layered all around. My hair definitely looks healthier but I actually have to style it with products and a big brush and blow dry it and stuff which I don't like to do. It also makes me look a bit younger. I have noticed that people treat me a bit different in stores. I am probably imagining a lot of it but I had a funny thing happen to me yesterday.

I was at the grocery store and the girl at the check out had a heated conversation with the bag packing boy. She can't have been much older than 17 and the bag packing boy was about her age. 
Bag packing boy: So when you go out, you hang out with your guy friends?
Check out girl: NO WAY! Boys are dirty! I don't trust them, when I go out, I go out with my girlfriends only!
Bag packing boy: Why you don't trust boys?
Check out girl: Well, you can't trust them, they all have dirty minds and will totally abuse a situation when you are like drunk and stuff! All girls think that! Girls don't go out partying with their guy friends! 
Bag packing boy: I don't know ...
Check out girl: TOTALLY! Boys are nasty! Right? (looking at me) When you go party, you go out with your girls, right? Because boys are nasty! 
Me: Uhm, yeah (hiding my wedding ring because I feel flattered she thinks I am still a young party girl who is afraid to be molested by her guy friends)
Check out girl to bag boy: See!

So here is a pic
ture of my new haircut plus my nephew.

I actually tried to blog live from Starbucks today. I was completely unlucky the first time. I went and even got a large coffee, so I would have an excuse to sit there for a while and do my blogging and stuff (since I have this beautiful iBook I should also use it as such and take it outside sometimes) but by the time I got my coffee the place had completely filled up and I could not get a seat. So I walked into a different neighborhood and there was a completely empty Starbucks. By that time my feet hurt from walking a lot and I decided to go there and have a cup of tea. Once there I wanted to log into their wireless but it didn't let me. Anybody knows how to use wireless at Starbucks? I know they have free wireless but how do I use it? Or is it p
ossible that not all Starbucks have wireless?

If you have any idea, please let me know!

I did use the time there doing some picture editing though.

And after that I went to a thrift store (cheap second hand store). They had tons of worn out, expensive brand shoes. There was a pair of Manolos for 7 dollars but you could see it had been worn quite a bit. There were many pairs of Ferragamos but they were from the 70s and looked like old ladies shoes. And they also were quite worn out. I asked myself is it better to buy used shoes that once were really expensive or cheap shoes that are new? So far I have been going for the cheap new shoes. But nevertheless I had never seen a pair of Manolos for 7 dollars ...
What would you do?