Monday, October 1, 2012

Write, write, write - but about what?

So ... I've been gone for a while. Here is the thing. I would like to write. I often think to myself "I should blog about this!" but then I don't. 

I am long beyond the mommy stage of "I don't have time to brush my hair, let alone blog!" so this is definitely not an excuse anymore. I'd like this blog to go into a certain direction, write about not just my life but a topic. I would like the people who follow me to actually be interested in what I write about. Being a European in Chicago - to be honest - that is not that much of an issue for me anymore. Yes, I still live in Chicago, yes, I get homesick sometimes but I have been here for 4 years now and while I still get asked where I am from sometimes (yay, weird, unidentifiable accent!) I have also become pretty good at the American art of small talk and keeping to myself what I really think. It's made my life a lot easier. I've made a few good friends - partly thanks to my gorgeous and wonderfully social 17 month old daughter, so I don't feel as alone anymore. I've taken up hobbies like drawing and playing the guitar and baking bread. At least the first two get me out of the house regularly, sans child. My photography business is getting ... busier. I have repeat clients now which is really nice. I even have clients that aren't friends (or at least they weren't before they became my clients). I've done a lot of work that I am very proud of and my confidence level has gone up a big notch. For the first time this year, I am not wondering if I am overcharging or if I really am a professional photographer. No, I AM a professional photographer. I studied a lot for this. I practiced a lot for this and I am quite good at this. 

I have also turned 30 last year! And with that (and having my child that same year), I feel like I finally grew up. I also realized that I will never be a hot, young 20 year old who get's away with things purely because of how fresh-faced and lovely she is. Not that this ever happened to me but I used to think "If I could just fit into those skinny jeans and have the right hair-cut everything would just come to me!". And I realized that now, even if I COULD fit into those skinny jeans and have the perfect hair-cut, I would still never be a 20 year old again. That was a big realization but I think also part of growing up. It's sad but it's also a relief. I don't know if that makes any sense at all.

During the last year, here is what I have been thinking about turning "An Austrian in Chicago" into:

A beauty blog
This was probably the idea I played most with. I love beauty. Yes, just judge me now. I like make up and clothes and pretty things. I am a Libra, maybe that's why. I spend way too much money on new releases and way too much time looking all over town for them. And I don't really have anybody to share this hobby with. I read, probably 20 different beauty and nail polish blogs and I love the community. It's one of the most judgmental free communities I've seen on the internet. Show me a mommy-blog where there isn't somebody who wants to start a fight about how you brush your kids teeth. Hell, I've seen snark remarks and nastiness on cooking blogs! But the world of beauty is just ... beautiful. Also, it's always been my dream (my other dream, apart from being a photographer) to be a beauty editor for a magazine and this would make me feel like I was one. But I decided that if I do a beauty blog, I'd do a separate one and keep Austrian in Chicago a more personal blog. Also, I realized I am actually not all that great at doing make up. I mean, I can make it look decent but when I see people's smokey eyes where they use 15 different eye shadows whereas my smokey eye consists of me lining my eyes and then smudging it, I realize that maybe I am not one of the players. I guess I could still just do a swatch of whatever I buy and post a picture of it but that's kind of boring (for me). And it's not like that kind of thing doesn't exist already (Temptalia). 

A Cooking Blog
I have really come to love cooking in the last few years and I've learned a ton from my favorite cooking blog The Kitchn. I also have come to really like food photography. It's definitely one of my passions. The reason I haven't started a cooking blog is simply that I am too lazy. Cooking blogs are a lot of work. 

A Mommy Blog
This would probably fit me best because, let's face it, my daughter takes up most of my time and I love talking about her but writing just about being a mommy, I don't know. I think if I'd do that I've have a hard time not being controversial because let's be honest - every decision you make as a mommy is scrutinized and judged and I don't think I'd like to open myself up to this. 

A fitness/nutrition blog
Confession time - it took me 16 months to lose the baby weight and I am still a pant size away from my wedding weight. I gained A LOT when I was pregnant. I am not sure how this happened, I had every intention of staying active and eating nothing but lentils and rainbows during my pregnancy but pelvic pain and milk shake cravings worked against me. I spent the first year of Linn's life trying to lose the weight by "breastfeeding and going for long walks" - just like Dr Sears told me in his book but it didn't do much. I finally started tracking my calories and I signed up for a really, really nice gym with a really, really nice daycare - a gym that I actually like to go to and that's how I lost 50 pounds in the last 4 months. I'd like to write more about this to keep myself "on track", I was even toying with the idea of posting pictures of everything I eat every day like the fabulous Kim but it was too much work in the end. 

So in the end, I think I will just write about all of these things, whenever I feel like it. If I'd have to label this blog, I'd label it a "personal lifestyle blog". This will maybe not appeal to most readers but it might make me post more. And I'd like that.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

How It's Like To Be A Mommy

This little girl is my daughter - I will call her Little L on this blog. As of yesterday she is 8 weeks old and she is the most amazing thing that ever happened to me.

A question I have been getting a lot from my childless friends since she was born is "How is it REALLY like to be a mom?", "Come on, be honest!" they'll say while looking at me expectantly as if any other parent they ever asked that only told them lies.

So this is why I am writing this blog post here. Of course, motherhood is different for everybody. What I am experience is going to be very different from a single mother, living on welfare. I am aware that I am extremely privileged to not have to rush back to a 40-hour work-week after only getting to spend one month at home with my new daughter. I am privileged to have a husband who tries to share the job of parenthood as much as possible. I am privileged to have a healthy child and a safe home. I am privileged to have had an easy birth and health insurance who paid for most of my hospital charges.

You can pretty much say I had a baby in the best, possible conditions. Still, it's not easy. So I am going to give it to you straight. I am not going to dilly dally around. I am going to cut to the chase. And I am going to tell you how it's like to be a mommy.

First off I'd like to say - I love being a mom. I really do. I love every minute of it. It is the best thing that ever happened to me and while giving birth isn't a picnic and pushing out a little human was the most physically challenging thing I ever did (note to self - work out more during the next pregnancy and don't forget to do your kegels!) I still have very fond memories of giving birth. And if you find yourself pregnant and terrified of giving birth right now I'd like to tell you that - so was I. I was so scared. But nature has it's way to prepare you for giving birth. With me it was 5 days of constant early-labor contractions. By day three of not-sleeping and being in nearly constant pain, I was ready to give birth whatever it takes.
Anyway - back to what you can expect after you give birth to your very own mini-me:

*You will sleep less than you ever thought possible. 
About a week after Little L was born I started to hallucinate. Apparently that is a side effect of being extremely sleep deprived. It wasn't anything serious. I didn't see a dancing baby or white rabbits hopping around the apartment. But I did see doors closing out of the corner of my eye even though nobody was there to close the door and when I checked, the door was still open. I thought I saw something move and when I looked straight at what I thought had moved, there was no movement. A friend of mine told me "Wait till you are seriously sleep-deprived - you'll hear your breast pump starting to talk to you!". And she was right. Mine says "We like her". Though E insists the breast pump says something else.
But there is hope. After a while baby will start sleeping longer. I still haven't had a solid seven hours of sleep but I have had the occasional five or six. Whenever I wake up and I see that I got to sleep five hours straight, I get all giddy. But as everybody will tell you - it get's better. I am the girl who used to need eight hours of sleep to function properly. Now I do ok with five. And if I get a nap in during the day, bringing the total up to six or seven hours of sleep, I do really, really well.

*You will feel a kind of love that you have never felt before. 
The first week with Little L was intense. I felt such an overwhelming amount of love, it was incredible. And the love you feel for your child is different than what you feel for you partner or your parents. Nature made you love your baby so much, so you don't mind taking care of it (and you don't bring her back to the hospital, asking for a refund after the third sleepless night in a row). This love makes you so happy to be around your baby. It's deep and wonderful and a bit scary. After a few weeks, when the majority of the post-pregnancy hormones left your body, your feelings somewhat normalize. Though a friend and I were discussing if you actually start feeling less or if you are just getting used to the feeling of being so in love with your child.

*You might not want to have "me" time anymore.
Before Little L was born I was worried about how it would be to have something attached to you (outside of your own body) 24/7. What is it like to never be able to just go to the hair dresser whenever I want to or go for a spontaneous bike ride on the beach. Well, honestly, this is hard but a lot less difficult than I expected it to be. Yes, you can't just get up and do whatever you want. Whenever we leave the house it involves planning and about an hour of preparation (my little one happens to not be a huge fan of being outside. I am working on changing this though). And then there is always the chance that she will have a melt-down and scream for 30 minutes straight when you are at Target and everybody looks at you like you are the worst mom that has ever lived and really, why can't you shut up your child, can't you see she is not happy? ... Uh, where was I?
But anyway, I was surprised to find that I really don't like to be apart from her. Like, ever. I do take a break once a week when E stays with her, either to go on a bike ride or to get some shopping done that requires several stops and would be difficult to do with Little L. I enjoy those breaks - mostly because it's a lot easier to get stuff done when you don't have to hold and shush your baby to sleep while using your teeth to try to get your credit card out of your wallet in the check out line. But after a few hours (usually two hours) I start to really miss her. I look longingly at other people's babies and wish she was here with me. Every strangers baby's cry is like a stab in my heart, reminding me that I really should be home with Little L. What is she doing right now? Is she crying for her mommy? Does she think I abandoned her? Does she know I love her and that I will be back soon (with new curtains!)?
I know there are new mommies out there who can't wait to get back to work and that's also ok. But I was surprised to find that I am very happy to not have to go back to work until I am ready for it.

*You can eat later. Or not.
I am not the kind of person who forgets to eat. I just am not. I love to eat and good food is very important to me. When I was pregnant I was hungry constantly. I would eat dinner, then a snack before bed (which I never used to do) and I would still often find myself lying awake at 4 in the morning, unable to sleep because I was so freaking hungry. I thought it was just me. I though, I just don't have any self-control and that's why I am eating so much. It go so bad, I had to have snacks with me at all times in case I was out doing something for longer than two hours.
And then I gave birth and the hunger stopped. I know a lot of people only really start to have this feeling of hunger after they give birth because of breastfeeding but for me, even though I am breastfeeding, this has not been an issue. Quite on the contrary - it happened to me a lot in the beginning that I either couldn't find time to eat during the day or I simply wasn't hungry. I often only ate twice a day and I was fine. The problem is - when you don't eat enough, you don't produce enough milk (or at least, I didn't), so it's very important for me to eat healthily and regularly. It's getting better now but I still don't get very hungry.

*You learn how to do almost everything one handed.
Little L likes to be held. All. The. Time. I have a very emotionally needy baby and while I don't mind that most of the time, because I LOVE holding her, it can be annoying when you are, say, in a store. Or when you really, really need to go to the bathroom or when it's 4pm and you haven't had anything to eat or drink yet. Or if you just want to take those vitamins you were supposed to take with food, three times a day but you neither had food, yet nor can you reach those vitamins with your one, free arm.
This has only been getting better this past week since we've found some new nursing positions that don't require me holding her with both hands but it's still difficult. I have a huge pile of unread magazines and the newest book from the Sookie Stackhouse novels (that I have been waiting for almost a year to come out) lying next to me - all pretty much untouched because it's really difficult to hold a book up with one hand while holding and nursing a baby. I now wish I would have gotten every book that I bought in the last 6 months on Kindle because not having to turn a page really would make my life much easier.
So since I've been pretty much sofa-bound most of the time, nursing my little one, I have gotten very acquainted with the On Demand feature on my DVR. I have watched more reality TV in the last month than I have in the whole past year together. My IQ has probably gone down 50 points. However, I have learned a lot about editing to make people look stupid/cool/desirable/hated/... . If I ever get sick of being a mom and a photographer, I might have a future in reality TV production.
By the way - that Bachelorette Ashley is completely delusional.

*You get obsessed with the color of your baby's poop.
Did you know your baby's poop can be green, yellow, black (in the first few days) or even orange and that's all normal? However  - brown is not. Well, now you know.

*My baby is a genius!
People who talk about how their baby is so advanced are really annoying. Aren't they? So your baby could walk at 8 months, big deal. That will be very useful for him when he is 18.
That's how I used to think. Now that I have a (very advanced, of course) baby myself, all I want is to talk about how amazingly smart she is. She socially smiled at us when she was 4 weeks old! She can already roll over! Well, our pediatrician thinks it's cool. You know, I don't want to be "that mom". The one that always compares her baby to other babies and who can't stop bragging about how amazingly developed my child is, so I am trying really hard to just shut up. But man, it's hard.

*You know what Little L did the other day?
Related to the baby bragging is the "I can't shut up about that cute thing my child did yesterday". I have a few friends who still went out with me occasionally even after they had a baby and I loved them for not constantly bringing up the kids in conversation. I foolishly thought that was because they were happy to get to talk about something else then dirty diapers for a change. I now realize that I was wrong, at least partly. Of course it's nice to get to talk about other stuff but when you are the mom of a baby or even a toddler, your child is the most important thing in your life. You can have a really amazing job but you'll still want to talk about how your baby had the cutest smile after she farted the other day or how she said something that sounded like "Mama" last night. I now wonder if it took a lot of restraint for my friends to not break out the baby stories. This has been another tough one for me. Hopefully I'll get better at it soon before I alienate all my childless friends.

I could probably write a whole book about the subject on how it feels to be a new mom but I'll leave it at this.
It's a wonderful experience and much easier and at the same time much more difficult than I ever expected. But I wouldn't want it to be any other way. It's awesome and fantastic and it makes me happier than I've ever been.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Want to Ride My Bicycle

De Salamander - a windmill I used to cycle past on my way to work

I've been very lucky so far to have a very healthy pregnancy. I had a few scares but they all turned out to be false alarms. I have the typical late pregnancy aches and pains but so far (and I am just a little over four weeks from my due date) I didn't develop any of the scary pregnancy diseases like pre-eclampsia or diabetes or even simply high blood pressure. 

By far the worst pregnancy symptom I've had is being very, very hormonal. Don't get me wrong. I am trying hard to not be one of those pregnant furies who people don't want to come around. I try to be reasonable and friendly, despite getting so annoyed by the world, some days, that I just want to dig a big hole and hide in there until this whole thing is over.

To people who don't understand how it feels like to be hormonal (like, for example if you are a man) - it feels like any feeling you have is 100x intensified. I wonder if that's how bipolar people feel. I've cried more in the last 3 months than I've cried in the last three years together. A song that reminds me of something - crying. Bad news - crying. The baby I used to babysit doesn't stop crying - neither can I!
According to what I've read this is only going to get worse after the baby is born. At least for a little while.

I've been trying to find ways to deal with this abundance of feelings. I found one good way to deal with it is to turn on some music and go into full nesting mode - cleaning, organizing, planning. I do it for hours until I collapse onto the sofa to spend the rest or the day watching re-runs of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" and "House Hunters" on HGTV. 

Another way is to get lost in a really, really good book. Unfortunately I never know what I am going to be in the mood for. Last summer I plowed through all the books from the Sookie Stackhouse novels in about a month. Last month I finally found something as captivating - I read "The Hunger Games"-trilogy in about a week. I am still looking for a worthy successor to these amazing books. Every book I start now seems boring to me. 

But when I am really upset and I need a quick fix I turn to something I learned from meditating. Not classic, sitting down closing your eyes and saying "ohm" meditating. I am too impatient for that. When meditating I imagine the most beautiful and peaceful memory I have. The most beautiful memories I have are of my wedding, my bachelorette party and my honeymoon but the most beautiful and peaceful memory I can come up with is of me cycling to and from work in the Netherlands. For a while I would cycle to work and back two or three times a week - an 18 mile bike ride through Dutch meadows with grazing, black and white spotted cows, next to canals and tulip fields. If it didn't rain, the weather was always just right - since it hardly ever gets too hot in Holland. You could smell the grass, the morning dew and the blooming flowers in the air. I chose a bit of a longer route to be able to be solely on bike paths and far from the roads. I could feel the sun on my face and the wind, coming off the canals, in my hair. I would go as fast as I possibly could. For some reason the Dutch are not fast cyclist even though they are practically born on a bike, so I would almost always be faster than most people - sometimes even faster than the racing bikers. The Dutch approach cycling like they approach everything in life - you'll do what you need to get there but it doesn't really matter how long it takes.

Me and my purple bike Hilda and our early morning hour of solitude. Hilda was and will always be the best bike I ever had. She was comfortable but fast at the same time. She was the exact right size for me and even though I had to have her fixed more often than I had to fix my other bikes, I'd still always chose her above any other bike, would her brand of bicycles be available in the US. 
I've tried to develop the same kind of relationship to my bikes here but I couldn't even come up with a name.

Since cycling gives me so much joy, I continued cycling when I came to the US. But it's not the same. Part of the problem is the lack of bicycle paths in Chicago. Though Chicago is actually very good when it comes to having bike paths for US standards - it is very lacking compared to the Netherlands. And even though we HAVE bike paths, that doesn't mean the cars honor them. And then there is the ever-imminent danger of being "doored" - meaning that people who park their car are not looking out and might open the door right into your face. Many cyclists have had accidents this way - some have died. I've had a few near accidents like that myself.
This is why I decided to stop cycling when I got pregnant. So I haven't been cycling in about 8 months and I really miss it. Of course, this is Chicago and the last 5 months it's been too cold to cycle anyway.

I learned to cycle when I was 4 years old. My family didn't have a car, so public transportation, walking and cycling were our only means of transportation. We did a lot of bike tours to the surroundings of Vienna or to the city beaches of the "Old Danube" on the weekends. I've always seen myself as one of these women with a kid car or bike seat attached to my bike, cycling around town with my baby but now I am not sure if that's something I will be able to do. It's just too dangerous here. And really, there isn't too much nature to enjoy either. 

So maybe cycling will become "me-time" and something I'll mostly get to enjoy when I have an hour to myself.

Nevertheless, I'll always have the memory of me cycling through the fields of Zuid Holland. I hope one day I can cycle this stretch with my husband and our kids and show them why it means so much to me.

What is your happy memory?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What's Going On

My kitty Anouk - just because she's cute

It's been a long time! I don't think that anybody is actually still reading this but I'll post anyway. 

There is a reason for my extended absence - well - a few actually. 

Number one reason for me was that I had gotten really annoyed by myself. I felt like I was repeating myself constantly on this blog and I really had nothing new to write about.
And then something happened that I could have written about but I decided to keep this a secret for a little longer, maybe because I am a bit superstitious, or just because I felt it was private and I was not ready to share these news with the world.
So here is the big reveal to all of you who don't know me personally (because those of you who do, would most likely know this already). I am knocked up! Preggers! Bun in the oven! I am having a little life growing inside of me!
The little girl is expected to make her appearance in late April/early May and so far it's been going great. The first trimester was a bit of a drag, as I think it is for most expecting women but I am almost done with my second trimester now and I am doing really well and so is the baby.
Only a handful of people knew about it until I was 20 weeks along which is when we told "the world". The response has been pretty positive so part of me thinks that it would have been nice to come out with the news earlier but at the same time I am glad I got to avoid the "Don't forget to take your vitamins!" and "Take care of yourself - don't forget you are not responsible just for yourself anymore!" for a little bit longer. 
Seriously, I don't know why people think it's ok to treat pregnant women like 4 year old children. I am going to be 30 this year! This pregnancy was planned - which shouldn't come as a surprise given that I have been married for a few years now and we are financially stable, so why would people assume that I don't take my vitamins and don't eat my vegetables? I could understand if my doctor would tell me these things but my doctor doesn't because my doctor actually knows that I am a grown up.
I am often tempted to respond to "Take good care of yourself" with "Oh yeah, I am going to, right after I get done with my bungee jump - I am going to have a few drinks for courage though!".

Also - I have never been in touch with my body like I am now. I don't know if it's the same for every pregnant woman but I can feel when I haven't been taking care of myself as well as I should have. If I forget to take my iron pills for a day or two, I get cracks on the side of my mouth. When I don't get enough fruits and veggies in my diet (like around Christmas) I get little, painful blisters in my mouth. No work-out has ever made me feel as great as my prenatal work-outs make me feel now. 
I used to have this exotic, rainforest plant that would look really sad if I'd forget to water it one day. That made it really easy for me to not forget to water it because you could see immediately if the plant was suffering. Well, my body is like that plant now. It is very unforgiving. I hope it stays that way after I give birth!

What else is new? We are house hunting and I have been spending way too much time watching House Hunters on HGTV. And then we found a condo we love and everything seemed perfect but now there are problems, so we don't know what will happen with that for another few weeks. With the impending birth of our child we do hear a little clock ticking in the back of our heads. If we'd know that we definitely don't get the place, we'd start to try and make due with what we have in our rental apartment but like this we see no reason to turn our cluttered office room into a baby room. People keep on telling me that this is stuff I can worry about once the baby is here but usually people who tell me this have no kids and thus have not experienced the terrifying force of the nesting instinct. Right now I feel like a starving mouse, trapped under a glass jar, with a bunch of cheese right there on the other side of the jar, unreachable to me.

So I am trying to focus this nesting instinct in another direction. I started my photography business last year and following the advice of a photographer friend, I now got myself an accountant. This accountant is great and her tips on taking care of my finances really inspired me to completely re-organize my little office space. I got myself Microsoft Office for my Mac and I am a little bit embarrassed about how excited I am about this. Spreadsheets! Organization! Tables! 
I learned how to use Word/Excel/Powerpoint in school 15 years ago and had been using it for work for years. It feels strangely comforting to use it for my own business now. 
I think it reminds me of my school days. I ended up going to business school even though I really wanted to go to Art school. Designing flyers and posters for my marketing classes, making fancy Power Point presentations and having my Excel tables look really professional was the only creative outlet I had in school which is maybe why I am so attached to the Office package now even though I am strictly a Mac person otherwise.

Pregnant, in the market to become a first-time home-owner, my own company and my own accountant. I feel pretty grown up right now!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

On getting old as a 28 year old

Recently I have found myself doing a lot of old people stuff.

I first noticed it when I was in Amsterdam. My friends there (who are all a few years older than me) were in a party mood. They went out every night until the sun came up. Not so much E and I. We'd go home at 2am at the latest. 5 hour sleep nights just don't play well with me. Don't get me wrong, I still like to go out, drink and be merry but I also like to be home and in my own bed not too long after midnight.
I couldn't even blame the jet lag - according to the jet lag I should have been able to stay up until the early morning hours with no problem.

On Queensnight - the party-night before Queensday - the day that everybody goes wild and orange - I even got a bit bothered by the crowds that had gotten to an uncomfortable level of drunkenness. Aggressiveness, mixed with touch of horny was buzzing in the air. I was wondering if there ever was a time when I liked that and I am pretty sure there was. Maybe I was just too waisted to notice back then.

I remember the first time I felt like I was no longer a spring chicken. It must have been 3 or 4 years ago. Two of my best friends and I went to Vondelpark with a bottle of wine in hand after dark. I spent every summer in Amsterdam, in my early 20s that way - wine in the park on a blanket. Cheap and romantic. When we tried to find a place to sit on the grass that day we found that wasn't a good idea. The grass was a bit wet and we didn't want to get grass stains on our nice pants. So we were looking for a bench to sit on. We found a bench but after about 5 minutes on the bench, mosquitos started attacking us.
Defeated, we decided to go to a bar instead.

But not only do I find myself not wanting to go out as much, I also have started talking like an old person. And I am realizing - I am not turning into my mom (as the world keeps on telling me I should) - I am turning into my grandma.

It is very odd. I had never been a fan of using sayings but now old Austrian proverbs pop up in my head like mushrooms in a forrest. My favorite one is "The only thing I HAVE TO DO is die!" as an answer to "But you HAVE TO!". Let me tell you one thing though - do not use this proverb on a 3.5 year old. It is apparently a very disturbing thing to say to a toddler.
Another favorite of my grandma, that I have to force back the urge to use: "A soccer player/indian (native American) doesn't know pain" in response to "Ouch!".

Another indicator that I am getting old is the reminiscing. Sometimes my husband and I reminisce back to times when there were no cell phones, no internet. One of my proudest teenager moments was when I aced an essay on evolution in my biology class. I wrote a five page essay on my old typewriter, I cut out pieces, I photocopied pictures of amoebas and monkeys and cut and pasted all of these manually into a, if I may say so, nicely written article on evolution of mankind which I then photocopied again to make it look like a magazine piece. I got the best grade in class and after that on every essay the kids in class (who had actual computers and color printers - but not the internet because people back then didn't have the internet yet) tried to outdo me with their presentations and their cutting and pasting. Today these things are not the same. I see it with my photography - I used to shoot film until only a few years ago and you can't do nearly as much editing with film. Nowadays you can be a mediocre photographer and still have acceptable photos if you know your editing (however I don't believe that you can cancel out bad photography all together by good editing).

I remember a conversation some friends recently had about the internet:
Friend 1: "What did people do when they had an argument about who is right back when they couldn't google it?"
Silence. Thinking.
Friend 2: "I don't know. I guess they went to the library and looked it up in a dictionary?"

Good old times.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Achtung Baby

I have been writing a lot about how it feels like to move to America as a European. There are good things and bad things and I'd say despite the obvious, cultural differences between the US and Western Europe - everybody will have their own experience, their own way of seeing things and experiencing life.

But what I want to write about today is something that is going to be important for everybody who moves to America and lives here for the first time - especially for people, who like me - come here on a spouse visa. I am talking about credit score.

In America if your credit score is bad, you can't get a loan, you can't buy a house or a car. If your credit score is really bad, you can't get a phone either. If your credit score is good, your life is going to be a whole lot easier.
I knew about the whole credit score thing when I first moved here but I didn't know that you have to work on it. In Europe (at least the countries I have lived in) you either have credit or you have bad credit. If you screw up a few time, like pay your bills late or not at all - or worst - get sent to a collection agency - you are being put on file, which means you have less chances of getting a loan or you will be getting a smaller loan. You get the picture. But if you never get in trouble but also never get a credit card - well - that's good. You don't have to have a credit card to have good credit in Europe. 

This is different in America. While I kind of knew the principles of that when I moved here, it took me almost 2 years to fully realize how much I have been impacted by that.

I had my first experience with my credit score not being good enough at Old Navy. I buy most of my clothes at Old Navy and GAP which belong together and share a store card (don't judge - I need comfortable clothes as a nanny). As always, the girl at the check out asked me if I'd be willing to sign up for an Old Navy/GAP store card to save 10% on my purchase that day. And since I had bought a lot that day I said, ok, why not? I put in all my info. We were waiting for credit confirmation and 10 minutes later the shop girl got a call, turned around and faced me with a look of embarrassment "I am sorry but I won't be able to give you the card today. You haven't been rejected but we can't give you a card.". I was very embarrassed but I thought maybe I gave her the wrong social security number. At that point I sometimes still mixed up the numbers in my social security number.

I got home and there was a letter from my bank, asking me to sign up for a credit card that would get me air miles. I had just talked to a friend about that exact kind of credit card and she told me that she had recently been able to get an airplane ticket to Hawaii with her saved up air miles. I though, that would be a good thing for me. Of course - I was rejected. The reason "You recently tried for a store card and were rejected."
Alright, that must have been because of the mix up with the Old Navy store card.

I waited a few months and then again tried to apply for a GAP card. This time - online. A week later, I received a letter. Another rejection. The reason - I didn't have enough credit history in this country. Finally - at least I knew what was going on! 

Fast forward a few more weeks. After almost two years with the crappiest phone in America, I wanted to upgrade to the new iPhone. I stood in line at the Apple store for 4.5 hours - not something I would normally do but I had decided I wanted it and I waited. Finally, I got to fill out my data. A small part of me was afraid that there was going to be a problem with my credit. And - of course there was. AT&T wanted me to pay a $500 deposit to get my phone. 
Now, imagine this - you waited in line for 4.5 hours to be told you have to pay that amount of money. What would you do? I tell you what I did - I agreed. Because before that I shared a phone contract with my husband. In fact EVERYTHING was on my husbands name - the electricity bill, the cable service, the phone, the bank account. For some this might sound like a wonderful, liberating thing to not have to care about anything and be completely taken care off. 

Not for me. This is a woman who took care of a sick mother and grandmother since I was a child. At age thirteen I personally went to social services and got us social help money so we wouldn't be homeless. This is somebody who moved out at 17 years old to be independent from my family and still managed to finish school. I am not somebody who enjoys being a dependent, helpless person. And please - this has nothing to do with me not trusting my husband who is one of the kindest, most caring people I have ever met. This is about me being a grown up who takes care of herself.

So I paid this fee, I got my own phone contract and I made an appointment with my bank to discuss how to improve my credit rating (and how to get a business account - since I am now a business owner). 
And here is the funny thing - it turns out that through a bank error my social security number had never been connected with my bank account (the one I share with my legal, American husband). I find it borderline hilarious that in a country that is so afraid of illegal immigrants, somebody could have and use a bank account, a credit card even - without having a social security number added to it. I was also surprised how the bank clerk acted like this was not a big deal. I lost almost two years on collecting positive credit rating thanks to a bank mistake and it means nothing?

So my advise to everybody who is coming to this country as a legal immigrant - make sure your social security number is entered. Make sure some utilities are on your name. If your bank offers you a credit card, take it and use it. You'll save yourself a lot of grief later.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Chicago photo a day

When was on holidays in the Netherlands I asked my closest friends who live there why none of them had come to visit me in the 1.5 years I have been here. Some of them really can't afford it and I understand that. It was really expensive for me to go to Europe and I didn't just visit one friend when I went.

But some of them took other trips to far away lands which were just as expensive as a ticket to Chicago. So I asked some more questions and I realized that it might have been partly my own fault: I had made Chicago look pretty bad. One friend asked me if there was enough to do in Chicago for a one week stay! 
I must have made Chicago look like one of the worst, most boring places on the planet!

I know I have had a few posts where I was talking about all the stuff I love about Chicago - the lake, the people, the different cultures/neighborhoods, the festivals, the newly emerging foodie culture, the live music! Chicago is a pretty awesome place to live. The problem I had was that I didn't have much of a social circle to enjoy all of these wonderful things with which made me not enjoy Chicago the way I wanted to.

Well, I am slowly starting to build that social circle and I am enjoying Chicago more than ever.

For those friends of mine who for some reason can't come to visit me or for people who would like to know more about Chicago or for people who love Chicago already and want to see as much of it as possible - I created a second blog:

I won't write much on that other blog. This blog is for writing and musing and complaining. The other blog is just to show what I get to see ... to enjoy ... everyday.