Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Home Owners Again!

It’s official.  We are home owners again.  We closed on our new house today.


Of course nothing is without a few surprises or glitches along the way.  First off, we did a final walk through the house immediately prior to our closing appointment.  The previous owner left behind quite a few things:  artwork (not my taste), barstools (also not my taste), a vacuum cleaner that smells like it’s about to catch fire when being used, a washer and dryer from the 1980s, and a refrigerator. 

The fridge was a big surprise because it was not part of the offer and it’s really nice.  It’s a relatively new stainless steel refrigerator but, since we weren’t expecting it, we had already ordered a new one.  I guess our back up basement fridge will be the one he left behind.  Certainly nicer than what we would have picked for our second fridge.

The washer and dryer being left behind is just an irritant.  Clearly we don’t want them and so now we have to dispose of them.  Obviously we will donate to The Salvation Army or Purple Heart or Habitat for Humanity (and are happy to do so) but really it’s one more thing that we didn’t want to have to deal with.

Finally, the closing itself.   Ben and I were all stressed out that our electronic transfers from some of our accounts wouldn’t make it to our local bank in time to get the certified check for the closing.  After much stress and moving of money, we were OK.  [however, I will never understand why electronic transfers are not instantaneous!]  After all that stress, the closing still nearly didn’t happen.  The network/internet at the title company was down and they didn’t have the documents printed out that we needed to sign.  I think Ben and I sat in the conference room at the title company for over two hours.  They kept promising us “just another 15 minutes.” 

In the end, it all worked out and now we are home owners again. 

Anyone interested in a 25 year old washer & dryer set?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Poopy Pants + Mind Your Own Business

Carter pooped in his pants today.  Quite possibly the first time ever.  I’m not sure in all the potty training time if he ever pooped his pants.  Sure there were plenty of wet accidents…I just don’t seem to remember any dirty ones.  Maybe it’s just selective memory.

Carter and I were spending some time at a book store while Daddy was next store doing some grocery shopping.  I’m a little burnt out on some of his books right now so I thought it would be a nice treat (for both of us) to get him some new books.    This was also going to be a consolation prize for him after spending over an hour with us at the tile store.  Carter was such a good sport while Ben and I hemmed and hawed over which tile would look best in our new bathroom.  

Nothing like dirty drawers to bring everything to a screeching halt.

So, we were in the bookstore and had just walked over to the kid’s section.  Not only is there a HUGE selection of books, but there are fun toys and a train table all set up.  Carter ran right over and played for a whole 2 minutes before “it” happened.  He walked over to me and said, “I have to go potty.”  As we were making our way over to the restrooms, I noticed Carter was walking with a strange gait.  “Carter, are we too late?” I asked.  The answer:

“Mommy, I have poop in my underwear.”


I'll spare you the details of the clean up.

I now have a pounding headache.  I need a drink.  Unfortunately, there is no liquor store attached to the bookstore, but there is a Starbuck’s.  Close enough.

Me:  Medium, non-fat caramel macchiato, please.

Barista:  Sure.  Would you like a double chocolate brownie with that, today?

Me:  No thank you.  Just the coffee.

Carter:  Mommy, can I have a cookie, please?

Me: Absolutely not.

Barista:  We have chocolate chip…

Me:  No thank you.

Carter: Please, Mommy.

Me: No!

Barista:  Oh, doesn’t he look sad.

Me: (giving him the stink eye) Just the coffee, please.

I'm sure you can imagine the rest of the conversation, including the hushed whispers I had with Carter reminding him of his dirty drawers from two minutes prior. 

Clearly this idiot behind the counter of the bookstore Starbucks does not have any children of his own, nor has he ever interacted with young children.  Because if he did (or had), he would have never tried to undermine me.

Why can’t people just mind their own business?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Nothing Says “Welcome Home” Quite Like…

…a certified letter from the IRS saying “you’ve been audited.”  It’s like a big, warm hug from the US Government.


We came home from work on Wednesday evening to a note in our mailbox.  The postal worker was kind enough to leave us a note saying we had a certified letter from the IRS requiring our signature waiting at the local post office. 

Somehow I knew right away that it wasn’t a fat refund check.  I’m pretty sure those don’t come certified mail.

Do you think I got much sleep on Wednesday night?  Do you think I was maybe just a wee bit distracted at work on Thursday?

While standing in line at the post office after work, the guy behind me struck up conversation.  He had two notices for packages from Amazon that required signatures.  He admitted that he didn’t even know what they were and found it odd he had to sign for the unknown.  I offered to trade with him.  I would be happy to sign for the unknown.  I would gladly take that risk.  Unfortunately, he turned me down. 

Upon receipt of my mail, I quickly walked ran back to my car where I ripped open the letter.  My 2007 tax return had been “reviewed.” And, in case I wasn’t sure what that really meant, the IRS was kind enough to put “audited” in parentheses after “reviewed.”   Oh, thank you, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant.

Per the IRS, I owed an additional $420 plus $21 in interest.  Geez, if you are going to audit me, please do so in a timely matter so that my interest charges aren’t so high.  Is that too much to ask?

This morning I had several phone calls with members of my Deloitte tax team.  These are the brilliant people that Ford has hired to help me with my taxes as an International Service Employee.  In theory, this is great because I would have no idea how to go about filing taxes from outside of the country.  Too many crazy rules and crazy things that Ford does to compensate us for our time outside of the US.  However, in practice, Ben and I have learned that our tax advisors are by no means tax experts

Around lunch time, I received a phone call from Ed, the guy who filed my 2007 taxes on my behalf (NOTE: this is not the same guy who filed my 2008 taxes nor is he the guy who will file my 2009 taxes…why have consistency?).

Ed:  I have good news and bad news.

Me:  Ok, the good news…

Ed:  The fax you sent me came through.

Me:  That’s the good news?

Ed:  The bad news is that the IRS is right.  You do owe them money.

Me:  Why?  How did that happen?

Ed:  Well, we didn’t really look at your husband’s W2 completely and so we missed some things when we filed for you.  There’s nothing we can do now.  You’ll just have to pay them.

Me: (too stunned at this whole conversation to come up with anything useful) Um, OK.  Thanks.  Good-bye.

Later, when I could gather my thoughts again without cursing, I did call Deloitte back to make sure they will cover the $21 in interest.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Yet More Thoughts on Repatriation

Our corporate issued repatriation handbook says that moving home can be a bigger cultural shock than moving to the host country.  I guess the theory is that the expat is expecting big cultural differences on the outbound move and none on the inbound move.  This skewed sense of expectations apparently makes for a tough move home.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s been pretty easy “re-acclimating” to the US.  There are things from Germany that I miss (see previous post) and sometimes I sound like a pompous ass accidently saying English words with a German pronunciation.  (I had the hardest time saying “swine” as in swine flu. I kept pronouncing it schwein /schvine/.)  BUT, I feel like we are mostly back into our groove.

What did surprise me is the realization that I was spending significant effort in defending my “American-ness” or defending the USA while I was living abroad.  I guess I just got so used to being apologetic about something inherently American about me (ability to only speak English, my nasal “accent,” my large insulated coffee mug, my fondness of peanut butter) or my country (George W Bush, rednecks, NASCAR, American football, large gas-guzzling vehicles) that I didn’t even realize I was doing it.  Only after we returned and I was no longer doing it, did I realize it had begun to feel like a burden.

It’s a relief to know that millions of other Americans who shop at Costco have the same large coffee mug as me.  It’s a relief to be back in the Midwest where everyone (for the most part) sounds a lot like me.   I don’t feel any obligation to defend rednecks and NASCAR fans (I suppose that’s redundant).  I will go back to insulting them without feeling I’m selling out my countrymen.

I am American and I’m proud…but, Geez!, why all the rednecks?  They are really cramping my style at the ol’ Costco.  Their cart full of Bud Light is preventing me from reaching the Perrier.

Ooh! on a side note:  it’s so nice to be back in the land of “significant & respected personal space.”  No one is trying to give me a colonoscopy with their grocery cart while standing in line behind me at the check out, instead they are just trying to tell me about their own recent colonoscopy procedure.   Ah, America…the land of personal space filled with people who lack a filter between their brain and their mouth.


It’s easy living here in the US.  It’s easy like riding a bicycle.  Once you learn how to ride, you can get to anywhere you want to go.   You can even ride with “no hands,” listening to your iPod, and chewing gum (all at the same time!).

Living abroad is like riding a bicycle in rush hour traffic.  You know how to do it, but it takes a lot more concentration and focus to get to where you’re going.  You have to hold on with both hands and can’t afford any distractions.  Maintaining that level of focus can be exhausting and so, many times, you don’t even take the bicycle out for a spin.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Search for an Identity

We might have a new name for the blog, we may not.  I can’t decide.  At the moment, it’s titled “The Gale Gazette.”  I don’t love it…but I needed to change it.

I also spent some time looking for new blog templates.  I’m tired of what I have.  Recently, I deleted the background so that we are back to white.  I simply couldn’t decide on a new design and layout so I finally gave up.  Please bear with me while the blog facelift is put on pause.

Finally, I started to change the “About Me” blurb on the left side bar.  After deleting what was there, I completely drew a blank on an update.

It’s like I have exhausted all decision making capability in moving home and picking a new house and now I’m all tapped out. 

Perhaps when my frontal lobe returns from some R&R, I can finish the blog changes.

Monday, January 11, 2010

1 Month Home Already.

As of today, we’ve been back in the US for one whole month.  Carter said yesterday, “I’m glad to be back in Michigan.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Here are a few observations/comments about being back:

  • I actually miss driving a manual transmission.  Yes, Ben has one, but I don’t get much of an opportunity to drive it.  I still find my left foot reaching for the clutch sometimes when I’m driving my car.gerolsteiner
  • Sometimes German words come out when I’m not expecting them.  For instance, I’ll say “bitte” instead of “please” at the end of a request or when I’m ordering food. 
  • I miss sparkling water.  I never imagined that I would actually like  sparkling water but now I crave it.  Of course I can buy it here or order it at restaurants, but I feel so ridiculous asking for it here.
  • Now that we are home in Michigan, I have absolutely zero desire to travel.  Can I just stay home forever now?  I think this feeling will pass,  but for the moment, I’m really content to just stay home every weekend.
  • I’m continually surprised by strangers talking to me on the elevator or other random places.  In Germany, rarely is there small talk between strangers…and if it ever happened with me, I won’t have understood anyway.  But now that I’m back, I’m constantly talking to strangers in elevators, in line at the check out, etc.
  • I need to learn how to tune people out again.  It’s really easy to tune out people who aren’t speaking your native language.  But, being home, I feel like I’m experiencing sensory overload when I’m at the grocery store or other public place.  There are just so many people speaking English.
  • Bob the Builder is really annoying in American English.  I prefer the German and the British versions.
  • I love Target and Kohl’s.  They are proof that discount stores don’t have to be totally junky.  I do not miss the discount stores in Germany. saure pommes
  • In fact, I don’t miss any kind of shopping in Germany.  The stores here are nicer, the prices are better, the selection is better, the hours are better.
  • I really miss my “Saure Pommes.”  This is sour gummy candy shaped like french fries that I could buy in the coffee shop at work. 
  • I really, really, really miss the coffee machines we had at work in Germany.  AND, it was only €0.48 for a cappuccino or latte.

That’s enough for one day.  To summarize:

I am happy I’m home.  I miss Germany.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Soundtrack of My Life

I'm having a reminiscing sort of day (if that even makes sense).  Actually, ever since we moved home last month, I have been having random memories surface.  They are being triggered by songs on the radio.  There were really only 2 radio stations that we listened to in Cologne and so there was a limited selection of music...a lot of it being British pop (Spice Girls, anyone?).  Anyhow, since being home, I have heard so many songs that I haven't heard in YEARS.  And, like most people, music triggers memories for me. 

I heard a Tragically Hip song this morning which reminded me of the many, many, MANY! afternoons/evenings I wasted at the Rio Bravo in Dearborn in 1998.  Josh the Bartender was a big Tragically Hip fan and I shamelessly flirted with him.  Got me free Labatt Blue Light.  My friend Cheryl and I were such regulars there that Josh would have our beers waiting for us when we came in after work.  How sad is that?!  And I thought that was the coolest thing back then.  Free beer from a cute bartender….what more could a 23 year old girl ask for?

I heard another song (Hey Ya! from Outkast) that reminded me of the year I lived in Kansas City (for the second time) to work on the at-the-time all new Ford 150.  It was 2003, Ben and I were engaged and both working in KC.  We had a white convertible Mustang as our company car.  That song brought me right back to riding shotgun in the Mustang, with my hair blowing out of control, likely on our way to work on the weekend...back in the days when we were paid overtime.  The perfect thing for saving up for our honeymoon.

If I had to pick a song that reminds me of that first year we were living in Germany, it would have to be Big Girl by Mika.  It’s really quite a terrible song (read paragraph at the start referencing British pop music) but I will always think of Cologne when I hear it.

Those are just a few examples.  There are hundreds more.  Do certain songs bring back vivid memories when you hear them?  Which songs make up the soundtrack of your life?  Please share!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

I Need Your Help!

I am a terrible person.  My friend Cheryl asked me to do a favor for her niece a couple of months ago.  She forwarded to me a letter from her niece which explains how she and her 4th grade classroom are collecting postcards from all around the country and the world.  There were three things I needed to do:

  1. complete a journal entry in her Travelog Journal about the city in which I live
  2. send a postcard from my city to her at her school address
  3. send the travelog journal to a friend or relative who lives in a different region of the US or another country

Easy peasy, right?  Well, I just got my box of work stuff from Germany delivered to me here in my new office in Michigan.  I opened the box and what’s there on top? 

The Travelog letter. 


I never sent it!  I am such a schmuck.  I guess I procrastinated for so long that I just got so wrapped up in the packing and moving home that I totally forgot to mail it.  D@$%! 

Here’s where I need your help.  I am going to forward on the travelog as originally planned but I need to do something to make up for all the lost time that it was packed up in a box. 

Can you, my lovely readers, my friends and family, send a postcard from wherever you are to the following address:

Carolyn W / Ms. Hooten

Westfield Elementary

901 W. Main Street

Robins, IA 52328

On the postcard can you please include the following:

  • city, state, country where you live
  • short description of the climate
  • neat facts about your town or state

I suppose if you just wanted to send a letter instead (saving yourself the step of going out a buying a postcard), that would work, too.

Thanks in advance for helping me redeem myself.  I’m feeling pretty much like dog poo right now for letting down a 4th grader.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2010. 

Are you feeling as overwhelmed and behind as I am? 

Not only is today the start of a new year, it’s a new decade.  I feel like I should have done a better job of wrapping up 2009 and putting it behind me.  And how can I do that when I haven’t even blogged about our last few trips in Europe before we moved home? I haven’t blogged about the move, Christmas, or the fact that we already bought a car and a house.

OK, deep breath.  Life will go on even if my blog has been neglected and I’m woefully behind.  *sigh* I don’t like being behind.

In case you are wondering:  NO, I have not made any New Year’s resolutions.  I think that we have enough going on this year that I don’t need to add anything else to my list of things to do.  In store for 2010:

  • closing on our new house (Jan 26th, I think)
  • home improvement projects
  • moving into new home
  • getting used to our new “normal”
  • new jobs (sort of…essentially the same job, but new place)
    • This includes the launch of the all new *GLOBAL* Ford Focus this fall
  • rekindling old friendships that have been on hold while we’ve been gone
  • traveling (just in the good ol’ US of A)
  • entertaining family and friends in our new home (please come visit us…a trip to SE Michigan is much, much cheaper than a flight to Germany)
  • Carter will start Kindergarten in the fall (geez…makes me feel old)
  • and I’m sure there’s so much more that I can’t even fathom right now

    Another thing on my list of things to do requires some reader input.  I need a new name for this blog.  The blog address (URL) will stay the same but the header needs to go. “The Gale Family in Deutschland” doesn’t seem to fit anymore.   Got any ideas?  If so, email me or leave a comment.  I would love something catchy but not too cutesy.

    In other news, we have been living in my parent’s basement for the last 3 weeks.  They packed up the car and left for Florida this morning and so we are moving into their room now.  As nice as the Aerobed inflatable mattress is, it will be sooo nice to sleep in a real bed tonight.  Even though we close on our new home in a little over 3 weeks, we’ll likely be staying at my parent’s house through most of February.  We don’t want to move until all the painting and work is done on the new place.  (Ha!  I say that now but we’ll see if I can stick to it when the time comes)

    OK, I’m off to unpack some more and you should be off to do your homework (see paragraph above re: new blog name for me).