Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Music that Moves Me: Nickelback

The radio or my iPod plays almost around the clock at my house. I love music - and I'm especially drawn into music with lyrics that speak to me. All kinds....sappy love songs, proud country ballads, even the occasional politically-charged rap tune. So from time to time, I'll share artists and lyrics I'm listening to.

Hot on my list of favorites is Nickelback. They have so many great songs with messages I could listen to everyday. In particular I think three songs are awesome: If Everyone Cared, If Today Was Your Last Day, and one of their newest, When We Stand Together. The last isn't widely available in the US, but you can download it in Germany.

Here are some of the lines from If Everyone Cared that sum it up:

And as we lie beneath the stars
We realize how small we are
If they could love like you and me
Imagine what the world could be

If everyone cared and nobody cried
If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
Then we'd see the day when nobody died
When nobody died...

Wouldn't it be great if everyone DID care? Loving, sharing, swallowing our pride... these remind me of the basic life lessons in Robert Fulgham's classic "Everything I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" (awesome book, I'll need to review that in another blog, in case you've never read it).

In If Today Was Your Last Day, Nickelback challenge us to examine the quality of our lives:

My best friend gave me the best advice
He said each day's a gift and not a given right
Leave no stone unturned, leave your fears behind
And try to take the path less traveled by
That first step you take is the longest stride

If today was your last day
And tomorrow was too late
Could you say goodbye to yesterday?
Would you live each moment like your last?
Leave old pictures in the past
Donate every dime you have?
If today was your last day

Against the grain should be a way of life
What's worth the prize is always worth the fight
Every second counts 'cause there's no second try
So live like you'll never live it twice
Don't take the free ride in your own life

And part of the message in Nickelback's When We Stand Together is again reminiscent of Fulgham, who reminds us we should hold hands when crossing the street. Here are a few of their lines:

They tell us everything's alright
And we just go along
How can we fall asleep at night
When something's clearly wrong

When we could feed a starving world
With what we throw away
But all we serve are empty words
That always taste the same

We must stand together
There's no giving in
Hand in hand forever
That's when we all win
Hey, yeah, yeah, hey, yeah
That's when we all win

These guys are fantastic musicians who've been rolling out chart-topping albums since 1995, so unless you live in a cave, you've probably heard their music on the radio. Next time, take a listen to the lyrics and be reminded to live a little better.

Update, November 2013
I won tickets to a concert on the Hits Tour with backstage passes from the local radio! What a fantastic treat!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Housing Crisis: A double-edged sword

In the "Land of the Free and Home of the Brave:"

In June 2011, there were over 200 houses for sale in Frederick, MD with at least 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Most were priced extremely reasonably, since the housing market had crashed in recent years - and many of these houses were even foreclosures listed below market value (those might have needed work, but there were plenty of options for someone willing to invest a little elbow grease). The point is, anyone with a moderate income and decent credit could buy a house.

So we didn't really expect to be able to sell our house. In fact, several real estate agents we spoke with warned us that it would be virtually impossible to get close to our asking price within the few months that we were willing to try to move. Nonetheless, we cleaned, painted, repaired, polished, planted, and put up a sign. And I guess God sent us a sign - because the house sold in less than 2 weeks - after only 2 showings. We were shocked and fully unprepared. We had just listed the house and not even left on a house-hunting trip of our own to find a new place. But it seemed this move was "meant to be" and so we scurried off to find a home in Germany - with only a 2-week shopping window before we needed to return to the US, pack up our belongings, close the sale, and ship on out.

Cross the ocean, to the birthplace of Daimler-Benz and the Cinderella Castle:

To our utter shock, at the same time, in the region of Essen, Germany (considerably higher population), there were approximately....ZERO... such houses on the market (good size for a large family and decently priced). The rental situation was not much better. There were about a dozen rentals that offered 4 bedroom and 2 baths, albeit with substantially less square footage. And of those rentals, there were people lined up to the Austrian boarder trying to rent them. Nice small families with only 1 or 2 children. And German landlords - they like small families. Families with four children are often presumed to be socially inferior (the nasty slang word "Asi" for anti-social was directed my way).

We were crest-fallen. We made a last-minute offer on a tiny 3-bedroom, 1-bath fixer-upper whose owner of 50+ years had recently passed away. A Notary was hired to draft the contracts, the mortgage applied for, and we headed back to get packed. However, when we returned a few weeks later, ready to move in and begin renovations, the seller still lacked the legal paperwork proving he'd inherited and could sell the house. The deal was delayed repeatedly and eventually fell through - while we remained...


For about 5-weeks we literally had no home. Sven and I, along with our oldest daughter, stayed with friends in a town near Essen. The other kids were with their grandparents several hours north. The container with all of our worldly possessions (including all the warm fall clothes we desperately needed) was sitting in harbor accruing astronomical daily storage fees (it arrived much faster than expected).  While we hoped to soon move into the house we intended to purchase, we continued to look for other options - primarily rentals at this point, since a new closing would take too long. We needed to be in a home before school started. Our hope was that the youngest would attend 3rd grade in our neighborhood school, although the older three were enrolled in a school offering the International Baccalaureate. We needed to know what neighborhood we would be living in. But the situation seemed so hopeless.  I questioned how God could have sent us through this frustrating nightmare.

Happy Ending:

In September, the weekend before school started, we hit gold. Having cast our search net wider and stretched our budget to breaking, we landed in a fabulous rental home. It is a 100-year old duplex under historic preservation that boasts five bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a beautiful sauna in the basement, a wood-burning fireplace, and a lovely landscaped and fenced yard, as well as a garage! The owners interviewed several interested renters and selected us (not that I begged or anything ;) ). We signed a contract on Saturday, painted a few rooms on Sunday, had our container delivered on Monday, unpacked and built beds on Tuesday, and Wednesday the kids started in school!

Another day, I'll share the post-move-in adventures of life in a house with no kitchen or lamps :)

Our new home!

View of the backyard from Master Bedroom balcony

Monday, March 5, 2012

Navigating My New Life

So this is my first foray into blogging. I'm 42 years old and stumbling my way through a major transition: moving with my family from our home in Maryland to my husband's native country, Germany. I figure this is as good a time as any to start writing it all down: the stories I want to remember and pass on, the accounts of our current experiences, and the goals and dreams I want to keep in focus.

A little backgroud:
I was born and raised in suburban New York. When I was 16, I won a Congress-Bundestag Scholarship to live with a host family and go to school for one year in Germany. There, I landed on a small farm on the Baltic Sea. Didn't speak a single word of German. Knew nothing about milking cows. Was pretty sure I had fallen off the edge of civilization. But during the next 12 months, I became fairly fluent in the language and fell in love with everything about my new culture (as well as a certain blond boy ;) ).

Upon returning to the US, I entered Michigan State University, where I pursued first a Bachelor of Arts in Communication then Master's and Doctoral studies. In the summer of 1989 I was back in Germany working on an internship. That's when I dumped the blond boy (sorry, Ole) and began seeing the man I later married - the one who just brought me and our four children here to live, after he spent nearly 20 years with me in America.

So here we are, Karen, Sven, Marissa (16), Nadia (15), Anders (13), and Sergey (9), having arrived this past summer in what they call the "Ruhrpott" - a densely populated region of urban sprawl along the Rhine and Ruhr Rivers in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.  Join me as we navigate our new lives. If you have similar stories to share, questions or comments, I look forward to hearing from you!
First Christmas in our new home. Frohe Weihnachten!