The Hunt Continues…

Tomorrow morning, I will be looking at the umpteeth apartment I’ve seen in my three-week search.

In this past week alone, I’ve seen seven apartments. This number does not include the ones where the appointment was canceled because someone else was chosen, or in one case the real estate lady kept me waiting for 45 minutes, and didn’t bother to even show up or return my calls (Fuck you, Frau Aker).

On Monday, I saw one in Eller, a quiet, more green part of Dusseldorf. Unfortunately, this was also located so far away from any stores or public transit that, if I lived there, it would be a major trek just to go grocery shopping.

On Tuesday, we saw one close to there but closer to civilization. The lady seemed thrilled at the prospect of renting to me, yet will not answer any of my follow up calls or emails. Grr.

 

On Wednesday, we saw a tiny but adorable place in Rath, which was the first neighborhood I lived in when I moved to Dusseldorf. This place reminded me of one of those really well-planned tiny houses. I sent in the application, and I’m crossing my fingers for a good outcome.

Thursday, we saw one, also in Rath, that I really liked, but the guy told me the very next day that he went with someone else. The listing was removed before I had the idea to make this post, so sadly, no pictures.

Yesterday, I saw three, count’em, THREE apartments, all in Rath. The first was…not good. The bathroom door had a see-through window. The balcony was so small I considered demanding an apology from the guy for even listing it as a feature. The hallway smelled like urine and B.O.

NEXT!

Next was a lovely old house, owned by a man who has had the place in his family for 100 years. The floors were impeccable and real wood, which isn’t common here. It had high ceilings and a huge kitchen. Sadly, the pictures were removed and the ad was deactivated before I wrote this post. However, the cons to this place were significant.

First, the guy wanted that I purchase a kitchen – that he would pay for and he had to approve – after which he would raise the rent for the privilege of using it. Whenever I moved out I would leave it behind. As a former professional chef, I told him that I wanted to buy my own to take with me if I left, as I am rough on kitchens. There was some weird drama with that.

Second, more weird drama, the balcony was out of commission – meaning, there were huge construction dowels planted on the floor of the balcony which held up the one above it, and all of the apartments in the building had these. He explained that, *sometime* in the future, he was going to have the existing balconies taken out and have new, larger ones put in. Now, I’ve lived in Germany long enough to know that these types of renovations can take up to two to three YEARS. Meaning, for that time, I would, A.) Have a balcony I really couldn’t use even though it was included in my rent, B.) Have construction workers constantly outside my bedroom and kitchen windows and possibly traipsing through my home, and C.) Have to look at fucking scaffolding all the time.

In short, I liken this apartment to dating a supermodel – impossibly gorgeous, great to show off to your friends, but way too high maintenance for me. When he wrote to me today to tell me that he went with someone else, I couldn’t help but feel like I dodged a bullet.

The last one I saw yesterday, like the previous one, was inside a gorgeous old house. The floors were not wood, but the entrance had ornate stained glass, and the entire place had high ceilings, old-fashioned carvings and moldings. It was on the small side, but bigger than my apartment now and far more lovely.

The only picture I have is from the outside, as the listing was taken down before it was shown to me, but it was as pretty inside as it looked from the outside – a rarity in Germany.

I really hope I get this one.

If not, I have three more that I’m seeing tomorrow, and two more on Thursday.

Fingers crossed that I find a home before December 1st.

Have I ever told you that I hate apartment hunting?

I didn’t used to. In fact, I always liked the part where I got to see what the inside of different buildings looked like and all of their little quirks.

But now that my landlord decided to be greedy and raise my rent by 112EUR, I have been forced into this apartment hunt, only in Düsseldorf this is apartment-hunting on steroids. Tomorrow, I will have seen my 18th apartment, followed only hours later by my 19th, and then hours after that my 20th. Happy fucking Saturday.

The thing is, I would be able to pay the extra 112EUR, but…why should I? Nothing has been done to this place to make it better. I live on the 5th floor with no elevator and a 30-year-old heater that makes more noise and has to be repaired more often than a junky old car. And when I tried to negotiate with her, she sent me an email littered with unnecessary exclamation points telling me how wonderful of a landlord she is. When I tried to call her about a question, she was super unfriendly to me, as if *I* were the one putting *HER* out, and told me she would call me back the next day.

She never did.

I pay my rent on time every month without fail, and have done so for the entire 3.5 years I have lived here. In fact, most times I pay early because my boss usually pays me at the end of the month. I don’t cause problems. I don’t blast loud music. I keep to my fucking self with my little fucking garden and live my fucking life in a polite, considerate fucking fashion. I’ve even helped her son, who lives below me, move stuff a few times.

Most likely, she’s buying into the gentrification that has been going on in this neighborhood for the last 3 years. I’ve noticed existing businesses getting new paintjobs and new, sleek businesses popping up, while older places have disappeared. My favorite corner Greek place, run by a really nice Greek family, just up and left one day without warning. Now it’s an upscale Italian restaurant run by hipsters.

Hopefully, the Transylvanian grocery store survives the upheaval. I’ve always really liked that place.

So now I’m searching for a place, which is a fucking expensive pain in the ass in Germany. Not only do I have to hand over 3 months rent PLUS the first month (luckily, I happen to have that right now, and with my Sonderskundigungsrecht I don’t have to give her a full 60 day leave notice), but every single apartment I go see has 10 other people there to see it as well, and then they work the applications like a lottery. There was one I really liked, but at the last minute the landlady said she wanted to give it to her friend. Another one said that it had been down to me and another person, but the other person had been at their job longer so they got it. Then there was one that was a lovely location, and the agent hosting the showing was super cool, but both the inside of the building and the place itself was ghetto AF. I almost took the place just for that location and the price, but then I realized that I’d never be able to leave the house or go to sleep without worrying about someone breaking in.

Carlos has been amazing through all of this. He deals with my stressed out episodes of crying and wanting to throw my computer off the balcony in my frustration with the various real estate websites. He comes to almost every appointment with me to make sure people don’t take advantage of my clunky German skills. He’s driven me all over this city. He fixes things and helps me clean and reads over applications to make sure they’re on the up and up.

We talked about moving in together, but with the COVID crap, he’s on kurzarbeit, short working hours, so the crushing expense of moving in Germany just isn’t in the cards for him right now. As for me, I have no choice. So here we are.

The sad part is, I love my neighborhood. I love the nice people who work at the grocery store, walking to REAL whenever I need something American, and having 10 different modes of transportation around me.

I also love my little apartment, my very first real home here in Germany. I love grilling and watching the trains go by at night on the back balcony, and sitting on the front balcony with Carlos to watch the sunset. I love being comfortable enough to leave the doors to both open at night during the summer, knowing the only intruders who might dare to enter are insects.

I’m going to miss this place, and I’m worried that my next one will be some shithole I have to take out of desperation to not become homeless.

Homeless, with a full time job, a positive SCHUFA score and plenty of money for rent. What the fuck kind of problem is that, anyway?

Hopefully, I don’t have to find out.

How My Mind Processes Ideas

Step 1. Holy shit, I have an idea!

Step 2. OMG GET IT ALL WRITTEN DOWN AHH!!

Step 3. Share. “OMG YOU GUYS, LOOK AT MY IDEA!”

Step 4. Come back later and find all the spelling/grammatical/editing errors, holes in stories, and think of all the things I forgot to add, and wish I had waited to share.

Step 5. Revise, primp, and peck at it until I like it again.

Step 6. Share again.

Step 7. Wonder why I’m like this.

Memories of Matt Tate

Tonight, while in an insomnia-driven rabbit hole on Google, I found out that an old friend of mine passed away. Unfortunately, I don’t have any of my own photos of him on hand, as those were taken long before social media.

Fall and Halloween will always make me think of Matt Tate.

I met Matt one brisk autumn night in 1996. I was 16 years old and my hippy stoner friend drove me to this new age party at Huntington Beach, which was to celebrate a solar/lunar event of some kind. My memory escapes me with the specifics of what this event was or meant. But she was a friend, and as teenagers do I went along for the ride.

When we got to the picnic pavilions, I recognized a couple of much older adults from the coffee house I frequented, The Magic Unicorn, but my friend who drove me was the only person there I really knew. This event seemed complicated and involved, so I found a seat next to a tall, cute and quiet guy about my age and awaited further instructions.

Soon more candles were lit, and everyone was handed a some kind of cryptic poem. I held it up to the candlelight to read something about a “horned god”, maybe some animals, but “horned god” is what sticks out most in this memory.

Now, “The Craft” had just come out, so I was in my weird witchy phase like a lot of other girls my age, but it was more the “hang out with your girlfriends and see if you can make your enemies’ hair fall out” aspect that most appealed to me. This poem seemed weird.

My friend who drove me was out of earshot, so I turned to the guy seated on my left and showed him the paper.

“Hey, do you know what this means?”

He laughed, shook his head and shrugged.

“I dunno, some chick brought me here, I thought it was a party. I have no idea what’s going on.”

Relieved that I wasn’t the only one in that boat, I introduced myself.

“I’m Laura.”

“I’m Matt. That lady over there seems to be the one handling everything, we could ask her.”

He gestured at one of the much-older adults at the next table. Hardwired with school etiquette, I raised my hand.

“Excuse me? Hello?”

The lady looked at me. I held up the poem.

“What does this mean?”

“It’s a chant.”

I waited for more elaboration, and when it didn’t come, I pressed on.

“Okay, but what does it mean?”

“It’s something we all say together.”

“…”

Did she think I was stupid?

“I know what a chant is, but what does this one mean?”

Annoyed, she snapped, “Just go along with it, okay?” and disappeared in a huff. My fellow fish-out-of-water and I exchanged “WTF?” looks. But before we could find another adult, or my friend who drove me for that matter, someone’s voice rose up in a song I couldn’t understand, and the chant lady shushed all of us. I think there were drums. I was nervous. What the hell was this? This wasn’t in “The Craft”.

Matt looked how I felt, and I spoke to him in a low voice.

“Dude, this is messed up.”

“Yeah, I’m getting kinda’ spooked.”

“You wanna get out of here?”

“Totally.”

Together we formed the blueprints for our escape. The chant lady turned around and “SSHHHHH!!”ed at us. It was then I remembered that my mom, never not concerned with my safety, let me take her cellular phone – an electronic brick with a pull out antenna that her boss gave her. I kept it in my purse and flashed it at him, and he gave me a nod of approval.

We told everyone that “We’re going to use the bathroom!” and dipped out of the picnic pavilion, which was now filled with the voices of the mysterious chant, maybe drums. We climbed the hill up to Lake Rd. and called my mom.

“Dude, what the hell was that?” I said as I kept watch for the headlights and turn signal of my mom’s car.

“I dunno, I thought we were going to get possessed or some shit.”

We laughed and did the customary, “What school do you go to?”, “Oh, do you know this person?”, “Yeah he’s my cousin. Hey, did you hear the new Chemical Brothers?” thing. I learned that he loved rap. As a metalhead, I didn’t hold that against him.

My mom arrived, and he thanked her for saving his life.

So began my friendship with Matt.

After high school, I’d usually see him around Halloween when we’d watch horror movies and go to haunted houses together.

One night, he and I went with another friend to the Haunted Laboratory in Akron, and the other friend drove. On the way back, while speeding down I-77, the friend driving had a seizure.
From the back seat, I watched, terrified, as Matt calmly reached over from the passenger seat and took the steering wheel, then reached one of his long legs to the drivers’ side, pumped the brake, and managed to pull us over. He spoke to the friend in his soft, calming voice until the seizure subsided, when Matt begged to take over driving. I remember how impressed I was with Matt’s calmness in a crisis, and this gentle nature was always something I admired about him.

Matt was a quiet, thoughtful guy, but if he felt connected to someone his conversations were a gift. Ever the night owl, Matt had a knack for keeping me up all night engaged in such conversation until dawn, or when my body couldn’t stay conscious any longer, whichever came first.

“Sleep is overrated,” he’d say.

I never minded this. Matt was funny and intelligent, artistic and humble, and I loved talking to him.

As the years passed and life went on, I lost touch with him. Then one autumn evening, I was 29 and just moved into my apartment in Lakewood when there was a knock at my front door. Thinking it was a little late for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I opened it.

Standing there was my old friend Matt Tate, holding a bag of coffee and smiling.

“Whoa!”

“Whoa!”

I grabbed him into a hug, followed by a, “I just moved in, how the hell did you know where I lived?”

“I didn’t! I saw someone just moved in next to my wife and me, and I wanted to welcome them to the neighborhood. I had no idea it was you!”

He explained that he and his wife lived in the building directly next to mine, and if I opened the blinds to my bedroom, I would see his living room.

That night, because my place was a mess of boxes, he invited me over. Matt’s living room was vibrant with the bright colors of his artwork, the curves of his nudes and the sharpness of his more macabre work. I was happy to see his collection included one painting he did back when we were kids that I always loved, filled with orange and blue swirls. Our friendship just picked up where we left off, and once again we talked nonstop until about 5am, when my body grew limp in his recliner.

Many years later, after I settled into my place in Düsseldorf, I was trying to find Halloween decorations in a country that favors Christmas, and I thought of Matt. I found him on social media, and sent a friend request with a message. Unfortunately, I never heard anything back. Now I wish I had been more persistent.

Matt, I don’t know how you left us, but what I do know is that fall is a lot less vibrant without you.

Coping With Corona (or the act of avoiding it)

This sucks. I think everyone can agree with that statement right now. If it’s not the sense of impending doom getting everyone down, it’s the uncertainty or just plain boredom.

I have no answers for this. I wish I did. I just know how I’m coping, because that’s all we really can do at this moment in time – cope. Carlos has been helping his parents move all this week, so I’ve been pretty much left to my own devices.

So, here are the top 10 5 ways I’ve been keeping my mind and hands busy while staying home.

It was going to be 10, but then I realized that I’m not doing nearly that many noteworthy things. 

1.) Cooking.

A lot of cooking. There’s so much that can be done with non perishables and a few spices.

  • For dinner last night, I made a nice basic curry dish with canned tomatoes, coconut milk, dried mushrooms and onions and basmati rice. I cooked a frozen salmon filet in the sauce, but honestly the acid of the tomatoes will tenderize and cook down just about any meat.
  • I baked gluten-free peanut butter cookies using natural peanut butter, buckwheat flour, and honey.
  • Due to the lack of regular flour and dry active yeast in the grocery stores here (Germans will not be without their brötchen), the fun idea of making a cinnamon roll couldn’t happen. I settled on banana bread. However, I didn’t want to use up the little four I had, so I found a box of red velvet cake mix in my pantry, mashed up some old bananas, and got to it. Then I spotted the skull cake pan I brought over from the US and had a little fun.

I did my best with a batch of cream cheese frosting. It tasted wonderful,  though I’m willing to bet that no one will be hiring me to do their wedding cake any time soon.

2.) Gardening

I’ve kept a veggie garden for years, and I had plenty of seeds left over from last year. I also decided to take some succulent-type of herbs and such I bought at the grocery store to build myself an herb garden.

I use egg cartons for my seedlings. So when one plant gets big enough, I can just break it off from the rest of the ones that are still growing and plop them into a bigger pot. The roots grow right through the carton as it disintegrates, and voila!

For sprouting some of the herbs, I used these cool little skull bottles I found at a dollar (or I guess euro) store here last Halloween.  I also used an old maple syrup bottle for the same purpose. They’re both perfect for this kind of thing, with their sizes and the narrow openings and the top to keep the herbs from dropping inside.

I grew this adorable little sage plant that way.

3.) Finishing my book.

Good lord, my book. After combing through diary entries, old text conversations, pictures and every other token of my journey, the massive 4 1/2 year project that has kept me time-traveling back and forth through my life will finally come to an end this year. I now have a beginning, middle and end, it’s just a matter of polishing it up into something more palatable. With as much love, blood, sweat, and tears I’ve put into it, I need to have it done and off my mind so I can focus on more fun projects. Finding the motivation and mindset for this has been difficult, though, with these recent world events. But I’m plodding along.

4.) Unsolved Mysteries

Those who know me well are aware of my love for crime stories and mysteries. I swear I was a detective in my past life. Well, one of my favorite shows from childhood has found its way to Hulu!

In early 1987, I was 8 years old. Unsolved Mysteries debuted and had me hooked. When my mom took me to the grocery store, I would try to find people in the store who looked like the wanted criminals. You see, I was too young to distinguish the difference between the reenactment actors and the actual police mugshots and sketches. So I always found someone who looked, to my young eyes, vaguely like the fugitives. When we got home from the store, I would run to the phone and call their 800 number (1-800-876-5353, I still know it by heart) and report the sighting. In my determination to fight crime, I became a regular at their call center.

Because these were the days before the “call waiting” feature was common, this tied up the phone line for any calls my parents needed to take. One day, my dad realized that he missed an important business call due to my little project, and I was banned from using the phone without their permission.

Fast forward 32 years, I find myself falling back into that old habit. I can no longer call their number, as it’s been replaced with a website. I also highly doubt these fugitives have managed to get all the way over to Düsseldorf, Germany, so there’s no real chance of bumping into them at my local grocery store. But there are a few cold cases that have captured my interest, and I found myself digging deep into internet rabbit holes late at night to form my own hypothesis for each one.

If I manage to solve anything or find evidence that leads to the capture of a perpetrator, I’ll keep you posted.

5.) Writing Group Chats

As of March 18th, I took my creative writing group to Skype. Even though coming up with writing prompts we can do online has become a new challenge, this has been such a fun time! With the freedom of everything being online, I’ve extended an open invite to my writer pals in Cleveland to join our group. The 6 hour time difference has proven to be a little problematic, but it can be worked around. I hope to soon have a meeting combining Cleveland and Düsseldorf. Then we can take over the world. Or, you know, write short stories. Tomato tomahto.

Düsseldorf, taken at The Rhein

Cleveland, taken from Edgewater Park.

Well, those are my methods for staying sane. What are yours?

 

#TeamTrees

I know this site is pretty new and lacking of content, but I wanted to put a message on here about Team Trees. This is an initiative to plant 20 million trees around the globe in 2020. Because I could only contribute what seemed like a drop in the bucket, I looked for other ways to help.

CookPad is donating $1 for every recipe shared on their site. Finding this out just as I was going to make my morning smoothie, I decided to write a recipe for that to share. As cooking is my love and was once my profession, I figured sharing an abundance of recipes is something I can do to help.

If you’re curious, here’s the recipe. I will be posting them here as I share them.

 

Things

 

Bear with me, as it has been a very long time since I’ve written anything resembling a journal entry.

Sidenote: How I miss the Livejournal days of yore when I could pour my heart out on a daily basis to a group of friends who were, in turn, pouring out theirs. I’m grateful to have maintained the friendships I have from that era. You know who you are.

Anyway, how have I been? Where have I been? Alright, let’s do this.

  • How Have I Been?

After being diagnosed with MS back in May and completely terrified, I began a strict regimen of yoga, weight training, and replacing Germany’s superb bread and chocolate with ingesting every antioxidant I could stuff into my body. I was doing well with this for awhile until another relapse temporarily blurred my eyesight. I got back on the wagon for the most part, but obstacles such as A.) having energy to do things, B.) remembering to do said things, and C.) fighting random bouts of depression, mood swings, bizarre headaches and severe light sensitivity have thrown a wrench into getting back into that routine full throttle. But this will change. In case you’re new here, I’m one stubborn, resilient, badass motherfucker of a human being who lets out an earth-shattering battle cry in the face of adversity, and refuses to accept defeat no matter how high the odds are stacked against me.

Making a nice green smoothie every day has helped, too.

Taking certain fruits, vegetables and herbs I have researched (spinach, kale, ginger root, tumeric root, carrots, and many more), I cram them into my blender until I have to hold the lid closed and hit “puree”. While it hasn’t done anything good for my bank account, it has done wonders for my energy level and, most importantly, my eyesight.

I may need a new blender soon, though.

In other news, I’m back to getting my book published. After an eternity of rewriting, omitting, editing, and all that fun stuff that one does when they feel something is *almost* perfect, I had to take a break. There was a point when the book became more of an emotionally taxing job than a labor of love.

In order to keep my mind going and writing an active part of my life, I started a creative writing group back in July. Every other Wednesday, between 8-12 of us meet at a coffee shop or the library and have fun with different writing prompts. I love that I get to meet so many funny, talented, and creative people and have the privilege of listening to everyone’s unique writing style.

On Halloween, at the International English Library, I read a story I wrote  for their Spooky Short Story contest. I won first place, and took home a box of Wychwood Brewery craft beers. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but the bottles are cool, and I enjoyed sharing them with Carlos.

Speaking of the most important part of my life here, there’s Carlos and his family. What lovely people to have in my life! Even though I can only communicate with his parents in either my broken German or even more broken Spanish, we have wonderful conversations and they are the warmest and kindest people I have ever met. Carlos’s very polite and thoughtful teenage son, Leo, is the kind of kid who would fool me into having a kid, making me think having kids would be easy because they would turn out just like him.

As for Carlos himself, he’s so much more than just my handsome Spaniard. He’s my best friend. My rock. My person. He’s the best man who has ever entered my life. I would be in a much darker place without him. There have been times when he was the one person keeping me from packing up my stuff and booking a one-way flight back to Cleveland. Well, flightS, since there’s no such thing as just one flight from Europe to Cleveland. But I digress. However, this is a good segue into my next topic.

  • Where Have I Been?

For our anniversary, we went to Amsterdam, which is one of my favorite cities to visit. The people are friendly and cool, the architecture is a mixture of old and new, and the vibe is light and fun. If I ever need some cheering up or just to be around people who actually smile, I go to the Netherlands. Carlos and I played a fun prank with a bag of googly eyes while we were there, sticking them to statues and anything else we felt needed them. It was a lot of fun.

 

In addition to this fun, we took a nighttime canal tour, went to Madame Tussaud’s wax museum, and ventured around the city. A rainstorm did trap us inside of a novelty condom store. I guess not everyone can say that.

 

 

For my birthday in October, we packed up the car and took a road trip to Paris. I fell in love with the city, tried (and failed) to convince Carlos that we should just not leave and live there forever, and learned a fair amount of French in a very short time. I especially had a hard time leaving our adorable Air BnB, because it was like a little French fairy tale – a room in a charming century home complete with a chandelier and a balcony looking over our host’s beautiful garden. They even had a cute, chunky cat.



 

 

 

Last night, Carlos and I attended the Lacuna Coil show in Oberhausen, a town roughly 30 minutes away from Düsseldorf. Every band that played was amazing – and what made them even more awesome was the fact that each one had female vocalists! As a lifelong metal fan, I love seeing more women taking part in a very male-dominated genre. Infected Rain opened and KILLED it. I admit I had never heard of them before last night, but you’d better believe I’ll have already bought their music before I publish this post. They were followed by Lacuna Coil, who I have followed since discovering their album “Comalies” in 2005. Their set included “Nothing Stands in Our Way”, “Layers of Time”, “Our Truth”, and their cover of “Enjoy The Silence”. The band has always had great stage presence, and Cristina Scabbia’s voice was a force to be reckoned with last night. The headlining act was Eluveitie, a metal band from Switzerland. They mostly spoke German to the crowd, and their accent made it harder for me to understand everything they said. But that didn’t matter, because their performance made me happily throw horns in the air, dance, and bang my head, and that’s all I came to do.

I also had a bit of a fan girl moment later on, when I was able to find Carlos and me in Lacuna Coil’s stage selfie. 🙂

In December, I’ll be making my yearly sojourn to spend Christmas in Cleveland, bearing suitcases stuffed with gifts of German beer, bread and chocolate for all my loved ones. Think of me as a modern-day Santa Claus with jet-lag.

That’s about it. If you think of any other topics I haven’t covered here, write them in the comments and I’ll answer them to the best of my ability.