Embracing Butter


Medical care in Germany – two thumbs up!

After a long silence from my side, it’s time to get back to sharing about life here in Germany. To be 100% honest with you, I’m tired of Germany. Moving to Hamburg pushed me over the edge from ‘maybe it’s time to move on’ into ‘get me out of here ASAP’ territory. Yet here I am. Still in Germany and trying my darndest to make the most of it while I’m still here. Which means focusing on the positive – the good food, some interesting people, the fact that my kids like it here and are thriving, and, among other things, good coffee (which you have to travel for because there is no good cappuccino here in the ‘burbs, but hey – a thirty-ish minute trip for a good cup of joe is worth it to me!).

Medical care is another thing I appreciate here in Germany. Not super sexy, I know, but if you have kids then good, affordable medical care is important. And medicine is one thing I find very little to complain about here in Germany, because – shocker! – Germans do well in medicine. You won’t get the touchy feely ‘Hey, how you doing today, baby?’ kind of care here from nurses like you do back in The South, but you will be given what you need and time (lots of it!) to heal.

If you’re a public insurance holder like I am, one downside is that you’ll probably spend a lot of time waiting for doctors. A lot of time some days. Others you get lucky and get what you need without spending half a day at an office with sick people. In either case, you will be taken care of and you can be sure that your medical care will be thorough. Very thorough. You will also likely see the most unpretentious, laid back doctors you’ve ever seen.

With three kids under two roofs here in Germany for almost a decade, I’ve seen everything from pediatricians to eye doctors to surgeons and OB/GYNs and others in this country. We’ve had emergency room visits and hospital stays checkups and things cut out of our faces in out-patient care, and all of these experiences have been generally positive. Another perk? Not getting massive bills after doctor’s visits and surgeries. Seriously – taxes are a pain in this country, but taking my kid to the hospital if needed and knowing I won’t get a bill asking for thousands of dollars (ok, Euros!) afterward is really nice.

Most recently, my daughter had surgery at the local children’s hospital. Her operation required being fully knocked out with anaesthesia and a two night hospital stay afterward. In general, the experience was good, if lacking a bit of personal touch. When we first arrived (with my girl having not eaten a thing since the night before – I was hungry for her!) there was no one really owning the check-in process, so after handling paperwork at the the reception to the children’s surgery floor and waited in a cold play room for over an hour before a nurse showed us her room, where to find the nurses station and the ‘Elternküche’ (parent’s kitchen – where there was fruit, coffee and water – important piece of information, even if hospital coffee is pretty bad). That nurse left and another came in to do the surgery prep. A doctor stopped by as well and explained the procedure, but she was so unassuming and quiet that I didn’t realize until after the fact that she was also a doctor (I’m still used to American doctors, who generally make it very clear that they’re the doctor). Then it was another round of waiting for her to be taken back to surgery.

My daughter was calm, my fiancé was calm, and I may have looked calm on the outside but was in fact a big bundle of nerves. Putting your kid’s life in the hands of someone else is not easy, my friends! Surgery lasted two hours, which was 30 long minutes than the roughly hour and a half we had been told it would be, so by minute ninety-one I was pretty wound up, holding back tears while I imagined myself making funeral preparations and explaining what happened to my ex-in-laws. Thankfully,  (of course!) everything went well. No complications, no hospital drama. My daughter woke up in an anesthesia daze and we spent a funny half hour with her saying funny things before we went back up to her room so she could rest.

Her stay ended up being two nights and three days, and during that time she went from having her four-bed hospital room to herself, to having a  little girl stay for an afternoon, to a room full of adorable roommates by the day she left. As an aside, my kids have gotten lucky – maybe even blessed! – that where ever they go on this continent, they end up surrounded by good kids. This time, the hospital roomies were a 12-year-old girl from Afghanistan who was an only child (which was clear by the way she bossed her sweet little dad around whenever he was there), and two Germans – a teenager from the country who’d been knocked over by a horse (no kidding), and the most talkative 8-year-old you’ve ever seen, who lives in our part of town, and whom I’m still waiting to show up one of these days.

The girls were all so nice that I didn’t want my daughter to leave, and in fact, after she was given permission to leave the hospital, the nurse actually kicked us out because we were (or maybe I was) dragging out that hospital goodbye. In the end, the surgery was good and followed by three (yes, three!) visits to other doctors over Christmas to keep an eye on the wounds and make sure they were healing. It was a lot of back and forth (my fiancé graciously drove us to every visit), some emotion, and a few weeks of no showering for my kid, but we’re happy with it. Which is good, because apparently my son may be having similar surgery soon, so we’ll get to do the whole show over again. I’m just happy our insurance has it covered!



How I keep a clean home when crazy busy – or crazy and busy!

clean house picture

I have very little free time, as I am sure most – if not all – of you reading this can relate to. Between raising my three children, working full-time, building my matchmaking business, and the rest of life (being a friend, a girlfriend, and also carving out time and space for “me” time) – there isn’t much space in the margin for anything else.

So maintaining a perfectly clean home? Doesn’t happen. One of these days I will hire a housekeeper to come in regularly and keep my home clean. But for now, while I’m what I call the single-mom-building-a-business budget – AKA, not a ton of extra cash – I can’t have it all. So for now I enjoy using the money I would spend on a cleaner on my café visits and on treats with the kids instead.

While I don’t keep my place Donna Reed spotless, I do keep it in pretty good shape. Only on rare occasions would you would find chaos ruling, with mounds of laundry on my bed or dirty dishes ruling the kitchen. That generally only happens when I’m sick and don’t have the energy to keep things up.

How do I do it? I keep a loosely structured, weekly cleaning schedule and tweak as needed. I also enlist the help of my children. They earn monthly pocket money through chores that are done weekly. Things like vacuuming the floors, Swiffering (no, we don’t mop), dusting, cleaning the bathroom, and window washing each have a price attached to them, and at the end of each month money is paid out based on the work that was done.

We keep all of this written down. It’s a must, because at any give moment my brain is likely in five different places, so remembering who did what and what they should be paid for it is impossible. A simple monthly chart lists the week, the job, the amount given per job, and a space for the initials of the person who did said job. At the end of each month we tally up who did what, and pocket money is then given according to the jobs completed.

I learn by doing, so it took months of trial and error to create a fair system resulting in a clean home and a happy mom and kids. But I am glad I did, because this works like a charm. No more fussing and whining about who does what or who gets paid what. It is all documented, and money is not paid by anything arbitrary like age or behaviour, but for the actual tasks done. It’s great and it works well for the bigger weekly jobs.

For smaller daily chores - such as setting and cleaning the table at meals, helping with laundry, taking out trash, etc, we have a simpler way. Each child has a job that is their responsibility for the week (or for several weeks, if everyone is happy and does not want to change jobs). And this is also attached to a reward – not cash, but our weekly Friday family movie and pizza night. And it also works.

This weekly cleaning and pizza “system” also took a bit for me to make work. Originally these daily tasks were not connected to an incentive. Which means my children got their movie night regardless of whether they’d helped out with family chores. So quite frequently, I was doing my work and theirs, and still paying for pizza and running to the movie store so that they had their fun family night.

Clearly, this did not work for very long, and tweaking was needed. Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for initiating the change to a better way, because it was my BF who pointed out that things could be better. Of course I was offended by his observation (have I mentioned that I am highly allergic to anything that even hints at criticism? I am). But he was right.

When I finally recognised that I was rewarding my kids for working only when they felt like it, I made a change and passed the responsibility of making Friday night fun to the kids and contingent upon them getting their work done. And in the meantime, things work – the kids know what is expected of them and they generally do what should be done. And when they don’t – well, they get less cash and mom has more  cash for cappuccino.

And voila – it works! Clean (note that I didn’t say perfect) home, happy kids, peaceful mom. Of course, if I am sick one week or have a crazy busy work week, then I will let our work slide. And on rare occasion I will still call my awesome cleaning lady in for support. But in general, keeping a task-reward system and tracking what is done has saved my sanity – and ensures that we live in a comfortable apartment where chaos and mess are kept in check.