On design…

“…at a [design] firm you are turning out Design Product on an assembly line, you usually aren’t actually making your own design. You get direction from the Art Director who tells you the idea and then coaches the final product out of you. Or conversely if you are the Art Director you come up with an idea and tell someone else to make it. Whoever has their name on the door is working hard to bring in high dollar work in order to keep the machine running, which often means taking monied clients who don’t really want great design. Great design is risky. Many clients prefer simply good design, which is far lower risk.”

From http://grainedit.com/2010/05/24/dan-stiles-interview/

A return to blogging

I’ll just call my six-month absence from blogging a sabbatical. That makes it seem more like I took some time to re-energize my creativity and ‘focus on me’ and less like I just neglected/forgot about my blog.

I actually intended to write a post about 3 hours ago, but as things go, I got distracted. I wanted to integrate my shiny new blog posts with my Facebook feed, but I was having some technical difficulties. See, when I first published this blog, I used an automatic installation from my hosting company because I wasn’t that savvy with setting up domains and databases myself. Unfortunately, those automatic installations can’t be manually configured later on, so I decided to go rogue and take things into my own hands as a self-sufficient maker-of-internet-things.

It went pretty well. I got the new installation up without a hitch, and I was feeling pretty good about myself until I realized all my old blog posts were missing. So, I took a peek at the database and saw that the old tables with my precious antique blog entries were still there, they just had a different name from the new WordPress tables. Being a master logician, I concluded that I could just copy that information over. Also being impulsive, I did it the ‘easy’ way and just dropped and renamed the tables to fit the new installation. One accidental drop of an important table and subsequent database back up later, my blog is back in business, baby!

Although this story is likely boring and unnecessarily detailed, it’s cathartic for me. In the past six months, I’ve been teaching myself about web programming and development, and I’ve been enjoying it. However, the more you learn about a subject, the more you realize how much more there is to learn. It’s a really disheartening spiral. In fact, I had started to feel like I hadn’t learned much at all. But all this returning-to-blogging business today taught me that I have picked up some skills that have stuck. That’s heartening! Also, this post is showing up on Facebook. Yay!

Since I had such a positive blogging experience today, I think I’ll be coming back for more soon…

Progress!

So, this is the fourth week that we’ve been in SB, and it feels like things are *finally* starting to happen… I’ve been working on a corporate identity and website design for a new department at the university, and I’m finally starting to feel like I’m in the swing of things. Yay!

Also, our stuff is coming this weekend!! I’m so excited! It seems that all of my polite-yet-aggressive complaining to the movers did some good because they made our delivery off the truck first! Since you probably didn’t know, here are the reasons why having our stuff will be awesome.

1. No more bus tickets. Unfortunately, our guest house is about 2.5 miles away from everything. While that’s a comfortable distance on a bike, it’s not so great walking. So, our options are always to suck it up and walk or fork over the money for a bus ticket. Starting Saturday, we’ll have the bikes back. It’s pretty hilly around here, but nothing’s more than 3 miles away, so it should be pretty easy on a bike!

2. Hello, kitchen stuff. At the guest house, we share a kitchen with about 4 other people. It’s really not bad, but the kitchen supplies are kind of lame. There are no spices, the pots are crappy, and the knives are seemingly useless. Also, there’s about 2 cubic feet of freezer space we have to share with everyone else. So, having *our* kitchen stuff back is going to be great!

3. Newer radiators. At the guest house, the radiators are kinda old, and it gets COLD at night!

4. My pillows. I’m pretty picky about pillows, so it’ll be nice to have my own back.

I’ll cut it off here, but I think you get the idea that things are going to be much better starting Saturday…

Three years ago today…

Jeff left on an airplane to move to England.

I guess he thought he’d get rid of me.

Boy, was he wrong. :)

What a day…

Jeff:     Hey, what do you have to do today?

Me:      Not a bunch… I need to work on the logo and stuff.

Jeff:     Wanna skip it and go to IKEA?

Could I ever say no?

Yesterday was quite the adventure. The instantaneous decision to go to IKEA left us with 30 minutes to get ready and get to the bus stop. We hit it in stride. That is, until I realized that I had actually gotten the directions wrong. You see, I’m still a little weak in terms of reading bus schedules, so I tend to just overlook things sometimes… things such as the correct bus number. So, we rushed to the wrong bus stop. Not a problem. We still had about 25 minutes to get to the train station. That’s right, there’s no IKEA in Saarbrücken, it’s in the neighboring Saarlouis. Details, schmetails. We got to the train station in time, fabulous. We got off the train at this tiny station with nary a sign to point us in the direction of a bus stop. Naturally, we asked a guy walking toward the train station if he knows where we ought to go. Just as he says the bus stop is around the corner, we see our bus hurtling out of sight.

Hauling-It-To-Catch-The-Bus Tally for 11/5/2010: 1

As we waited for our stop on the bus, I started feeling a little nervous. We should have only been on that bus for about 12 minutes, and then we were to get off and wait for the next bus, which would deliver us at precious IKEA. We’d been on the bus for 17 when I realized we’d already turned around. So we took the bus in the wrong direction… Not a huge problem. We’ll still get to the next stop and we’ll just wait for the bus for a little while.
We arrive at our first stop and exit the bus. Fortunately, all bus stops in Germany have bus schedules posted, so you know when the next bus is coming and where it’s going. Unfortunately, it seems we had missed the bus while we were riding the previous one in the wrong direction, and it was a special bus that only comes once a day to take kids home from school. Google Maps to the rescue! Figuring that we were only supposed to ride that bus for 4 minutes, we knew we couldn’t be too far away from IKEA. So, I was able to get directions on my phone, and we just walked the last mile.

IKEA was wonderful. We’re going to need to buy some furniture pretty soon, but we wanted to go to the store and check it out in person before we have it delivered. We spent three or four hours walking around IKEA… always a good time.

Leaving the store, we figured we’d just get on a bus and go to the central train station instead of trying to get back to the tiny one. We had about 20 minutes to wait for the bus. As the bus ETA was approaching 8 minutes, Jeff and I decided we should have gotten some Daim from IKEA. No problem, I’ll just go back inside and get some. We’ve got plenty of time…

Hauling-It-To-Catch-The-Bus Tally for 11/5/2010: 2

Getting to the station and catching the train back to SB was a cinch. While we were in the center of town, we decided to pick up some groceries. All stores in Germany are closed on Sunday, so it’s important to not run out of groceries on Saturday night. We got our food stuffs and headed for the bus home. One problem with the bus system here is that there may be 2 or 3 bus stops with the same name that are all in slightly different places. So, if you need to catch the 107 at the Haus der Zukunft (House of the Future) stop, you’ll need to walk around the corner and go down a quarter of a mile from the 111 stop at the Haus der Zukunft. Why? Nobody knows. So, we couldn’t find the stop in the direction we wanted at Johanneskirche, so we headed off for the next stop. Just as we rounded the corner, the bus we need passes us.

Hauling-It-To-Catch-The-Bus Tally for 11/5/2010: 3   This time with groceries.

All in all, it was a good day. We totally caught all three of those buses.

How does England suck? Let me count the ways…

So, as you all know, Jeff lived in England for the past three years. I stayed with him for two summers, making my time there about six months altogether. Being from the Southern US, I tend to expect people to be friendly and helpful. It’s just the way most people are ’round those parts… Being in England for a while, I always found it unsettling when people were unfriendly and unhelpful. For instance, asking an airport employee for directions to the central bus station at the airport would be quite simple in Atlanta. I feel confident that they’d give me good directions, and probably a little reassurance that it’ll be easy to find. Asking the same question in England left me confused about why I was even going to that bus stop, and if I was really certain that I was going to the right place. NOT REASSURING. I’d been scolded as though I were a small child, and my only defense was my thought to myself as I walked away: “At least I don’t work at the airport…”

So, you might say six months of similar experiences added up and left me with a bad taste in my mouth for the UK. But those are stories for another day.

Today I’m going to share the many ways in which English people and companies have tried to screw Jeff and me over since we left.

1. MoveCorp

We hired movers to get the contents of Jeff’s apartment over to the new place in SB. Just a funny note, they refer to “moving” as “removal” in the UK. It’s slightly unsettling, since I don’t want anyone to “remove” my stuff; I just want them to take it elsewhere. Anyhoo, I arranged the “removal” with MoveCorp. They seemed pretty legit. They arrived to empty the apartment on October 13. It was supposed to be at 9 am. Around 11 am on October 13, I started to get a little worried. So, I called up MoveCorp. Oh, the movers have been delayed because they had to move a piano (unexpectedly?) and they should arrive around 1 pm. No big deal, we still had a little cleaning to do. 2 pm rolls around, so I call back. Oh, the movers are delayed again, but they should *definitely* be there by 4. Now, that’s a problem because the steam cleaners are supposed to get there at 3 pm. Clearly, they can’t clean the carpets if there are boxes all over the place, so we managed to postpone the carpet cleaners. The movers finally showed up at 4:30, and there were 3 of them, so things were going pretty fast. Around 5:30, two of the movers realized one had been stuck in an elevator for an hour. Apparently, the way these movers roll is to fill up the elevator completely with boxes and leave just enough room for him to squeeze in and ride down to the ground floor and unload. What they didn’t count on is that it’s not too hard to overload the freaking elevator! So, they exceeded the weight limit, and the elevator did the smart thing: it rode up to the twelfth floor and stayed there. Totally logical, as a safety mechanism when there’s too much weight in the elevator, let’s just send it up to the top floor! So much better than the basement!

Three hours later, they finally got the guy off the elevator, and in another hour, they were done. Easy peasy, lemon squeezie, as the Brits would say.

Two weeks later, I receive an email stating that the volume of our stuff was 100 cubic feet more than what we were quoted. So we owed them 250 pounds. We gave them a detailed list of everything to be moved, so I’m not too sure how they could be off by so much. It seems to me like it’s a nice way of seeming to have a lower quote than other companies, only to cost more in the end.

Oh, yeah, and don’t forget about scheduling move-in! Once we paid for the move, they told us we can’t schedule a specific day to have our stuff delivered. We have to wait until there’s a truck going from England to Germany. Oh, yeah, and even then, it could be two weeks after that because there could be 2o different loads on that truck! Great. Just great. Go on, take the money and run, MoveCorp. Hopefully we’ll see our stuff by December.

2. Squares Estates Agents

Because of the snafu with the movers being so late (and getting stuck in the elevator), we had to postpone the carpet cleaners to come the day after we left. It worked out okay because the cleaner is a contractor for the leasing company, Squares, so he was able to get in. He told us not to vacuum the carpets beforehand because he’d take care of that. Nice, right?

About a week after we got to Germany, we get an email from Squares saying that there were a number of things wrong with the apartment. Including the carpets being dirty. Astonishing, since we used the service they recommended! Oh,  yeah, and the trim was “dirty”. You know, the wood trim that goes around the walls next to the floor… in the section that we didn’t clean because the guy told us not to vacuum the carpets, we neglected that there was a small amount of dust on the trim. That dust called for “professional cleaning” of about 5 feet of woodwork. In that case, I’m guessing the professional was the leasing agent’s boyfriend or something. I mean, who doesn’t want to get paid 50 bucks for 30 seconds’ worth of work?

When Jeff rented the place, it was brand-new and had no bathroom fixtures. So, he installed a mirror, towel bar, and toilet paper holder. Probably 50 bucks’ worth of stuff, excluding labor. When he suggested that they credit him for those fixtures, their response was that they would have to rip them out of the walls, then repair the walls, charging us for both. That’s logical, right?

All in all, they won because we they had all the power in that situation. I mean, what were we going to do–pay for train tickets back to Milton Keynes just for spite? It would have cost more that way, so we had to let evil win.

3. NatWest bank

Really? Does it REALLY make sense to you to send a check in pounds to a country that uses euro? Maybe you’ve heard of a bank transfer? You should have because you’re a freaking BANK!

We can’t deposit a check from your own institution over the phone because that would be insecure, but we can endorse a check and then put it in the mail?! That sounds safe. Brilliant, guys.

4.The British Government

So, in Europe, people do bank transfers a lot instead of paying with some form of debit card online. The reason is that card-based forms of payment are insecure, but somehow providing people with your checking account number is safer? Lies, I tell you, lies.

Anyway, it’s quite easy to send a transfer from a personal account to a business account. So, most businesses requiring a deposit (power company, gas company, etc.) request that you pay for it via bank transfer. However, the government says it’s not okay for businesses to pay individuals via bank transfer, so they have to send you a check.

Meaning we have a lot of money in checks for English currency. But we have to mail them back to England to have them deposited to the English bank account and then transfer that money over to the German account. How helpful.

I’m sure I’ll be able to add a few more to this list before all is said and done. England’s a nice place to visit, but I definitely never want to live there. Well, it’s really not even that great to visit. Just try to avoid it.

First post!

So it’s the last day of October 2010, and I think everyone can agree that it was a big month for me. More specifically, October 10th was a big day: I got married, sold my car, and fled the country. On October 11th, I landed at Heathrow airport and waited at the airport for an hour or so for my husband to arrive. We took a bus to Milton Keynes, packed up his apartment, and took the Chunnel over to Paris. We walked with our 4 suitcases a few blocks from Paris Nord to Paris Est where we sat with our luggage for 4 hours because the luggage lockers were being “modernized.” From Paris Est we embarked upon the last leg of our trip–2 hours to Saarbrücken, where we hope to stay put for a little while.

So far, so good! We are signing a lease for an apartment tomorrow, and we should be able to move in within the next few weeks. I think it will be worth the wait!