6 Months

ImageWe’ve been back from Europe for 6 months.  We moved back to NYC in August and hit the ground running.  Keogh started a new school, Wren started with the first of what has turned into 3 babysitters (it isn’t her they tell me).  And Jib and I started commuting back to Princeton during the week.  We hit the road 1 – 2 days per week, depending on the schedule.  And I am traveling for business approximately every other month.  All in all a workable schedule.

 

And everything, always, without fail, looks good on paper.  Leaving Europe was so bitter sweet that it actually hurt.  Half of me wanted to keep our simple life with our tiny apartment, the daily trips to the grocery, the biking everywhere, the kind friends and the beer!  And the other half was thrilled to get back to NYC and our families.  I’m not sure this feeling will ever change.  If only the planet were a little bit smaller.  So it has been a transition.  To put it nicely it has been a process.  To put it bluntly moving sucks.  Even when you are moving back to a place you love and to a neighborhood you know very well.  There is a canyon of difference between knowing your neighborhood and knowing your neighbors.  Apparently, after living in apartments for more than 20 years, our number came up and we now live above very difficult people.  And never ever allow a hurricane to strike in the middle of all this.  I didn’t know about disallowing hurricanes so in October when one hit I was really pushed over the edge.  

 

Hurricane Sandy destroyed our neighborhood.  Here is what we have right now.  Very few residential buildings have come back on line.  Even fewer restaurants or shops have been able to reopen.  Pretty much everything within 2 blocks is gone.  We pay thousands of dollars in rent every month for the privilege of living among, well, living among very little.  Our tiny building was reopened two weeks after the storm after much scrambling and quick renovating.  This only worked because we have no elevator and no basement.  Unfortunately our warm oasis draws the mice like flies.  And speaking of mice we have downstairs neighbors who bang on the ceiling, apparently to tell us to shut the hell up, even when the only noise happening is from the mice running around.  Seriously they recently “sent us a message” when we are all in bed and one of the kids on the floor above us happened to be having a melt down.  I’ve even been “sent a message” when I was ironing one night after 10 PM.  Yes, our neighbors have the hearing of aliens without the human radar.

 

All of this will be worked out in time, we know.  In the mean time we have decided to commit to a new-to-our-family tradition.  We will begin celebrating a Friday night family and friend gathering effective immediately.  We plan to have an electronic/screen-no-go zone in our apartment, meaning no screens of any kind from 5 PM until Saturday morning.  We also plan to invite at least one loud and heavy-footed guest per week.  In addition we will just go ahead and leave a cheese stick right out in the open for the mice.  A bit of an apology for the ever expanding surface areas covered in sticky boards.      

 

All this to say we plan to create more time, more moments, more laughs and more meals with all the folks we love.  Friday here we come!  

FUN Stuff . . .

Last night Jib and I watched the EuroCup semi-final between Italy and Germany at our favorite restaurant in the Beligian Quarter of Cologne, Ouzeria.  For the 15 people on the planet who don’t know yet, Germany lost.  We were heart broken, along with the 99.9% of the rest of Germany.  I’m pretty sure that I haven’t watched a Super Bowl in five or more years, but something about this European football thing grabs my heart and soul.  What can I say?  I’m now a football fan.  The funny make-up, the jerseys, the chanting, the kolsch!  It is just fun.  And we got to reminiscing about some other fun moments.  Check it out . . .

Day 3 or 4 in Cologne . . . the sign says it all!

Mini-train rides at the park with loved ones!

Our Sunday tradition, perfect French Toast prepared by Daddy. (Yes, that is our entire kitchen setup!)

Halloween at the Cologne Zoo with Lenny!

VIsits with Bebby (aka Debora). She is our Cologne babysitter and Wren’s most favorite play dough chef. We LOVE Bebby!

Keogh and Richard! Fantastic mentor and good friend to the entire Best family.

Castles and torture devices, with a side of waffles – Excellent!

Keogh’s kindergarten . . . Pillepup! A wonderful key to his successful German adventure. The staff, the friends, the fun furniture – all good!!!

Ahmad & Wrenny-Maus . . . EhrenKitz, Wren’s Tages-Familie. Her and our DREAM caregivers. We are trying to get them to move to New York.

And I could go on and on.  There have been so many wonderful moments and new connections here.  A sample will have to do for now!  What I really love about this little walk down memory lane is that so much of the good stuff has been simple.  Sandboxes, playgrounds, walks, time with friends, and laughter!  Memories need not be dramatic.  Indeed the intensely fun and personal moments make for such a beautiful little history.

Hair Timeline

Nothing like hair length, hairline, hair color, just hair (or no hair) to give one a sense of a year passing.  I recently reconnected with two friends (Chris & Greg) from a very long time ago.  Indeed we had not seen each other in 27 years.  There are some things that I write and I think, no, that cannot be correct.  27 years as a last reference is one of those things.  This is because I believe that I am still 29 years old.  I thought this would change to like 37 when I turned 40, but no, I still think of myself as 29.  Needless to say the last time I saw these friends I was not 2 years old, so my personal utopian age perception was rocked to it’s core.  The one thing that duly killed my personal lie was the length of Greg’s hair!  The last time I saw him he had a classic young guy’s haircut.  And this time he had a pony tail as thick as my calf with length that fell somewhere around his mid back.  One does not grow hair like that at a quick pace.  This hair took time and patience and more time.  Maybe it didn’t take 27 years, but I bet it took starting and stopping and deciding and recommitting.  All that easily takes 27 years.  I’ve been known to quote the “Numbers don’t lie.” line.  What I should be saying is that ‘Hair doesn’t lie!’  Even the best hairdresser knows that time will always tell.

Keogh started our Euro-Adventure with a buzz cut.  Wren started as a bald diva.  10 months later . . .

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Us

Our year here in Europe is beginning to wrap up.  And another adventure will soon begin for us back in NYC.  Cologne is truly a small gem of a city.  Our life here is simple.  And I have learned that there is a great deal to be said for simple.  So as we begin to think about returning to the US I am aiming to keep it simple.  I will try to focus on thinking clearly, keeping my heart in a place of love, and my body in place of health.   Because this time with my family has given me many many many reasons to do so.

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Home Away From Home

Just this week the New York Times highlighted Cologne, Germany in it’s Travel section in  the 36 hour column.  Our little city was in the spot light!  We actually live in the section that the article refers to as E-Feld.  We found this new reference funny and we’ve adopted it with a half joking and half proud manner.  We figured we would love our little neighborhood, but we had no idea how cool we’d be by living here!  Check out the article here.

Some or our personal E-Feld photos:

E-Feld doorway.

View down E-Feld's now world famous Kornerstrasse (our street).

Broken Ankle

The weather for the last 4 months or so has been rainy and/or sun-less about 85% of the time.  It actually didn’t bum us out as badly as we thought it might.  Indeed, it made the week the weather changed feel like we won the lottery.  This change finally came last week.  It was an absolutely perfect spring day.  Birds singing, flowers blooming, and people smiling for no good reason.  Indeed the sun was so alluring that Jib crossed the street during his run to catch the rays directly on his face.  This might also explain why the tree that uses it’s roots to ripple the sidewalk on that side of the street is so big and mighty.  The sun!  Alas, the bump in the walk caused Jib to turn his ankle at a very ugly angle and he went down.  Hard.  The ankle was broken.

Off we ventured to the private clinic with the deluxe coffee machine and windowed patient areas overlooking a lovely park.  We’ve learned that private insurance in Germany is actually quite something.  MRI, X-ray, PT, massage therapist, surgeon, orthopedist, cafe, pharmacy, whatever you can think of is housed in one beautiful 8 story building thankfully minutes from our home.  Indeed the radiology results showed up on the doc’s desktop long before we could get the elevator from level 2 to 3.  Turns out that a person really does feel much better in a gorgeous space with kind and highly qualified professionals looking after his medical need. So all was well and good in medical paradise.  Then reality set in.  We don’t drive here.  We live in a 4th floor walk-up.  There is no grocery delivery service.  We only own single kid bike seats, no child wagon.  A person cannot carry anything that won’t fit in his mouth while using two crutches and putting zero weight on one foot.  Even a tiny apartment feels like an abyss when the cell rings and it isn’t in reaching distance to the patient.  A deep European bath tub shower cannot be navigated on one foot.  I could go on.

And then the foot began to swell.  A lot.  So the doctor put Jib to bed and told him to elevate.  Here is the email that he sent to his colleagues:

The good news is that the break seems to be healing fine.  The bad news is that I am having pretty major swelling issues.  Even I could not send a picture of my foot in its current state.  The image of a slightly deflated football will suffice.  Spent the morning at the doctors and was told that I MUST keep my foot above my heart for the next week.  I think now would be a good time for everyone to try and work for 20 minutes with one foot at (or ideally above) heart level.  It will soon become clear that while this may offer certain comedic opportunities (for example, I can use my mouse with my nose at the moment) it is neither practical nor comfortable in the slightest.  I will also understand if you forgo the experiment and simply take my word for it – it sucks. This to say that I will be less available than usual for the rest of the week.  I do plan on being at my computer every hour or so to check email because I don’t think there is any way I can remain in bed all day.  I will talk to most of you tomorrow at the staff meeting if my foot is small enough to fit out the bedroom door.

As you can see he is keeping his humor.  Me?  Oh I am on a short fuse going nowhere good.  I regroup about 14 times a day.   I am sincerely thankful that it isn’t worse.  And it is hard.

Nothing wrong that a little pizza can't help.

Not Dirty

Cologne is a city of around 1 million.  I’ve been here for 6 months now.  I have seen exactly ONE mouse.  I have not seen any rats or roaches.  I lived in NY for nearly 15 years and not a day went by that I didn’t see a rat or a roach at least once.  In my first apartment I unfortunately saw roaches in extremely unpleasant places like my bathroom.  I only once saw a rat indoors. It nearly ran over Jib’s face in a movie theatre.  His head was leaning on the wall, he was asleep (yep, during the moving) until he was awakened by the scratching of claw sound vibrating along the curtain covered wall and the world cup wave of folks standing and screaming as the rodent quickly and safely sprinted it’s way to freedom in balcony seating.  (For the record you will never under any circumstances find Jib against a wall in a dark public space.)

Anyway – no rats and no roaches in my neck of Cologne.  And outside of cigarette butts I have yet to see even one person randomly drop trash anywhere outside.  I have noticed an avalanche of beer bottles.  And sometimes in the public parks the garbage bins get to be overflowing.  I mean it isn’t perfect.  But the lack of pests intrigued me.  So I decided to undertake a little garbage removal research.

Here is what I learned:

Refuse is a sacred medium here.  Everything has it’s place and do not under any circumstances screw with the system.  Do not put your bins out on Tuesday if they are stamped for Wednesday.  And by the way YOU, simple resident, do not put your bins out.  The refuse professionals enter both public and private buildings and place the bins neatly in front of the buildings.  Here is how it works.  On our street, two guys in florescent orange jump suits, work ahead of the truck.  The truck is managed by a driver and at least two other dudes.  The forward team prepare all the bins for pull up by the truck.  The driver is like the best big machine operator you’ve ever seen in your life.  And the back field team get the bins hooked up and turned around at the truck in the most efficient modern dance move you can imagine.  Then the forward team sweeps through again and get this PUTS THE BINS BACK!   The forward team also carry pick up sticks with little grabbers on the ends so that they can busy themselves with random refuse while waiting for the truck to catch up.  These professionals often smile at my children and pleasantly say things like “Guten Tag!” or “Einen schonen Tag noch!”  or “Guten Morgen!”.  No miserable staring or rude body language.  This is not to say they are overly friendly or some sort of super skilled social miracle.  All I’m saying is that the garbage is gone with a smile and professional undertaking that is impressive.  Don’t know where the garbage goes to, but that is research best left for another post.

Cologne has it’s fare share of graffiti and other issues but I do find it nearly spotless in the rodent and refuse areas.  This may also have to do with the intensively competitive and effective dumpster diving that goes on.  Do not, under any circumstances, leave your bedside lamp on the sidewalk.  The maximum amount of time you have to retrieve it is 35 seconds.  So my completely unscientific observations continue.  From choreographed garbage collection to Olympic level sidewalk pickers somehow it all works together to make for one very tidy little city.

My Brother Taught Me About Risk

I think a lot about how I became an entrepreneur.  I didn’t create a small business in high school.  I don’t believe I ever ran a lemonade stand.  And I’m sure I didn’t consciously decide to become an entrepreneur.  Nonetheless an entrepreneur I am.  And the toughest part of my job is the risk factor.  It touches every conceivable area of an organization and I have gotten insanely good at tolerating and managing risk.

My knack for risk started a long time ago.  It began around the time I became conscious of “other”.  I recently learned that this happens around age 5 or 6.  That is when I knew something was different.  I understood that my brother was not like other brothers.  I later labeled this “developmentally disabled”.  I came up with my own label because no doctor back in the 70’s could explain what was up with my brother.

Stacy is stuck.  Developmentally he moves between the ages of 8 and 14.  He can read, but he doesn’t comprehend much.  He can drive anything with 4 wheels, but he can’t navigate a map.  He can fill out a credit card application, but he can’t understand that he has to pay for what he charges.   He is the most egocentric being I have ever known.  Living with Stacy has always been risky.

When we were kids I had piggy bank.  He broke into it and stole the money on a regular basis.  He loved to take things apart and he rarely put things back together correctly.  This led to many near death situations for us.  Bike wheels flew off mid trek.  Tire swings gave out just as a little girl caught air at the very top of a swing.  Etc.  Life with Stacy taught me about risk.

Some stuff I learned:

1. Stacy is wired differently.  The most micro slip of the genetic wand makes a whole hell of a difference.  Genetics are risky.

2. Stacy (and I) survived childhood.  Bad stuff happened.  Be ready, be calm, just don’t be too disappointed.

3. It is really very very difficult to start a fire against a suburban evergreen tree.  Stacy tried many times.  It helps me to know that although bad stuff happens, it’s actually rather difficult to make seriously bad stuff happen.

4. Will, single minded focus, bordering on obsession will take you far.  My brother can’t really kick a ball (poor motor skill coordination), his reading comprehension is minimal (he takes tests orally), and he believes that a gas tank measuring half full means it is empty.  And yet he has a commercial drivers license.  He can literally drive anything.  It’s risky, he doesn’t necessarily drive in a straight line or follow a speed limit and he can’t pay his own car insurance.  But to him the risk was zero.  He wanted to drive.  He drove.

5. Stacy can talk about himself in literally endless circles of what amounts to absolute nonsense to me.   It’s quite easy to love someone you don’t like very much.  It isn’t risky to love.  It is risky to live with someone day to day.  The mundane is riddled with peril and opportunity.

I need all of these lessons to be an entrepreneur.  Collectively the smallest decisions can ruin a business, bad stuff happens regularly, seriously bad stuff doesn’t happen regularly, conscious design is the most powerful and risky leadership tool I’ll ever have, and it is okay to dislike some aspects of one’s organization but you can’t skip the easy part – you have to love it.  And when you stop loving it, the risk goes up exponentially.

Stacy is currently on what I call a bad run.  He co-signed a significant loan for his girlfriend, he opened up at least 6 new credit card accounts and he has allowed a total stranger to move into his home.  He has managed to put himself at risk in just about every area of his life in less time than it takes to write a business plan.  And the lesson today?  Risk is relative, personal and managed well can produce great reward (love, cool new gadgets, new friends who take care of your animals while your away).  Being an entrepreneur is low risk.  Being a sister, well that is one of life’s ultimate risks.

October

When I started dreaming about moving to Europe I did not dream about October 2011.  For 31 straight days someone, and very often more than one person from our sweet little family was sick.  And not “Oh I have a runny nose, I need to stay home and watch Star Wars all day.” kind of sick.  I mean SICK.  Weird bumps on tongues, bodies and intimate areas (I’m talking nuclear meltdown diaper rash here).  Fevers, screaming, crying, and countless lengthy sleep interruptions.   October also marked our daughter’s 15th straight month of NOT sleeping through the night.  And for the record she doesn’t go all sweet Dr. Sears I wanna climb in your bed and cuddle at 2 AM.  She parties.  She jumps, sings, rolls, laughs, talks, dances and generally tries to crush any memory of our old life during her 1 – 3 hours of nocturnal antics.  Alas, it felt like our little European adventure went Poseidon for 4 plus weeks straight.  We went to the belly of the sinking ship and held our breath for a very long time, kicked our feet, swam like demons and cut a damn hole through the hull to escape the reality rout by October.

Yes, this sounds dramatic.  And yes, sometimes I exaggerate but not this time.  We can never go back there.  Ever.  This month got me thinking about how much happens randomly and without one’s consent.  How much of the goods (or the bads)  in one’s life can one ever really control?  Should one even try?  What I think I learned is that I have more control over a lot less than I thought and that yes, I should absolutely try to control somethings anyway.

This international adventure business is part of my DNA.  My Dad, Stan Rash traveled extensively first with the US Navy and then as an oil industry executive.  He lived on the sea (in ships) and overseas for years.  Along with my Mom, Barbara Rash, he lived for nearly a decade in North Africa.  And years later he traveled in Europe with my Stepmom, Jo Rash.  It was after traveling with Jo that he talked most about the idea of living in another country and how much he loved it.  Indeed, at the end of his life when the two of us spent many hours together talking about all the important stuff, he always said his one regret was not returning to live overseas.  A tiny dormant seed inside my heart started to sprout roots.

Jib and I have  been extremely fortunate to forge a deep and extraordinary relationship with two German friends.  Maya and Roland are our German family.  We choose to live in Germany  because this is where Maya and Roland are.  After M&R moved back to Germany from NYC in 2002 we started regularly visiting.  Our friendship grew over the ocean and we spent dozens of weeks over the years vacationing together in Europe and back in NY.  We spent hours and hours eating, drinking and talking.  We lamented their leaving NYC, conjured up ways to get them to move back and yes, hallucinated about taking ourselves to Cologne for some extended time.   Nine years slipped by.  And all the while the seed grew, from roots to sapling and finally into a real live viable scenario.  The move to Europe was on.  And then off.

I owned two businesses, Jib had a healthy important career in the US, we owned a couple of homes, had commitments and obligations.  How could we leave it all?  In 2009 we decided to move anyway.  We came to Cologne to find a kindergarten for Keogh and to research how to make it happen on the European end.  We told some of our family and friends.  The apartment wasn’t rented and our careers were not really up for supporting this kind of long distance commuting but we wanted to go and intended to figure it all out.  Then the one thing that could and would hold us back happened.  I became pregnant again.  We briefly waffled about having the baby in Germany and in the end decided to have the baby in NY.  I considered it a delay.  And I was right.

The move was back on.  The birth had delayed us but also allowed space for 5 major supporting factors to happen.

1. Our NY home was rented and then sold – miraculously we received an offer we couldn’t refuse and we took it.

2. One of my businesses was sold.  I had received many offers over the years, but this time was different.  This time I had the wisdom and ability to do what I thought was best for my family and that business.  Move or not, it was time for that business to have a seismic shift.

3. Two partners and I hatched an idea to work together.  They took over general operations of my second business.  I became first a quiet and then a silent partner in that business.

4. Mentally and emotionally my man, Jib, and I started riding the same wave.  Two minds working toward the same goal, from very different angles, turned into a potent and successful approach.

5. Our not at all insignificant financial stress got largely resolved.  We were back on solid ground after more than five years of struggle due to my starting that second business.

All five scenarios were interconnected.  I mean how can a couple ride the proverbial same wave when one has her head in a fledgling business and the other has his head in the decapitated bank account?  A tough recipe that turned ugly many a time before we figured it all out.

So October 2011 came and went.  We’re all still standing and happier than ever to be in Europe!  We couldn’t control 90% of what happened last month.  But it turns out we really only needed to control 10%.  That bit, that 10%, got us through October.  And I’m thinking it’s the 10% that got us here to begin with.  I mean it wasn’t like we spent every waking moment over the last 9 years contemplating how to move to Europe.  It was the 10% that did it.  Now if only I could remember this the next time Poseidon strikes.

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