gadgets, housekeeping tips, shopping, staying home

Operation Mr. Sandman: Bill tries the “Kokoon NightBuds” sleep device…

Well, it’s another dismal weekend weather and pandemic wise, here in Germany. Since COVID-19 numbers are so high, and it’s cold and drizzly outside, I’m sitting here watching dog grooming videos on YouTube, giving Arran and Noyzi a thrill.

Bill has had trouble sleeping for as long as we’ve known each other, and he is chronically exhausted once the sun goes down. He is not willing to use drugs for sleep purposes, but he’d done everything from getting a sleep study done (resulting in a diagnosis of “poor sleep hygiene”) to putting weird holographic stickers on his temple and forehead. I am constantly picking up ear plugs that he puts in his ears, I guess to drown out my snoring. He says I don’t keep him awake, but I know I snore sometimes. So does he!

The ear plugs always fall out of his ears when he tosses and turns, and wind up being sucked up by my vacuum. He’s also used white noise machines, and every night, we run a fan so he can zone out.

A few days ago, Bill got a package he had been eagerly anticipating. It’s a sleep aid device called Kokoon NightBuds, which he discovered from a Facebook ad. With a 30 percent discount, Bill paid 179 euros for this innovative gadget with ear buds. The Kokoon ear bud/headphone devices come from a manufacturer in London, and were developed with the help of sleep scientists. He did not have to pay any customs fees when it arrived. There’s a handy app that works with Bluetooth technology to help improve sleep quality. Prior to his receiving the ear buds, the company sent Bill a questionnaire to assess his sleep style and give him some tips on getting better sleep. According to the Kokoon folks, Bill is a “morning lark”. I could have told them that without a questionnaire!

The Kokoon NightBuds strap around the back of Bill’s head and play soothing background noise to help him sleep, as it also monitors how long he sleeps and judges his sleep quality. He’s been using the NightBuds for a few days now, and is enjoying checking out the evolving data they collect every day. My husband is a real gadget geek, so the NightBuds are right up his alley. Below are some photos that show how this cool invention works. I have also made a very short YouTube video that shows a little bit more about what’s in the box and how it all works.

So far, Bill says the Kokoon NightBuds have helped him sleep better. As a bonafide geek, he also enjoys getting the sleep data every day. The buds come in different sizes, which are included. Bill uses the mediums, which were pre-loaded on the gadget.

Pretty nifty!

I notice that the Kokoon over the ear noise canceling headphones are available on Amazon, and it looks like it gets mixed reviews there. I didn’t consult Amazon before I wrote this post, so I have only reported what Bill has said about using this device.

For the record, Bill is using the NightBuds, which he says are not capable of noise canceling. However, he says they can be used for audiobooks, watching YouTube, or even answering the phone. And if you set your phone with an alarm, you will hear it through the buds. The Kokoon itself doesn’t have an alarm on it.

Personally, I don’t have trouble sleeping, so I haven’t tried them myself. I also don’t like to wear ear buds because I have small ears and I usually find them uncomfortable. But Bill says the NightBuds are comfortable for him, and they do come with a variety of included sizes for best fit.

I’m not being sponsored for this post… I just think this is an interesting gadget and wanted to share Bill’s experience. And since it looks like it might snow today, I don’t have any big plans for an outing. Maybe soon, the sun will come out, and we can go dine outside after we show our vaccination proof…

Sheesh, COVID-19 really sucks. I really hope we can enjoy some normalcy soon. But in the meantime, maybe we can help Bill sleep better. The featured photo is one rare instance in which Bill took a nap with Arran, device free.

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Germany, holidays, housekeeping tips

The last day of 2021… (cross post)

This post also appears on the main blog, since I have different readers there. The featured photo are cookies brought by our landlord.

I’m getting a late post up today. I was actually thinking of taking off the last day of 2021. I didn’t have anything earth shattering on my mind that I felt compelled to write about. Bill had the day off, and we were both kind of tired. Bill was especially tired, since he never gets a full night’s sleep. So I worked on reading my book, and he took a nap. Later, he’ll fire up the fondue/raclette grill set I got him for Christmas, and we’ll try it out. He’s already used the new hot tea pot I got him. He’s drinking tea as I write this.

Bill and Arran, preparing for tonight.

Arran took a nap with us, while Noyzi tried to steal my brand new fuzzy slippers. I think he thinks they’re small animals. I might let him take them, but he’s already eaten a couple of toys. The emergency vet is the last place we want to go tonight.

I managed to accomplish a couple of other chores, too. After I worked on trying to rid the toilet of lime scale and calcium stains, I went on Amazon.de and bought some citric acid, as well as cleaning soda and salt. Today, I tried the acid on a really terrible hard water stain in the shower that I’ve never been able to get rid of. I poured the acid on the stain and, wouldn’t you know it? That stain was gone in minutes! There’s no trace of it. I think it’s a wonder drug. It’s hard to believe it’s taken seven years to figure this out. Vinegar is good, but citric acid is the bomb! And it’s cheap, too!

I also climbed up on a stepladder in the shower and knocked the calcium off the shower head jets, so the nice rainfall spray won’t squirt all over the place anymore. Now, the new shower head is as nice as it was in September, when it was installed.

I heard that fireworks weren’t supposed to be sold in German stores again this year. Like last year, the government wants to discourage people from setting off fireworks, because they don’t want people getting hurt and needing to go to the hospital, thanks to COVID. I suspect there will be fireworks, anyway… Germans are law abiding people, but they love fireworks on New Year’s Eve. I think that’s pretty much the only day they are allowed to be set off, at least by the regular rank and file folks. I seem to remember that there were fireworks last year, despite the ban on them.

Our New Year’s celebrations are usually pretty boring affairs. We spend them much the same way we spend any night at home… listening to music, drinking wine, and talking.

I’m hoping 2022 will be a better year for everyone… although 2021 wasn’t, for me, a particularly bad year. I’ve had worse. But this COVID-19 shit needs to be fixed. Hopefully, 2022 will bring us some breakthroughs.

In any case… I want to offer sincere thanks to everyone who’s been reading my blogs. This main site, in particular, has really taken off this year! In the past month or so, I’ve had an explosion in traffic. That really does my heart good, and makes writing this blog worth the time and effort.

The travel blog has been somewhat less trafficked this year, but I can understand why. I haven’t been traveling as much… nor have many other people! I’m sure the traveling we have done may even be a downer for some folks. I know some people suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out), and it can be depressing to look at other people’s travel posts when travel is so potentially risky and definitely stressful. I am very grateful, though, that we finally managed to go to Croatia. I hope we can visit again. There are more places I want to see. And with any luck and maybe God’s grace, if you’re into God, that is– maybe COVID-19 will be more under control by this time next year.

I’m still making music, too… Been getting better with my guitar skills and can even play some songs. There are some times when I find myself playing things completely spontaneously. I still have plenty of learning to do, which is a good thing. And I’ve also found someone to collaborate with on YouTube, too, which is very rewarding. Maybe I’ll put up a new song or two, now that I have new gear. Maybe I’ll try to learn bass guitar and banjo, too… if the virus continues to spread, I might have to do something else to pass the time.

Well… I don’t have much else to say, except…

I wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year’s Eve, and a very fortuitous New Year’s Day… and 2022!

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Germany, housekeeping tips, restaurant reviews

Toilet seat hunting… one way to crap off the week…a

This post was written in November 2018.  Sorry for the confusion!

On Monday of this week, I wrote a tale of woe about the toilet seat in our upstairs bathroom.  The bumper on the old toilet seat in our current house busted the other day.  Bill decided to get a new seat.  Off we went to the Toom in Herrenberg to find one.

Bill was armed with the measurements he’d taken of our current commode.  We spent several minutes perusing the impressive array of toilet seats available at our handy German hardware store…

There’s a whole wall of seats.  They range from the colorful to the plain.

Bill found a couple of contenders.

I was amused by all the beach scenes, especially since I grew up pretty close to the ocean and miss it.

This one was in 3D!

I probably would have preferred the zebra.

I was eyeing the toilets jealously, but then remembered that our new house has new toilets… or so we were told.  To be honest, with all the houses we visited, it’s hard to tell who said what.  Suffice to say, I don’t think the toilets in our new house are “water saver” types like the one in our current house’s upstairs bathroom.

Bill paid about 30 euros for the new seat, then we headed into Herrenberg for lunch.  We could have had lunch at the Toom, since they have a full scale snack bar there.  We got to town a little bit later than optimal for lunch.  It was about 1:30pm, which is getting close to “pause” time.  I’m going to miss Herrenberg, so I took a few pictures.

I took a photo of this store because I hope someday to visit and buy a table here.  They have some really beautiful custom made tables in this shop on the main drag through town.  It’s called Lieblingsholz.

Closing down the Saturday market.

A charming sign…

Just before we stopped to take a picture of this sign, we stopped at our favorite local pizzeria.  It was closed today, just as it was last time we were in Herrenberg.  I was looking at the sign and an elderly German guy came over and asked us if we wanted to “have a coffee”.  I was actually talking to Bill when I said, “What did you say?”, but I guess the guy thought I was talking to him.  It turned out the German gent spoke perfect English.  He told us about a really nice bakery down the street that serves coffee.  We were very charmed by his inclination to help us find coffee, even though we were looking for lunch and have lived near Herrenberg a total of six years over two tours!  It was such a nice, welcoming gesture, though!

Herrenberg kind of feels like home.  I fear Wiesbaden may not feel that way to me, because it’s so crowded and people have more money there.  But I have met people from Hesse who live down here near Stuttgart and I have met a guy who is married to someone from Stuttgart who lives in Hesse.  So I guess we’ll find some friendly folks regardless.

Yesterday, Bill stopped by our vets’ office in Herrenberg to pay for the dentals we had them do on our dogs and take care of the VAT form.  One of the vets had recommended that we stock up on wormers and flea and tick pills, so it would be on the VAT, too.  I’m going to miss our vets, too.  They’ve taken great care of our boys and I’ve gotten to know them fairly well, for professional purposes, anyway.  I told them I wouldn’t be surprised if we came back to the area at some point.  This is the place for guys like Bill.

We ended up at Hanoi Pho.  We have eaten there once before and I remembered liking the food.  I liked it today, too.

Shot of Bill after he asked our waiter what the lady next him was having.  She had a bowl full of fried stuff that looked just right for me.

But I ended up having shrimp with vegetables and peanut sauce.  Unfortunately, this had a couple of mushrooms in it, but Bill came to my rescue.  It was otherwise very good and lightly spicy, if not a little heavy.  

Bill went with pho made with beef and noodles.  In the picture, you can also see the mushrooms he took from my dish.  Thankfully, there was just one cut into a few pieces.  It didn’t affect the flavor of the dish.  Bill used some red chili sauce in the pho and it was apparently very potent.  He ate the whole thing and even threatened to drink the broth.  As we were leaving, he was wiping his eyes and nose because the sauce had brought on the waterworks.

The proprietor dropped hints that he was ready for a smoke break when he brought us our bill unrequested.  It came to about 25 euros.  We were about finished anyway.  Bill had to go look for a wrench so he can install the new toilet seat.  Then he said, “I guess I better get some wine, too, since we only have two bottles.  One is Moldovan and the other is semi-sweet.”

My response was, “Oh God, yes, get some wine.”  That’s my Bill.  Always a provider.  He’s been busy today, taking care of some minor maintenance issues like changing lightbulbs and offloading trash.  When he removed the old toilet seat, the bolts were so rusted that one snapped clean off.  It was definitely time for a new seat.  Hope the new tenants like it.

Tada!  After Bill installed this snazzy new seat, he fetched a bottle of wine.  I have now christened the new seat and it’s a vast improvement over the old one.  

If you got through today’s post, I would like to share with you some glorious photos from a couple of sunrises this week.  I think the view at our current house is the best part of our experience here.  I’m going to miss it, too.

These were from Tuesday…

And these were from this morning.  For about twenty minutes each morning, especially when it’s going to be cloudy, we get amazing sunrises and sunsets at this time of year.  Unfortunately, the view from our new home will include a lot of rooftops.  We weren’t as lucky in finding a rural location in Wiesbaden.

I took these on Tuesday with my digital camera, which is capable of zooming.  I loved the big blackbird.  He sits in that tree all the time, looking for rodents.  Sometimes it’s exciting to watch as he and his buddies swoop into the fields, competing with the many cats that prowl the area.

I’m not sure what tomorrow has in store for us.  I suspect I’ll be purchasing some rugs at the PX.  Maybe we’ll stop by the Auld Rogue or something.  Next weekend, we’ll be in Baden-Baden resting up and celebrating our anniversary.

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advice, anecdotes, animals, dogs, housekeeping tips, pets, veterinary care

New toy causes odd reaction in Arran…

Since we’re stuck inside for the time being, Bill and I have been doing a lot of shopping. German businesses have predictably adapted to stay afloat during this challenging time. For some reason, Bill has been getting lots of ads on Facebook for meat. Pork, beef, and other butchered delights are being offered by local Metzgereien, complete with free delivery. He’s also getting ads for coffee. We’ve now fully stocked our liquor supply… which maybe we shouldn’t have done, but our mint plant has really taken off and maybe I’ll want to have a mojito or something.

I figured now was a good time to try new kitchen gadgets, so I decided to get us a pizza stone and an air fryer. The air fryer is an appliance I’d been wanting to purchase for a long time. I bought a Philips model, XXL, which is bigger than the basic, and one can also purchase baking and pizza attachments for it.

A new toy… takes up a lot of counter space, so it must live downstairs in the basement.

We tried it out last night. Bill cooked chicken leg quarters. They turned out deliciously, but after we ate dinner, we noticed a strange adverse effect on our dog, Arran. As Bill was clearing the table, I noticed that Arran didn’t seem to be feeling very well. He looked almost like he was about to have a seizure. He has had a couple of seizure like “spells” in the past, although they have been years apart. It looked like he was going to have another one last night.

Poor Arran had a frightened, confused, and sickened look on his face, like he might vomit. His tail was tucked between his legs, and he moved very slowly, as if he was off balance and on the verge of collapse. He started trembling, which automatically made me think of awful reasons why dogs suddenly start to shake. A friend of mine recently lost her dog to kidney failure, and trembling was her dog’s most prominent symptom. I worried that maybe Arran was trying to tell us something awful… He’s ten years old and seems very healthy, but I know all too well that dogs can have silent diseases that suddenly take them. Our dog, Zane, was diagnosed with lymphoma and died a week later.

Then I wondered if maybe the air fryer had something toxic in it that had poisoned Arran. I even looked up xylitol, which is a sweetener that is deadly to dogs. I wondered if he’d somehow gotten ahold of some. We even considered calling the emergency vet, then wondered if they’d be open during this cursed coronavirus crisis. I was very worried that we might experience another tragic canine loss.

But then I went Googling, and I came across this fascinating Reddit thread. About a year or two ago, many people posted about their dogs’ strange reactions to air fryers. The behavior they were describing was very much like what Bill and I witnessed in Arran last night.

Evidently, what Arran experienced after dinner is not uncommon in dogs when their humans start using new appliances. The air fryer was very quiet to us, but as a dog, Arran can hear things that we can’t. After reading the Reddit thread, it occurred to me that the high, whirring, fan sound of the fryer must have disturbed Arran’s inner ear, which would have affected his balance and probably made him feel sick. For him, it must have been like he was trapped at a super loud disco or something, and it just took awhile for his ears to quit ringing. That would explain his odd behavior last night. Thankfully, about an hour after we were finished eating and after lots of hugs and reassurance from Bill, Arran was back to his normal self. He’s just fine this morning.

People commenting on the Reddit thread wrote about their dogs not liking the Instant Pot, smoke detectors that beep, or other appliances that make a high pitched noises. We do have an Instant Pot, and Arran doesn’t seem to have a problem with it. In fact, he loves it when Bill gets it out, since he uses it to make homemade dog food. But clearly the air fryer is a problem. Fortunately, we have a fenced backyard Arran can hang out in, as well as a large house with distant rooms we can take put him in when we use the fryer. Or, I can just take him for an extended walk… which he loves and I desperately need to do more of for my health’s sake. According to the Reddit thread, just getting the pet away from the appliance when it’s operating is enough to prevent this odd attack.

For more reading about how our latest technology drives pets insane, click here.

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anecdotes, chores, housekeeping tips, staying home

My new skill.

Since Bill and I are still housebound, like most everyone else is, we have been doing some online shopping. My husband, being the very military minded man he is, was becoming distressed over his inability to get a haircut. All of the barbers and hairstylists have closed until the COVID-19 threat passes.

Bill hates it when his hair gets shaggy and hits the top of his ears. I don’t like the way it looks, either. Recognizing that I’ve been cutting my own hair for many years, Bill asked me if I would mind giving him a trim. Being the ever dutiful wife I am, I ordered some clippers from Amazon. They arrived yesterday, and Bill got his haircut outside on the patio.

It didn’t turn out badly at all. I used to clip my horse for horse shows all the time, back in the day. Here are a few photos of the process and the end result.

I told Bill that yesterday’s clip job might hold him until he can get to a real barber. But then I realized that I’ll probably have to do this a few more times before this virus mess is done. I may even get pretty good at the job. Now it occurs to me that we could have saved some money over the years… I may not be much for handjobs, but at least I can give a decent haircut.

Special thanks to this lady on the Sexy Hair channel for reminding me how to use clippers, and the best technique for achieving the end result on a human being.

I didn’t take much off the top of his head, although I’ll probably have to go there before too long. Today, we’re getting a bottle of rum and an air fryer. I think the online merchants and delivery drivers are going to come out ahead in this virus crisis.

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housekeeping tips

I thought I was finished with toilet troubles, but…

This post is going to be a bit TMI.  Don’t read it if you’re sensitive to body humor.

I really do like our new house.  In fact, after I get the bed made today, I might even walk through and take photos for the curious.  It’s still not 100% set up yet, because we need to make a couple of minor repairs.  For instance, I have drapes that I can’t put up until we fix the curtain rod, which got pulled out of the wall when the last tenants lived here.  The drapes are sitting on a stepladder, which is in the middle of the living room.  When the rod is fixed, the stepladder will be put away.

However, after all of my grousing about the toilet in our last house, I have to admit that I also have issues with the ones in our current house.  Although none of the current toilets are “water savers” that require me to hold the button down for a minute (which I still do out of habit), they are longer on attractive design than they are on practical function.

The new toilets are nice looking, but though they don’t have “shelves” like the old fashioned German toilets do, they still catch the “stuff” that falls during everyday dumping rituals.  Consequently, I still have to flush several times and scrub to get the toilets clean after doing #2.  My German and American friends who have experienced this phenomenon understand the struggle of perpetual skid marks in the toilet bowls.

Looks like a nice toilet, and it is, but it needs a good scrubbing at least once a day.  The flusher is on the wall.  I suppose I could have shown a graphic photo of what happens after every dump, but I’m not quite that tacky.

Every time I need to take a crap, I have to break out the toilet brush.  No matter how much I wish and hope the solid stuff will not end up smeared all over the inside of the bowl, it happens just about every time.  And if you don’t clean that residue right away and it dries even a little bit, it becomes a lot harder to get rid of.

It’s a good thing we bought an extra toilet brush, because at the rate we’re going, I have a feeling we’re going to go through a few of them.  The rushing water isn’t enough to get rid of the shit.  I have to scrub, too.  And then I have to flush at least once more to get rid the shitty residual water that results after scrubbing.  Sometimes, I even have to flush a third time to get it totally clean.

Germany is certainly not the only place where toilets are troublesome.  I have a friend who lives in Belgium and has the same issue.  She has kids and they are being trained to clean the toilets every day.  When I was visiting England, I noticed that the toilets there seemed almost from a bygone era.  In order to get a good flush, I had to put some elbow grease into depressing the lever.  It was as if brute strength had a bearing on whether there would be enough water dumped into the bowl to get rid of the nasty stuff.  It reminded me of spinning the big wheel on The Price Is Right.  When I lived in Armenia, a lot of toilets couldn’t handle toilet paper at all.  We had to throw it into a trash can.  And in the 90s, people often used old books for toilet paper.

Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that the toilet has to be cleaned so often, though.  I mean, at this house, you really can’t let things slide.  Every dump necessitates an immediate cleaning, so the toilet doesn’t get a chance to turn really nasty.  In other houses I’ve lived in, you could sometimes let things slide, only to be faced with shitstains that were a lot harder to get rid of.  I mentioned before that the residue gets harder to scrub away once it’s been sitting.

I think the issue might be that the toilets use less water than they do in the States.  Some German toilets even have two buttons– one for #1 and one for #2.  My toilets, for the record, all have one wall mounted button.  They probably do use less water than American toilets do, but if I have to flush two or three times and clean at least once a day, that hardly seems Earth friendly.  I’d rather have a toilet that simply gets it right the first time.

There’s probably a practical solution for getting rid of so-called Bremstreifen (skid marks) left in the toilet.  In fact, this post on German Way may be helpful to more people than just me.  Perhaps I simply need to pre-flush so the bowl gets a little lubed up before I unload.  Maybe I need to learn the art of building a “nest”, which I saw referenced in a restaurant we visited last week in Schwetzingen.

I’m sure I’ll find the answer.  Maybe this is even why we’re still in Germany after four years.

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housekeeping tips

Progress…

We’re about 95% settled now.  Most of the boxes are unpacked and stuff has been mostly put away.  The plumber came over yesterday to replace the faucet in the shower that was so stuck with mineral deposits that we couldn’t turn on the cold water.  Now I have a rainfall shower that works.

There’s no carpet in this house.  Instead, there are beautiful and surprisingly durable wood floors, that I have covered with new rugs.

The dogs are enjoying their fenced in yard that is secure enough for them to be off lead.  The yard came in handy when the plumber was here yesterday.  My car is enjoying the garage.

Last night, Bill was marveling about how much more he loves the new kitchen.  It has over twice the space, a ceiling fan, and a brand new stove and oven that cook evenly.  We also have a normal sized refrigerator that actually keeps food cool, and a dishwasher that works beautifully.

Monday, we’ll have Internet and German TV.  We didn’t have TV in our last house, but we did the first time we lived here.  We’re switching from Unitymedia to Deutsche Telekom.  This house is actually wired for fiber optic Internet, so that should be a good thing for us.  Even though our new rent is much higher, I feel like we’ve stepped back into the 21st century.

Still, I must admit I loved our old country views and quiet street in Unterjettingen. Wiesbaden has a very different feel and mood to it.  It kind of reminds me of moving from, say, my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia, to Northern Virginia.  Things are more modern up here, but it’s also more crowded and expensive.  But one of our new neighbors came over to meet our dogs.  She has a dog named Levi that she adopted from an American couple.  And even though our landlords live next door, they have been giving us space and privacy.

So far, it’s looking good.  We’ll see how long we get to stay here.  In the meantime, I plan to start blogging about our moving process on Monday or Tuesday.  I look forward to it.  My fingers are itching to type.

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advice, Germany, housekeeping tips

Liability insurance… a small investment pays off…

Although I’ve been blogging about our travels since before we lived in Germany for the second time, I am aware that my “travel blog” has somewhat turned into a German living blog.  Many of my regular readers are Americans who live in the Stuttgart area.  Quite a few “local” readers are also somehow affiliated with the U.S. military.
A couple of months ago, I decided to leave several of our local Facebook groups.  I had a few reasons for doing so.  The main reason was that some of the drama in the local groups was causing me annoyance and distress.  However, I am grateful that I was in one of the local groups long enough to be talked into buying German liability insurance. 
One of our local Facebook groups is run by Gerhard Koch, a German who sells insurance for a living.  He very frequently advertises his products to group members.  He even hosts information dinners to talk up his insurance policies.  More than once, someone has accused him of using the group to bolster his business.  
It seems that many Americans assume that the insurance they can get through USAA or another American insurance company is enough for living here in Germany.  For all I know, that could be true.  Bill and I do have renter’s insurance through USAA that we’ve never had to use.  We recently had a situation in our rental property that we could have tried using our USAA insurance to cover.  However, I will go on record to say that I’m glad we didn’t have to go that route.    
A couple of years ago, I told Bill that I thought it would be a good idea to invest in German liability insurance.  Although at that time, we had not experienced it personally, I had read a lot of horror stories from people who had mishaps in their rental houses or had otherwise damaged someone’s property.  Germans are every bit as litigious as Americans are.  I know one woman who had a guest stay at her home in Germany and he somehow flooded and ruined their kitchen!  She and her husband did not have liability insurance and ended up having to use their life savings to cover the damage.  It amounted to many thousands of euros that they had to cover personally!
After hearing about that, I nagged Bill to buy the policy.  Actually, we got policies for personal liability and for our dogs, since both dogs and accidents are unpredictable.  Together, I think we spent a couple of hundred euros for a year’s coverage under both policies, which I believe cover us into millions of euros of potential damage.  It made me feel better to have that coverage.  For most of our marriage, Bill and I have been rather broke.  We are now pretty financially comfortable and, for the first time ever, don’t have to worry much about money.  In less than a year, my student loans will finally be paid off years ahead of schedule.  We can finally think about settling in a home of our own.  The last thing I want to deal with or pay for is damage to our rental house in Germany.  So Bill bought the policy and made me happy.
Sure enough, in late August of this year, we had occasion to use our policy.  We had an old awning attached to our house.  I didn’t use the awning that often, except on days when the sun was especially brutal.  The awning helped keep our living room from getting too hot.  For some reason, this year the awning had started to list a bit.  One side hung lower than the other side did.  We told our landlords and the husband came over to “fix” it.  He did manage to temporarily fix the problem, but our landlady said she didn’t know how long the repair would last.  She did not tell us not to use the awning and, I note, did not have a qualified repair person fix it.  Our landlord is very handy, but I’m not sure he’s an expert on awnings.
For a few weeks, all was fine.  I used the awning a couple of times on hot days with no issues.  Then one warm day in late August, I had cranked out the awning and gone upstairs for a bit.  The wind suddenly gusted and the awning collapsed.  I heard it hit the patio with a resounding thud and there was a loud scrape as the awning violently pushed our outdoor furniture aside.  I went outside to inspect the damage.  The awning is very heavy.  I’m really glad no one was standing under it when it fell, because I’m pretty sure someone could have been seriously hurt or even killed if it had fallen on their head.
The landlady immediately accused me of negligence because I used the defective awning on a hot, “windy” day.  It was not windy when I unrolled it.  The gust of wind had been swift, sudden, and unexpected.  But because I wasn’t sitting outside when the wind blew, and it fell, she claimed I was at fault.  Then she asked about liability insurance after she complained about some dog hair in the doorway and claimed that I wasn’t taking good enough care of the new windows and doors she had installed right after we moved in.
Now… I don’t actually have a problem with using liability insurance for the awning.  After all, insurance is supposed to be used for accidental events like random awning failures.  My issue is that she accused me of negligence.  Frankly, I think if anyone was negligent, it was she.
She finally brought a legitimate repair person over who said the awning couldn’t be fixed.  At the same time, we also happened to be having a problem with the electric rolladens.  I got blamed for that situation, too.  She said we weren’t using them often enough, and that’s why when we pressed the button to get them to come down, one of the rolladens wouldn’t budge.  The actual problem was that rolladen came off track somehow in the wall above the door.  After the repair for the rolladens was done, the landlady eventually admitted that it wasn’t installed properly in the first place.  However, the awning remained a sticking point… she continually sent Bill emails about the insurance money.  
I have to admit, we were both really pissed off and even considering moving over her insistence that we were “bad tenants”.  I’m still pretty angry with our landlady for the way she handled this situation.  However, we did learn yesterday that, after having inspected the damage last week, the insurance company decided to give our landlords 540 euros (although the landlady claims they only gave her 310 euros and reminds us that awnings cost 2800 euros).  That amount more than covers several times over what we paid for the insurance.  Moreover, if I hear another word about the awning, I can tell the landlady that I wasn’t negligent.  It’s because of me that we even had that liability insurance in the first place.
I don’t think she or her husband want us to move.  If we moved, she’d have to vet new people and it’s likely they wouldn’t buy insurance because many Americans seem to think it’s a scam.  Moreover, while we have had a couple of mishaps in the house, we pay our bills and the neighbors seem to like us.  We represent a dependable flow of a lot of euros for a house that isn’t all that great.
The truth is, we don’t want to move, either.  Moving is a pain in the ass.  Finding a place to live in this area is an even bigger pain in the ass.  There’s no guarantee that the next landlords would be any less irritating.  Also, we like the neighborhood where we live.  People are nice here and not overly uptight, as they were in the first neighborhood we lived in when we were here from 07-09.
However, if there’s one thing I learned from this situation, it’s that I’m ready to be a homeowner and because we had insurance, that will be an easier goal to attain.  Folks, if you live in Germany, you really should consider buying liability insurance.  It’s very cheap and if you have an “Unfall” like we did, chances are it will be covered.  I’d rather pay a hundred or so euros for an insurance policy than several hundred euros for an old awning that collapsed due to a sudden breeze.  Just something to think about.
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Germany, housekeeping tips

A handy trick for your German door…

I know I already blogged this morning, but I was just inspired to write this second post for all the hapless Americans in Germany who struggle with doors that automatically lock.  I haven’t yet locked myself out of my house, but I am very paranoid about it.  I live way out in BFE and don’t always carry my phone or keys with me.  Also, sometimes I just want to go outside for a second and not have to worry about being locked out of the house.

I used to think I would just have to bring my key with me or prop open the door, not such a good idea when you have beagles who like to run!  Fortunately, there is a trick to unlocking my German door and there’s a good chance it might work for you, too.

Notice the little toggle switch in the door jamb…

Flip it up…

Now the door is unlocked.

 

I made a video that shows exactly how this works.

This switch really comes in handy when I just want to step outside for a minute and don’t feel like carrying my keys.  However, I must caution you to remember to reset the switch when you’re finished with your short trip outside.  Sometimes I forget to reset the switch to the locked position and then Bill gets all paranoid, thinking the switch popped up on its own.  He tries to slam the door locked, usually when I’m half asleep, and then I have to go downstairs and show him how the switch works again.  It doesn’t get my days off to the best start.

Also, one time I was on the receiving end of a lecture from our landlords because they noticed I had left the door unlocked.  They thought I didn’t know how the switch worked.  They were the ones who showed it to me!  I guess they forgot!

I don’t know if all German doors have this convenient feature, but I thought this information might be handy for some readers.  Chances are if my door has it, yours does too.

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anecdotes, German products, Germany, housekeeping tips

Hard water stain removal…

Here in the Stuttgart area, the water is full of minerals.  The minerals may be good for one’s health, but they aren’t so good for shower stalls and glassware, which stubbornly bear the hard water stains like badges of dishonor.

I had been watching with dismay as my glass shower stall became more and more opaque with the mineral stains.  Some enterprising soul in our local Facebook group asked what could be used to remove the residue.  Although I had some luck with German bathroom cleaner I was using when we first got here, I hated the way the stuff smelled (like cheap men’s cologne).  So when I went to the Real the other day, I decided to pick up some cleaner that was recommended by people in the know.

Evidence of hard water…  No amount of scrubbing with Soft Scrub or window cleaner would get rid of these hard water stains…

Frosch vinegar cleaner…  You are supposed to dilute this with water, but I didn’t have a sprayer handy.  I ended up using it straight.  Essig is the German word for vinegar, while Reiniger means cleaner.

New and improved look…  

Frosch vinegar cleaner does a good job of getting rid of those pesky stains.  It smells very strongly of vinegar and, truth be told, I probably could have just gotten some plain white vinegar and water and gotten the same result for less money.  I’ve heard lemon oil also works, though I haven’t tried that yet.   I’ll probably need to clean with it a few more times to get rid of all of the stains.  It also helps to use a squeegee…

Handheld squeegee useful for cleaning and reducing calcium deposits after showering.  Just use it to encourage the hard water to go down the drain before it dries on the glass.

This particular cleaner is vegan (!) and free from harmful chemicals.  The bottle is made of recyclable materials.  It’s also very effective detergent.  I used it to get rid of the hard water stains, but it does a good job of cleaning, too.  And it doesn’t smell like cheap men’s cologne, either.  I call Frosch vinegar cleaner a winner.

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