Wednesday, October 31, 2007

German Sisters :)

It's about time for some more family pictures... this time, of my beautiful German sisters. :)

I love my girls...

And here we are with our brothers...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Universal Deadlines

When I was 17, I met a 24 year old who influenced my life and way of thinking and way of interacting with the world tremendously. And by tremendously, I mean tremendously. He was actually in the process of writing a book at the time.

Mary: "What's the main theme or topic in your book?"
Someone: "The Universe."
Mary: "The Universe? Would you like to expound?"
Someone: "Simply the Universe. Life. Beginnings. Ends. Questions. Whys. Everything. The Universe."
Mary: "Hmm..."
Someone: "I'll send you a copy when it's finished."

And then he left for the mountains to think and walk and figure things out, and I left for the university (horrid institutions, according to certain philosophies), and the Universe somehow continues its chaotic spin.

At that time (when I was 17, that is) I told myself that I'd like to have the Universe figured out as well at 24. If he can figure it out by taking midnight walks, staring into space and smoking cigarettes, then I ought to be able to do the same.

But somehow...

As I was driving home today and thinking about how little I've actually figured out and how disgustingly meaningless most everything is, I remembered that I not only missed our Original Budget 2008 Sales and Cost of Sales transmission deadline, but I've also missed my self-set deadline for unlocking the secrets of the Universe.

Darn idealism.

Oh well. Maybe next year.

And I'm still waiting for the book.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Optigem Schulung in Rade - wer will mit? Macht doch SPASS!

This is for my Dear German Readers...

...habe diese Woche ne Einladung zu einer Optigem (das ist das Program, was ich für die Gemeindekasse verwende) Schulung in Radevormwald bekommen. Die Schulung findet am 24. Oktober November* Dezember von 10:00 bis 16:00 Uhr statt.

Eigentlich soll ich dahin, da ich *ahem* ab und zu einiges falsch buche und nie eine richtige Einarbeitung fürs System hatte, aber Scaramouche und ich wollen nicht allein dahin. Muss irgendjemand an dem Samstag auch nach Rade? Hätte jemand Lust, mitzufahren? Würde jemand die Kasse übernehmen? Ne, Scherz.**

Wenn ja, dann meld dich einfach. Wenn nicht, dann schauen wir mal was wir machen.

*that's for you, Huckleberry :)

**kind of

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Work and Teamwork

If there's one thing I've learned from working with my colleague... let's call her Beck... it's what teamwork really is. When I started my job at Canon, the first thing she told me was that she wanted us to be a team.* Instead of having clearly defined tasks and roles, she wanted us both to be able to do everything, and to decide monthly and spontaneously who does what. She also wanted us to share our knowledge and keep one another updated and informed.

It sounded good in theory, but I wondered it if would actually work out practically... and let me tell you, it most definitely has.

What is teamwork?

It's a mind-set, a mentality, a "we", an "us." It's sharing. It's balancing one another out. It's doing a little more when someone else does a little less. It's letting someone do a little more when you need a break. It's even taking hits for other people.

When it comes to work, Beck never uses the word "I" - it's always "we." Whether positive or negative, she always says "we." I knew it wasn't just talk when I overheard her speaking with one of our colleagues and taking the blame for something that I had mis-calculated. She said that we had evidently made a mistake, and that we would would look into it and re-calculate it. I was shocked... I apologized and told her that it was my fault, but she said that we all make mistakes, that it's ok, and that we're a team.

At that point, I knew she was serious about it.

We also share everything - whether it be information, online folders, dealing with certain colleagues, rulers (she shared her green one with me until I ordered my own) or chocolate. We both have a weakness for dark chocolate and marzipan, and between the two of us, we always have a stash for crisis situations.

Another classic example was the variance analysis we had to do for September (accumulated! Help!). It was much more complicated than in the past, so we literally spent two complete days working together at my desk on my computer. Sure, we could have split it - she could have dealt with certain channels or accounts or cost centers and I could have dealt with others... but we decided to do it together and to talk everything through.

Sometimes I feel sorry for our other colleagues because Beck and I will often talk almost the entire day... but so far no one has complained. :)

This intense teamwork took me a while to get used to, but slowly I've changed to the "We Mentality" as well, and I really enjoy it.

Beck has been at Canon for almost 30 years now, so she definitely knows the ropes. She's been a mentour, in a way, in the professional realm (though we can also talk about non-professional stuff). I've learned so much from her, and I'd even go so far as to say that it's an honour to work with her, and to be on her team.

*well, the very first thing she told me was that we could use the "informal you" with one another... so I liked her from the beginning. :)

Sunday, October 14, 2007


On Friday, Scaramouche and I were pretty anxious to get home. We'd received a letter (which we presumed was from Sebastian) the day before, asking us to please meet him at the Post Office in Neukirchen. We rushed home, rushed to the Post Office, and sure enough, there he was waiting for us.

I'd met him a couple of weeks ago in Cologne, and we had a great time together, so I was definitely excited to finally see him here in Neukirchen. Though it was a little weird at first.

On Saturday, he met a couple of my friends, and then on Sunday, I brought him to church and introduced him to several people, and they seemed to like him ok.

I kind of want to take tomorrow off and spend the day with him, but I unfortunately have to work. But I think he understands, and I know he's happy just hanging out with John, Paul, George and Ringo in my appartment.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

WWII Stories from Mariposa's Grandmama

Last Wednesday was a national holiday here in the Vaterland, which means we all had the day off, all the shops closed down, and half of Nordrhein-Westfalen drove into Holland.

Mariposa, Scaramouche and I, however, drove to Cologne to visit her Grandmama. It was great seeing Mariposa again, talking about what's going on in our lives, and spending time with Grandmama.

At one point, Grandmama started telling stories about World War II. She was in her late teens and early twenties during the War, and seems to have no problem reminiscing and sharing her experiences. It was fascinating. I've always heard War stories from the American side, so hearing her stories was definitely eye-opening.

Here's some of what she shared with Mariposa and me...

All the girls had to do a civil service year, so she and some friends spent a year helping out on a farm. At the end of the year, they were told they could go home, but of course there was no transportation. So, carrying what little they had in their suitcases, they trekked the 600 km home to Stuttgart. Almost everything had been destroyed. Sometimes the streets were no more than a couple of feet wide, meaning you had to squeeze your way through the rubble.

They would travel during the day, and then stop somewhere, anywhere, in the evening. Sometimes someone would give them a piece of bread or some sausage, and sometimes they wouldn't eat anything. Sometimes they'd sleep in a barn or an inn, and sometimes outside. Along the way home they met a woman who had an old baby carriage that she gave them. Grandmama said it was wonderful to have the baby carriage - that way they didn't have to carry their backpacks or suitcases anymore.

Towards the end of their journey home, Grandmama and her friend were sitting outside and resting one evening when a black American soldier approached them and offered them a chocolate bar. As much as they wanted it, they turned it down, being too proud to receive any help from an American. The soldier turned away, hurt, and continued on his way. After he left, Grandmama and her friend asked eachother if he had maybe misunderstood them and thought they had turned the chocolate down because he was black. Which they hadn't done - they had turned it down because they only wanted help from fellow Germans. So they decided to run after him and accept the chocolate bar. In broken English, the girls explained that they'd changed their minds and that they would like to have it after all. The soldier was so happy to give it to them, Grandmama recalled.

It wasn't until after the war that Grandmama knew about concentration camps and what had been done with the Jews. There weren't many Jews where she grew up, and of course the crimes weren't made public, so she had no way of knowing.

Her Father (Mariposa's Great Grandfather) had three Jewish employees in his business, and right before the war, he advised them to immediately leave Germany, if possible. I guess he saw what was coming. Only one of his employees took his advice, fled the country with his family, and survived.

In their town, there was a large white house where Jewish children stayed. I'm not sure what it was for (I should have asked!), but I assume it was some type of children's home or orphanage. During the war, however, the children were taken away, Grandmama recalled. Everyone was told that the children were going to be taken to a better, newer house.

On their journey back home to Stuttgart, Grandmama remembers seeing people in black and white striped suits working in the fields. She stopped and asked someone who they were and what was going on. The answer? They're criminals, serving their time in civil service. If a government official tells you this, there's no reason why you wouldn't believe it.

The Russian soldiers were some of the worst, she said. Russia was so poor at the time (except for a few select rich) that the Russian soldiers plundered everything. They took everything from food to metal to rails from the railroads. She laughed as she told us one thing the Russians were notorious for doing: washing potatos in the toilet. They didn't know what a western toilet was, so they used it for washing vegetables. You always knew the Russians had been there when the toilet was stopped up with potatos, she said.

At the end of the war, her Dad was very ill. She received news that he was in a hospital in Dresden (if I recall the city correctly). The fact that she had no idea which hospital he was in didn't stop her from going to find him. She finally found him packed in a room with about 20 other extremely sick people. When he saw her, he started crying, she recalled. Fortunately, he was released and taken home in an ambulance, but Grandmama had to walk home by herself.

Towards the end of our conversation, she said that "we lost the war..." and her tone of voice was surprisingly more melancholy than thankful or relieved. I wanted to ask if she thought it was a good thing that Germany lost the war, but for some reason I didn't.

Listening to such stories is important because the past can be so easily forgotten and seen as impersonal and distant. History is something we're usually forced to read about in a textbook, or something we're tested on in school, which means we all too quickly forget that it's more than memorized dates and names. History involves real people: it's the story of our parents and grandparents, the story of the human race. It's our story.

I never knew my own Grandparents that well... either because they passed away when I was pretty young, or because my family lived so far away.* This makes it all the more interesting to really sit down and talk with someone from the WWII Generation about their life.

*History has a way of repeating itself...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


It's 1:30 AM and I'm still sitting in the office, waiting for certain reports to run.

Is it normal to work 11 hours of overtime? Would someone like to explain to me what's going on?

And while you're at it, would you explain the meaning of life? And would you answer the other thousand or so questions I have spinning around in my mind?


*hums a Pink Floyd song in her head*

I need contact with the outside world! But everyone I know on this side of the planet is probably sleeping.

Has anyone out there ever felt trapped? Seriously trapped. Like my thoughts are trapped in my head is trapped in my body is trapped in an office is trapped on a continent is trapped on a planet is trapped spinning aimlessly around a red rubber ball? That's kind of how I feel sometimes.

Especially at this hour of the night (morning?).

Nah, I like my job. It's just that I'm sometimes slightly tired and delusional.