Getting serious about a load of rubbish

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The most complicated thing about house-sitting in Germany is figuring out what to do with the trash.

I’m afraid we’re collecting it all wrong, and it might upset the neighbors. My oldest son already used a neighbor’s trash can when he couldn’t find a place to throw something away. I hope they didn’t see him doing it. It felt like a punishable offense. We’re not following the rules like good Germans. I don’t think they tolerate this American trait very well.

Our landlord in Croatia gave us different colored bags for recycling there. But Croats are a little more laid back about everything. Germans are definitely more rigid about the rubbish.

I remember years ago visiting American friends on a German Army post. Our friends warned us not to mess up the garbage sorting system. I thought it was kind of a joke. Now I know it’s serious business. Mishandling trash here is kind of an environmental sin.

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The homeowners where we’re staying left us a schedule so we wouldn’t miss the paper and compost collection days, which are only once or twice a month. There are baskets in the kitchen for glass and returnable plastic bottles, a compost pot, a bin for paper and cardboard, one for packaging and a waste can for everything else. There’s a color scheme for the bins, extra rules for what’s considered packaging, and a calendar to keep track of garbage days.

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I could become a hoarder if I lived here, because I just keep creating piles of things I want to toss out. Our stack of Christmas wrapping paper and boxes won’t fit in the paper bin. I’ve spoiled the compost with leftovers I’m not sure are supposed to be in it. I haven’t figured out when the general waste is supposed to go out. Thank goodness we don’t have to dispose of the Christmas tree. I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

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In America, I rarely think about what I throw away. We have just two ways to sort it: the recycle bin and everything else. Our neighborhood felt the pain when the city switched trash collection companies. Instead of being allowed to toss as much trash as we wanted, we had to put stickers on large items and follow strict rules for yard waste. Germany makes that look like a luxury.

My generation was raised to appreciate clever packaging and not feel guilty about throwing it away. Growing up, we minimized garbage with a trash compactor. My kids are much more educated about recycling and saving the world.

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The Germany way when it comes to garbage is a little daunting. I don’t like being forced into such a rigid system of recycling, even though I know it’s better for the environment. Waste management here works well because it’s based on rules that most people follow.

By the time we leave, I may figure out what the rules are.

‘O tannenbaum, o tannenbaum’

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Yesterday in the German Aldi store, I was stocking up on groceries for the holiday weekend, and I heard a little girl behind me singing “O Tannenbaum.”

I didn’t even have to know any German to know the child, who was about 5, was in the holiday spirit. It gave me all the warm fuzzies. I love the way this country embraces all things Christmas.

The owners of the place where we’re housesitting in Schöneck left a decorated tree up for us. We’ve spent several evenings since we’ve been here visiting Christmas markets in big towns, such as Nürnberg and Frankfurt, and small ones, like Regensburg.

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Our favorite was the one at St. Emmeram Castle in the Bavarian town of Regensburg. I was as taken with the story of the woman behind it as I was with the charm of the market itself. Our German/Irish friends from Sarge’s Army days took us there to see the way the royal Thurn und Taxi family does a Christkindlmarkt: with torches and lanterns lining the path and stalls of high-quality crafts hand-picked by a princess. My friend Sandra told me how back in the day, Princess Gloria was a German socialite who married into royalty and became known as the “punk princess,” known for her and mohawk hair and wild style. After her husband died, she really grew up, studied finance and started running the castle as a business. The castle itself is larger than Buckingham Palace. And in my mind, that princess is still larger than life.

My favorite food of our Christmas market adventures would have to be the “Drei in a Weckla” (three bratwurst sausages in a bun) that my friend Tine from Nürnberg recommended. My drink of choice was the red glühwein (“glowing” mulled wine) served in a holiday mug, and Sarge preferred the white variety that tastes something like apple cider.

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Our boys have found Christmas joy in the form of a dog. Not ours, but the one we are pet-sitting. Otto is a sweet thing, a labradoodle who is getting spoiled with belly rubs. I even forgave him for chewing up my most comfortable shoe while we were out.

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One of my coworkers back home said he hoped we’d have a “magical” Christmas. And I’ll have to say it has felt like one.

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My snow globe wishes came true in Nürnberg. The path where we walk the dog we’re pet-sitting looks like something out of a fairy tale. We visited as many Christmas markets as we could. And despite being in a stranger’s home in a foreign land instead of with loads of family, some traditions from my childhood have found their way here. Tonight, we’ll sit in front of that tree in the living room and recapture some of that magic of Christmas. Merry Christmas to all!

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Goodbye, corner bathtub

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Tonight is our last night in our black-and-white-and-red-all-over Croatia apartment. What I’ve come to think of as our “Duran Duran” décor era is about to be over.

Our original plan was to move back to the States before the new year. Turns out, we’re staying in Croatia for a few more months. But first, we’re going to spend Christmas in Germany. I’ve always wanted to visit a German Christmas market, and just for a moment, feel like I was in a snow globe scene. I hope it is magical for the whole family.

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I found a housesitting job for us on TrustedHousesitters, a website that’s something like Airbnb for pet lovers. The boys will get the Christmas joy of dog-sitting a labradoodle. In exchange, we will get to stay in a German home whose owners are leaving a decorated tree up for us. Their town has already had some snow this week. We really might get our winter wonderland.

On the way there, we’re going to see some friends from Sarge’s Army days and celebrate Sarge’s birthday. It’s bound to be a fun reunion.

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Tomorrow, we’ll bid goodbye to our home for the last half a year. I will miss the giant corner bathtub, the light-filled rooms and the sunset views from the balcony. I’ll also miss our kind landlords, who leave fruit and vegetables at our doorstep and were the first to introduce us to the local culture. I’ll even miss Orange, the turtle that lives in the yard, and the landlords’ sweet dog, Lily.

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We arrived in Croatia with one duffel bag and one backpack each. (Except that one lost backpack the airline never recovered.) Our move to a new apartment by the marina will take several trips for all the extras we’ve accumulated – mostly household goods and beach gear, kid stuff and bicycles. I told Sarge we might have to introduce the country to yard sales before we leave. We’re limited to 22 pounds of carry-on luggage and 44 pounds of checked luggage each when we move back home.

Part of the experience of living abroad has been living with less. Maybe it will help me clear the clutter when I get back to my “real” life. Maybe I can finally clear the boxes out of my basement in Kentucky without wanting to hang on to everything. For now, I’m still savoring living in new places and soaking up the scenery. I’m not ready to leave just yet.

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