Stille Nacht

I remember one of our first visits to Europe, probably close to 10 years ago. We were on a longer road-trip around Christmas time and to pass the time I asked Markus to try to teach me Stille Nacht. As long as I can remember “Silent Night” has been one of my favourite Christmas carols and I thought it would be a good way to pick up a few more words in German.

I think I managed to get about two lines down, and certainly wouldn’t have remembered them a few days later.

Now our choir is singing it for our Christmas performance. I know the song and understand all the words. I love the music and think the lyrics are beautiful. And it reminded me that last year we went skiing near the town where the lyrics were written in 1816. These are the kinds of lovely memories and connections that have been a gift from our time here. I will never forget them.


The thing about taking an extended blogging vacation (no, not vacation…stress/laziness-related work stoppage?) is that when you start again you feel the need to fill the masses of readers (all 6 of you) in on what has been going on. So not to balk at convention, here we go.

A few months ago I started to really feel like I wanted to work more. One of those deep down feelings. Why I didn’t also realize what was coming is poor foresight, since after 40 years the one thing I know about myself for sure is that I am an amazing manifestor of work. Although this is in no way related to being able to manifest money (odd that), as soon as I think “more work”, “new job” or “I’m bored” something comes along. The last 2 years, despite verbally bemoaning my unemployed/work eligibility status, I didn’t have to dig very deep to realize that I actually wasn’t interested or ready to work due to a large and exhausting list of reasons.


This time, when that thought passed my consciousness, I knew it was the real deal. Fast forward a few weeks. Friend Lesli offers me a retainer for 20 hours a month to be her business manager. Pug Pharm gets a few hundred thou in funding so I sign-up with them 60 hours a month to start. Another former boss and friend starts a business and needs her website written. Despite two previous rejections, a friend at Swarovski prompts me to send in my resume to the Director responsible for online communications, and I have an interview for an (on paper) well-matched position (more on that in a sec), plus two positions for English-speaking jobs at a local non-profit (SOS Kinderdorf) get sent to me. Whew! (Reminds me of a story I once read about a rainmaker who did his thing after several months of drought and down came a massive flood of water. He commented he could make it rain, but had no control over the volume.)

And I’m still doing some shopping, laundry and the occasional lunch shift at the cafe.  All with Annie in Kindergarten 20 hours per week.

So what is the fall-out of all this? Firstly, I’m totally loving my contract work. Being involved with a new venture when it isn’t primarily your money at risk is fun. (Being involved in a new venture when your own money is at risk is stressful.)

I’ve also been thinking a lot about what it would look like if I worked full-time right now. In summary, it wouldn’t be pretty. Families with children here don’t have 2 full-time working parents (or one full-time working single parent) unless there is another family member to step in. (It is the 1950’s here in Austria, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before.) So Annie would pretty much be the only child at Kindervilla (of about 100 children) to be there full-time. And believe me, she would notice. (The word “unfair” gets a lot of play these days.)

Plus the cafe is picking up again (a very good thing!), which means Markus is working a zillion hours a week. (A 12-hour day is a shortish day, with at least 2 or 3 long days of 17+ hours.) So Annie literally would have no parent around most of the week. The fact that my (overly judgmental) response to my friend telling me daycare in San Francisco was 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (to 10:00 p.m. and on Saturdays if pre-arranged) was “why bother having kids then?” does indicate that this doesn’t jive with my parenting belief system.

And don’t get me started on what happens once she goes to the first grade. School is over here for the day at 11:45. 11:45!!!!

Not to mention a full-time job would mean giving up my contracts, which as I mentioned, I’m loving.

So it was with this ambiguity that I got gussied up and went to the interview for Manager of Online Communications at the headquarters of the multi-national, multi-billion dollar, family-owned Swarovski empire. The job description was for a manager responsible for a team of four to work on the strategy and implementation for all online, mobile, and social networking communications. Very similar to my last job at AbeBooks plus some things I’m doing at Pug Pharm.

Ah assumptions. You would think in my middle-ageness I would have learned better. I sent my resume in English, the director answered me with an email in English, the admin assistant booked the meeting with me in English, the job posting (which was in German) stated that perfect written and spoken English was required…you don’t need to be a genius to see where this is going.

The incredibly hip, pleasant and obviously smart director gave long explanations of the position in his (thank goodness High) German, to which I had to concentrate so hard to follow that when he was done my brain was ready to explode so that I would give  insightful and relevant comments like “interesting!” or “good idea!”. Blink, blink, stare, stare. I don’t know whether I’m more embarrassed for myself or my poor friend who actually recommended me.

That was just a few days ago, so I’m going to let that sit for a while before doing anything else on the work front. In the meantime, I sent out my first set of invoices for the contract work, which felt pretty good after two years of not financially contributing to the family.

In other news…as mentioned, the cafe is picking up. Yeah! The franchise owner helped Markus out with a spring patio-opening celebration where they handed out 5,000 tulips to near-by office workers and people on the street. See photos here. And since the weather has been lovely the last 10 days, people have been making good use of the outdoor seating. That plus a good run of catering events means sales in March are double what they were in January.

And Annie is, well, Annie…..

That’s a wrap for this update. Here’s hoping this is the restart to something more regular.

Three Randoms

Annie wanted to make me breakfast this morning. I went back to bed and waited for her to come and get me. Blueberry yogurt, a spoon and a glass of water were laid out on the placemat.

Annie: I couldn’t reach the glasses because my arms are too little so I took one from the counter and washed it out.

Me: Resourceful!


I have to figure out how to take a video of Annie skiing. (I’m usually skiing with her and don’t want to take our video camera on the slopes.) You won’t believe it. I don’t believe it. She is going smoothly around hairpin turns and flying over bumps with her hands in the air, laughing the whole time. And the school’s ski week isn’t until March. I thought I would have a couple of years until Annie was a better skier than me. Think again Mama.


Another particularly funny Hillary-learning-German story to add to the list. I wanted to say to Markus’ parents that Annie is full-speed ahead from the moment her feet touch the floor. But for some reason I chose to say “when her toes are on the floor.” So what I actually said was “wenn ihre Zähne auf dem Boden sind,” which means “when her teeth are on the floor”. Kunk. Zähne, Zehen, same same.


I just got back from lunch with the family, as we were celebrating Suzi’s birthday (Markus’ sister.) Someone reminded me of my two funniest language mistakes that I have made while speaking German…so far. (There are lots to choose from, but these are certainly the best/worst.)

My first was when I wanted to say that, for guests, we have two mattresses in Annie’s room. Instead I said, “Wir haben zwei Matrosen in Annies Schlafzimmer.” This translates to: “We have two sailors in Annie’s bedroom.” My single sister-in-law was kind of hoping this was true.

The second one was during a discussion about diet and food. I was trying to say that I think, most of all, that processed foods with preservatives and chemicals are what make people unhealthy and fat. I said “Die Lebensmittle mit Präservativ sind ungesund.” That means, “Food with condoms is unhealthy.” I would say so!!

At least we all got a good laugh.

Words, Words, Words

I’ve had a couple of occasions lately to notice that, despite my frustration, my German really is improving. Today I had a teacher-parent interview with Annie’s last care-giver to wrap up her time from Kindergruppe (daycare) and talk about the transition into Kindergarten. Last year Gabby had prepared this in English, but this year she thought I could handle it in German. (We speak enough that she has an idea of how I’m progressing…not just Annie.) I understood almost all of it. Gabby spoke slowly and clearly with no dialect, but still.

And last week was the lantern festival through the park again. The video is useless, as Annie was having a bad day and so was crying unless I held her hand. Oh well. But I did notice that this time last year, I didn’t understand either the words to the songs or what the school director was saying in his speech afterward. This year I caught most of it.

Annie is going through her own language phase. Although she has loved books from the time they were merely chew toys, she hasn’t shown much desire to learn the letters. I’ve given it a go periodically, but she hasn’t been interested in much past “A is for Annie.” Then a couple of weeks ago she started to be able to find the “O” on the bus we take. (The orange “O” is best, being somehow superior to the bus with the green “O”.)

And last night we were playing in the tub and I happened to say that boat starts with a “B”. Well, we then had to go over every thing in the tub (and there are a lot of toys in that tub!) several times and talk about what letter each one started with. It was lots of fun for  both of us.

I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I think it is such a gift to be learning a language at the same time as my daughter is discovering language. I think it gives me an interesting perspective on how her little brain must be processing the information.

So on that note, here is Annie “reading” a book. This is one of her favourite activities; often she will ask to read to herself before going to sleep after we have finished reading together.

Here is a few seconds of a much longer video of Annie reading/remembering/singing a nursery rhyme book. (I think I took over 5 minutes of this.) As I’ve mentioned before, my movie making skills are bruuuutaaaaal, but I guess that isn’t the point. (And please ignore the crazy hair. We just had had a major tickle fest before getting ready for bed.)

Annie “Reading” from Hillary Samson on Vimeo.

Apfelmus Mommy!

I was scrolling through our photos with Annie and cousin Lili the other day, and came across this video again. I didn’t post it before, because the quality isn’t very good. And also because the big pile of recycling and unruly wire nest in the background makes it look like we live in a ready-to-be-condemned hovel, which isn’t true (most of the time).

But this is just too cute not to share. I took this video a few months ago when Annie started singing this song, unprompted, one day at the dinner table. Annie now knows “Apfelmus” inside and out, so I’m glad I captured it when she was still struggling to remember the words. You can just see her little brain working hard. Melts my heart every time.

Apfelmus Mommy! from Hillary Samson on Vimeo.

And in another cute Annie moment, here is the girl preparing to take over running the hotel whenever we are ready for a break.

Customer-service oriented, yet authoritative, toddler seeking position with inner city Austrian hotel. Ready to start immediately.
Customer-service oriented, yet authoritative, toddler seeking position with inner-city Austrian hotel. Ready to start immediately.

These People Amaze Me

It was another interesting day at BFI where I take my German classes. Some sadness and some joy.

During one of the exercising in class this morning, I was paired with Sarmad, who is from Iraq. We finished our exercise and I thought he looked quite sad, so I asked how he was and we chatted for a bit.

I know a little bit about Sarmad from the questions we answer in class. I know that he has 3 children, including twin boys and a little girl. I have heard their names, but I have to say I can’t remember them right now. I know that he is hoping to bring them from Syria to Innsbruck soon to live, but is having trouble getting an official stamp to finish off the process. Waiting and waiting and waiting. One more week, two more weeks. And I know that back in Iraq he was a civil engineer, but isn’t working here in Innsbruck.

Sarmad said he was thinking about his family, and that was making him sad. I asked how long since he had last seen them. I thought maybe three months. No. Two years. Two years? Can I even imagine not seeing Annie for 2 years? I try but can’t even get my head around it, it seems so impossible…and so soul-wrenchingly sad. I chat about Annie quite a bit in class, talking about her little funny things that remind me of something we are learning. Is that hard to hear about other people and their children? I hadn’t even thought about it before.

Two years. And then he went on to tell me that he had to escape from Iraq. He was tortured, (toenails pulled off and god knows what else) and then scraped together enough money to pay to escape. What do you say to this? It is so out of the realm of my safe little world I was speechless. And I still am…so since I can’t really even process this information, let’s move on.

After class Amal invited a few of us to her apartment for lunch. She lives in a tiny place (basically one room divided with curtains and a bookshelf to make a kitchen and bedroom) with her 11 year old daughter. She isn’t working right now but is able to get by with a small pension that her husband left her when he died 11 years ago (her daughter was only 3 months old and her sons were 11 and 13).

Amal is from Egypt but speaks a bit of English. At this point, though, we can definitely get by with our  pieced-together our German. She had been cooking all day yesterday, I guess, since out of her little kitchen came macaroni beshemal, stuffed duck, chicken with potatoes, flavoured rice and two kinds of dessert. Incredibly delicious. I could barely move after lunch. Except that we had to start dancing. Canan (pronouced ‘Channon’) brought her computer so we listened to some Turkish music and learned a bit more Turkish dancing, which is a combination of belly dancing and very fast foot work. Crazy but lots of fun.

Amal and Canan dancing
Amal and Canan dancing
And Fatma too!
And Fatma too!

One of the women there was Fatma, who is a real firecracker and clearly very smart. Her issue is that she lives with her husband, her overbearing and controlling mother-in-law, as well as her husband’s father and 2 sisters in an apartment with 4 rooms, a kitchen and bathroom. That is 3 bedrooms (the sisters share) and one small area for TV and living. I think she is going a little bit crazy. We were doing an exercise where we stated with whom and where we would want to go on a trip. Fatma said she would go with her Mother-in-law. To Bagdad. So that maybe her MIL would be blown up. Hmmmmm.

Everyone shows up to class every day. Does there homework. Laughs and learns and contributes. I think I’m going to make a real effort to complain less and appreciate my life more. I’m so very lucky.


Well, all good stories have an element of suspense. I’ll have to employ this literary technique regarding my trip to Schloß Tirol, as I have managed to come down with the flu and can barely move or speak; writing intelligently is not in the cards tonight. (I’m reading all these books about using the beautiful energy that connects us all to heal ourselves, and I can’t even manage to will myself out of this massive headache. More practice needed I guess…bring on the Tylenol.)

I was completely brain dead in class today; obviously I can see now it was because of the onset of this illness. Hopefully my notes are sufficient to recall what we learned. We had a student teacher for a couple of hours this morning. It reminded me again how particular I am about how I learn things; I get stressed out when we jump into something that doesn’t build on what I already know. I like to learn things from the beginning, one step at a time, in a logical order. After a few deep breaths I managed to catch up though. Good practice for me to try to go with the flow…not my nature that is for sure. And in the end I did learn some interesting concepts and even a couple of tips on how to learn better. (Since it is so important in German to know whether a noun is masculine, feminine or neutral, I really need to start making some cue cards to help with the memorization.)

More pretty pictures tomorrow after (hopefully) a good sleep.

English Only, Only English

I have discovered I LOVE learning another language. It is like this massive puzzle (infinite, really) where you are doled out a few pieces each day and try to fit them together. To make it more exciting, you can earn additional pieces by reading books or magazine, watching movies or TV, or speaking with the locals. (Although in the last case, if the locals are drunk they might give you a piece that belongs to an entirely different puzzle which you aren’t necessarily interested in constructing. You won’t know this until you try to use the piece and someone laughs at you. Good times.)

A group of us were chatting at the break from German class about languages, and Bernhard, our teacher, commented on how people from the UK or NA frequently only speak English. Oh, I am well aware, and I think it is a complete travesty, as well as being fairly embarrassing. Bernhard made a good point that you really learn the grammar in your own language only when you study another language. Which is why some schools still teach Latin. And of course there is the whole narrow-focused perspective thing. Discussions about the language inevitably lead to topics about different countries’ culture, people, food, clothing and customs. Of course, I am additionally blessed in this course, as everyone else is from a different continent from me so I am pushed even further to think outside the tiny North American box (or I should say cube, this being the high-tech generation.)

Whenever I have this English-only discussion, it always reminds of my favourite post on Stuff White People Like: #78 on the list: Multilingual Children. It starts out:

All white people want their children to speak another language. There are no exceptions. They dream about the children drifting in between French and English sentences as they bustle about the kitchen while they read the New York Times and listen to Jazz.

As white people age, they start to feel more and more angry with their parents for raising them in a monolingual home. At some point in their lives, most white people attempt to learn a second language and are generally unable to get past ordering in a restaurant or over-pronouncing a few key words. This failure is not attributed to their lack of effort, but rather their parents who didn’t teach them a new language during their formative years.

White people believe that if they had been given French language instruction when they were younger, their lives would have turned out very differently. Instead of living in the US, they would be living and working abroad for the United Nations or some other organization with a headquarters in Switzerland or The Hague.

Sometimes I swear these people have a wire tap directly into my brain (see Grammar, Bad Memories of High School and Apologies), which would be deeply disturbing if it wasn’t so hilarious. And I should point out that this website is specifically referring to American White People, which can usually be transferred pretty easily to Canadian White People. Being a European White Person is the end goal…so in effect, by moving to Austria and learning German I have hit the jackpot in terms of white person ideology, as long as I get passed ordering in a restaurant that is.


Small Steps in the Right Direction

It was a good day today. Markus woke up with Annie, which is always a delicious way to start the day…for me at least. (Geneva could confirm the time by that girl’s internal clock!)

And it was the start of the second 4-week course at school. (Hard to believe I have only been in Innsbruck for 7 weeks. Feels like much longer.) We had treats on Friday to celebrate the end of the first session and had some German-learnin’ fun playing games. Here is a picture of the class in action and one of the group. Not everyone finished up the course for one reason or another so the class is a bit small in the pics.

This morning two new students joined us, one woman also from Turkey (that makes 8,) and one woman from France. I find it so fascinating to learn what compels someone to move to another country where they don’t speak the language. Stories of work and love and hardship. Old family businesses, upcoming marriages and new babies. This is an adventure-spirited bunch for sure. Our teacher, Bernhard (hi Bernhard!), does a wonderful job of using our stories and experiences to make the learning applicable. Because really, connecting with people is the most important thing for most, if not all, of us right now in this new home.

And I am feeling that I am making some progress. Ana (from Serbia/Russia) and Amal (Egypt) and I finished our exercies and so were chatting in German. I learned a sad story about Amal losing her husband to a heart attack 11 years ago when her youngest of three children was only 3 months old. She made light of it in the end…kein Mann ist gut! and we laughed. It felt lovely to connect with someone about something real while speaking German. Markus commented that sometimes I will feel like I am moving ahead and other times feel like I know nothing. That sounds about right. I’ll just appreciate this ‘moving ahead’ day and enjoy.