Category Archives: Kat

Anthology out on August 4th!

Hey Superfriends, I know I already spoiled it by telling you my story had been accepted (SPOILER ALERT), but now, (almost) hot off the press: Rozlyn: Short Fiction by Women Writers (Rozlyn Press) featuring my short story “Separation” and lots of other exciting things will be coming out on August 4th. If you’re interested, you can order a copy from Barnes&Noble(s), Amazon or rozlynpress.com

((((Sorry there are so many parentheses in this post. ))))

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2-day Summer in Berlin

Breaking news: we finally had summer this past weekend and temperatures got up to 100°F, which is obviously like Death Valley for Germans. Since it was finally warm enough to go swimming without getting hypothermia, we spent Sunday at Lehnitzsee, which was nice except for the random patches of aggressive algae (or octopi, it was hard to tell). Not much of a tan to speak of, but it’s a start. Of course, you can’t expect summer to last forever, so no one was too surprised about the violent gusts of wind and hail that lasted all night and left Berlin a slightly cloudy 73°. But that’s okay – hopefully Germany’s just saving up some really hot weather for when we got to the Baltic Sea later this month.

Sunday spring outing or Kat’s first post with pictures

And now a post that seems really frivolous after Abby’s… But since I only post like once a year I thought I’d go for it anyway (glad to hear things are settled down! The U.S. is insane lately).. Since it’s finally really spring, we capped off the classic spring activities like the Werder Blossom Festival and the MyFest May 1st Street Festival (free concerts and a lot of good Turkish food before the scheduled vandalism starts) with a Sunday bike outing. From Romantica, one of our favorite brunch locations in Schöneberg, we headed to Berlin-Steglitz to visit the Botanical Gardens I’ve always planned to go to never made it to until now. We had perfect timing for the end of tree-blossom season and the best of tulips, etc., plus all the greenhouses, which ranged from prehistoric plants to “useful” ones like coffee and ginger. Saw the lovely old half-timbered house from outside, but the weather was much too nice for a museum, so we skipped that part.

Here are some pictures of the gardens, if I can figure out how to post them…

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From there, we got back on our backs and passed a couple of the beautiful lakes on the outskirts of Berlin, Nikolasee and Schlachtensee, then biked into the woods surrounding Wannsee lake, where we parked our bikes and took the ferry out to Pfaueninsel, where Friedrich the Great kept his peacocks and romantic trysts.  We saw blue and white peacocks in full splendor, plus 2 of the 3 mini-castles, one of which F. the Great had built to look like a romantic ruin to entertain one of his mistresses. I was pretty hangry by this point, so we took a coffee/cake break at a meadow in the middle of the island, where they luckily happened to be selling coffee and cake (and water!) The weirdest part of the island is of course the constant peacock shrieks, which sound kind of like a very loud cartoon cat.

Anyway, it looks sort of like this:

IMG_2163 IMG_2164 IMG_2165 IMG_2166 IMG_2172 This peacock was just chilling outside of the peacock area, apparently eating bugs?

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IMG_2186This one is the fake ruin. It wasn’t very convincing, but good effort.

 

I was a lot less motivated on the way back to central Berlin, especially after the cake break and then getting caught behind a really large (in number, not weight), slow family who managed to block both the bike lane and the entire sidewalk so we couldn’t pass them for ages, but we made good time once we finally escaped from behind their incredibly wide baby bike-trailer and were back home by dark. The whole trip was 41 km, a small step on our plan to bike to S’s hometown, which is more like 200 and some, but a great outing for a sunny Sunday in spring.

 

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My First Autobahnfahrt or Why I’m Really Over Cologne for Now

As you my super friends probably know, I have not done a lot of driving outside of the DC metropolitan area. That trip we went on to South Carolina? Didn’t drive. Week at Rehoboth? Didn’t drive. Hilarious road trips between New York to Sasha’s wedding? You get the idea.

But I had my Virginia driver’s license converted to a German one a couple years ago. I figured it would be more practical if I ever needed to take over from someone on a road trip (I’m always fantasizing about road trips but never actually going on them). Besides, a German driver’s license is good for life, so I figured I’d do away with all those pesky visits to the DMV. If I ever actually wanted to drive long-distance in Europe, I figured I could practice on some country roads in Brandenburg, about half an hour outside of Berlin (someone else having gotten me out of the city, of course, because that’s also not my thing). The major obstacles to me getting more driving experience were not only my hesitancy to get on the Autobahn (ahhh, BMWs driving 240 km/h and so on) but also the inability to drive stick shift, which I think a lot of Americans but almost no Germans share.

Which is why, when my friend X and I were considering how we would travel to and from Brussels to visit our friend K, I considered renting a car for all of half a second, and then thought, no way, I’m too inexperienced, it would be too stressful, and X has a license but wouldn’t want to drive down a cul de sac. So I caught a ride share up to Brussels without any problems. Although this kind of organized hitchhiking often sounds strange to people outside of Germany, it’s convenient, cheap, and generally very reliable. The drivers want to save on gas money by taking a couple passengers and the passengers want to get somewhere, so it’s in everybody’s interest to show up. While I was living in Baden-Württemberg, I took at least 4 ride shares a month for over a year, and in that time, maybe one stood me up.

So even though X was nervous about taking one back to Berlin (she’d gotten the train to Brussels), I managed to talk her into it. You can pretend to sleep if you don’t want to make small talk, I told her. It’s more comfortable than a bus. There were no rides straight from Brussels to Berlin, but I found us a bus to Cologne and then a ride share from there, since it’s always easier to find rides within Germany.

Our lovely friend K packed us a bag of provisions and escorted us onto our bus, and everything was looking up. X didn’t get carsick and we arrived early in Cologne. The bus took us to Cologne Central Station, where our ride was supposed to pick us up in an hour. I figured we’d have plenty of time to get a snack, use the bathroom, and catch the ride without any stress. But it’s a huge station with several different exits, so I called about an hour before the pickup to find out exactly where we should meet the car.

No answer. Trying not to worry and to keep X calm, I continued to call intermittently until the ride should have arrived and after. The guy never even picked up his phone.

Not to worry, I told X. There are plenty of rides from Cologne to Berlin. We went to a cafe with Wi-Fi in the station and I called up one leaving at 6:30, giving us over an hour to reach it. Sure, the driver said. He had two seats left. We should wait at the back of the station near McDonalds and the parking lot for buses.

So we did. Long before he was supposed to be there, and long after. A couple of backpackers came up to us and asked if we were waiting for the ride to Berlin. We were, I said. Could we reach the driver? We couldn’t, I said. They got on a train.

The last train to Berlin leaves at 7:48 pm, X told me. She was all in favor of it. I told her I didn’t have enough money in my bank account to pay for an expensive last-minute ticket, but she said she’d pay for it and I could give her the money later. I figured we’d wait until just before that train in case the driver showed up, after all, and then catch the train. We both had to work the next morning and we’d be back late enough as it was.

We went back into the station, resigned to taking the train, and I checked the departures board to see what platform we needed. Funnily enough, it didn’t list any train to Berlin, at 7:48 or any other time. Oops, said X. I mixed it up. It was 7:28.

So we started to look at night trains. There were two: one that went straight to Berlin and one where we’d have to change twice and still arrive late to work. Both were sold out, according to the ticket machine. X thought we’d have better luck with a person so we went to the Service Center. We had to draw a number and wait ages to have a woman tell us to ask someone at the Info Center. Once we finally got to the head of the line, the man at the Info Center told us he couldn’t believe that every night train would be sold out on a Monday night, but he had no way of knowing so we’d better try at the Service Center. We went back.

Everything was still sold out. The same woman offered us a worse connection. X told her she had to be in her office by 9:00. The woman showed us a connection via Frankfurt where we’d have to run from one station to the other in the middle of the night. I said we wanted to think about it and reminded X of a bus we’d seen listed on the ride share website. X hates long bus rides, but even she saw that it would be better to avoid a transfer and just get straight to Berlin. Neither of us would be able to sleep in the overnight bus, but at least we’d get to Berlin in time for a shower before work.

At this point, we’d already been trying to get out of Cologne for over four hours. It’s a big city with a lot of transportation options, so you wouldn’t think it would be that hard. We decided to regroup at Starbucks (we felt that we’d already used up our Wi-Fi rights at Coffee Fellows) and have a hot chocolate to fortify ourselves.

X started up her laptop and clicked on the link for the bus. And every bus from Cologne to Berlin. They were all sold out. Even the ones that said they were still available just led to error messages saying the bus was full. We decided to take the Frankfurt route the woman at the Service Center had suggested, but that was sold out, too.

We were both starting to panic. How could we have so much bad luck in one evening? What about Cologne-Bonn airport, I said. X said something about not wanting to get on a plane when our luck was this bad, but she opened the website. Nothing more was flying that night, and all the flights in the morning were too late to get us to Berlin on time. I began to wonder whether we should just check into a cheap hotel and try again in the morning, but we were too afraid that the Cologne-Blair Witch Project effect would continue on into the next day.

To hell with it, I said. I’ll drive us there. It was already after nine pm, but I left X in the Starbucks and did a lap of the station. There had to be a car rental somewhere. Finally, just as I was about to give up, I saw one right next to Starbucks, in the opposite direction I’d walked off from.

There were too rival counters, so I went with the one where the man greeted me instead of giving me a blase glare as his colleague from the other desk did. The place was closing in less than an hour.

Could I rent a car and give it back in Berlin? I asked. The man gave a very popular German response: “Theoretically, yes”. He wanted to know whether I was old enough to rent a car (i.e. over 25) and said that it would be expensive. I nodded and he started to fill out the paperwork.

There’s just one more thing, I interrupted him. I need an automatic gearshift.

He looked a little like I’d just asked him for a private jet. Theoretically the car rental did have automatic cars, of course, but they were all spoken for. I couldn’t just take one to Berlin. It must have been pretty obvious how desperate I was though, because he decided to check one last time, and, lo and behold, there was just one last automatic Opel left. Great! I said. Let me just get my friend.

When I got back to Starbucks, X was close to tears on the phone with her mom. I made frantic gestures to indicate that she was needed outside the coffee shop. She made a vague remark about me driving and hung up.

Just as she was getting out her bank card next door, I remembered the other thing I’d wanted to ask about: Could we rent a GPS?

Theoretically, yes. But there were none left.

We can use your smartphone, though, right? I looked at X. Of course we could, she said. The man told us where the car was parked. We signed a few papers and he gave us the key.

We didn’t even stop to use the bathroom. We could do that at a rest stop. For the moment, all we wanted was to finally, after six hours of trying, get the hell out of Cologne.

I was nervous at first and gave X a stern lecture about how she must not nod off or lose concentration for an instant because she was the navigator. I was just driving. She put Berlin Alexanderplatz into Google and we set off. A few minutes later, we were exiting for the Autobahn. I was still a little scared, but also kind of excited. Mostly, we were relieved to get out of the city.

Everything was going really well, and I even felt good driving on the Autobahn. I’ll just stay in the slow lane at first, I told X. Get a feel for things. We’d have a relaxed trip, I said. Take a lot of breaks, keep awake, have fun. And then, just outside of Wuppertal, while all the exits still led back to Cologne, her phone died.

Not to worry, she said. She had a USB with her and could just connect it to her laptop, which was in the back of the car. I took the next exit for Wuppertal and stopped at a rest stop.

The gas station was closed. We used the bathroom at an industrial looking Chinese restaurant with no guests and stopped in the only place that really looked open, a KFC, so I could buy a latte. Then we went back to the car to regroup. We hadn’t had dinner but we’d bought a couple pretzels in the station. Things were looking fine.

And then X noticed 1) that her laptop was barely charged itself and 2) that it wasn’t charging her smartphone at all.

I was sort of over disasters at that point. Go back to KFC and plug in your phone charger, I told her. I didn’t want to stay at the rest stop too long because I was afraid of getting tired. I figured she could charge it a bit and we’d have it for navigational emergencies. While she was gone, I called my friend L and said, you’ve got to help us get back from this parking lot in Wuppertal, I’ll explain later. She said, I’m asleep, can’t you call J? So I did. Just the Autobahn numbers and the directions, I told him. Anything else would be too complicated to write down for the entire trip. I noted the directions on a piece of paper and thanked J. Just then, X scared the hell out of me by trying to open the passenger-side door with no warning.

None of the outlets worked, she said. I had the directions though so we set off with some confidence for the direction of Dortmund Airport. It was a long time before that was listed and we were terrified of landing in Cologne again until that finally disappeared from the exit signs. I drove around 80 at first, afraid of leaving the slow lane, but I felt more and more comfortable as we continued. X intermittently told me which exits were coming up and when we needed to get in the right lane. Once she saw that I wasn’t going to flip out for a while, she mentioned that a bathroom break would be a good thing.

No problem, I said. We’d go to a less sketchy rest stop, this time, fill up the gas tank, get some chocolate to keep us going and charge her phone. We got off somewhere outside of Kassel, wove through a labyrinth of parked trucks and ditched the Opel. Funnily enough, the outlets at the station shop didn’t work, either. X began to realize that it was her phone. Maybe it was that bottle of water you spilled in your purse earlier, I suggested.  But whatever it is, you can worry about it later.

We took our snacks and drinks out to the car, pumped gas for the first time (in Germany, for me, and at all, for X) and set out again. Finally, things seemed to be working. I drove a little faster, thinking we might get in to Berlin in time to sleep a couple hours. Berlin is about 600 km from Cologne, but the Autobahn was practically empty since it was the middle of Monday night.

What was that next Autobahn we needed? I asked X.

She didn’t answer right away. Darn, she finally said. She’d put that paper with the directions on the handle of her door so she wouldn’t lose it. Well, keep looking, I said. It was too late to call anyone else now. It took us a long time to admit that it might have blown out of the car at the gas station.

We couldn’t remember any of the Autobahn numbers but we recited the order of cities to cheer ourselves up: Braunschweig, Magdeburg, Berlin. We could do this. People, I kept reminding X, had also driven places before GPS. Of course, they usually had a map or some idea of where they were going. We could barely even guess the position of these cities relative to Berlin, let alone to our current location. But what else could we do? I kept driving.

After what seemed like an eternity, the sky started to lighten up and the number of trucks on the road increased by about a thousand times. I started to spend a lot more time in the passing lane, and a lot more time cussing out other drivers. X had a fit of hysterical, sleepless giggles that lasted ’til long after Braunschweig, but she managed to keep watching the highway signs and handing me my apple spritzer or a piece of chocolate on command. Sometimes I had to declare martial law and remind her that I might crash the car if she neglected these duties.

It was still a hell of a long drive after we saw the first sign for Berlin, but at least we finally knew we were really going the right way. My lower back ached and I was soaked with sweat because X couldn’t really figure out the air-conditioner. Even my right leg was sore from driving for so long. Once we reached the city limits, we still had a long way ahead of us through all those parts of the city you don’t go to because you’ve heard that people there are a little too far to the right, and because they’re so far from the center you’d never wind up there by accident.

At the beginning of the trip, when we still had a GPS, it had said we’d be in Berlin by 5 or 6 am. We filled the gas tank again sometime around 9. When I checked my phone, there were quite a few messages from J and L asking where we were and begging us to respond. Everyone was a little worried. But also curious about how we’d ended up somewhere as obscure as Wuppertal on an ordinary Monday night.

We dropped the car and could hardly believe that was it. X was late to work but said she’d explain when she got there. I still had half an hour thanks to flextime. We gave each other a high five before we caught the U-Bahn in different directions: We made it! And each of us had learned something. X, that she could hold it together when she really needed to, and me, that driving on the Autobahn wasn’t all that bad. With a GPS, it might even be fun.

Berlinale in Review

Hi all,

This post will not be quite as epic as Jessie’s, but I thought I’d sum up how my favorite film festival went this year. Once again, in what is rapidly becoming a tradition, my friend Kate came down for the festival and we braved the daunting task of organizing which movies to see at which theaters on which days using only her credit card, the same poorly made official website as every year (Dear organizers of the Berlinale, if you are reading this, please add an option to the site that allows you to search by THINGS THAT ARE NOT ALREADY SOLD OUT) and of course stathat delightful box office line at Potsdamer Platz, where you anxiously wait for the showing of your choice to appear on the screen for 10 seconds while you try to remember what the English or German title was since you don’t speak Polish or Japanese…

The first film, which I saw with Gaby before before Kate arrived was “La voie de l’ennemi/Two Men Walking”. An enjoyable watch, but also somewhat predictable. A guy gets out of jail after ages and wants to start a new life but his past keeps getting in the way. Based on some French thing from the 70s but set in New Mexico, although the Berlinale program will tell you it’s Texas… Unlikely to rewatch since there might not be enough left to make an interesting plot once there was no more suspense. ALSO, this showing was managed quite poorly in that they started the movie TEN MINUTES EARLIER THAN SCHEDULED and then refused to let in anyone who arrived only a few minutes early. By the time they had changed their minds, we had to take some kind of secret delivery passageway and had missed the first ten minutes. Their excuse: They had to check whether there were enough seats. Except actually they didn’t, because there is this helpful thing called a computer which is what the box office uses to tell when a showing is sold out. And since we all had tickets, that meant that there were enough seats. Ugh. I may have made some snarky remarks about this festival being held “in der Provinz” but I didn’t really mean it.

Once Kate arrived, our first film was “Huba/Parasite”, a 90s Polish film made by some artists. I would definitely never watch this film again. Although the cinematography was great, there was no plot at all and you never learned the whole movie long who the characters were or what their relationship to each other was. Unfortunately, the only character to speak the whole time was a screaming newborn baby. I know the directors made this film to reject mainstream cinema, but you have to ask yourself whether there IS a right audience for this kind of film who can pay attention to over an hour of virtually meaningless shots, no matter how artistically filmed. If so, I am not this audience. But it’s a crap shoot — we actually wanted to get tickets for Black Coal, Thin Ice, that night, but it sold out immediately. And then of course ended up winning the Golden Bear…

We also saw some Retrospektive films from the series on light and shadow, including two Japanese silent films, Light of Compassion and A Hero of Tokyo. Light of Compassion featured excellent live accompaniment by a British composer and was a heartwarming story about a poor little boy getting ahead through his virtue and hard work. The kind of black-and-white story (no pun intended) that probably wouldn’t work as a “talkie.” A Hero of Tokyo, like the other film, brought it home that it would have been difficult if not impossible for a woman to survive on her own in Japanese society at that time. This film had more moral nuances as it followed the story of an abandoned mother’s sacrifices for her three children and the effect on their lives. Surprisingly explicit references to prostitution in a social context where divorce seemed to be a scandal. Might rewatch either in the unlikely event that I came across one of them again.

It wasn’t in the competition, but the REAL winner of the festival for me was OBIETNICA (The Word), which had its world premiere at Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt. This movie was completely gripping from the first scene on, and the acting was incredible. Although set in a modern teenage context of Skype and text messages, this story about a girl demanding that her boyfriend prove his love to her in a horrifying way drew us in so intensely that we found ourselves feeling echoes of the characters’ guilt and desperation even after the credits rolled. A passive moral struggle that felt reminiscent of reading certain scenes in Crime and Punishment. Would definitely rewatch this, but only when I was really up for something this intense. As usual, audience members asked stupid questions during the Q&A with the director, cast and crew, but luckily someone had the good sense to tell them that, if they’d wanted us to know what happened after the movie ended, they would’ve put that part in. Kate and I wish the festival would plant a few fake audience members with scripted, intelligent questions. Not like the person who saw Mo Sheng/Forgetting to Know You last year and asked whether it was a common practice IN CHINA for couples to check each other’s cell phones if they suspected a partner of cheating. UGH.

Blind Massage, which follows the complex relationships of a group of blind employees at a Chinese massage parlor was well acted, but at times difficult to follow since so many characters and stories were introduced in a relatively short period of time. Still a good watch although quite (unexpectedly) bloody at times. We think an audience member may have fainted since they had to pause the movie and call a doctor after one blood-spattering incident. Possible a case of too much material in a novel being packed into the film version, but still a good watch. Wouldn’t not rewatch.

Arete ou je continue/If You Don’t, I Will follows the story of an unhappy married couple headed towards a separation. The wife takes off from a hike and decides to live in the woods indefinitely. But the movie was not as farcical as it sounds. It managed to walk a fine line between humor and moving drama, with a lot of successful gags but identifiable emotional moments. Would rewatch.

Macondo was one of several recent festival films to make good use of a child protagonist, in this case a young Chechnian boy living in a home for refugees in Austria. Another movie that struck the right balance: It didn’t sugarcoat the harsh realities of life for refugees, but it wasn’t unnecessarily grim. Heartwarming but not excessively, and subtle — enough was left unsaid. Might rewatch if it came up.

I’m too lazy to go into all the shorts but I have to say I was displeased that Laborat got the Silver Bear. This was a lengthy, close-up film of someone dissecting and sewing together a lab mouse, during which many people had to leave the theater. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t much of a message, unless the message was “Look how unpleasant it is to watch someone snipping open the skin on a mouse’s underbelly and removing its organs with tweezers.” Again, I have to ask who the intended audience was. My favorite of the shorts was “As Long as There Are Shotguns,” a slightly absurdist French short about a boy who wants to find a gang to keep his brother company after he kills himself so he can hang out with his dead friend. Well shot with good musical accompaniment.

And now to cocoa and bed, because the festival’s over and so is my staycation in Berlin.

The Problem(s) with Blogs

The problem with blogs is that they are not like books.

Something I’ve been hearing a lot is: “Kat, you never post anything on the blog! You must have SOMETHING to blog about.” And that may be the case, but I have trouble telling what that would be. What if I started to blog about something and then it turned into one of those long, meandering stories you tell that doesn’t really have a point and then no one’s really sure when it’s over because there was no point, so you have to say, “And then I found five dollars,” like we did circa 2000.

But it’s not just that. The fact is that I can’t ever keep up with what happened BEFORE my blog post. You can’t just butt into a conversation with some random comment without knowing what everybody was talking about before you got there. Or you can, but you shouldn’t.

It’s not that I don’t like to read things (although it’s true that I don’t like to read things on a screen). But it’s hard to keep up.

For example: I have a copy of Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark on my bookshelf. Aside from the special qualities of this book that make it my FAVORITE book, it has a general quality shared by all books: When I open to page 7, the books always starts with “Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus.” I have read this novel several times now, and though I may savor different details each time, it is always exactly the same book.

Not so with blogs! Scarcely do I turn my back but they say something DIFFERENT from the last time I looked at them! Imagine my distress if  were to turn to open to page 7 of Laughter in the Dark and find a totally different sentence from the last time I had looked. And what if, worse still, I had already read the first half of the book and then things started to change? It would be all too bewildering. With blogs, it IS all too bewildering.

Moreover, they’re written backwards. Instead of everything I already read being behind me as I page forwards towards new chapters, the new chapters have shifted around to suddenly be the first page. And of course these are only the very newest chapters, not necessarily the chapters that are new to me. So I find myself having to page backwards to find out what happened before, an experience I seldom have with a book, unless it is part of the Choose Your Own Adventure series (where I was always cheating anyway, since nobody wanted to land on the page where you got horribly killed by space vampires or a time-traveling dinosaur).

Of course, to a certain extent, I feel the same way about the news. New things are happening not only every day, but every second. How could anyone possibly keep up? Luckily, though, news is still (for now) packaged in newspapers, limited to a certain number of printed pages, with articles that remain on the same pages no matter when you read the newspaper. The solution might be printing out all the blog posts I haven’t read yet at the frequency of, say, a weekly newsletter. But maybe, in a way I don’t quite understand, that would defeat the purpose.

I guess what I trying to say is, sorry, guys. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of this blogging thing sooner or later.

And now back to my book.

 

Tada!

Hi, I’m Kat, the jerk that never posts anything on this blog… UNTIL NOW! But now that I have the internet in my new(ish) apartment, you can expect me to post something at least as often as I check facebook (i.e. once every six months). Basically, moving is really stressful and although I’m glad to be back in Kreuzberg, just a few blocks from Viktoriapark with its sweet waterfall (although that’s turned off in winter) and loads of cafes, etc., this move has been FULL of fiascos, such as:

-Me getting delivered a broken washing machine

-Various repairmen standing me up when we had appointments

-My boyfriend being too busy and me being too scared to install overhead lighting (when a German moves out of an apartment, he or she takes everything, including light fixtures. See also “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” for an illustration of what an apartment looks like when you move into it here)

-Me not remembering how to put my super shoddy IKEA sofa back together

-The kitchen table not fitting through the door to the kitchen and me having to cut off part of it with a hacksaw

-One of the saw blades braking in half

To name just a few. But look, I finally signed up for an account and posted something, guys!

PS So far I’ve been 100% right about the order of you beeyotches becoming engaged, burn!

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