This is where I sheepishly pretend that it hasn’t been months and months since my last blog post. I must admit that the months following Christmas were a bit of a struggle for me, and I defaulted into hibernation mode. I’ve been fortunate so far in my life to have lived in places that are moderate in temperature and/or generously supplied with sunshine. For this southern girl, Germany in the winter was cold, dark, and dismal. This is not to say that Dan and I did not attempt to embrace the weather: we continued to travel; I made myself go outside and take walks, even when the sky was dumping snow. The difference in weather conditions has been a big adjustment, as have many things. Adjustments, however, aren’t good or bad. They are simply stages of inbetweenness.
I recently uploaded all the photos onto my laptop for the first time since I purchased my phone last September. I watched as the individual uploading images appeared on the screen like a film reel, giving me a perfect chronological visual of the past 9 (!) months. Not only did I see pictures of castles and mountains and storybook houses, I also saw the everyday moments caught in between: my husband playing legos in our living room; homemade cocktails; the night (let’s be honest…nights) we had waffles for dinner; our first dinner party with our friends Tom and Liana; giant beer-filled glasses sipped under striped tents during Frühlingsfest (aka Spring Oktoberfest); a wintry landscape slowly transforming into green grass and pink flowers. Through photos, I’m reminded of the beautiful places I’ve been, as well as the places I want to continue to explore. In fact, oftentimes photos tell a story better than words. They are utterly reflective in their simplicity. While going for walks in the nearby hills and valleys, I have found the countryside of my imagination: houses made of mossy bricks; simple staircases carved into sloped hillsides; fields of dandelions dotted with bright, wild tulips; wide swaths of countryside featuring nothing but vineyards. These are the quiet pathways for walking your dog/imaginary dog, or stopping for a picnic. These are the peaceful corners of the world I’ve been hoping to find.
And also, because I’m me, my camera phone is littered with stealth shots of strangely costumed folks on the subway and 75 year-old men in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. I thoughtfully opted to not include these in my photo albums (which, by the way, I finally uploaded onto this website, should you care to take a gander)… I’m thankful to have had my adventure replayed, because it’s in the day-to-day living that the big picture so often gets displaced. It can be easy to miss the subtle shifts, the things that don’t change minute-to-minute or day-to-day, but in much larger increments over time.
As far as what I do on a daily basis, it varies. Some days I hang out with my friend Liana and eat chips and salsa while chatting and playing with her 4 cats; some days, especially when the weather is nice, I go on walks for 5 hours until I’m completely turned around and must rely on my phone’s GPS to get me home; some days I make fancy meals that, in order to create, involve walking to a local fruit vendor, then taking the train downtown to get chicken from our favorite “Metzgerei,” before coming home and butchering pineapples and mangoes and using every spoon, bowl, and platter in the kitchen; some days, especially when the sky is endlessly weeping its tears upon Stuttgart, I spend time in our apartment writing and coloring in my adult coloring book with music or Netflix in the background; some days, if I’ve failed to reach my daily goal of 10,000 steps, I’ve been known to make laps around my apartment at 9:00 at night. I’ve also gotten very into gardening, (<— that was harder to admit than I thought it would be…) and I love to potter around in my porch garden, where I’m growing herbs, tomatoes, various flowers, and a raspberry bush. My raspberry bush just birthed its first almost fully-fledged, beautiful bright-red berry. This achievement marked a major milestone in my horticultural prowess. When my first tomato ripens, I will probably throw it a birthday party. 😉
I’m often asked about the progression of my German. While I’d love to say that I’m 100% fluent and am currently tackling my 5th foreign language, the truth is that my language-learning is moving less at a full-steam-ahead-pace and more at a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race pace. I’ve had an interruption with my German lessons, for various reasons, BUT I’ll pick back up in the fall. In the meantime, I am learning what I need to know to get by and interact with my fellow Germans. My language skills have now progressed to the stage where I can do the following:
-Confidently order food, AND make picky requests like wanting salad dressing on the side and no mushrooms even remotely in the same vicinity of my soups/pizza, etc. There have certainly been times when I’ve mispronounced things and received a blank stare as if I’d just uttered a made up language. For example, “Birne” is the German word for pear. In German, one must always properly accent the “e” at the end of a word. I made the mistake of saying, “Beer-nuh” instead of “Beer-neh.” Yeah, apparently that’s the equivalent of me saying, “kdoaerionkeapkdowehrdapqioeurioelaspleron” to a German. Lesson learned.
-Thoroughly and colorfully insult the obnoxious teenagers who like to clamber aboard the train, disrupting my ritual of gazing out the window in blissful reverie, with their distracting hairstyles, carrying voices, and amusing ploys to attract gazes from the opposite sex. (Does it officially make me a cranky grown-up if I’m shaking my proverbial fist and complaining about teenagers? I believe it does! #ihopemyfuturechildrenskippuberty) I don’t insult them out loud, of course. However, if they were to take a moment away from being typical, self-engrossed teenagers and ask me what I was thinking, I’m sure they’d agree that I put even their adolescent penchants for obscenities to shame.
-Pick out my groceries without accidentally buying the wrong spice (Cumin does not taste the same as cinnamon…though both are excellent, if used separately, on popcorn!).
-Assist bedraggled tourists with directions, using minimal pointing…provided I actually know the location to which they are attempting to get… so, 25% of the time I’m useful 😉
-Go to the market and have an exchange with the butcher, florist, fruit and vegetable attendant, coffee stand worker, etc. without embarrassing myself.
-Make phone calls where I address secretaries and take their questions without switching from German to English. Admittedly, they often try to keep talking beyond the scope of my German abilities, at which point I fake a sore throat/cough and promptly hang up the phone.
-Listen to German radio and TV and sometimes even actually understand what’s being said.
I’ve given myself a year to simply enjoy being in Germany without feeling like I must pile on inflexible activities and other commitments. And yet, because my day-to-day life is so variable, oftentimes I do miss the inherent structure of ta full time job. While I do write and spend time focusing on developing my hobbies, there is no rule book for how to spend my time. Once upon a time, I probably would have rejoiced at the thought of so much free time, but the reality of it is at times overwhelming. I have a feeling that eventually I will need to have more on my plate to feel completely like myself again. Besides, I can’t very well call myself a German until I’ve joined at least one club or group. Germans are hardcore when it comes to hobbies. One does not simply say, “I like to hike.” Once those words are uttered, I’m pretty sure people bust into your home wearing astronaut/hazmat suits, just like that scene in E.T., and insist that you stop what you’re doing and follow them into the wilderness (it’s possible that I’m exaggerating slightly…).
Guilt is something I, and I’d wager most people, deal with at varying degrees on a regular basis. Guilt is a tricky thing to avoid.When I’m dealing with anxiety and dips with my mood, guilt flares up and takes root, gnawing away at my facade as it works its way into my bones, like pestilent termites of the soul. Dan and I have a unique set of challenges presented to us in Germany, but at the end of the day, we’re living in freaking Europe. I will never have this opportunity again; I do not wish to squander it by feeling guilty about my current lack of gainful employment. Guilt tends to cling to people, no matter the circumstance. I haven’t quite mastered how to squash the guilt and allow myself to find a balance between the necessity of doing and the beautiful simplicity of being. I suspect it’ll take a long time, maybe even most of a lifetime. I’m okay with that, mostly/sometimes/occasionally never. And I can say with certainty that by embracing the glorious late-spring weather, I have found a way to marvel at my present situation with little room for anything other than gratitude. *This is my way of saying that you should plan to visit me in the late-spring/early summer. K thanks.*
When Dan and I started dating, we began a tradition of sorts: anytime we travel, together or separately, we always get a magnet representing the place we’re visiting. We are now up to 29 magnets. I look forward to seeing the number in our collection when we finally pack up and move back to the States (assuming Trump doesn’t become president… if he does, y’all should just consider moving here ;-)). I am also excited to review another slideshow of pictures, featuring not only the glamorous locales toured with visitors and on weekend excursions, but the quiet moments of banality, randomness, humor, joy, and love sandwiched in between.