Tuesday, June 30, 2009

No place like home

I'm sorry for the long gap in postings. I had a personal "emergency"- I needed to go home and see my family! I found a reasonable ticket price and hopped on a plane the following day. Such spontaneity is very unlike me but I am so glad I went.

In the absence of a job and social network, and in a culture that is more reserved than American culture, I have gotten quite lonely and homesick. Instead of sinking into a pity party (because my life isn't really anything to complain about) I decided to step away, get a fresh perspective and surround myself with loved ones for a week. I spent time with my parents, sister, nephews and grandparents. I even saw a few uncles and cousins. It was wonderful!!! Of course my family isn't perfect, but being away from them helps me appreciate their best qualities and happily accept everything that comes along with them.

It was a surprise to me to realize that I feel much the same way about the good ol' USA. It's not that I haven't always loved my country but I always see the things that need to be better. We are capable of so much so I expect a lot out of us. Now that I live in another country, I still think there are things we Americans need to work on, but I also see more clearly some of the best things about our country, from silly little things to major issues. I appreciate the friendliness of restaurant servers and store cashiers. I am grateful for our wonderful sytem of national parks. I'm glad that we play lots of sports and not just soccer. I like that we are a nation made up of immigrants- some recent and some long ago but almost none of our ancestors can claim to be natives. Maybe it sounds a little sappy, but long hours in airports give you a lot of time to think.

So, I guess there's no place like home and no country like your own homeland!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Emma is here!

Well, our circle of friends in Germany expanded by one last Wednesday when Maren and Jan's daughter was born. She arrived 10 days early but weighed in just over eight pounds. Everyone is healthy and happy!

Maren told us she was pregnant at 6 weeks so we've all been waiting a long time. She had wanted desperately to know via ultrasound whether this baby was a boy or girl but Emma proved stubborn on two occasions so it was an extra surprise!

She is pretty darn cute- cheeky with a full head of dark hair. And you can see that she likes the blanket I knitted for her- I don't think she can sleep without it!

I have been around a lot of newborns but each time I am amazed anew at the miracle of such tiny human perfection. It feels like a privilege and honor to be part of such a special time in the lives of our friends. We will love to watch Emma thrive and grow for the next few years while we are here. And maybe one day she will stay with us as an exchange student in the U.S.! You just never know!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Eight years and counting!

Aaron and I celebrated our anniversary this year by actually being in the same country, something we couldn't manage last year. We spent time over breakfast looking at the photo album of our wedding and honeymoon. At lunchtime, we received a care package in the mail- the great timing for which we have to thank the USPS, Deutsche Post and my mom! To top off the day we had a spectacular dinner out, including a dessert called "Strawberry Dream!" Delightful!

I think celebrations are good to remind us of what is important and to prevent us from becoming complacent about all the blessings we have. I, for one, need these perspective refreshers. Over this last year, Aaron and I have been tested in ways we never imagined. Each of us has struggled and grown, and that's not always pretty. Our relationship has also had to struggle and grow as we both adapt and change in this new life. We are right in the midst of this process so it's good to remember that we're in it together through thick and thin!

Eight years ago we could never have dreamed that we would be living in northern Germany. I dare not guess where life might take us in another eight years! What an adventure!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Wedding traditions

Living in another country isn't like a vacation (sometimes I wish it were) but it does allow us to peek into another culture in a way that a three-week European tour never could. A few weeks ago we attended a pre-wedding party, Polterabend, of one of Aaron's colleagues. This translates to noisy evening and also gave me insight into another word I've known since I accidentally saw the movie as a small child and was totally traumatized- Poltergeist means noisy ghost!

But back to the Polterabend. The tradition is that making noise the night before a wedding scares away the evil spirits. So the bride and groom host a party where all their friends bring old dishes/pottery and smash them on the driveway or patio. They have a saying that the shards bring luck. Once all the pottery has been smashed, the couple must work together to sweep it all up. Then the guests go and dump it out and scatter it around again. This is supposed to occur may times over the course of the evening. I'm not sure what the significance of this is except perhaps to help the couple develop their teamwork skills and get used to sharing the chore of cleaning up.

Another part of the tradition for the evening is to create some elaborate task or game that the couple must complete in order to receive their gifts. This seems to be the job of the colleagues. The week before the party several people from Atec got together and cut a giant wooden puzzle out in the shape of a heart, painted it and mounted it on another wooden board with several candle holders in it. On the night of the party, the couple had to do a task to earn the pieces of the puzzle, then assemble it to receive their present. She had to shave a man's leg, he had to paint a woman's fingernails, they had to bob for slices of fruit from a tub of water, etc. Interesting!

It seemed like there was a lot of responsibility in being a guest but for our efforts we were rewarded with a great cook-out, far too much alcohol and a fun evening! As far as I can tell, they do not have bridal showers here. Bachelor/bachelorette parties seem to be a concept imported from elsewhere so they are not all that common either. Another interesting thing about marriage is that there is complete separation of religious and legal ceremonies. Everyone must have a legal union in the town hall. If people want a church wedding they may of course do so but priests and ministers do not have the power to legally marry people. Different, huh?