Friday, August 28, 2009

Even sirens have to be translated!

We were awakened last night at 2:00 by the community siren. I immediately sprang to the window, thinking "Tornado!" But everything was perfectly calm and still and as I came fully awake I remembered that they don't have tornadoes here. You can take the girl out of the Midwest but...! About 30 seconds later we smelled smoke. Apparently, the volunteer fire fighters are alerted (along with the rest of the town) by the siren. Seemed kind of old school and we wondered if maybe we were all supposed to respond by grabbing a pail and forming a bucket brigade from the lake to the burning building! The smoke was very strong so I think the fire couldn't have been far away. I hope everyone is okay. I'm sure it is the talk of the town this morning. We'll see what I can find out today. Maybe I'll have to go loiter by the bakery...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My two cents...

It's hard to avoid the news from the U.S. covering the town hall meetings and the heated debates over the future of our healthcare coverage. I'm saddened by the terror and fury and distrust that are broadcast by the media and I don't know whether the people shown represent a loud minority or an exaggeration of the viewpoint held by many Americans. I don't know all the details of the proposals- and it seems no one does- and I'm not prone to political rants. But I do have a few personal observations.

I worked in healthcare for almost a decade, primarily in a population of pregnant women but also with other adults and children. There is a clear lack of equality in the availability and coverage in our current healthcare system. It is just a fact. I've been thinking for years that things would have to change. I know that no plan can be perfect or please every single one of us, but there is clearly room for improvement.

My other observation comes from currently living in a country that has a socialized healthcare system. In a nutshell, it's okay. People aren't suffering and dying due to lack of healthcare. There do not appear to be widespread problems of access to medical care. When we applied for residency, we had to accept the public healthcare system or demonstrate coverage by a private insurer- they have both. In the year we've been here, we have known someone who had a baby, another person who had a complicated bone fracture, an elderly man who had a heart attack, a kid who broke a wrist playing soccer. All these people got timely and appropriate medical care. They are all alive and well. No one is killing Grandma. In fact, I've seen more active and healthy people in their 80s and 90s here than I ever saw at home.

We are right to keep a watch on our government and make sure that decisions made and laws enacted reflect the best interest of Americans. That's the great foundation of our country. But I think that no matter what comes of the healthcare reform, we'll be alright.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Historic Harbor Days

They might be authentic sailors!
The ubiquitous Wurst

A little "Pirates of the Caribbean" flavor

Wow- that last post was so long, and not even any pictures! I'll keep this brief.
Last Saturday we attended this festival, which was part of Flensburg's 725th birthday celebration. Isn't that crazy? In the U.S., a 100-year-old building is historic! I still can't get over how really, really old things are here.
The festival itself was fun- all along the water with lots of food and drink stands, crafts and entertainment. Typical festival foods are fish sandwiches, wursts of all kinds, crepes, breads of all kinds, Danish (i.e. soft-serve) ice cream and candy. Beer and wine, of course!
What was funny, in an eccentric kind of way, were all the people dressed in costumes. Some of the costumes were in keeping with the theme- pirates, sailors- but others were just downright odd. We saw an "Arab" selling pottery, several British military officers circa 1915, jesters, a man wearing a suit, spats and a monocle and many folks who seemed to just want an excuse to wear something strange! It reminded me a bit of the Renaissance fairs I've been to where you see princesses, fairies and dark Gothic figures that are not at all in the right historical context.
After filling our bellies, watching a hatchet thrower, a juggler, some musicians and seeing a ship sail away, we headed back to the car. We had one last jarring moment when we heard country western music as we left. Ah, the modern world!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Reflections on the first year

June marked our one-year anniversary of life in Germany. We say it all the time, don't we- time really flies when you're busy living! But it's true. It is amazing to realize how far we've come, both literally and figuratively, in this last year.

If you know Aaron and me (which you probably do if you are reading this), you know that we are not great ones for spontaneity or rash decision-making. We entered into this adventure after much thought, prayer, discussion and wise counsel. I thank God for our parents, who I know must have been screaming "Don't go so far away from us!" inside, even while they talked us through logistics, encouraged us and truly wanted what was best for us. Even after all of it, we were in for some big surprises and shocks once we got here.

Most of you have lived with us through this last year and can name our greatest challenges. The biggest has been the language: I had no idea of how slow and steep the learning curve would be. Learning a language for five years in a classroom is nothing like landing in a foreign country and actually trying to live life while learning. We knew next to NO German when we moved here. On our first trip to IKEA last summer, Aaron and I actually practiced counting to 100 together. It was that bad. Now, Aaron interacts with his colleagues primarily in German and I had someone compliment my language skills when he found out we had only been here one year. We are far from fluent but it is SO much better.

Even aside from the language barriers we have been challenged by the culture here. It's always a slow process to make friends in a new town but we were unprepared for the reticence that is the norm in northern Germany. We are eternally grateful for the exceptions to this norm. We have one friendly next-door neighbor, our friends Jan and Maren and a few of Aaron's colleagues who have been warm and welcoming. I think we would have been completely desolate without them.

But even new friends can't replace old friends and family. We have felt lonelier than we imagined. I hate to say it, but there is something different about knowing you can't just pop in to see a friend or drive to Mom and Dad's house for the weekend. All the modern technology can't compare to chatting at someone's kitchen table. Missing Thanksgiving and Easter and the 4th of July felt sad for us. But in some ways we have grown closer to our loved ones. Such a big change prompted all of us to say things we should probably say more often and to really cherish our time together. I have grown quite sentimental about the importance of family and friends (and at this point my family is saying, "Uh-oh, she was already the sappy one!").

When things look a little tough, we keep refocusing on why we came. We wanted to experience life outside the United States, to see that "different" is not always better or worse. Many of the differences fit well with how we want to live our lives. I had no idea how much I would enjoy doing all my grocery shopping on foot or by bicycle. I love that since I can't carry a lot and our refrigerator is small I have to go two or three times a week. We always have very fresh food in the house. I like that there is less emphasis on bigger, better, more. Perhaps especially so in this rural area things move a little slower and the simple things are valued. People take walks, pushing grandmas in wheelchairs and babies in buggies. People work in their gardens. People spend their vacations at home or at the nearby beaches, just relaxing with family and friends. It's a good reminder for us, having both been so immersed in a fast-track, corporate-style career world.

Maybe most of all, we wanted to travel. I can't believe all the places I've been and things I've seen and we have barely scratched the surface in Europe! We've toured castles and palaces, been in the hearts of cities like Stockholm, Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin and Copenhagen. We visited the wine country near the Rhein valley and saw the Black Forest. We stood at the remains of the Berlin Wall. We watched sunrise over the Baltic Sea and waded in the mud flats of the North Sea. I saw reindeer in Norway and a stork here in Germany. It already feels like a lifetime of memories and there is more to come! The gift of travel has far exceeded what I could have dreamt.

The challenges of life here are more than I anticipated but so are the rewards and gifts. If I had it all to do over again, I would do it the same way. Well, maybe I'd bring more chocolate chips!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Heat Wave

Aaron and I have made a lot of adjustments over the last year, including redefining "summer." I knew we had achieved it when, on Tuesday, we saw the temperature climb to the mid-70s and decided we had to take advantage of such great weather by going to the beach. Yesterday we saw 80 degrees and went back! Alas, I saw the online forecast predict that the "tropical" weather won't last. I wonder if the weather reporter has ever actually experienced such climates. I'm no meteorologist but I would say that calling a breezy, 80-degree day with low humidity tropical is going a bit far! Nevertheless, we have enjoyed this summer week. Just another reminder to seize the unique opportunities of each day because you never know what kind of weather tomorrow will bring!