Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Halloween witches in Germany
Halloween is not a major holiday here but it seems to be catching on a bit, imported from America along with a lot of other great and not-so-great aspects of our culture. In stores, there is a smattering of merchandise- "spooky" gummis, pumpkin-shaped cookies, a few costumes and some decorations.
Of course kids seem to be especially excited about this foreign holiday. I brought a pair of jack-o-lantern socks back for my 10-year-old friend who visits every week and she was delighted. The other day there was a little boy behind me at the store who had his Dracula jewelry set carefully placed on the conveyor belt with the dividers on each side so no one would mistake his purchase for someone else's. He was so excited he couldn't stand still and kept shouting his status in line to his mom who was still shopping across the store. I couldn't help wondering what he was going to do with that plastic gold necklace. There is no trick-or-treating and I'm not even sure there are classroom parties.
Today when my friend came over, I thought we should do something to celebrate. Along with practicing English I think it's fun for her to get a glimpse of some aspects of American life. I couldn't find any pumpkins to carve (not to mention my poor history with sharp objects) so I decided it would be fun to create our own Halloween masks. You can see the results above, and we had a great time making these witches, complete with warts, nasty teeth and natty hair!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What's with "winter tires?"

We’re entering our second winter in Germany so we have been through this transition before but honestly, everything was so strange last year that I didn’t really stop to think about it until now. Here I am in a climate that is milder than any of my previous addresses throughout the upper Midwest. Average temperatures probably range from around 30 in winter to 75 in summer, and virtually no snow. But as soon as we arrived back from our month in the States my friend asked, “Are the winter tires on your car? Once it gets below 50 degrees you should switch them.” Seriously? 50 degrees calls for winter tires?

Okay, I haven’t actually looked into this so there could be a very good reason, and knowing the safety-conscious and practical Germans there probably is. For all I know there is a law about having the appropriate tires on your car. But really, I lived in Madison, WI, and drove in the same tires year-round. When it was zero degrees with a minus 15 wind chill and when it was 90 with a heat index of 100 the same tires carried me safely wherever I went. And in Michigan with snow drifts up to my hip, I scooted around town in my all-season tires. So it seems like a bit of a scam, getting tires switched twice a year and paying the dealer to store the off-season set.

But even with all this I probably wouldn’t have batted an eye, except that this time around Aaron asked me to call and set up the appointment. Yeah, just casually asked me for a favor, like it was no different from washing his lucky socks for the big meeting or something. You’d think that after living here for over a year, we’d finally be good with all the language stuff but you’d be wrong. We have learned a lot. Aaron has his vocabulary that allows him to comfortably navigate his work world and I have mine, with which I can small-talk and get to the post office, grocery store and bakery. But talking on the phone is a completely different level of comfort. For one thing, you can’t use hand gestures, which turns out to be a large part of my vocabulary. For another thing,…, well, I can’t think of anything else but I panicked anyway!

Well, you know how the story turns out. I made the call, spoke to the nice lady at the Ford dealership, even told her about a warranty recall letter we’d received and set up the tire swapping date. And I’m a better person for the experience. But I still think the tire thing is dumb.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Everyday Days

When I was little, I never understood why adults said, “Boy, time flies! It seems like just yesterday that you were born.” Time never seemed to fly for me. Instead it often seemed to drag. “Am I old enough to go to school now?” Then, “Why, oh, why aren’t I ten yet?” Next it was, “Will I ever be able to drive?” And then finally, “I can’t wait to get to college.”

And guess what I think now? Boy, time flies! I say it to my nieces and nephews, knowing that they roll their eyes and think I am old. I don’t know when or why it changed. Aaron has a theory that our perspective shifts as each day we live becomes a smaller percentage of our total life. I wonder if, as adults, we just spend so much time in the past and the future that we miss all the everyday moments. I've heard that life will teach us the same lessons over and over again until we learn them. I seem to be in the midst of a long lesson about the importance of keeping my mind in the same time and place as my body.

Being unemployed has me always looking to the next adventure we can take. Sometimes I feel like I’m just living from vacation to vacation. Budgeting, planning, researching, watching ticket prices… And knowing that we are living in Germany for a specific and finite length of time has my mind always racing ahead to the next chapter. Where do we want to live in the States? Will I be able to find another job I like? Will Aaron keep working for this company? You know, you can really drive yourself crazy with this stuff. And meanwhile I realize that we’ve lived here for nearly a year and a half! And I’ve been unwittingly waiting for it to be over. I miss my career, I miss my friends, I miss my family, I miss friendly American strangers, blah blah blah- you’ve heard it all before.

The reality is that I traded three years of my life for this experience. That’s too precious an investment to just wish away. I mean, of course I love all the tourist stuff but I also have an everyday life over here that is far less exciting than a weekend in Stockholm and a road trip to Brussels. But everyday is the stuff that our lives are really made of. So here’s to this quirky little German village and all my stoic neighbors. Here’s to slowly and painfully learning another language. Here’s to eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with my spouse seven days a week. And (gulp) here’s to unemployment, which has given me the opportunity to dig up a long-buried creative part of myself that likes to write, knit and cook. Here’s to everyday. Hope you enjoy yours too.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Oops- there went September!

So much for my grand plans to keep blogging while back in the States. I underestimated how busy things would get. And I completely immersed myself in time with family and friends. It was wonderful! I'm not sure how to sum it all up so here are a few highlights:

My mom, party planner extraordinaire,
threw a tea party in honor of Aaron's birthday.

We also belatedly celebrated my sister's birthday.
I got to play some football and soccer with my nephews,
one of whom is about to be taller then me! I watched him
run in his middle school cross-country meet- he's fast!

Aaron's parents threw a wonderful
backyard BBQ on our first night back in IL.
It was so much fun to have the whole family together.

One of the main events of the trip was my friend's wedding.
We've been pals since 6th grade and it was an honor to stand
as her bridesmaid and see her so happy.

I couldn't believe our luck: my friend who lives in Norway

was also back visiting at the same time so I got to see her family

for the second time this year, including this beautiful new addition!

I also spent an afternoon shopping with a dear friend from Michigan, spent time with my grandparents and my great-aunt, saw my dad come through his second knee replacement with flying colors, helped my sis with a garage sale and had some great fun hanging out with my mom.

All the while, Aaron was hard at work in Ohio. He was with one of his colleagues and I think they managed to make the best of it. At least they got to go to an American Oktoberfest , which was quite a laugh for our German friend! Now we are home again, recovering from jet lag and trying to get back into our routine.