Tag Archives: Germany

Hope for a Reformed Killer

cala

This is my reason to celebrate this week: the plant.

Let me explain.

Long before all of this wintery wonderland nonsense, I get out of my car, and an old lady standing in her front garden calls me over. She’s about ninety years old, and we often see her working in her yard, which is most likely the original site of the Garden of Eden. She smiles and asks me if I want one of her plants, and then she gestures to a row of several pots in front of her.

I think to myself, “Oh, dear lady. You have no idea who you’re dealing with!”

I am notorious for murdering innocent plants. I can’t tell you how many brittle corpses I’ve hacked apart and dumped over the years. There is likely a wanted poster of me hanging in every garden shop in all of Franconia.

My kids make jokes about it (at least they’ve survived to adolescence); and they’ll buy me helpful little gifts, like books called, “101 types of plant disease.”

I do not have a green thumb–though I TRULY wish I did. But somehow, the weeds overtake the garden, insects attack, limbs just inexplicably fall off a tree, I water too much or too little. Somehow, I am destined to kill things. I have resigned myself to this fate.

So, with this murderous history running through my mind, this lady innocently hands me my next victim, a pot of white cala lilies.

I carry it in two arms down the street, and I feel triumphant when it arrives at my apartment, still alive.

During the walk, I dare to dream.

I imagine putting the pot out on the balcony in the spring. And maybe, if I’m lucky, the flowers will bloom again. I think it’s the first time I could actually envision a future for a houseplant in my care, not counting shower mold.

So, here we are, mid-winter. The lilies are gone, but the plant is still living.

Yes, sometimes I forget to water it and the stalks slump over in defeat; but somehow, it keeps forgiving me–it keeps surviving.

I still hope it has a future here. Once I rid the balcony of pigeons, I can put it outside, and we can enjoy the warmer weather. Maybe we will have a chat over morning coffee as the sun rises. We can laugh together, as I swat away pigeons with an old broom.

Sometimes I worry the old lady might take the plant back into custody. Or maybe the plant would be happier with her? But maybe the cala can be the first on the balcony, championing the way for others that have a hardy will to survive.

We’ll see. For now, the cala lily is sunning itself in the window.

I hope she’s happy here.

Now where did I put the watering-can?

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Forget Resolutions: Adapt and Celebrate

Celebrate

My youngest son & I celebrating!

The end of 2016 started to remind me of kilometer 36 of a marathon. I was pained and weary, yet it was too early to get excited about the beer waiting at the finish line.

I believe that no matter what the calendar says, a person can always make a fresh start. It just seems that when we have a new year stretching in front of us, it’s clean and unsoiled–full of potential. It doesn’t have the scuff marks and broken wheels of last year’s misdirected piece of baggage.

For me, I think resolution is too strong a word. I prefer “adaptation.” It seems more permanent somehow–not just an all or nothing scenario.

For many, the world seems like a frightening place at the moment. And despite the negativity and (often) helplessness people are voicing, for my family, this seems like it’s going to be a damn good year.  I feel a return of the positive spirit that was ground out of me last year.

So my “adaptation” is to celebrate.

Reason #1 to celebrate: my visa was renewed for two years.

TWO YEARS!!!

If you’ve ever dealt with visa renewal (typically an annual process that makes you feel like you’ve been dunked under water for a month); then you’ll understand that having a two year permit allows me to breathe a little. I can make contracts for cell phones. I can get better health insurance. It means that next Christmas I won’t have to worry about deportation (yes…our visas expire just after Christmas–very festive).

Reason #2 to celebrate: my oldest son!

If you’ve followed my blog, then you’ll know that just over 2 years ago, my oldest son left for Guatemala, and I had no idea when I would see him again. He was back to visit this fall, but the news that makes my Mama-heart leap out of its chest is that he was accepted into a university in the UK, which means he’ll be within driving/train ride distance.

But it’s more than the proximity that makes me happy. When you see your (mostly) unschooled child not only get accepted into a university but into a school where he can become qualified for his dream job (where 95 % of grads find employment, many animating for Disney or Pixar, for example), it definitely makes you want to break out the champagne.

Reason #3: I have too many reasons

Love, life, kids, health, writing, my apartment, a job prospect…

I could go on and on….

My life is far from perfect. I worry about my little dog who’s ten years old and ill. Politics and inequality make my blood boil. I find labrador hair in weird places in my house, even after I vacuum. Sometimes I don’t know how I’m going to help support my kids in college (I’ll have 2 enrolled this year). When it’s cold out, my car sounds like it’s dying (every time the motor starts I feel like I won the lottery).

However…

…one adaptation I’m making in 2017 is to focus on the celebrations. To find one good reason every day to toss confetti into the often hazy air of my life.

This is why, despite all the turmoil on the world stage, and sometimes in my own living room, 2017 is going to be great.

There is always something to celebrate.


Why Do You Want to Live in Germany???!!

bw fountain

She tossed my file on the desk, and glaring at me through heavily-framed glasses, she asked me a simple question:

Why do you want to live in Germany?

I didn’t know I was being interviewed by immigration at the time (I thought she was some kind of social worker, benevolently helping me with paperwork). If I had known, I would’ve learned phrases like “mass shootings” and “frenetic pace of life” to help explain.

I had been warned by the experts that when I had my immigration “interview” (which for me conjures business suits rather than blue jeans), I should ALWAYS answer this question in any variation of the following ways:

  • I want to work.
  • I want to learn better German.
  • I want to work.

And unless you are an M.D. or Ph.D.,  answers involving the words “healthcare” or “education” are verboten.

I have two character flaws that make me both charming and dangerous:

  • I always believe the best in people
  • I try to look on the bright side of things

I’m not ignorant of the world. I mean, I did walk by a man bleeding to death from a stab wound on my way home one evening, but my first (and correct) assumption was: Nothing to fear. It was just a bar fight. 

Even though I do try to remember distinguishing features of people’s faces as I walk down the street, in case I need to identify them later, I’m not fearful about it–just aware.

While dealing with German bureaucracy has been a fairly consistent stress headache for the past eight months, I have learned that some things just can’t be translated.

I know by all the memes on facebook rife with logical fallacies, that political words are being grossly mistreated by people who don’t know how to handle them. These abusive wranglers hold the words ‘social democracy’ by the throat out of ignorance.

With all of these issues burning on the minds of people back home, I’ve been asked that simple question repeatedly, not by empire builders in their little cubicles, but by people who loved me before I was born.

Why do you want to live in Germany?

I know that many people want me to dissect the inner workings of the ‘ideal’ society, but the answer isn’t as simple as cutting the beast open and looking at its organs.

Germany and America are altogether different creatures; they have evolved differently, with different temperaments and motivations. And for those who think Germany is some sort of valhalla where schnitzel falls from trees and rivers run with Riesling, think again. Not all Germans are happy with their political system (my god, they have more political parties than beer varieties).

Yes, I like the Education and Healthcare here.

I admit it: I like that my kids can burn themselves with welding tools at school, rather than participate in mass shooter drills. I love that they are becoming fluent in another language, which will give them better opportunities. I love that they learn about the reformation by visiting historical sights in Nürnberg. I love that Catholics, Protestants and Atheists have their own religion classes in school. I love that if you get cancer here, you won’t have to sell your house to pay medical bills.

Now, some wise-ass is going to ask: Do you love the taxes?

My answer: Who the hell loves taxes?

You pay them according to your tax bracket; and unless I’m mistaken, everyone hates taxes equally. And incredibly enough, some people here still have money for Michael Kors bags and Hugo Boss jeans. Germany is not a prison block, where we all wear the same jumpsuits and dig ditches under the prying eyes of the tax man.

Frankly, I hate talk of politics: taxes, healthcare, education, war. These are important, but they create a vicious vortex of negativity, and, as your Emancipated Pollyanna, I don’t want to dive headlong into those things.

So, why do I choose this expat life?

I walk my dog in the park at five A.M, and give him a toy, so he doesn’t growl at the newspaper lady. The old man with his funny Franconian hat, smoking cigarettes in front of the nursing home says good morning to me, even though it’s still too dark to see his eyes. I walk the kids to school, not out of fear from attack, but because it’s our time to talk.

The sun shines through the windows of my apartment in the morning, making it brighter and warmer with its white walls and wood floors gleaming. I have a closet in the hallway that reminds me of my grandma’s.

I can’t walk to the cobbled corner of Neustadt and Rosenbad without greeting someone I know.

The kids come home from school, and when I haven’t spent the entire morning at the Ausländeramt, I have lunch ready, and we sit at the table on our fold-out chairs and talk about TV and music and good teachers and bad teachers and true love and sex and what the hell is the dog eating over there?

In the evenings, I meet the people who help me to be a better version of myself; and we lift heavy weights and sling kettle bells and run and jump and sweat and complain and laugh and complain again.

Sometimes, I Skype my son in New York, and his energy encourages me to keep working to live my dreams.

I sit on a quiet sofa in my meditative place, eating raspberries, while I churn out pages upon pages of my novel.

I know it's not a satisfactory answer, 

but the reason I live in Germany is because

it's my home.

That’s all.

I don’t have a magic pill to single-handedly ‘save’ America. I don’t hate America, in fact, I love my American-ness. It makes me who I am. But Germany is also a part of my identity now–and that German-ness can’t be pried away.

This is where I skinned my knees on bureaucracy. This is where I got my first job to require a masters degree. This is where I learned to drive the autobahn. My key fits in the door here. I grew up here. This is home.

 


Ausbildung

Heute, kann ich nicht auf Deutsch schrieben. Das Thema ist zu tief und meine deutsche Wörter zu wenig.

Therefore, today I am sitting on my gender-free sofa, not worrying if I am at the computer or on it,  and using present continuous to my heart’s content.

I have been sitting across from Mohamad, Remus, Vlad, Andy, Gosia #1, Gosia #2 and Jolanta for months now, so I know their faces well. I can see, sometimes, the pain and fatigue hidden behind their eyes; but better is the gleam of humor, that begins a class-wide uproar. It is a near mutiny when Vlad is on a role with his subtle quips.

While I don’t know the other faces quite so well, I could probably describe them well enough for an artist to sketch them with some accuracy.

Then there is our teacher, Oksana. She says she doesn’t have children, but I think every 6 months, she has about 20 new ones.

Like a good parent, she takes us firmly, yet gently by the hand and leads us from our verbal infancy to a more functional role in this new society. She has struck, with us, that magical balance between loving her, and fearing her enough to give her the respect she’s due. Her job is not easy. It does not pay well. But she puts her heart and soul into it; and like children, we strive to see that look of pride on her face.

The integration course is not simply about learning language or politics, it is about living a better life. The teachers understand our struggles, and they care about how we are living and working and interacting with the people around us. You cannot pay someone to put such heart into a job. It is something that must be within them already. And I am thankful they chose this line of work.

I know I will stay in contact with our group, but it will never be the same again. We will never be so scared and so freshly ignorant about this country. We will become fluent, settle into routines and find our paths in life.

I will miss Janna, to my right, with her direct manner and sharp humor, and I will miss Thao, to my left, also direct, but with a sweetness that makes everyone want to adopt her. I will miss the China/Thailand banter between Xu and Pattraporn.

I will miss it all.

With any challenge, whether it’s learning German or a Workout of the Day or running a marathon, you feel bonded to the people around you, because you can empathize with their struggle and share in their success.

I am so proud of our class.

Today, we have our oral exam, and while Oksana will be pacing the floor like an expectant parent, I know we will all succeed. She had taught us well; and she can now let go our hands, and take hold of the new arrivals.

Meine Freunde, ich bin stolz auf euch.


School Crossing

school crossing

I hear the coffee maker de-calcifying, as I sit in my living room, drinking a second pot. Even with the gurgles and steam blasts emanating from the kitchen, the only other sound I hear is that of our labrador’s too-long nails, clacking on the floor as he searches for the kids.

A certain energy seems to have been packed up with their school books and taken out in rucksacks.

My kids have never been to a brick & mortar school before–not in their entire lives. And now, they make the daily trek to a place where they’re expected to learn in a completely different language.

They HAD to go to school somewhere–that was evident. But they did have the choice. They could go to the US or stay in Germany.

They chose Germany.

So, I walked them over on the first day of school and handed over the reins to people I’d never met.

Having been a homeschooling Mom for 12 years, I thought this would be tougher to do. I thought I would have tears or sadness. But honestly, it was a relief.

The teachers were friendly, the principal helpful and the students, as I would hear later, were friendly and curious about these American kids who’d just been woven into this tightly-knit Franconian world.

As I walked home alone from the school, I felt happy and excited for my kids.

I was so proud of them.

Proud that they saw German school not as an impossibility but merely a challenge.

While they were gone (for a whole 2.5 hours); I distracted myself with some deep cleaning and brownie-baking; as baked goods seemed a first-day-of-schoolish sort of thing.

When the bustle and energy returned to the house, I heard story after story about teachers and students and books and language and food…

My youngest even walked home with a new friend, and though there was a limited mutual vocabulary, these two had become buddies on day one.

I was relieved.

Sometimes you charge forward, not knowing if you’ll wave your flag on the hilltop, or if you’ll have to retreat and regroup, and figure out where the hell you are on the map.

But for this day; for this hour; for this very moment, my kids have won a significant battle that will change the course of their histories.

And I am damn proud of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Pixie in the Box

short snatch

No ponytail required

I’ve been looking at short haircuts on Pinterest for months.

That’s how I do things.

I agonize over decisions, whether it’s a haircut or a weekend road trip.

A bad vacation you can edit: “The hotel was really close to all the sights [and was right above the biker bar].

A bad haircut is right out there for everyone to see: “My, what an [*cough] interesting haircut.”

But I’ve always wanted a really short, Pixie-ish haircut, and not just because I like the word ‘Pixie.’

A short haircut can go from classy to wild with one swoop of the hand and a little gel. As a runner and CrossFitter, my hair was usually in a ponytail or some variation thereof.

I wanted a new look. Some ‘oomph’ to my hair.

But I needed the right ‘do.’

One morning, I found it. A very simple picture of one side of a woman’s head, her hair cropped short.

Bingo.

I downloaded the picture for future reference. Because someday, I would cut my hair short.

Someday.

But then later, I was out running errands, and I realized I had some time free, which is kind of a rare thing for me. I could, conceivably, stop at a place downtown and see if they could chop off my hair.

Why not? 

What held me back?

Myself, mostly, and worrying about what other people would think. It was a risk.

That’s the thing with risks–you need to take them once in a while. Sure, you can’t plunge blindly into something, but you CAN plunge. In fact, you should take risks sometimes, because without them, your spirit flatlines.

So, with my Pinterest photo on my phone, I walked into a hair salon. The girl with the half silver, half black hair escorted me to a chair, and strangely, I felt I was in good hands. Because a person with half silver and half black hair wouldn’t give me the traditional Franconian, old-lady hairstyle #3 (they MUST have a book of Franconian approved hairstyles somewhere).

I showed her the picture.

She asked a couple questions, stretching out strands of my hair.

“Kurzer,” I answered a couple times.

And then she went to work.

It’s the best haircut I ever had.

I nearly hugged the girl.

I deliberately did not publicize it on facebook right away, because I wanted to have the experience of walking into the box and seeing people react (whether for good or bad). Not that I cared, really, if people liked it. But the point is that I loved it. And I did it for myself, without worrying about how other people would see me.

Maybe the confidence from the haircut translated into the way I carried myself, but the reaction has been more than I expected. I’ve heard that I look younger and that I ‘rock’ the hairstyle; and I’m learning new German adjectives, like geil.

I didn’t lose anything with the haircut. But I gained something intangible. Something that never tangles or needs conditioner.

For men, a haircut probably isn’t very significant. But a woman’s identity can be wrapped up and braided on top of her head. And while I did love my long hair, this Pixie feels pretty damn good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Therapy by Bonfire: A 20 Year Reunion

She wore black combat boots and had hair that looked like she cropped it herself with kitchen shears. She asked questions. She had opinions. She was passionate about everything. She was the exotic German in a ho-hum Midwestern school.

THE foreign exchange student.

Though I was probably her polar opposite, we became the best of friends.

After I graduated, I sold my car so I could buy plane tickets to visit her in Germany.

We had our adventures. Drove to Italy. I got drunk for the first time in my life. And we even sang Beatles songs in a little German bar (what IS it with drinking, Germans and the Beatles?).  I cried when I left Germany because I ‘knew’ I would never be back again.

*At this point, the universe laughs.

There’s just some kind of magnetism that draws people together. You can’t explain it, really. It has nothing to do with hair color, height or politics. Sometimes you just know a good friend when you find one.

So, it amazes me that twenty years have gone by without much more than second-hand information, and more recently, minor facebook stalking.

It pains me that after eight years of living in the same country, I had never made the three hour drive to see her.

But timing is everything. Even if I had seen her a year ago, I was a different person, and it might’ve ruined this new friendship. And finally, now, at this time in my life, I could finally see my friend.

It was a little awkward at first, being in her home, watching this new/old friend move about her kitchen, both of us with SO much to say, but not knowing how or where to begin.

Thankfully, she still has opinions, she still has questions, and she is still passionate, though the combat boots are gone.

After a couple of hours, we plunged right into the big issues of life: politics, religion, love, life. All the things you shouldn’t talk about in polite conversation.

It was therapeutic.

Sitting in her magical garden by the bonfire, drinking champagne, sharing hopes and dreams and failures.

We are in our forties now, but laughing and dreaming with girls’ hearts.

Older. Wiser. More beautiful. More passionate. With hands rough from building dreams.

As I go through this process of rediscovering myself, it’s good for me to have friends like this. People who encourage me to be myself and to have opinions. People who value my words and ideas. And especially creative people who feed my own creative passions.

Life is hopeful.

And pursing dreams can and should be done.

Using wisdom.

Working hard.

And connecting with others who are doing the same.