Catching up on this year's reflections

December 08, 2010

Really excited about the prospect of reflecting on what an amazing year it has been, I have already fallen behind with my Reverb 10 posts. I admit, the season - shopping for the perfect Christmas tree, December houseguests, trips to the markt for more Glühwein - has taken over and I owe myself a step back to fully appreciate the reflections of the past year.

So, without further procrastination...

Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?

I must admit, I kind of scoffed at this prompt when I first saw it. Life often gets in the way of writing (duh!). But when I pushed myself to think about it, I suppose there are a few things that hold me back: learning German has taken over much of the English in my brain, making my spelling, grammar and otherwise general writing abilities suffer; and if I'm honest, abundant online shoe shopping probably takes time away as well. Since I now live in Germany and must learn the language, there's not much I can do there. And considering that shoe shopping is fodder for my other blog, I consider that a worthwhile investment as well. Guess I'll just have to do the best I can...

Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail.

This is a tough one. My year was filled with amazing moments as I discovered more about this new country I call home, but I think a real turning point for me came on the Spanish island of Mallorca during our September holiday. Standing at our hotel pool, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea (my favorite body of water in the world), I felt so far removed from being American, it was liberating. I do mean this in the kindest sense. I was on vacation with no intinerary, no plans, no stress- absolutely no thought in my head other than laying in the sun for days on end. Completely relaxing on holiday is something unheard of for me (and for most Americans, unfortunately). It always seems there's something back at home to remember, email to be read or tours to check in to. This was my first trip ever where I felt none of those pressures and just spent hours taking in the amazing landscape around me while being warmed by the Spanish sun. I realized just how lucky I am to now be living in Europe and adopting this wonderful way of life.

Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

I Tweeted my first thought when I first read this, and I stand by the wonder I've experienced this year - seasons. Coming from California, land perpetual sun and 60ºF weather, being able to celebrate each season with an explosion of blooms in the park, trees so colorful they look as if set ablaze or waking up to the hushed snowfall outside has been magical. I'm amazed at how each season seems to be more beautiful than the last and can't imagine living without it now.

Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

The most significant thing I probably did this year was let go of my irrational fear of speaking less-than-perfect German. Of course, my German is still so far from perfect, it's laughable, but I'm no longer afraid to open my mouth and just let the German I do know come out. Sometimes I ramble, sometimes I still get nervous on the phone and have to jot down a few key things I know I need to say, but I realized that I'll never make any progress if I don't try. And I know that people appreciate my attempt, even though I often sound like a 2-year-old. This language is crazy, difficult and often makes little rational sense (see: Mark Twain's The Awful German Language to get an idea of what I'm up against), but unfortunately for my lackluster language skills, I live in Germany. I owe the Germans my very best attempt - scared or not.

Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

Sunday morning pancakes. Materials? The usual eggs, butter, flour, sugar, along with a sprinkling of flaked coconut and chopped macadamia nuts. Next thing to make? Can't tell - it's a Christmas surprise! Definitely going to need to spend plenty of time on it though.

Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

Ahh, the joys of online communities. Connecting with people online has been instrumental to overcoming the often lonely life of an expat. Not only do I hear more from long-lost Facebook friends since they discovered I'd taken up residence overseas, but I also found amazing friends here in Germany through various online forums, as well as through other expat blogs. I am so thankful this technology is around, as I don't know how I would have connected with other people who are in such a similar, unique place in their lives - oh yeah, and speak English.

As for the second part, I would love to connect more with the German community in which I live in the next year. Germans are notoriously hard to get to know, but I'd like to try. It's wonderful to have so many friends here I can communicate with in English, but I seeing as I live in Germany, connecting with more Germans should also be part of the experience. Here's hoping my language abilities can keep up! 

Beautifully Different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful.

It's funny, but all my life I've felt different. Different from my friends. Different from my community. Different from most of the people around me. It used to be little things like how tall I am, how I dressed or how I always seemed to have different hobbies and ways I preferred to spend my time. After moving halfway around the world, I no longer feel so different. At first it was those little things - that upon arriving here, people took one look at me and spoke German, assuming I was one of their own. More importantly, this new way of life, new friends who have also decided to make a life in a new place and new travel possibilities seems to just fit in a way my life before never did. And so my 'differentness' has turned into a sense of belonging - and has given me a truly beautiful life.

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

Scenes from a snowy day

December 02, 2010

Half the time, I have to control myself from squealing giddily at the winter wonderland our town has become. With my dog that appears to be on drugs - both from crazed way she runs around eating the snow to the white powder that is now always under her nose - the Germans in the park already think we're crazy enough.

But coming from the snow-free holidays of coastal California, I can't help but get a little Lorelai Gilmore about the whole snow thing. So - da-da-da-dah... more snowy pics to enjoy. 

Don't you wish you were here (if, of course, you're not lucky enough to be here already!)?


Hope this snowy day makes you smile as much as it did for me!

(15 more days till my parents are here!!)

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

Let me just weigh in...

December 01, 2010

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones, 
looking mighty good, in my opinion

Feeling nostalgic, I excitedly settled in last night to watch Bridget Jones Diary (auf deutsch, to which they apparently needed to add "Schokolade zum Frühstück" to the original title - ?) and was immediately struck by how different it seemed. No, it wasn't the German coming out of their mouths, poorly in-tune with the English words their mouths were forming. At first I thought it was the long angle from which I was watching the TV. After moving to a spot directly in front, the thought finally came to light: I thought Renee Zellweger gained a bunch of weight for this movie?

After spending the evening pondering what the big deal was with Bridget Jones' weight, I awoke to this article via Huffington Post about an NYT critic saying a "Nutcracker" ballerina "looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many," and it hit me - I've been on American media withdrawal. What now looked normal - or even thin - to me was cause in America for abundant media slams and Zellweger's subsequent back-pedaling into anorexic territory.

It's no surprise that Europe is not obsessed with weight the same way America is, but the fact that I've gotten so conditioned with the European way of looking at body image - or rather, not obsessing about it - is just another small step to acclimating. But even more than just acclimating, it's yet another item I add to the list of reasons why I never want to leave.

I'll admit, I have a long way to go with German before I start understanding the nuances of popular culture and the media here, but the pervasive skinniness that seems to have infiltrated every aspect of American media appears satisfyingly absent. I was reminded of a great post from fellow blogger Rage Against the Minivan (thanks for introducing me, Kelly Clarkson) I'd read not long ago, which addresses some of the issues in American media on both ends of the weight spectrum.

I remember one of the first things people from back in California asked after we moved, knowing Europeans apparent predisposition at thinness, was if we had lost weight (we had). Looking back, it bothers me that this was one of the first things that Americans consider, when it's often not a consideration at all for Europeans and certainly wasn't something we were striving for.

Apparently stuck in my own Americanness, I started to worry in late summer when I noticed all the wine festivals, newly-discovered German treats and favorite Thai take-away starting to catch up to my no-longer-skinny waistline. My first thought was: I'd better do something about this, pretty much immediately followed by: but why? I hadn't even gone up a pants size, but most importantly, I was having the time of my life - wine festivals, outings around Germany with amazing new friends, travels with my husband around Spain. Why would I want to limit any of this?

And so it is with this realization about weight and happiness in Europe, I look towards our next year in Germany. Serendipitously, as our visas are being approved for another two years here (yipee!), I discovered the Reverb 10 initiative about reflecting on this year and manifesting what's next, via my friend Resident on Earth. I can't imagine a better way to spend my anniversary month of one year in Germany with reflections on what we've done and what's still to come.

So I start this little project on December 1 with my one word for 2010: "new." While this may seem obvious - isn't every year new, after all? - just about everything I did this year, and the way in which I did it, was entirely new. I enjoyed the newness of the first year of marriage. I learned (ahem, am learning..) to communicate in a new language. I traveled all sorts of new places. I saw my old home in a new light when I returned for the first time as a tourist and not a resident.

For 2011, the type A side of me can't help but want to be described as "more." Don't get me wrong - I've done so much for someone thrown into a new country, culture and language - but I want to make even more progress for our next year. I want to really master the German language, not just be able to open my mouth without passing out from fear. I want to explore more of our beautiful new country, and the rest of Europe, without fear or preconceptions. I also want to be a better wife, friend and family member, both here and to those half a world away. I want to get and give more from where I am in my life right now.

I wish for everyone a month of reflection on what they've done this year and what they want to make for next year. Here's to 2010...

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

Schnee Tag

November 29, 2010

The trees of Nerotal Park

Snow has finally come! It has fallen all day, first in huge, blustery flakes and hours later, in softer, slower drifts. However it falls, I'm a fan! I hope it continues for at least the next month and a half...
This morning, as the flakes really began to fall...

Slowly starting to build up in our garden by midday...

By late afternoon, everything was covered in fluffy whiteness!

I've been waiting for this unofficial kick-off to the German holiday season with much anticipation. Between the snow and the Christmas markets, there is a sense of the season that never really happened living in California. 

Part of it is the weather (I remember one Christmas day biking with my family on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific - in little more than a sweatshirt, pants and a beanie!), but there has become this increasing pressure of political correctness that has made it not okay to outwardly celebrate any one religion's winter holiday, for fear of offending all the other people who celebrate something else. 

Frankly, it also seemed ridiculous listening to Christmas oldies talking about frightful weather and sleigh bells, when we never experienced any of it.

Even nature knows it's holiday time!

Here, the tradition of Weihnachtsmärkte is older than America itself (by hundreds of years) and ensures Christmas is larger than life for a whole a month long. These markets are packed on a nightly basis and one often ends up sharing a standing table with strangers while enjoying a steaming mug of Glühwein and Wurst mit Brötchen. Other than with closest friends and family, I can't think of any holiday experience I had that came anywhere close to this. Just another reason I love where we live - we came to the right place!

The Wiesbaden Sternschnuppenmarkt 
(our Christmas market - named for the beautiful stars that decorate the booths and light up the sky)

Luckly, our first houseguests of season were able to make it to the markt on their very last day in Germany; I'm pretty sure they enjoyed it. Warm, spiced wine, sticky-sweet Schokokuss and great new friends - how could anyone not? 

Obviously catching on that this is the time of year to visit, we are welcoming another guest next week, a friend I have not seen since college and reconnected with through all the gloriously easy social networking that allows me to stay connected with everyone, even half a world away. Can't wait to show her the German holiday season!

In other news, the countdown until my parents' stay - and first trip to Europe - continues: 19 more days... :)

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

An American Thanksgiving in Germany

November 27, 2010

It all started with a Turkey...

Ahh, Thanksgiving... the turkey, the traditions, the family. But when you're an expat, holidays often mean family is half a world away and a big part of tradition is lost - and I wasn't even certain I could get a turkey. I'd been waiting all year to make up for our shoddy first holiday here (Christmas - no furniture, no tree, no presents - quite sad, to say the least) and our first Thanksgiving married (which was spent with us on separate continents). So you see why my expectations were set pretty high.

Wanted to make sure every last detail felt special, including the take-home placecards

In addition to never hosting my own Thanksgiving, let alone roasting any kind of entire animal, I had never cooked for more than about 6 or 7 seven people at a time. Realizing our guest list had grown to nearly a dozen, I fell into a mild panic. Half of our guests would be American. Would my Thanksgiving menu hold up to their beloved traditions? Could I successfully juggle one giant bird and five side dishes, with the end results making it to the table not only moist, but also still nice and warm? Needless to say, I put a lot of pressure on myself to bring all our wonderful new friends a welcoming, tasty and traditional Thanksgiving feast. 

Felt like paparazzi. (I think they were impressed...)

When it all came down to it, I had the help (and patience!) of all my friends - and of course, my wonderful husband - and everything made it to the table hot and delicious! All my fears that we would run out of food were completely unfounded. We still have a huge container of turkey in our fridge (almost a week later!). 

Sure sign of success - 
the vegetarian piling on the meat gravy!

Even better than the food for Thanksgiving was the company. We are amazingly lucky to have found such a wonderful group of people here in Germany. Like most European expats, most will likely continue to move around, or even head back to the United States, but I hope we will get the chance to spend at least a few more holidays with them all. A huge thank-you to them for making holidays without family not feel like such.

But then this arrives today, and I can't help but miss my family...

thanks Mom!

Three more weeks till my family arrives to celebrate Christmas the proper way with the Germans - the Weihnachtsmarkt, Christmas trees and sparkling lights everywhere you look, strangers sharing a table with their Glühwein! The countdown has begun...

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische
**Turkey basting photo courtesy of Y. Ormen

The Pumpkin Project

November 20, 2010

With our first German, er, 'American' Thanksgiving fast approaching, I realized I had taken for granted all the ingredients that make up the traditional indulgent feast. Here, a turkey must be ordered from a butcher (not just picked up at any grocery), cranberries and sweet potatoes are few and far between, and most notably, pumpkin does not come in a can - it comes, well, in a pumpkin.

Hokkaido Kürbis - not just for jack-o-lanterns

When I came to the realization that I would not be able to order the ubiquitous canned pumpkin I was so used to in the states in time for our Thanksgiving festivities, I got into a bit of a panic. I thought: "Pumpkin from scratch?! Who has time for that?" With a bit of courage, I discovered if you have time to open a can, you have time to cook pumpkin. Sliced in half, dropped on a baking sheet, these babies will just fall out of their shells as the mush you're looking for in about an hour. 

Fresh cooked pumpkin

I will admit that there is something nice to the consistent consistency one gets from the canned stuff - my first was smooth and took only 50 minutes, my second was stringier and took nearly an hour and a half - and many pumpkin recipes have noted as much of a preference. But in the absence of convenience, the real deal works. And there's something nice about getting something that comes as it is - no additives, fancy packaging or outrageous health claims - and using it to cook up whatever you can while it's still in season.  

Which then becomes Pumpkin Curry Soup!

And the next morning - Pumpkin Spice Pancakes!

And so I forge on with hosting my first-ever Thanksgiving, basking in the glow of from-scratch recipes. My stuffing will be made from fresh-baked bread from my local Bäckerei, my sweet potato casserole will not use yams from a can (no wonder I always hated them!), and of course, my pumpkin custard tart (with red-wine caramel sauce - yum!) will be made from one of the gleaming orange pumpkins I see at every fruit and vegetable stand I pass. After all, isn't Thanksgiving about celebrating the autumnal harvest? All hail seasonal cooking!

* Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische

Happy Autumn!

November 03, 2010

October proved to be a busier month than expected. Between meeting new friends, birthday celebrations, and yet another wine festival (I know, right?!), I've fallen behind on blogging once again. So while I organize the rest of our Spain photos - and between more wine outings - please enjoy some shots of our lovely city from the very beautiful first day of November. 

Hope you are having a beautiful autumn, wherever you may be!

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische