Thursday, November 30, 2017

Things I Learned This Month | November 2017

You guys. 

Advent starts tomorrow. 

I am so excited. I have been restraining myself from peeking at the pictures on my Advent Calendar and starting The Greatest Gift for a week. (I exercise no such restraint when it comes to Christmas music - I've been listening to that for a solid month.) I love Advent so much - the anticipation of Christmas Day is such a good reminder that we are waiting for Jesus to come again.

But I get ahead of myself. Advent starts tomorrow, but today it's still November. Which means it's time for me to follow Emily Freeman's lead and share a handful of things I learned this month. 

1. The thought process behind The Lumineers' song "Ophelia" is fascinating. 

I've always been curious about what the lyrics to that song mean, so I was intrigued to listen to Song Exploder's episode about it. I particularly enjoyed hearing the songwriters talk about why it had to be "Ophelia"   instead of something else. (It's probably not the reason you think it is.)

2. Real Chinese food is spicy (!). 

My roommate is Chinese, and I've picked up some interesting facts on China from her. I was totally surprised to learn that food in China is very spicy - that's totally not my concept of Chinese food based on Chinese takeout. Bonus fact: in northern China people eat noodles, and in southern China rice is the staple. 

3. On the topic of food: tossing a generous tablespoon of freshly minced ginger into your generic pumpkin pie batter (filling? whatever...) takes the classic dessert to a sassy new level of deliciousness. 

4. The 75th anniversary of Casablanca was November 26th. 

Since finding that out last week, rewatching that classic has been high on my to-do list. My dad sent me this fascinating article unpacking why Casablanca is such a spectacular film. “The film needs Rick to stick his neck out and commit to the Allied cause at the same time it needs to respect the sanctity of the bonds of matrimony. […] One reason Casablanca endures in the popular movie memory is the aberrational decisiveness of its climax, which tackled and resolved the question of dual loyalties head on.”

5. Czeslaw Milosz is one of my new favorite poets. 

I'm slowly working my way through his collected works and I'm captivated. Excerpts from his poems will probably show up in the poetry corner of the blog at some point, but until then I will leave you with this line from his poem "The Song":

Children throw balls, they dance on the meadow by threesomes,
Women wash linen at streamside and fish for the moon.

Friday, November 17, 2017

my go-to panacea

"At first glance the formula is very simple: tea leaves from a plant from the camellia family + hot water = tea. This sum summarizes quickly the most beloved drink worldwide - tea. 

"As much as tea is a staple of daily life, it is anything but boring or mundane. For it was tea that inspired poets and prompted the invention of porcelain. 

"Tea makes every morning brighter, refreshes and revives in the afternoon, and warms the coldest nights. Tea soothes strained nerves, but also awakes fresh vigor. 

"Tea accompanies meals, lets words flow, and always stands for hospitality. 

"Tea prompts merchant ships to circumnavigate the globe and stands even today as a meeting point between religion, medicine, and art."

~from Lust auf Tee, my translation

This post was bound to come someday. I blog about things that make me tick, and tea is right up there with books and friends on my list of things that I couldn't possibly do without. So it was never a matter of if I would author a blog post about tea, but when. So settle back, because this is going to be a long post dedicated to my favorite beverage.

As I started this post, I was about to write something cosy along the lines of:

The days are getting shorter and colder, and I've started living in sweaters and scarves and slippers and wrapping myself in fuzzy blankets to keep warm. It's the time of year that I start to consume large quantities of tea.

But who am I kidding? I drink large quantities of tea regardless of the time of year. If it's cold outside I drink hot tea, and if it's hot outside I drink iced tea. That covers my bases: there is no time of year that tea isn't an important part of my life.

Hot or iced; black, green or herbal; loose leaf or in a bag; with company or by myself; at home or out and about; as an excuse for a tea party or as accompaniment to whatever I happen to be doing; it is always the right time for tea.

On one of my first days in Munich I was hanging out in a biergarten with some of the other Fulbrighters. Beer or tea? Is that even a question? Tea. Always.

I love offering hospitality, and if you've ever visited me, chances are that one of the first things I said was "I'm just making tea. Would you like some?" In my first couple of years of college, my dorm room ended up being a regular gathering hub for a large group of friends - and tea was always involved. I even had what I jokingly called my "tea shrine":

When I was in London a couple of years ago, I stumbled into this amazing tea shop called T2, where they have bowls of loose leaf tea all over the shop for customers to see and smell. I ended up chatting with an employee who said something along the lines of: "Tea isn't just a beverage: it's a means of bringing people together." Yes! 

"Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company" ~Anynomous

Of course, I drink tea alone frequently as well, and with great contentment. Perhaps one of the funniest memories I have of drinking tea by myself was when I was in Joliet very early on a Saturday morning. I had driven a friend there to take the GRE and drove downtown to hang out in a coffee shop while I waited. Not only was the coffee shop randomly closed, but the entire town seemed to be shut down. The only place that was open was a very large casino with a Starbucks inside. So I snuck in - feeling extremely out of place - got my London Fog, and hunkered down in a corner to do my morning Bible reading and count the minutes until the public library opened. 

I'm pretty sure that the baristas had never seen a college student come into the casino Starbucks to read her Bible at 8 on a Saturday morning. The moral of the story: tea can make a very awkward situation much more bearable. 

Speaking of morals and stories, tea books have their own little niche in the book market. It stands to reason: book-lovers are often tea-lovers. It's so much fun to flip through books on how comforting tea is, the social history of tea time, and those sorts of things. 

It's also fun to google quotes about tea and see what the internet comes up with. This page has many delightful quotes - both serious and silly - having to do with tea. 

And of course there are those great British tweets, like the following: 

If you don't like tea, we can still be friends. I just might be at a loss as to what to offer you to drink if you come to visit.

(An aside: entire books could be written about the Brits and their tea habits. I once heard an entire BBC radio segment where a panel discussed whether one should put milk into the mug before or after one pours the tea.)

I could spend hundreds more words rhapsodizing about tea, giving anecdotes, and telling you about my favorite tea shops in three different countries. But instead I'll wrap up by sharing some choice quotes, accompanied by photos. (Is tea photography a thing? Because if it is, I'm a tea photographer - there are dozens and dozens of pictures of tea in my photos. It's almost embarrassing...)

"There is no trouble so great or grave [for example, a disastrous round of Settlers of Catan] that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea." ~Bernard-Paul Heroux

"Tea is instant wisdom - just add water!" ~Terri Guillemets

"Coffee is not my cup of tea." ~Samuel Goldwyn

"Never concentrating so hard than when manoeuvring a full cup of tea whilst lying down." ~Rob Temple, @SoVeryBritish 

"Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea." ~Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, 1880

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Things I Learned This Month | October 2017

“I’m so glad to live in a world where there are Octobers.” Thus Anne Shirley, my literary kindred spirit. I’ve had this line in mind all month, but now I’ll tuck it away for 11 months, at which point I’ll pull it out again, along with all my favorite sweaters. (The sweaters are NOT being tucked away – they have months more of good use ahead of them.)

I do love October.

Now that the month is nearly over so many references and cozy October things are coming to mind. The Great Pumpkin Waltz; bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils; the satisfying, impossible-to-replicate sound and aroma of shuffling through fallen leaves on a snappy, sunny day.

It’s been a full month. I settled into my routine at school, found a church, joined an a capella choir, and FINALLY found an apartment. I went home one weekend, and I spent this past weekend with my parents visiting Charlie in Hamburg. (We stayed on a farm 30 minutes outside the city. All photos in this blog post are from our trip.)

As usual, before the new month comes, I want to follow Emily Freeman’s lead and share some things I learned this month.

1. Hamburg has more bridges than both Venice and Amsterdam. There’s good reason that this port city is called “the Venice of the north.” 

2. Northern Germany feels like Holland, and I love it. Thatched roofs, flat land, dikes, lots of water, brick houses, and broad expanses of sky. This past weekend in Hamburg I had to keep reminding myself that I was in Germany, not Holland. 

3. Germans wear the wedding ring on the right ring finger. I thought this might be the case, but I wasn’t sure, so I decided to continue to wear my opal ring on my right ring finger, just like I always have. I’ve had several people (including a male student who “likes to take walks at sunset”) ask if I’m married. Nope. Not engaged or dating either. But I don’t intend to swap my ring to my left hand. Because that will just make things complicated.

4. German students have some really funny perceptions of America.

5. Language barrier + new environment = several inadvertent faux pax. I don’t tend to think of having much of a language barrier with Germans. I did live in Germany for 9 years as a child and studied the language for 3 years in college. But I can still be totally oblivious. For example, it took me 3 weeks of using a computer room at work before someone finally told me that that particular room is only for the faculty chairs and I really shouldn’t be in there. I honestly don’t know if that would have been obvious if German were my native language, or if it’s something I couldn’t have known without being told. But several things like that have made me aware that it’s so easy to be clueless in a new environment. And because most of my life is now being conducted in a second language, I’m extra likely to miss the obvious. So I do my best to ask lots of questions, be eager to learn, and to take it gracefully when people tell me I’m out of line.

6. “The good old days” weren’t as nice as we like to think of them. I’m reading Alexander Hamilton’s biography, and it’s providing fascinating insight into the early days of our nation. I’m accustomed to hear people bemoan the mudslinging and ad hominem attacks that have become American politics, the lack of objectivity in the media, the tendency to vilify the “other” - whether its another political party or people from another country or whatever. I’ve bemoaned those tendencies myself. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from Hamilton, it’s that however shameful these tendencies are, they are as old as the hills and not peculiarly modern problems. 

7. Angelica Schuyler was already married when she met Hamilton. This is one time when I am all for artistic license: What would “Hamilton” be without “Satisfied”?

8. Mascarpone cheese tastes just like clotted cream. Guys. This stuff is amazing. On figs. On scones. On stewed plums. On a spoon. Go buy some.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Poetry Corner: The Children's Hour

Last night, I got back to my (temporary) apartment at that elusive time when the day is done but it's not quite night. And the opening line from The Children's Hour came to me: "Between the dark and the daylight / When the night is beginning to lower..." This poem is one of the poems that I inadvertently memorized during my childhood because my mom read it aloud to us so often. Here it is. 

"The Children's Hour"
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Between the dark and the daylight,
   When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
   That is known as the Children’s Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
   The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
   And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
   Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
   And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
   Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
   To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
   A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
   They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
   O’er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
   They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
   Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
   In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
   Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
   Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
   And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
   In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
   Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
   And moulder in dust away!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

stealing cabs and driving to mailboxes: the first two weeks of teaching

“What exactly are you doing for your Fulbright?”

That’s a question I’ve gotten a lot since I accepted the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) position in April. I’ve mostly fended it off, because I didn’t really have a good idea myself of what this was going to look like. But now, having just wrapped up my second week of classes, I feel like I can answer that question.

I’m the ETA at a Fachoberschule for health and social services. The German school system is pretty complicated, and rather different than the American school system, so I’m not going to try to explain the system as a whole. I’m teaching 12th and 13th grade, and my students range from 17-23 years old. They are being prepped to go into health and social services, though many won’t go that route. Some will go to university, some won’t. Many have no idea what they want to do with their lives. (Who can blame them?)

As the ETA, I’m helping out the English faculty as the native speaker in the classrooms. I’m teaching 10 different classes – once a week for each class – and I help run the English Club. (I also have Fridays off, which is glorious.) In some classes, the teachers have given me free rein to teach however and whatever I want. In others, I’m given specific themes to deal with. The 12th grade is in a module on social problems right now, so I’ve been assigned, among other things, lessons on immigration, gun law, murder rates in Chicago, and the death penalty.

It’s sometimes a little overwhelming, considering that I have no training as a teacher and am no expert on most of the subjects I’m supposed to expound upon. But the challenge is exciting. I’ve always loved learning, and in my last two years of college I began to get an inkling that I might also really love teaching. So far, I do. My mentor teachers are extremely welcoming and supportive, which helps a lot, but what really makes me enjoy it so much and keeps me on my toes is the students.

The students are fascinating. It would be difficult to imagine a more diverse group. Only about half are of German heritage. The others, while mostly born and/or raised in Munich, come from a wide variety of backgrounds. I have students whose parents are from Italy, Turkey, Slovakia, Ukraine, Chechnya, Croatia, Poland, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Eretria, Togo, Kosovo, Serbia, Denmark, and Greece. (I’m probably forgetting something.) There are Christians, Muslims, Jews, and non-religious kids. One of my students has Serbian parents, was born in Munich, lived in Mississippi for years, and moved back to Munich three years ago. Her Southern drawl was extremely disconcerting the first time I heard it.

Most of them speak excellent English, since they’ve been taking English since 3rd grade, so rather than teaching the nuts and bolts of the language I get to help them think about diverse topics and facilitate group discussions. Sometimes they’re reluctant to talk, but if I can get them started then the discussions are fascinating, since they have such a wide range of backgrounds and opinions. Here’s a representative handful of quotes, culled from discussions on immigration, DACA, and what it means to be American:

 “America should take more refugees from Syria because they’re responsible for the situation in Syria.” ( exactly are we responsible for that one?)

“Trump’s wall is a good idea.”

“Anyone who wants to live in America should be able to do so, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone.”

“If America doesn’t want illegal immigrants, they should fix Mexico’s problems.”

“Trump is right to look out for Americans first.”

“Governments should look out for everyone, not just their own citizens.”

“Feeling American is what makes you American, regardless of what the government says.”

Thus declare my students.

The stereotypes are amusing, too. There’s the usual: fast food, everything supersized, football, cowboy boots, guns, BBQ, patriotism (so many stereotypes seem to come from Texas). The most random conception of Americans?

“Americans are lazy: they drive to their mailboxes instead of walking down the driveway.”

“Americans steal other people’s cabs.”

At my confused prodding, the student explained that when someone in America hails a cab someone else usually hops in first, riding merrily off while the luckless first comer has to try again.

What do you know? I'm learning things about Americans I never knew...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Things I Learned This Month | September 2017

As usual, taking inspiration from Emily Freeman to share {some of the} things I learned this month.

1. Six million people come to Munich for Oktoberfest, the largest folk festival in the world. To put that in perspective, Munich has a population of 1.5 million.

2. Munich has a huge immigrant population. I knew already that nearly 40% of people who live in Munich aren't German, but what this means didn't fully register until I started teaching this week. At most, half of my students are German. Many were raised in Germany, but aren't of German heritage. My students come from Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia, Italy, Poland, Denmark, Iran, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, and there are probably some countries that I'm forgetting. It's a fascinating group.

3. German students think that Americans are "addicted to guns." One student told me that while the Americans she's met seem open and friendly, Americans must also be wild and unpredictable - anyone who owns a gun, it seems, is like this, and of course all Americans own guns. Hmmmm. Methinks these students have a lesson on the 2nd Amendment in their future.

3. Sophie Scholl was 21 years old, one year younger than I am, when the Nazis executed her for participation in the White Rose resistance group. I realized this today, and suddenly all the weight of what that meant hit me. Her courage astounds me.

4. "Faith is not believing in spite of evidence: it is obeying in spite of the consequences." ~Alisdair Begg from his series on Daniel

Friday, September 15, 2017

What does Munich look like? | The Fulbright Year Begins

I love cities. 

When I observed this to my mom last week, she laughed and said, "Ever since you have been aware of cities you have loved them - you're always talking about how much you enjoy their energy."

That said, I like small towns and countryside, too. 

So I was ecstatic when I found out that I was placed in Munich (the village of a million people, as locals like to refer to it) for my year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. 

Munich has it all: the interest and excitement of a metropolis, plus relaxed corners with lots of green space, plus easy access to the Alps. What a place to get to spend 10 months. 

I've been here just over a week and I have wandered so much, and there is still so much more of the city to see. I'm grateful that my mentor teacher gave me this week to get settled and explore before starting work on Monday. 

There are so many directions this post could go - it's been a crazy full week. I could tell you all about the church that I visited on Sunday - possibly the most welcoming church I've ever stepped into. I could gush about the many tea and bookshops that I have already stumbled across - to my great delight. I could share about the mood swings that come with being actually on my own for the first time ever. Or I could give you a glimpse into the German immigration office, which has its own snack guy who goes around selling coffee, croissants, and pretzels. 

But there will be time for me to share some of those stories and to testify to the dozens of ways - big and small - that the Lord has shown His faithfulness this week. If I tried to cram it all into one post, it would be ridiculously long and probably never actually get posted, because there is just so much. 

So what's focusing the post for today is a question one of my cousins asked my mom: "What does Munich look like?"

It's a good question - every city has a different look, a different flavor. I don't know how to answer that question with words other than something along the lines of "Well, there aren't any skyscrapers...It's a gorgeous old city with a traditional feel but sometimes a modern twist." Which answer just falls flat. 

So as I wandered, I tried to remember to take photos. There is so much that I haven't captured and so many iconic places in the city that I haven't visited yet - notably among them the Olympic Park and the famous Biergardens. But here's a glimpse of the Munich that I'm getting to know. 

Something I really love about Munich is that there are lots of "passages" - you'll be walking along and turn into a tiny little covered alley between buildings, which more often than not opens into a courtyard with shops or a restaurant, or even just a mural in a tiny little space. You'll continue through this tucked-away, quiet space and then suddenly be out on another big street with bustle and traffic and lots of pedestrians. 


I also love the English Gardens - Munich's equivalent of Central Park. In the mornings, it's the domain of joggers, dog walkers, and young moms taking core strengthening classes. In the afternoons, it fills up with people picnicking, kicking the soccer ball around, reading, and just generally relaxing.  

The Fulbright year has begun. I'm so excited to see how it unfolds.