Friday, June 30, 2017

10 things I learned this month

And just like that, June is over. Inspired by Emily Freeman, I'm continuing the practice of sharing things I learned this month here.

1. I’m distantly related to the pirate Pierre le Grande. The things you learn at family get-togethers. My relatives were talking family history, and they firmly announced that having an ancestor from Baltimore does NOT make that ancestor a yankee. They then happily discussed the connection with good ol' Pierre. Takeaway: it is better to be related to a pirate than to a yankee. Oh, the South. 

2. Not having a picture of something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I know, I know, this is basic, but remembering this afresh has given me the freedom to leave my devices at home and just enjoy whatever is happening rather than trying to document everything or (worse) staring at a screen when I have a minute to spare. I hiked, square danced, and made s’mores without distraction because I decided that was more important than having photos. 

3. God doesn’t often act quickly, but He acts suddenly. I came across this line in a book and it stuck with me. Often it seems like I am waiting on God forever with no sign of Him acting anytime soon, and then BOOM things start to happen. (This goes along with something I learned last month: God is seldom early, but He is never late.)

4. Wise words from my aunt for hard times: 1. It’s ok to cry. 2. Thank God for something anyway. 3. Don’t cry too long. The Lord gave her these words for her children when my uncle was deployed, but they apply to any tough time. 

5. A good teacher makes it possible for students to change their opinions without shame

6. We all write in the margins. A blog post that compares life to marginalia and interpretation (he actually uses the Hebrew term midrash here) is definitely my kind of post. I discovered Casey Tygrett's blog through another blogger I follow, and I'm loving it.  

7. Singapore airlines is a dream to travel onI had such a great experience on my flight - excellent service, and the stewardesses wear lovely dresses. (Yes, appearances matter.)

8. There is a rooftop lounge with free access for all in Terminal 5 of JFK airport. Travelers, take note! This place made my 8-hour layover a pleasure rather than a chore to get through.

9. Moving to Germany is significantly different from traveling to Germany. Hehe. Significantly more stressful, but also filled with unique joys. I had fun writing this post.

10. Putting up my own things in a hotel room makes a world of difference for my mood. Particularly when I'll be staying in this room for a month until we move into our new house. Quick transformation from generic room to my own space. (Three cheers for washi tape!)

What did you learn this month?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

first day in Germany: alternate realities

It is 6:53 pm, the evening of our first day in Germany, and I'm still awake. We'll see if I can make it to my goal time of 9. I'm pretty confident I can.

Y'all. I am not just here for two months to help my parents move, but for a whole year with the Fulbright (more on that in posts to follow). I am so glad to be back - it's good for my third-culture-kid soul. The only thing missing is Charlie. It's been a happy day, and as we went through it I realized that there are very marked differences between one's first day in Germany on vacation and one's first day in Germany during a military move. Both can be very good days, but I was chuckling to myself as I came up with the list of comparisons.

Any time you go to Germany: you start getting excited the moment you hear German spoken in the airport in the States, and then cannot stop grinning when you actually get to the German airport. (Fun story from today: at passport control my passable accent as I said "Guten Morgen" and the fact that I was born in Wiesbaden led the guard to ask me - in German - if I had a German passport also. No...but I wouldn't complain if I did.)

The first day on vacation: you have The Sound of Music soundtrack stuck in your head all day because that's what you watched on the plane.

The first day of a move: you have "How Far I'll Go" stuck in your head all day because you finally watched Moana on the airplane and all the tck (third culture kid) vibes are resonating strongly (island home/ocean -> American home/Germany).

The first day on vacation: you don't have a rental car, so you take the train from the airport to the city center and then buy a transit pass that you figure out how to use as you go.

The first day of a move: you can't pick your car up until tomorrow, so someone from post comes and picks you up, throws all 8 pieces of luggage for you and your parents in the government minivan, and drives you to military lodging.

The first day on vacation: you have to stay awake all day, so you spend hours wandering around the beautiful old city center, ooh-ing and ah-ing over the architecture and cobblestones and atmosphere of the place.

{Munich 2015}
The first day of a move: you wave at the stunning German countryside as you whiz past on the autobahn - you won't see it again for the rest of the day since you have no way to get off post once you're dropped off. You still have to stay awake all day, so you spend the hours wandering over post, feeling totally at home among the old military housing (if you've seen one post, you've seen them all) and exploring the PX/BX (Post/Base Exchange - aka a shopping mall). You leave with polish pottery and an inexpensive cell phone.

The first day on vacation: you purchase food from the local grocery store, marveling at how inexpensive Camembert cheese and good bread is.

The first day of a move: you know that you don't actually have to do a big grocery shop since you'll get the car tomorrow, so you run into the Commissary to purchase the bare necessities. Dad goes for milk (for coffee) and bubbly water; Mom goes for yogurt, ramen, and chocolate; and you go for tea (black for the morning and peppermint for evenings) and apples.

The first day on vacation: you spend the evening hanging out in the lobby of the youth hostel with your traveling companions, figuring out wifi to contact family members and chatting with the hostel staff.

The first day of a move: you spend the evening in military lodging, either putting up with cramped army guesthouses (the last time we moved), or marveling over how spacious and pristine air force lodging is (this move). It's no secret that the air force is cushy, and while you take pride in your tough army status, it sure is nice to enjoy that pampered air force life to ease the transition. While your parents lay out a plan of attack for the dizzying logistical challenges of in processing, picking up the car, and finding a home preferably within 5 days (wishful thinking much?), you revel in your lack of responsibility and write blog posts.

Any first day in Germany: you spend the day in a confusing haze of euphoria, loopiness from jet lag, and increasing difficulty staying alert and cogent. You instantly recognize the distinctive song of the Amsel (the European blackbird), which you haven't heard in years and yet would know anywhere because it is a sound of your childhood. You enjoy the feel of the air and the way the windows open and the sound of the language and all the memories of little things from years ago that you thought you'd forgotten. You keep your eyelids propped up as long as you possibly can and then sleep like a log all night because you refused yourself the tempting instant gratification of a nap earlier.

{Munich 2015}

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Poetry Corner: "Questions of Travel"

Sharing poetry is a deeply-ingrained habit in my day-to-day life that has occasionally spilled over onto the blog. As of today, I'm planning to share some of my favorite poems more frequently on this platform. As I live in limbo between places and ponder an itinerant lifestyle, this one has been on my mind. I love it for the questions and the imagery. Enjoy! 

Questions of Travel
by Elizabeth Bishop

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
- For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren't waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
- Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
- A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.

- Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr'dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages
- Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
- And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians' speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

'Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one's room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there... No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be? '