Me in the Alps in Winter 2015

Me in the Alps in Winter 2015
Not Just Surviving, But Thriving!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Let's Go Outside!

These Bicycles Aren't Just for Show
    There is nothing like the enthusiasm of a Northern people for the warmer months. From the first day of Spring onward, it is simply time to be outside. Whenever possible. Even if there's still snow on the ground. Even if it’s just for the 10 minutes between rainstorms. Everyone seems to be in agreement that they made it through the dark, dark days of winter, and celebration time has begun!
    I’d felt a version of that difference when I moved north from California to Oregon, from a place where people can be outside almost all year long to a place where there’s truly a winter, and for three months it’s time to stay inside.

Rain is Just a Moisturizer

    Germany is another level entirely. When we first visited in April, the chestnut trees were coming into bloom, and there were already more hours of light than in Oregon. It was often quite cold and wet, but that didn’t stop people from being outside whenever possible. The café chairs that were tucked away for the winter were once again set up in the sun or the pouring rain. And they were occupied whenever there was a break from actual precipitation: café staff were constantly wiping them off. None of this “waiting until it warms up” for the Europeans: an hour without driving winds or snow or sleet is an hour to enjoy the weather, and what better way to do so (after one’s walk) than to have kaffee and kuchen (coffee and cake).

Color in our Cheeks: It's Not Cold, It's FRESH

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"First Failure of the Day"

Humbly Asked for Help Finding A Place to Live

    You say you want to move to another country? And you don't want to wait for somebody to arrange everything for you, such as that mythical fabulous employer or that sometimes very real foreign love-of-your-life. You want to go now!
    You're the kind of person who knows how to take charge, is extremely capable, and takes great pride in knowing what to do and when to do it.
    Let me ask you this: are you ready to be humbled?
    When you are a foreigner, it becomes very clear to you very quickly how okay you really are with "doing things badly." That is the foreigner's daily bread.
    On the other hand, it's also a crash course in overcoming compulsive self-reliance. You get to either suffer, or learn to humbly ask for help. You get to let other people do for you what you cannot do for yourself.
    Whether it's worth it changes every day.

Step 7: We humbly asked our Higher Power to help us with the process of becoming citizens of another country, and to ask for and accept help when we needed it.

    We literally almost left Germany for good the weekend before we moved. In the midst of this beautiful city, with wonderful new friends, we were miserable. Simply because of the never-ending stress of finding and moving to an apartment. I've moved 23 times in my life, and it was never this hard. Because I could do almost everything myself, or easily hire someone to do it.
    Not so in Germany. As with so many things, we didn't know what we didn't know until we were right in the middle of needing to know it.

    And then we moved, and the stress stopped, and the craziness went away.
    We were walking through the forest near our house the other day and we realized, This is what we thought we were going to be experiencing when we moved to Munich: a comfortable flat in a nice neighborhood. And it took us 8 difficult months (and confiding to J's company that we might just leave, so they finally hired someone to help us) to make it happen. It's a huge leap forward towards comfort and the possibility of happiness.

Germany Wants to Know Where You Live

    But it's STILL insanely hard to do a simple thing like change our address. J is at this moment standing in line at a government building hoping he's in the right place, and not knowing whether his German skills will be enough to understand what he has to do. I'm really hoping it goes well...
    As I'm writing this I get a text from J: "first failure of the day." The frustrated emoticon sums it up. He ended up in the wrong LONG line on the wrong floor of the huge government building, just to change our address!! At home we'd just spend 30 seconds online to do exactly the same thing, or drop a postcard by the post office.
    But he's philosophical about it: he probably didn't have the right papers with him, anyway (he has his identity card but forgot his passport).
    The bottom line is, perfectionists probably should not apply. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Doing "The Next Right Thing"

Daily Reading No Matter Where I Am
    Moving to another country is a completely different thing than visiting or working for awhile. It's really quite hard, emotionally torturous sometimes, in fact. The classic 1st-world Expat, although often well-paid and treated well simply for being American, is a deeply lonely person who drinks a LOT and slides into bitterness about Germans and Germany (or wherever) when he or she is in the company of someone who speaks their native language. 
    And we all know this unhappy person, because we end up spending time with people we'd avoid back home. We do it simply because they're American, and we crave that so much after we leave it, we crave the Americanness.
    It's good advice to avoid the Negative People. But sometimes you just can't, and sometimes they're very enticing. The "Contempt Prior to Investigation," or alcoholic, mindset has created some of the world's funniest (and most sarcastic) writers and performers. 
    I used to be really good at finding things to snarkily laugh about (and entertain others with) before I decided snark just wasn't good for me in the long run. It kind of rots the soul. The only other option is...sincerity.

And so I am sincerely working my version of Step 3:

We made a decision to believe in the possibility of living in a country from which our ancestors emigrated, to trust that this guidance comes from a Higher Power of our understanding, and to strive to take no challenges personally.

    J and I had the foresight (having done this before) to agree not to split up while we are here; otherwise we might have done it by now! (And be regretting it...) Because when you're miserable and you're isolated in another culture, it's easy to take it out on your partner. 
    That's where that part about not taking anything personally really comes in handy.
    We eventually have to feel what we're feeling, whether we distract ourselves with big life changes or not. Eventually it catches up to us. And often we need more than anything the comfort of the everyday. Doing the next right thing, like making a nest for ourselves, or helping a friend dig a garden or volunteering for something. Simple things like those are very difficult to do when you're a foreigner. And it's then you realize how important they are...
    The real challenge for me, over and over again, is to say Today is My Life, whatever and wherever I am. Spending time dreaming of the perfect life is for me both addictive and dangerous. I can say with absolute certainty that if I am not happy where I am now, I won't be happy in that dreamy place. Happiness is a choice and a daily practice and it's always different from what I thought it would be...What did I think Germany would be like? Just different, really, and boy, is it ever!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Brave Enough to Try, Brave Enough to Stay?

Darks Days, Light Hearts
We went to Füssen today, the city near Neuschwanstein, the "fairy tale castle" built by Ludwig II, who may have been murdered at 40 because he was a little too nice, a little too gay, a little too fond of building castles instead of going to war. The mountain ranges here are just astonishingly beautiful, ragged, jagged peaks, nothing rounded or comforting. Great vistas, and today was VERY sunny, a change for us. The snow has largely melted. 
    On our way today, a hawk was flying very low over the autobahn. And then there was one on the ground, not moving. I'm thinking maybe that was it's mate and that was why it was flying so low. Pigeons are mating in the snow on the rooftops here. Tomorrow, snow, high of 30. Saturday, high of 57. Wow!
    I'm getting many opportunities to explore enjoying cold weather and snow. And I'm getting braver about doing so, I think. We took the train to Chiemsee on Sunday, a lake with castles, and spent some of the day on the open top of the ferry. It was in the 20s but the sun was out, so hiking around the islands and even being outside on the ferry deck was unexpectedly beautiful. 
    My feet have yet to freeze, which keeps surprising me.
    Aging, winter, death, darkness - nothing like January to bring us back to our favorite philosophers to get us through. Mine is Anne Lamott.
    I am focusing on my version of Step 10 these dark days:

We continued to take personal inventory of our fears and joys, and to accept that we are not perfect, that change is difficult, and that we love ourselves for being brave enough to try.

    We were brave enough to try, but I still don't know if we're brave enough to stay. But I'm taking my friend Anette's advice and making no decisions about the future in the winter.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Holiday Cheer and the Holiday Ache

We are having a very low key Xmas Day, recovering from a long and involved and wonderful and delicious Christmas Eve Dinner, the big event here, cooked for us in 7 courses by very generous German friends. Along with a different alcohol for every course — whew! A true feast. I am exhausted and all I did was eat and drink and talk (but in my defense, much of the chat was in German which I do struggle to participate in).
    The Christkind, or Christ child, comes here with presents on Xmas Eve — Xmas itself is not a big day, I haven't even heard any church bells, altho it could be because the temperature just dropped (from way too high for the season) and the windows are tightly closed. The bells were thundering last night during dinner at our friend's apartment, at 6ish and then again at 10ish and then at midnight: they live around the corner from a very large church tower which is still rung by hand by extremely enthusiastic bellringers. The church, Catholic as most of them are here, is St. Maximilians and it overlooks the River Isar, and is transcendently beautiful in the fog.
Yes there is snow at Garmisch-Partenkirchen

   I miss our son more than I can say: this is possibly the unsurmountable ache that will end up making us move back (if he doesn't meet and marry a nice German girl and stay here). He's flying here on 8 Jan, and we're counting down the days! John is excited to take him out for a spin in some new BMW i3 Electric Hybrid they're working on (I think that's what it is, I forget exactly), and we'll definitely get up to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the Carvendel mountain range so he can go snowboarding. If there's snow!
    We have a mini Cooper to drive for a week while his company is closed, so we might zip over to Austria or Freiburg, or even Italy, although it's looking like snow everywhere and we're not enthusiastic about being stuck in massive traffic backups in the snow in a mini, so...maybe we'll just hole up in the apartment. There's 20 times the number of people here than in Oregon, and that does not make for spontaneous, carefree driving, so we've hardly ever driven. 
    It turns out Munich is a wonderful place to be in the month of December! As long as you're okay with being out in the cold. Everything is lit up like crazy, lights everywhere, even on the construction cranes, but particularly beautiful in the city center. And Weihnachtsmarkts everywhere, large and small, traditional and a little wilder (artsy in the historically art neighborhoods, naughty in the gay neighborhood), even a Medieval version in the Residenz.
    Because it's so beautiful it's not that hard to work the Step 8 I use:

We became willing to attempt to unconditionally love the ways of this culture so different from the one we were raised in, but one in which we respectfully seek a home, while continuing to honor the ways of our birth country.

   On a good day, it's the most beautiful December I've ever experienced. On a bad day, I still wonder what we were thinking...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

It's The Little Things, Good and Bad...

A Relaxed Stance of Mutual Respect 

One thing I am really enjoying about southern Germany is their obvious deep love and respect for their canine companions. Dogs here are treated very much like a friend, more than anyplace I've ever been. They are often off leash; and almost always the leash is a harness rather than around their neck. Which makes sense, because who pulls a friend around by their neck?
    Usually their human partner strolls completely at the dog's pace. I've only ever seen a person pull on a leash once since I've been here, even teenagers out walking the family dog. They just don't do it. Their kindness towards their animal companions is quite touching. I love it, being in a place where everyone treats their animals like I do.
    And the dogs are completely uninterested in other people, they are totally focused on their own person and the other dogs they come across, which they run to and play with in an uncontrolled-by-humans way, and it's just no big deal. There is NO aggression. It's really kind of mind-blowing. 
    This is part of finding out that pretty much every stereotype I've ever had about Germans has been false. They are mainly kind, calm, quiet people who can be openly affectionate to their animals and children. Interesting. I've heard the odd one yell, but that was clearly the odd one.
    My own state of mind, although much calmer than before, varies wildly between 
1) completely overwhelmed and depressed (actually only about 1/20 of the time)
2) busy being enraptured with München-ish life (1/4 of the time)
3) completely challenged by everyday things like finding chili powder (impossible) or a doctor whose receptionist speaks English (difficult) or 1000 other things that we take for granted (all the rest of the time).
    My biggest achievement in the past few days is finding a certified German/English translator who will "translate" our marriage certificate which I had to order anew from Oregon because it had to be issued within the last 90 days and had to be "apostilled" and which I must present to the authorities by 4 December. All because I kept my last name.
    I believe we have decided to stay for now. This is a 180 degree change from about a month ago, when we were looking at packing it in. J is really enjoying his job now, and I've made friends. We are still in our small apartment in a not-so-great part of town, but it has its highlights.
    I'm recovering from a HUGE hit of gluten. I missed an ingredient while reading the tiny German print on a food can label and I cooked chili with cans of tomato sauce to which they had added SEITAN (pure gluten, pretty rare to find). I got so sick, for the first time in years, very depressing.
    So, I'm staying close to home and knitting alot and now I have time to work on my book. Silver lining.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Just Be Direct, Already! (Why New Yorkers Do Better Here)

Therapeutic Mushroom Hunting in Denmark 

   Well I can't write about having fun living in Germany right now because it hasn't been anything like that lately. Just a hard slog emotionally every day. 
   So I went to see my friend Anette in Denmark. A trip comparable in distance to traveling to central California from Ashland. And slept and read when it rained and walked around quiet lakes when the sun shone. Gave myself a week off from trying to understand everything German. And a week away from the big city, which is a harder change than anything. And it worked! I came back much less worried about everything.
   Ah, the magical power of vacation!
   Meanwhile J was hitting a wall at work and was ready to quit after several non-productive meetings with his boss. It looked like we were going to give it up after just 2 months. Then some English friends sat us down for a chat and said, "Look here. You're not communicating like a German. Time to be VERY DIRECT." Which is almost impossible for an Oregonian, but he did it! And they listened! Now he's on a new team and things are going very well. And it looks like we're staying.
   Today is his 2nd paid holiday. It was a Catholic one in August. This one is German reunification day. And amazingly it's not raining! I am on my way to Dorfen, where my New Zealand friend lives. J is of course riding...he knows how to get happy and that's good.
   Of course I'm trying to be upbeat when I write these posts. But there's a whole other side to moving here. I'm working my version of Step 11 right now:

We sought through giving thanks, asking questions, and listening carefully for answers, to improve our conscious contact with our Higher Power to improve our integration into our new country.

So: I'm thankful to be here. And it's okay that I'm struggling, even if you and my friends think I should be excited all the time. I am not sure 54 is the right age to do this. However I did just meet a 65 year old man last night who retired here from New York 3 years ago. He doesn't speak German, even after many years trying (a dozen). But he loves it here.