29 September 2014

Things in Germany, Volume II

The first thing on this list deserves to be first. I love the windows in Germany. These windows can be either opened from the top or opened like a door. The do not slide up and down like windows I'm used to.

I love these windows because (1) they are versitile. I can open the window in different ways depending on what I want. When I open the window from the top, . . .

. . . (2) it keeps Sebastian from trying to climb on the windows. It also (3) prevents rain from getting inside the house. I love to hear the rain (and birds and wind and people), and keeping these windows open allows me to feel more apart of my surroundings without a wet window sill. When I open the window like a door, . . .

. . . (4) it allows more fresh air and breeze through the apartment. Opening the windows like this also (5) allows you to clean the other side of the glass without having to step on a ladder. Window screens are also not common, and I love (6) being able to see through the window clearly without the obstruction of a mesh screen.

Keys Like This
Well, that's all I really have to say about this one.

Trash Cans in the Produce Aisle
I thought it might be trashy to take a picture of the inside of this trash can, so just close your eyes and imaging I'm opening it right now. You look inside and see wilted spinach leaves and outer layers of cabbage. What a genius idea! We pay for most produce by the pound, but end up shucking those outer and bruised layers when we get home anyway. With these produce cans, people place only those inedible leaves inside, saving the consumer money and making trash sorting easier.

In the short week that we've been here, we've already found some awesome playgrounds. A lot of them, too! Play seems to be extremely important to Germans because you can't walk very far down the street or path without seeing some play equipment. Sometimes you see a grand play area like these.

But if there isn't room for a large play area, you might find a small play "thing" all on its own. There is a cute wooden snail that Sebastian can ride just outside the nearest grocery story. We see other little animals or cars near bus stops or benches. We pass a small swing set with just one swing on our way to the other grocery store. A little teeter-totter sits near the lake.

Playgrounds illustrate another important quality that I believe I see more in Germany: trust. The simple playground equipment and the way parents allow their children to play on it shows trust even in small children. While we were living in Charlotte, parents would follow their children around the playground, unsure of what obstacle their children might encounter or what danger their children might find. Curtis and I like to let Sebastian take risks and figure out the equipment on his own. Obviously, some equipment is designed for much older kids, and we take that into consideration. But in general, we don't mind letting him play on what he wants and how he wants. In the States, I'm sure some parents thought we were too hands-off, but in Germany, most parents are like this. In fact, many children are at the playground (gasp!) without any parents at all. It's common to let children walk to school or play at the playground on their own, something that could get parents investigated or even arrested in the U.S. But trust, it turns out, is a very refreshing thing.

27 September 2014

Clarification and Celebration

I did something exciting today. But before we get to that, I must clarify something.

The day before we left for Germany, a student from my second alma mater called me asking me to donate money (of course) to the university. She asked me about what I studied, and I informed her that I studied communication disorders. In fact, that was my second degree. For my first bachelor's, I studied linguistics. (I actually studied English language, which is not the same English—but no one usually catches that.) And then she asked it. The Question: "Oh! So . . . how many languages do you speak?"

I hate this question.

Let's just get something straight here—"linguist" does not necessarily mean "polyglot." Yes, some linguists may be fluent in several (or many) languages. But other linguists have studied maybe one language for a just short time. And polyglots may not have any interest in the study of linguistics at all. Linguistics is an extremely broad area of study, but Wikipedia puts it simply: "Linguistics is the scientific study of language. There are broadly three aspects to the study, which include language form, language meaning, and language in context." A scientific study of language does not necessarily mean an endless study of all languages.

I, for one, am interested in first- and second-language acquisition (how babies and adults learn languages) and speech perception (how we hear and understand sounds in a language). I had a professor in college who was interested in humor found in structural ambiguity. Another had a dream about writing a book about what people find irritating. Others were interested how language changes over time, how people understand legal jargon and interrogation language, how technology can improve language learning, how the brain interprets and produces language, or how the presentation of information contributes to effective (rather than artistic) interpretation. But there are also linguists who study endangered languages in isolated communities or who study rare dialects of a language like Russian. And others study how language influences your thoughts or how one language can change the grammar of another or how words make it into the dictionary. Yes, familiarity of another language is certainly helpful, but linguistics is not just about learning languages.

I definitely have a few linguistically minded friends who pick up languages like rocks on the side of the road, tossing them into a pile of fluency about as big as Sebastian's pile of rocks by our front door. (Don't worry, I get jealous, too). I, on the other hand, am not fluent in any language. Yes, I enjoy learning different languages. And yes, I've studied several different ones. But I do this because I'm interested in language—no different than being interested in books, music, food, or technology.

Curtis loves books. He's read more books this year than I have probably read in my entire life. But just because he likes reading books does not mean that he has (or would be good at) writing them. And just because someone likes listening to Rachmaninoff does not mean that person has composed dozens of preludes. Just because the connoisseur of French cuisine has a refined palate does not mean he can cook like Thomas Keller. My brother-in-law will tell you that just because he studies electrical engineering does not mean he can rewire all of the electricity in your house.

But whenever anyone asks this question, I feel that I need to make an excuse for myself—which is unfair.

Now back to my exciting something.

I asked for directions in a grocery store and found what I was looking for. Trivial, you say? I would say so too, but after years of cultivating my German (and even more years of letting it rot), this is—count 'em!—the third time I've used German in "real" life. I chose to live in an apartment for two semesters at BYU where you were required to speak only German. I volunteered at the Missionary Training Center in Provo as a role-player to help German-speaking missionaries practice the language. I participated in a German choir and performed for a German-speaking ward in Salt Lake. I married a German-speaking returned missionary and used German as a code language in our ever-bustling apartments for a bit of privacy. But I considered all of these experiences as practice and preparation. Preparation for what, you ask?

Well, (1) when I was living in Ukraine, I vacationed to Vienna and Dresden—I exchanged money and bought a book. (2) When I was working at the Marriott Hotel in Provo, Utah, a woman wanted to book a room, but she didn't speak English very well. I checked her in, explained the workings of the hotel, and resolved her issue of needing ice for her medication in German. Kachow! And today, (3) I chatted with some kindergarten teachers about how old Sebastian was and listened to the way they talked to their children. ("Remember, the park is for everyone, so if the small one wants to play, invite him and help him. But be careful because he's still small.") Then I walked to the grocery store. After looking for dry lentils for nearly fifteen minutes, I mustered up the courage to ask someone for "trockenen Linsen." She told me that the "ganz normale Linsen" (which I thought was just cute) were at the very front and to the right—hmm, next to the cleaning supplies? Glad I asked. 

Basically, I'm just excited to be here. After taking my first semester of German at BYU eight (!!!) years ago, I'm finally here. I'm excited to learn and flourish. And all that preparation will pay off.

25 September 2014

Things in Germany, Part I

In the few days that we've been in Germany, we've made a list of some of the things we love about it so far. I realize that we are still in the Honeymoon Phase of cultural adjustment, so everything we see is taken in with wonder and excitement.

When I was in high school, I remember being baffled that people wanted to learn German. It's not useful, it's ugly, and Spanish is just better, I thought. Au contraire! (. . . or rather, im Gegenteil!) German is useful for many things, including—but certainly not limited to—understand the history of our native English. After studying it, I also think German is quite beautiful. It's soft, poetic, and expressive—not what is often (mis)represented in those WWII movies. And while Spanish may be more common in the United States, I've made many connections with people simply because of my basic knowledge of German. I love listening to the children at the park talk to each other, not giving a second thought about a language that both Curtis and I have struggled to learn. Now, I don't necessarily wish all Americans learn German. Rather, I wish more Americans would branch out and explore other languages—not just to be able to communicate with more people, but also to learn about and appreciate different people and cultures.

During a get-to-know-your-coworkers game, we all took turns naming our pet peeves. Whenever I cross the street, I always think back on my one coworker who HATED pedestrians: They step out in front of you, walk at a snail's pace, and expect you to wait on them. Well, I bet that coworker would hate Germany because pedestrians are everywhere. In fact, the cities are built for them. Sidewalks will quickly take you to nearby grocery stores, parks, and offices. And where sidewalks take too long, bus and train routes give you access to anything you want. The infrastructure in most US cities makes it a near necessity to own a car, which is why we have one (and we love it). But we would love to walk to the library every now and then . . . or even just go for a walk. Charlotte, as much as we loved it, had no sidewalks!

Apple Trees
As we were walking on those lovely sidewalks, we passed dozen of apple trees. We noticed the apple smell as we were walking by, thinking, Oh, that's neat. 

But I passed those trees the next day and noticed a little girl dancing and playing under their branches. She would stop every now and then, pick up and apple, inspect its surface, then toss it in a 5-gallon bucket. I assume her mom sent her out to collect apples after she came home from school. I saw another woman, not too much older than I am, collecting apples and putting them in a cloth bag. And another woman the next day! I guess it's a thing here—! So we took Sebastian out to collect apples the other night. Ha! I've never seen the boy so excited (well, about apples, that is). He would pick them up and just take a bite! We had to let him to know to let Dad inspect them first, which he learned very quickly. Back in our kitchen, I cut them up. They looked just as delicious as store-bought apples!

What a fun fall treat!

Grocery Bags for Purchase
I remember one of my friends posted on Facebook about how he thought Aldi was the most outlandish places to shop for groceries. The aisles felt too compact, the selection was slim, and you had to pay (gasp!) for your bags and shopping cart! For all those reasons, I love Aldi. And in Germany, all the grocery stores are like that. It saves the grocery store (and the consumer) by not having to pay for bags or baggers, it reduces a bit of waste, and it helps me to be more foresighted when I go grocery shopping. Although I do miss reusing Wal-Mart bags as trash can liners, I think either paying for grocery bags or bringing recyclable grocery bags is a better system overall.

Portioned Frozen Spinach
I love to throw in a good hunk of spinach in just about everything—eggs, pasta, and anything else that could use some color. But I HATE chopping into that dreadful frozen block of spinach. I don't want to defrost the entire thing, then take a little for my dish, then freeze the rest again. So imagine my surprize when I opened my first box of German spinach and found this:

What a genius idea!

Das Flugzeug

11:45 a.m. - We finally left our apartment after packing and cleaning all night. Why did it take all night? It's not like we had to move any furniture, afterall. Well, because all we had eaten the day before were desserts. Ha! Let me explain: We needed to get rid of the rest of our ingredients before we left. And we had sugar! So we made chocolate chip cookies and apple pie (oh, and the rest of our box of DOZEN donuts from Talk Like A Pirate Day Krispy Kremes). Don't worry, we shared. But we were a little lethargic.

12:13 p.m. - We arrive at the airport. We unload the Nissan and proceed to bring all our luggage inside. Need I remind you that we had a lot? Then it was up to me to bring all that luggage to a check-in desk while Curtis ran over to return the rental car. I shed a tear for those comfy seats.

12:37 p.m. - Curtis returns from returning the car and I'm still in the same spot in line I was when he left. Since flying with babies is so uncommon, we were booted to "Special Services," again.

1:02 p.m. - Oh, Security. Is there anyone who loves it? This girl did. It must have been like a spa treatment to her or something because right in the middle of the whole process, she just lulled away . . . .

1:25 p.m. - Found our gate. We sat down. Then had to get up to let Sebastian watch planes take off. I'm not sure he understands what's really going on, but he sure loves planes.

2:00 p.m. - We get to board early, as compensation for waiting in line for "Special Services."

2:46 p.m. - Weren't we supposed to take off at 2:30? I guess air traffic is a real thing. But since planes can't just stop mid-air like cars stop on the highway, we had to park it for an extra 45 minutes before we could take off! Which was longer than the entire 37 minutes we were in the air.

3:55 p.m. - We land in Atlanta. The attendants came on over the PA system to remind everyone to stay seated unless they had a connecting flight that boarded within twenty minutes. So of course, everyone tried to get off the plane as soon as the fasten seat belt sign turned off. I think probably 5 other people waited to deplane. At least we had the train (since the Atlanta airport is GIANT) all to ourselves.

4:19 p.m. - Despite our hunger for something non-sugar, we decided against getting McDonald's in the airport. (Spoiler: We were fine). I ran to the bathroom while Curtis took Sebastian to look at more planes. When I came back, I couldn't find them. Was I even in the right place? Oh, what was that? Boarding already?? That was quick! We were expecting to board 30 minutes before takeoff, but I suppose international flights board one hour before. Who knew!

5:00 p.m. - We are off! Stuttgart bound! And we are already like twenty minutes into our movies.

OK, now don't get offended, but by this point, I lost all track of time. It was basically minute by minute for the rest of the nine-hour flight. We watched a few movies, ate a few snacks, and kicked a few people—erhm . . . one woman—a few times. Those minutes seemed to last the longest, especially when that woman shot me an icy look, as if I weren't acutely aware of what Sebastian was doing. I called the flight attendant, just to let her know how terrible I felt, and to let her know this woman had her seat reclined all the way back. He wouldn't be able to reach her if she had her seat up. "Well, I can't ask her to move her seat forward. Everyone has the right to recline their seat. Has she said anything to you?" Well, technically no, but if her looks could  speak . . . . "Well, I'm not going to draw attention to it, especially since we've had problems in that area recently. She knows she has a baby behind her." I just wanted to make you aware. I just feel really bad. "Don't. We were all that little once."

And she was right.

She was right that Sebastian's little. And she was right that I shouldn't feel bad. He was having just as hard a time as the lady in front of him, only he couldn't quite control his emotions in the same way. And I was doing the best that I could—including staying up with him until 11 p.m. our time (5 a.m. Stuttgart time) when all I wanted to do was sleep. And guess what? Just like all hard things, this flight came to an end. Now we're settled in a cute little apartment in a lovely neighborhood, just waiting to explore what's around us . . .

. . . as soon as we sleep off some of this jet lag.

15 September 2014

Our Summer Without

You may recall from this post that our family moved here with only the things we could fit in our suitcases. 

And we are bringing those same suitcases to Germany with us this week. (Did I hear an eek?) Some people think we are crazy . . . or magicians . . . for living off only what we can carry. But the truth is we kind of love it. 

Since we got married, Curtis and I periodically chat about our lifestyle—and how we are changing from two separate people into one unified couple. One of the first times we went grocery shopping as a married couple, I reached for one of my childhood favorites: Hamburger Helper beef stroganoff (Mmmm . . .). Can you believe Curtis turned up his nose? "You will cook only from scratch, slave," he shook his finger at me. Ok, he probably called me "lovely," squeezed my hand tenderly, and encouraged me by telling me some of the benefits from cooking from scratch, but that isn't what I remember. Looking back, however, I'm grateful that he forced inspired me to learn a new skill. And now I love it.

That's the pattern with some of the other changes we've made together. When I first brought up using cloth diapers with Sebastian, Curtis was skeptical. But he'll be the first to tell you—(That's a lie. I'd be the first to tell you.)—that we don't understand why more people don't do it. Same story for green, non-toxic cleaning and starting a garden. We did our research, we made the switch, and we're all happier.

For our future, Curtis wants our home to be totally energy efficient (and has even considered living off the grid). I've always been a fan of living TV free (I can hear my mom, What?!). I'm interested in ditching the crib for all future babies. We might even try ditching furniture all together! (Probably not.) For us, we have fun thinking of ways that we can adapt our lifestyle to make it more frugal, more natural, more interesting, more enjoyable, more us.

Our life in bags.
Back to those bags! This summer, we've really got to experience two of the ideas we have talked about periodically but never got around to doing. These, like some of our other decisions, aren't popular or culturally normal, but they are Mustachian, and we really think they will work for us.

Restricting our Toy Box
A family in our ward in Provo had an interesting "toy free" policy in their home. Upon first hearing that my friend would discourage people from buying her kids toys, I thought, "What deprivation! The inhumanity!" But over the three years that we lived there, I would walk past her house. Her kids, as well as other kids from the neighborhood, were always playing outside, using their imaginations, and engaging with each other. They may not have had expensive toys, but they clearly had a playful childhood—climbing trees, pretending to be pirates, being creative, running with other kids. They didn't feel deprived. They didn't find their mother inhumane. In fact, I would say their mother gave them a great gift by not giving them toys.

Sebastian is nearly two, and we've been really blessed to have friends and family shower him with fun gifts over the past two years. What I've noticed (as well as probably every other parent who has bought toys for their kids) is that he will play with a toy . . . until he doesn't play with it anymore. It could be one day or it could be one month. But eventually, that toy ends up in his box more than in his hands. There are a few toys that he plays with constantly: Matchbox cars, sidewalk chalk, plastic bowls, and a small collection of Mega Bloks (Oh wait, that's because that's all he has.) And we kind of love it.

I called my friend from Provo to ask her exactly what she meant by "toy free." It turns out that she does allow a few toys, but only toys that she knows her kids will play with. They have a small house, and with four kids, they can't just collect toys. Her boys always played with train sets and car tracks. Her girl has a few dolls. They've always had a set of blocks. But they've always played.

Curtis and I really want to restrict the amount of stuff we bring into our family space. We see the value in many toys, but we also see the value in spending time together and exploring Mother Earth's toy box. We can also force ourselves to be creative in our gift giving. Rather than buying things for our children, we would love to offer more meaningful service and provide more memorable experiences.

Restricting our Closet
In May, as we were packing for the next six months, we had to evaluate what we really needed. We had (as you can see) limited space, and considering what we thought we needed for two babies, we had to cut the clothes. I once read a post about a forty-hanger closet. I once jokingly asked my mom if she'd be willing to try it. We went back and forth, but ultimately came to the conclusion that it was a ridiculous endeavor. Who honestly has only forty hangers in their closet?

Well, here is mine today.

My side.
His side.
Miss Forty Hanger, I believe, hogs all forty hangers to herself. We—together—have a total of twenty hangers. That's right! 2-0. Have I mentioned we kind of love it

Clearly, we also wear pants. We've got a dresser with six drawers: One drawer each for five days of socks and underwear, another drawer for a week's worth of shirts, and the last drawer for three pairs of pants. But would you guess how many full boxes of clothes are sitting in that storage unit in Portland? I won't tell you. But if we've learned one thing this summer, it's that we don't need them (or miss them) one bit. 

What I love about our closet is that I love everything in it. I never have to debate about what to wear that day (which has nothing to do with the fact that I see no other adult humans, I promise). I know I've tried on an outfit before church only to decide I feel like wearing something else. There are dresses I haven't worn in years, but I can't just get rid of them, What if I want to wear it again someday? And so the closet grows . . . . 

So, when we are reunited with our boxes, we plan to do some major purging, It sounds lovely and liberating to us. And we are planning to move into a 774-square-foot apartment so we don't back out on ourselves. 

So both of these ideals are not things we have ever thought we would have wanted, nor are they lifestyles we are used to. But I think the thing we love most about these ideas is that they are just unconventional enough to make us nervous to bring them up. But then we do. And we accept each other. And we make our ideas ours. And we become a stronger team. And we kind of love it

08 September 2014

Myrtle Beach

In the book October Sky, Elsie Hickam dreams of living along the carefree sands of Myrtle Beach. Ever since Curtis read that book, he's dreamed of going to Myrtle Beach too. Now that we are living just four short hours away from this coastal city, we had to make a trip! Curtis took Friday off and we began driving that morning. We arrived at the hotel around noon, and since Sebastian had no interest in taking a nap that day, walked over to the beach for an afternoon in the blazing sun. 

The water was warm and salty; the sand was hot and coarse. Curtis and Sebastian splashed in the waves while Livia and I took refuge in the shade of our stroller. I never went to the beach with my family growing up. I think the closest we got to a day building sand castles was on the shores of Lake Erie. But as I sat on the sand, watching my boys gaze in wonder for miles and miles of deep, surging water, I can understand the peace we feel in the luxury of the beach. And what a luxury. The water, the sand, the earth—all created for us by our Father.

That night, we took a walk out to Broadway at the Beach, a lake lined with shops, restaurants, and attractions. Curtis and I were out for the exercise and people watching. We tried looking for a spot for dessert, but since we are frugal (not cheap), we decided we would enjoy a less-expensive pint of ice cream from the local Piggly Wiggly just as well as, if not more than, the three tablespoons of Ben and Jerry's we were eyeing. And we found this gem. Blue Bell is the taste of my vanilla, the taste of my childhood. And we ended our day on a high note . . .

. . . only to wake up to thunder! (Apropos of the title of our blog, but not to our dreams of the beach!) We began frantically Googling "rainy day in Myrtle Beach" and nearly dropped $40 to go to the aquarium (which looks really cool), when we looked outside and saw a dry sky.

It wasn't sunny, but we weren't complaining! We came to the beach to play on the beach! And play we did . . .

Sebastian and Dad
Sebastian and Mom
We are a Chaco-loving family.
Leopard-print toes are ready for some sand.
Sebastian and Bucket
Livia and Cleanliness
Hale family and the Beach
We walked around in the afternoon to give Sebastian and Livia a chance to nap. We found a lovely, inexpensive fish market to grab a bite to eat. After ordering crab cakes (They were out.) and hushpuppies (They were out?!!), we were pretty bummed . . . Until we got our fish and shrimp! It was freshly prepared with the perfect blend of crisp and zest. I told the local one-man show that they could be out of fish and we would still come back. We give him our stamp of approval.

We then drove a few miles north to a place called Barefoot Landing. We read online that you can come here and see tigers for free. Since Sebastian loves all things cat, we had to give it a go. We were expecting to find a savannah of wild animals and photo ops, but found a small empty cage and some employees sweeping the floor. It turns out the safari is located south of Myrtle Beach and costs at least $280! Um, we ain't got that kinda cash. But we are glad we stuck around. They do bring the tigers up to the TIGERS Preservation Station for a few hours each day to raise awareness for their cause, and we were just a few minutes early. When they brought the tigers and monkey out, Sebastian lost all control. This chimpanzee, let me tell you, was climbing and jumping around—just like you would expect a monkey to act—but for some reason, he almost didn't look real! He would beat on the glass and taunt the baby tigers behind it. Sebastian would just yell and shout, "Ooo ooo ahh ahh!" Boy knows what's going on. We went around to another enclosed area, where they featured three beautiful fully grown tigers. Sebastian just ran up and down the glass to get a good look at them. The spectators were almost as absorbed in Sebastian's energy more than the tigers'. Sadly, we don't have any pictures of this boy, but you can see videos of the animals on their YouTube channel.

Sebastian and Livia
As always, these trips are too short, and we may never see Myrtle Beach again, but we tried to squeeze the best experience with the time we had, and I think we were successful.