Monday, October 28, 2013

To have an imposing life

The following photos taken at the Bruderhaus Diakonie (link to the website in English), and the surrounding area. It was a place we loved and will go back to visit many times.

Living in Germany has caused me to ponder what life will be like when we aren’t living here any more. Cody always scolds me when I get all Debbie-downer about all the conveniences we now enjoy that we will undoubtedly, sometime at the end of next July, have to live without. It should be noted that when I talk about the conveniences here, I am mostly talking about how accessible everything is by foot. I get no small thrill out of being able to walk to bookstores, coffee shops, specialty grocery stores, regular grocery stores, H&M, the bank, farmers markets, the hospital, doctors offices, and giant fields with open views of the city within 30 minutes of time. And so, when I’m being extra vigilant about my mood and attempting to think positively about our situation now and in the future, whatever and wherever that may be, I ask myself what I want to learn about living here that I can carry with me back to the U.S. As I continue to read through Gretchen Rubin’s thrilling book, Happier at Home, I was pleased to find this quote by Gertrude Stein, which perfectly encompasses my thoughts and feelings at the moment:

“Anything one does every day is important and imposing and anywhere one lives is interesting and beautiful.”

Our current lifestyle certainly seems cause for envy, and undoubtedly, we are experiencing no smal amount of excitement and adventure as we live in a new culture and speak a different language. But I am also reminded that, to many, there is nothing new and special or all that exciting about living here. I am sure some people here yearn for wide open streets like that ones that made my jaw drop when Cody and I were honeymooning in Salt Lake City, Utah, or new buildings that were a bit more handicap accessible or had better plumbing, or maybe a house of ones own. Whatever the case may be, I am certain that it's the skill of looking upon my home and my work with a fresh glance and an inquisitive attitude that will make it feel important, imposing, interesting, and beautiful, and not the specifics of where I am or what I am doing.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Seb goes to Kindergarten in Germany

Sebastian has started Kindergarten! Before you panic, it’s actually preschool (he didn’t magically age two years overnight). I think I mentioned in my last post, but am obviously too lazy to go back to check, that Kindergarten in Germany is the term used to encompass ages 3+ until 1st grade. It’s optional until age 5, I think, (which is U.S. kindergarten age, right?) and the schools here are very flexible. There seems to be a general understanding that because this is optional, bring your kid when you want and when it works best. You’re doing it for the child, not for us, or for the system. Sebastian’s kindergarten is open 5 mornings each week, but he’ll only be going 2 to 3 of those.

We chose to send him to the Evangelische Kindergarten, which is the branch of protestant schools. There are also Catholic, state, and Waldorf kindergartens very nearby. Our decision to send him to this particular one is largely based on recommendations we received from other parents, the fact that they miraculously had a spot available, and it’s extremely close proximity to our apartment—3 minutes! 

Cody took Seb again this morning, and he wanted to show Cody some of the things he likes to play with. They went in and Seb saw one of his teachers, and said, “That teacher is the nicest.” She is one of those people that you know just by looking at her that she must be incredibly sweet and kind. Seb also got to feed the fish this morning, and Cody assured me that the teachers were making an obvious effort to engage the other children into play with Sebastian.

This morning I was able to put words to something that I had been feeling for a while. I am glad that Sebastian is going to Kindergarten because we simply don’t have the space or money to be able to make our home the kind of place that I feel it should be for our young children. Now I am not saying we have a terrible home environment, and no good toys, or that it’s bad for our children to be here (I’m so glad they’re here!), but that I want our home to have things and an arrangement that nurture creativity, inspire movement, and foster independence. Right now, Kindergarten can provide a bit of that for Sebastian in a way that I can’t, or at least don't know how, and I’m happy for that opportunity for him. He is thriving from the special kind of independence of going away on his own for a few hours, and this morning, right after he asked if he could go to Kindergarten “right now,” he asked if he could put on his new big boy watch—a gift from us so he could be just like Daddy going to school. (Plus, can you imagine him as teenager saying, “Mom. Dad. I can’t believe we lived in Germany for a year and you didn’t send me to Kindergarten so I could learn German!!! I COULD know German right now!!!” Yea, I would like to avoid that scenario, but imagining it helps me gain some perspective when I get sad about my little baby leaving me for a bit.)

This is not every day, and this is not permanent, but right now, this works, and I think it’s where God has placed us and Sebastian. I am still very interested in homeschooling our children someday, and want to look carefully into future school/education options, but what I’ve been realizing is that I need to focus on what “home” is and means for our family before I get swept away by the inevitably overwhelming school years. I can’t consider homeschooling our children until I have a better understand of home, and a confidence in ours. All orchestrated by divine providence, I’m sure, I just started reading Happier at Home, by Gretchen Rubin, and can hardly put it down. I’m only one chapter in and I feel so inspired and have started filling my brain with new ideas of how to make this home thing work better for all of us.

I would also like to request recommendations for any home-related books that you’ve found particularly inspiring and helpful. And for all of you early-education peeps out there, I am realizing that I want our home to be a kind of kindergarten, as strange as that may sound. But I need songs, activities, and ideally, books about songs activities, schedules, rhythms, you name it. I’ll be forever indebted to you!

P.S. You can see a few more photos of Seb's first day of Kindergarten here and here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Small adventures

Likely when you think of living anywhere in Europe, you immediately imagine your impossibly stylish self walking through a city built in 1342, now lined with street cafes, and markets filled with flowers and fruit, fresh bread and stinky cheese, all neatly wrapped and ready to take home to your perfect little scandinavian style flat that over looks some very lovely, yet humble, river. 

Oh you don’t think all that? Well I do, and actually living in Germany has proven to be, or have, most of those things. 

The part where my imagination parts from reality, is the way I live and interact with this old, colorful, and beautiful country filled with street cafes, markets, rivers, etc. etc. As a 26-year-old with two small children, my dependable hot spots are the park, the library, the bookstore with a train table, and the grocery store (because, you know, I must feed those little mouths as well as keep them entertained). I pass cafe after cafe, market after market. Yellow roses call out to me as I see old ladies with their baskets filled with fragrant bunches. And the cafes seem to taunt me a little, filled with other 26-year-olds, drinking their espresso and reading a book, quietly, stylishly (as I’m being snotted upon yet again) and I can’t help but feel a little stuck in this strange place of responsibility and inability. 

I know this is starting to sound like the same whiney story you’ve heard on a million other blogs, so I”ll cut to the chase. My point in saying all this is simply that, yes, life is hard sometimes—nothing new here. We all have this idea of what life would ideally be for us, and we spend more time than we would care to divulge in making that ideal a reality (or at least a perceived reality, right?). We take artsy pictures—being careful to clear the crumbs and broken crayons out of the way before the shutter closes—and we are all curators of our homes, our wardrobes, and our meals. Not all of this is bad. I take a lot of joy in picking colors for our home and styles for our clothes. I like arranging our shelves and wiping our table down after every meal not only so it can be enjoyed at a moments notice, but so we have a pleasing environment to live in. This kind of curating is simply a matter of taste, of preference, and certainly not a bad thing.

However, living in Germany is teaching me to let go of my impulse to curate my daily experiences to serve some selfish, unrealistic glamorous european fantasy. I don’t need to travel to the big cities of Germany, or drink exotic coffee and have a home filled with fresh flowers to truly enjoy living here. I am living here, isn’t that enough? Isn’t it okay for my days to be filled with ordinary excursions to the park? 

On Monday, Cody needed to do a couple last things to finally get enrolled at Tübingen University, so we decided to make it a family excursion. The day was not without some frustration, and sweat and tears, and it most certainly wasn’t filled with leisurely beer drinking and wurst eating. But it was one of our best days in Germany to date, and I think mostly for the reason that we didn’t try to make it an experience, we simply enjoyed the experience that it was, the views around each corner, the constant conversing in German, and the killer playground we found. 

And so, each day I return to our undecorated apartment and ugly blue couch, with two dirty, happy, worn out kids, and I have to ask myself, what was so appealing about that empty, quiet cafe, anyway?

Disclaimer: Sometimes I do drink coffee at cool cafes, and sometimes we do other cool European stuff, too. Just not allllllllll the time.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Mary goes Germany

There I go again... buying almost too many groceries to carry, and going out in public with a super-weird topknot.

 I started studying German in highschool. When it came time to choose a language to study for the 3 semesters required by my college, Spanish seemed boring, French seemed too exotic, and Greek and Latin seemed way over my head. So German it was, and that was okay, because I liked it. It didn’t take me long to realize that studying German was exactly my cup of tea. I really felt like it was my thing, my thing I found enjoyable and my thing I was actually kind of good at (though the grammar was always a bit illusive). I chose German as my major, and studied in Germany two times, each month-long summer programs. After graduation I immediately married Cody, and was soon after pregnant with Seb. Life took over in beautiful ways, but during the last 4 years I couldn’t help but lament my increasing loss of the German language. But what was I to do? I could study it, but to what end? With a husband and two kids, I hardly had time to work on something that seemed so unrelated to real life. So I let German go, hoping that the opportunity would present itself to pursue it further in the future.

And here I am. I live in Germany. I LIVE IN GERMANY! Now you must understand that I am likely one of the least adventurous people you’ll ever know. Adventure sounds appealing to me in theory, but when it comes down to actually engaging in an adventure, It scares me to death. Living here has been a battle between my will to learn and engage in this culture that I now live in, and my will to be comfortable and at ease. But with peace in my heart that living this year in Germany is a gift and the one God has given me, I wake up every day and don’t worry about the adventure—or discomfort, which is often what adventures actually feel like—that awaits me.

We have now lived in Germany for just over a month. I am very often frustrated with my progress with the language, but I am also realizing that learning a language is a daily commitment, and if you stick with it, you’ll learn it. It’s not something that can be accomplished over night. I really don’t know how well I’ll be able to speak German when we leave here, and in that respect, our time in Germany is slipping away all too quickly, but I have noticed progress in a few areas that I can’t help but be excited about. 

The first is listening. I can understand the majority of what is said to me, or in conversations around me. Just tonight our Hausmeister asked me a question, and even though I still couldn’t tell you exactly what he said, I knew what he meant, and I didn’t need to hesitate in answering him. It was like the German went in, and the German came out, and I didn’t even know what happened. It’s so hard not being able to speak well with the people around us, but progress like this is thrilling.

Phrases. I am getting really good at picking up on phrases that moms say to their kids at the park, or that people say in greeting or in parting. I love this and I love practicing these little bits of speech. It makes me feel so much more comfortable here when I can wish some one a nice day, or blend in a bit more at the park. They’re these little moments of connection and goodwill between me and the people around me that make me love being here.

This whole experience of learning German is a roller coaster ride for both Cody and myself. We have good days and bad days, good moments and bad moments. Our confidence spikes, only to be dashed to smithereens seconds later. But progress is being made—Sebastian is learning the language, too—and day by day we are cracking the code.

P.S. I can't explain why I love German any more than I can explain this photo. Oh college, how were you so awesome?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Our boy Bruno

It has been a shamefully long time since I’ve written a little update on Bruno (ahh the plight of the second-born!). I mean, I didn’t even write a birthday post for his 1st birthday! However, long before the internet or blogs, mothers and fathers did exactly what we did. They celebrated their child’s birth with love and simplicity, and though they didn’t have an arena quite as big as the internet to share the day, their child’s successes, and in short, their love for their child, it didn’t make it any less real or special. So all that to say, it’s okay that I didn’t share with the internet world our dear Bruno’s birthday. However, for the sake of our family and friends, I do want to be somewhat diligent about sharing some things about our sweet Bruno and his 15 months of life so far!

This kid has quite the personality. He loves people and animals above all else, and not necessarily in that order. It can be an actual problem when he spots a dog on the street and he can’t go up to it. He will strain with every fiber of his being to just get to that animal! I bought him a Schleich dog that I found on sale a few weeks ago, and he literally just examined it and cooed over it for 20 minutes straight. And just forget about blending in when you’re on a train, or at church, or simply walking down the street. If there is a lady in the vicinity, you can bet your bottom dollar that he’ll be flashing those baby blues. We might have a very flirtatious Veterinarian on our hands, ladies and gentlemen.

He’s also developing more of what I don’t know how to describe other than “spacial awareness.” He can spend eons of time just trying to figure out how to sit in that little nook over there, or lie down on that pillow, or snuggle his body up close to a ledge and reach his arms across it. There are few things as funny as him figuring out this strange world we live in. 

As far as speech goes, he still doesn’t say much. Mostly we’re getting lots of high-pitched squeals (like when he sees a dog), and a few words here and there. A few nights ago he was upset in his bed (and Sebastian really wanted to see mama again), so as Cody and I were listening to see if Bruno was going to quiet down on his own, we hear Sebastian in his little voice say to Bruno, “Bruno, say ‘Ma-ma. Ma-ma. Say Ma-ma, Bruno.’” There was silence for a moment as Bruno thought about Sebastian’s idea, and then quite clearly we heard Bruno say, “Mama!... Mama!” But almost as a question, like “Mama, are you there?” Quite the team they make, don’t you think?

He also says Seb, but it’s more of a loud, “BEH!” He’s not into on-demand performances, though, so you have to catch his words when he decides to grace you with them. He’s way more into the sounds things make than the names of them, anyway. Frequently heard coming from this adorable chubster’s mouth are the sounds of engines, trains, and of course, dogs. Growling is also frequently heard.

This great big boy of ours is a little whirl-wind, shares almost all of his big brother’s clothes, laughs readily at absolutely anything Sebastian says or does, and is the king of imitation. Seb does it, he does it, end of story. Fortunately for us, Sebastian doesn’t get into too much mischief...

We love our Bruny-tunes/Bruny-bear/Bruny/Brunsy a whole lot. (Doesn’t he have the best cheeks this side of the atlantic??)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Our typical day

Our living room window

 I talked with my mom today, and she suggested that I resurrect this poor old blog of mine with a post about how we typically spend our days. That seems like a pretty harmless (and easy!) idea to me, so here it is. 

6:30 - 7:00 Mary wakes up, starts getting ready, puts oatmeal on the stove.

7:00 - 8:00 Sebastian and Bruno awake with sleepy eyes, loads of energy, and needs galore.

7:30 - 9:00 Breakfast, getting the kids dressed and Bruno’s diaper changed. The boys try to avoid all three of these in order to maximize their play time. Cody leaves the house between 8:00 and 8:15.

The entryway. The bathroom is on the right. Clearly Bruno likes this area...

9:00 - 11:00 This is always our outside time. And almost always at least an hour of it is playtime for the boys. We go to the Volkspark down the street most days where they ride their bikes and play on the playground. Occasionally when I need to run errands in the city, we will play at Osiander (a bookstore very similar to Barnes & Noble) where they have a train table, and will stop at the park in the city. The library is a particularly good option on rainy days. And if I’m feeling particularly lazy, and have nothing important to do that day, we’ll go to “the circle” outside our apartment and play with soccer balls, sticks, and tennis racquets. However we do that less and less as the boys are starting to outgrow that space with dreams of bike rides, parks with sand, etc. etc.

Headed to the library. To the left is the park, and to the right is the way to the city.

The library! Lots of awesome books and room to roam free. I love this place.

If the weather is bad and we don't want to go out, we can go to this room down the hall to get our of the apartment. It is filled with lovely plants and has wonderful light. Plus lots of friends come in and out to say "hallo" on their way to and from the building.

LEFT: A nook the boys found on campus. This building houses the chapel, offices, and library. RIGHT: Our living room. 

11:00 - 12:00 We go to the grocery almost daily and get food for the day. I normally limit myself to 5 items so that shopping isn’t tiresome for the boys, and so that I can manage the boys and our items on the walk home. We recently bought a tricycle for Bruno with a parent-handle, so most days we take the boys bikes to the grocery. Occasionally I take Bruno in the Ergo carrier. 

12:00 - 12:30 Lunch time! Bread, peanut butter, bell peppers, cucumbers, grapes, and applesauce are in our rotation.

12:30 - 13:00 Bruno goes down for his nap, and Sebastian plays quietly while I clean up from lunch.

13:00 - 15:30 Seb and mama chill! We have a quiet time, which means we rest in my and Cody’s bed. Seb falls asleep most days, and since I’ve been sick, I do to! If Seb isn’t feeling sleep, he watches a movie on my computer, and then plays more until Bruno wakes up.

15:30 - 16:30 Bruno wakes up during this time, and the boys generally play while I get supper ready. Sometimes we do laundry, or if we need something at the grocery and didn’t make it earlier in the day, we go during this time.

16:30 By far the most anticipated time of the day. Cody comes home and buzzes our apartment. Oh if only I could capture the scene that ensues! Bruno jumps so violently when he hears the buzzer that I think he’s going to start wailing, but instead he scrambles with every ounce of energy he can summon (and that’s a lot!) and runs to the door. Sebastian gets to answer the intercom phone, and then we buzz daddy in. The boys hightail it down the hall, and the rest is history. Well, not really.

16:30 - 18:00 We eat supper early, so it’s often on the table when Cody comes home, and if not then, soon after. 

18:00 - 19:30 After supper, Cody gives the boys a bath, feeds them their bedtime snack of yogurt, and reads them a couple stories. During this time I clean up from supper, sweep the floor, start laundry, and get their room ready for sleep. 

19:30-20:00 The boys are in bed! Often, there is more work to be done, so we finish our tasks, sometimes watch a movie or TV show (as much in German as possible), and climb into our futon bed (yes, I just said futon!) much much too late.

On Tuesday mornings we go to Krabbelgruppe (literally “crawling group”), which is our equivalent of a moms meetup). We sing songs with the kids and eat breakfast, which is always soft pretzels, coffee, tea, and some sort of fresh fruit served on pretty china. After the children are done eating, the moms chat (in German!!) and the kids do some sort of art project and play. The culmination of the morning for the kids is when they bring the Bobby Cars out of the closest, and they speed up and down the hallways while the moms get everything ready to go home. Bobby Cars are seriously “a thing” here. 

Soon Sebastian will start Kindergarten, and I will update a bit on that as we get into the swing of things. Kindergarten in Germany starts at age three, and for the youngest children it’s their equivalent of American preschool. He will go 3 mornings a week to start, and ideally we’ll keep it at that number. It’s an Evangelical Kindergarten, so he will be learning Bible stories, doing crafts, and playing a lot. Every Friday they have an excursion day where they go to a nearby forest to explore. Sebastian is thrilled to be starting in the Kindergarten, and he’s very ready to learn German. We are so thankful for this opportunity for him to learn. 

And that turned out to be a lot longer than I had planned, but I suppose I was due for an update. Much love to our family and friends reading this. We miss you dearly.

Hope you liked that, Mom.