Home / 2007 / November

Life Glasses

Well, I haven’t blogged for a week because Rob and I have been having some big meaningful conversations about the future. And those kinds of talks really consume my mind. I know there are things I would have wanted to say on my blog other than this, but our little tete-a-tetes just overshadowed everything else. And I wasn’t really ready to write about it until today. Plus, I don’t really feel like airing the particulars on my blog, but I do want to say a little bit on some tangent topics.

How’s Your Relationship?

Making an international move is a huge change in your life. The first thing I realized was that if your relationship isn’t strong already, don’t do it. Ever since we made the decision to move, we had a million other little decisions to make. Then, we got here and had a million other things to take care of.

It was all very stressful, but my general feeling is that we are stronger and close because of it. If I’m being really honest, I think we handled it like pros. I feel like instead of weakening our relationship, as it very well could have, it strengthened the bond we have.

It’s Like an Eye Appointment

Deciding to move to another country, leaving everything we had grown so comfortable; leaving all of the people who “make our souls blossom,” to reference one of my favorite quotes; and changing what we had planned for our life, in both the next few years and the long term goals: it has been like putting on new Life Glasses. This move has helped both of us realize what is really important, what we really want to do, and where we want to be when we do it. I feel like we gained insight into ourSelves that we just weren’t getting when we considered our life before the move.

It was a hard week emotionally. There were tears shed. But the result is that we both are on the same page (very important!) and we both understand how the other feels.

It’s weeks like this that I feel very intimately close to Rob.

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Image Source
The American Editor at http://tae.asne.org/Default.aspx?grm2id=100&tabid=65

The DELI Language Centre

The Department of English Language Instructors (DELI)—that includes me and my colleagues—is opening a Language Centre which will provide English language resources for students, one-on-one tutors, plus group “tutorials” (lectures or workshops) on difficult topics. Why am I writing about this on my blog? Because the other DELIs have asked me to coordinate the Language Centre!

I am mainly in charge of coordinating the schedules of our student tutors, although it seems like I am getting more and more responsibility as the project steams ahead.

And I like that! I haven’t had the opportunity before to be in an administrative role for anything, and I am looking forward to this experience. Since the end of April, I have been on an organizing kick, thanks to some innate tendencies of mine, an influential friend with similar tendencies, and a website. I saw the effects of striving for organization in mind and physical space almost immediately, but they became very obvious when I was given the blank palette of a well-stocked office here at JLU. I had bookshelves, drawers, and desk space to work with, plus office supplies to my specifications. Even though I’ve only been here two months, I feel like my life is better managed because I know where things are, when I should be doing certain things, and I have the tools to do them.

So basically, I feel like I am in the right place in my life to coordinate the LC successfully, even with my teaching responsibilities and PhD research to manage. I look forward to being active in the formation of this project, since we are building it from the ground up. If any of you who worked in the Writing Center have any tips about scheduling, dealing with tutors, potential problems to look out for, things you wish you would have known, I welcome your advice! I’ve always loved that proverb: For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure. (Prov. 11:14)

Book Review: Like Water for Chocolate


I was given this book during my freshman year at (Southwest) Missouri State University, at the same time I was given the first Harry Potter book. How sad it is that I was so taken with the Potter series that it took me seven years to read Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. I devoured it in one lazy Sunday afternoon, not too unlike the way the Baileys, Rob, and I devoured the delicious spoon-in chocolate cake they baked for us just last week.

This book is set up in monthly installments, and with each month, comes a new recipe. And that, dear readers, is the reason I love this book so much. Esquivel weaves food into the lives of the characters smoothly, like it is a fact of life, which it is for Tita (the main character) and her family. If the cook was experiencing terrible feelings while creating a meal, it will have bitter effects on those who eat it. Likewise, if she is feeling strongly of love, those who eat them meal will be struck without knowing why. They will smell of the beautiful, sensual ingredients used to create the meals, like rose petals, and life will be sweet for them for at least a while.

The way Esquivel describes the life of Tita, Pedro, John, Mama Elena, and Rosaura reminded me of other non-American writers I’ve thoroughly enjoyed: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (thanks to Mr. Ramsey!) was an eye-opening read (even if we did perhaps pay too much attention to the yams), as was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.”These books, including Esquivel’s, open this American’s eyes to different cultures in a very real way. And that is especially relevant and enjoyable in this point in my life.

The final aspect of this book that warmed my heart was the way it reminded me of the women in my family tree. My grandmothers, my Aunt Linda, and my mother all talk just like this book. Crafting and enjoying food is a part of their life like air is, it seems. So every chapter, there would be at least one section that my inner narrator would read in the voice of one of these women. Being so far from home and missing my family and friends dearly, I appreciated this reminder of home warmly.

Last, I must give my one disappointment in the book. I was partly intrigued by this book because of the title, and I was just sure that by the end of the book, I would understand the confusing phrase that graces its cover. I did not. It was only until I checked out Wikipedia that I was able to access the double meaning it holds in Latino culture, although that could be because I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the hot chocolate recipe to apply it to the plot.

Like Water for Chocolate is a must read if you enjoy food, passion, and the intricacies of familial relationships.

Next Book on My List: Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson & Those Extraordinary Twins

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Image Sources
Esquivel:http://a4.vox.com/6a00d4141af5496a4700e3989b57ac0003-500pi
Twain: http://www.sumnerandstillman.com/products/images/6303.jpg

Dr. Linden A. Mueller: That Don’t Actually Sound Too Darn Bad!

A few weeks ago, I met with my potential PhD project advisor to discuss possible projects. I left that meeting with one really great lead on a project and with the assignment to do some research. Friday, Dr. Huber and I met again and laid down a time line for my research project.

What happened when Blacks from Africa were imported to America and put to work on plantations? How did they communicate with Blacks from other countries and therefore languages? How did they communicate with their White masters? What seemed to happen most of the time is that a new language sprouted up between all these people groups that was a mixture of the first languages of the slaves and the English of the American people. This happened especially if there was a high concentration of Blacks.

Another interesting influence on language growth and development is isolation. When a group of people is separated from other by mountains, water (like on islands), or otherwise difficult terrain, like swamps, the language tends to thrive untouched by outside influences. A quite famous example of this is Basque, which is spoken in northern Spain. Basque is classified as a “language isolate,” which means that it does not have any language relatives (German and English are “language relatives”).

I am going to be looking at a dialect of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) called Gullah or Sea Island Creole English, which originated during the late 1600s and 1700s. As one of its alternate names indicates, Gullah is spoken on Sea Island, Georgia, which is, as an island, isolated from the mainland. My goal is to find direct evidence that Gullah was formed through the process of creolization, and not some other way. I will be examining archives to look for historical evidence of the language and the people who used it.

My goal is to have located and read a great deal of background research by the beginning of our summer semester (in American, we’d call it the spring semester). I will dedicate one week of the 6-week semester break to identifying and contacting potential sources: libraries, archives, and collections of language samples. Then, once I understand the issue more fully and have identified potential sources, I will write an application for the GCSC at Justus-Liebig-Universität. The GCSC will help with funding and presentation of my research.

Cool Technology: Drop.io

If you didn’t already know this about me, I love handy, useful gadgets that makes life easier. When I find something useful, I love sharing it so YOU can use it too! Here is a post on my first discovery on German turf. I’m sure there will be more!

Drop.io

Leave it to the Germans to have an entire TV channel dedicated to video games! And thanks to Giga for this useful website. Drop.io provides a way to save or transfer files over the Internet when other methods (like email) are not sufficient. Most email providers limit the size of files you are allowed to email, but Drop.io helps you get around those boundaries.

Drop.io is a new website that allows you to upload (“make a drop”) your large files. For free.

A great feature, but not useful for you? I can understand that. How about a place to store your resume online, but password protected? Yep, it can do that. All you have to do is set a user password. Then, when you would like to direct potential employers to your (current!) resume, give them your Drop.io URL and the password, and they can download it.

Do the same with pictures as well. Many of the photo-sharing websites, like Picasa, flickr, and Photobucket, let others view your pictures, but if they try to download the pictures, they might find the quality less-than-desirable. Save your pictures in a drop, and your family and friends can have access to high-quality files without clogging up their inbox.

My favorite uses of Drop.io? Back up and portability. (And if you aren’t backing up your important files, you should be!) Drop.io provides a free way to back up your important files. You can even email the files to your drop, which makes back up even more simple.

How many times have you arrived at work, only to realize that you left your flash drive at home? It doesn’t happen to me very often, but when it does, I’m kicking myself all day. I have been in the habit of emailing myself those really important documents, so I won’t be up the creek, but that takes up lots of space pretty quick. Drop.io provides a free alternative the “email back up and portability” method.

These are not the only uses of Drop.io: their homepage touts the site as a place for collaboration and work-related document sharing. I definitely understand that Drop.io could be used that way, but it seems like to me that Google Docs is better suited for collaborative work.

It sounds great, huh? But that’s not all. The site is well-designed and clean and the controls are simple and straight-forward.

Try it out, then let me and others know what you think by posting a comment!

Arrival and Apartment

Here is a 10-minute video that Gert took on September 27, the day we arrived here in Giessen. While we were taking a jet-lag-induced nap. :)

See us (and ALLLLL our luggage) as we arrive in Frankfurt, and get a tour of our apartment.

Homesick?

I am seriously homesick for people. Rob’s sister, Katy, gave me a blank book, my memory book, so that I could have friends and family write notes in it, which I could then read when I got lonely to help me not miss them so much.
But it doesn’t work. When I read it, I just want to go back home. When I look at pictures of You, I almost cry. I think one time, I just need to let myself cry–maybe I just need to get it out of my system. Anyway, everything else here is GREAT, but I just don’t know that I can make new friends to fill the holes left by my Best Friends (and I am so greatful to have several wonderful women—are we really women?!—to call my Best Friends!). I guess I’m relying on Rob more than normal as a “friend,” if you know what I mean. He’s always been my “friend,” but when I have my girlfriends near, I don’t have to talk to him about some topics. And I don’t just mean Aunt Flo—he does a pretty good job at listening to my “silly girly stuff.” :) Anyway, I am really feeling a loneliness that comes from being 4,755 miles away from You.

And not that I am looking to replace my friends, but there is something about being with someone and talking to them, versus emailing, ya know? There are several people here who seem like they might become good friends, but they aren’t yet, and I guess I’m missing YOU.

I think I said this before, but I cannot tell you how much all the birthday greetings meant to me. My homesickness didn’t really start until last week, but I was girding myself for a big wave of it on October 24th. Instead, I woke up to an inbox of happy birthday greetings that made me feel like you were near.

I have always said that the best place on Earth would be a city comprised of all my friends and family. I have never felt that more completely and deeply than now. :(

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Let us be grateful to people who make us happy: They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
Marcel Proust, French novelist (1871 – 1922)

A true friend is one soul in two bodies.
Aristotle

I’ve learned that all a person has in life is family and friends. If you lose those, you have nothing, so friends are to be treasured more than anything else in the world.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park, Prehistoric Ice Man, 1999

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http://www.geobytes.com/CityDistanceTool.htm

It’s All Foreign to Me: Food in Germany

First of all, credit where credit it due. Many thanks to Deanna for the title! Here is the full title: “It’s All Foreign to Me, and Foreign = Interesting.” :D

Over the last month, I have been discovering that even though Germany is a different country (big surprise there, huh?), it is really only a little bit different from what I am used to in little ol’ Missouri. Don’t get me wrong, everything is different, but only a little bit.

I have chosen to start this post series by discussing the food here because food is a part of everyday life.

Bread

In Springfield, the most easily accessible bread we bought our at Wal-Mart, Dillon’s, or Price Cutter in loaves in plastic bags. Here, we walk across the street to the bakery and pick out two or three days’ worth of rolls (“Kartoffelnwecke” or potato rolls, “Oma’s Urwecke” or Grandma’s rolls, “Milchwecke” or milk rolls) or maybe a half a loaf (read: 16 in. diameter!) of rye. The bread is amazing. It’s fresh, the texture is wonderful, and the flavor! The crust taste great and the insides are soft and yummy. We eat them for breakfast with jelly, Nutella, or meat and cheese; or we have them for dinner with brats or “hackbraten,” which is most easily described as hamburger patties of meatloaf. I take rolls to school for lunch with salami and cheese.

Portion Size

The other main difference is the portion size. We have been here for about six weeks, and I have lost 10 pounds. I would like to remind you that in that month, I ran regularly the first two weeks, then ran a half-marathon. We have only run irregularly since the half because Rob was having some knee pain and school started, so we had a new schedule to figure out. So, even though I haven’t been hitting the pavement like I should be, I lost weight. I wasn’t eating totally healthy, although I feel like that is easier here (more on that in a minute), but I still lost weight because I was eating less more often.

Eating healthy is easier here. I think, for me especially, there are two components that contribute to that. First and foremost, soda is limited. I told myself that I would stop drinking soda once I moved to Germany. It was a clear break from my previous life and soda is frickin’ expensive here. We pay about €1,20 or €1,50 for 0,33 Liters of soda. That’s one-third of a liter for about $2.

And NO FREE REFILLS. Portion control for soda, finally! If you want a second Coke, you pay another €1,20. So, in two ways, I don’t have to say “No!” to a refill simply because “I’m trying to drink less carbonated water with lots of sugar in it.” I can drink only one Coke (that’s right—no German restaurant serves Dr. Pepper!) because I do not want to pay for a second one. If the health issue isn’t helping me, at least the money part of it can.

So why aren’t I just skipping the Coke altogether and just drinking water? Because you pay for water too. And you get funny looks for ordering it “Still,” or not sparkling. Plus, I drink lots of water at home and at school.

The other thing is that you can find juices everywhere. And they cost just as much as soda. When I have the option, I’m ordering juice, so I don’t feel too bad about the places where I do end up ordering soda.

Fresh Fruits and Veggies

The other reason that eating healthy is easier here is that beautiful, fresh, cheap fruits and veggies are everywhere! On Wednesdays and Saturdays, there is a farmers’ market about a 1/2 mile down Seltersweg, so we can very easily get local farm-grown fruits and vegetables, not to mention fresh meat, flowers, and bread (which are also available every day in shops within 100 meters of our front door).

I never really cared about avoiding preservatives or eating “natural” foods in America, but it seems like many foods here avoid preservatives anyway, and there are many natural food choices at every single grocery store. Plus, it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

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Many of the meals here that sound like they will be a familiar taste of course taste differently than what I expect, and that really makes me miss some of my favorites. But it sure is fun to try a new fruit or veggie from the farmers’ market (some I haven’t even seen before!) or to try a dish I’ve never had before even though it’s made of all familiar ingredients.

Monday Good Thing/Bad Thing

Bad thing first, because I’d rather the last thing you read be something happy.

Bad Thing

I had a bad headache all night after [Good Thing]. So, right before I went to bed–at 11:00–I took some Excedrin Migraine. We played some Nintendo DS, cuddled for a little bit, and then Rob went to sleep. I laid there and laid there. I played some more DS. I went to the bathroom. And it was then that I realized why my brain was still going a million miles an hour: Excedrin Migraine has caffeine in it. Great.

Good Thing

I had told myself all day Sunday, while Sarah was running her half-marathon, that I was definitely going to run on Monday. I was psyched up about it, because I haven’t *cough* run in a while, and I was feeling a little like jelly. But, as I am sure also happens to you every now and then, when the time rolled around to lace up the trainers, I did not want to go. It was cold outside and I was nice and cozy warm. Thankfully, and here’s the Good Thing, Rob said I would be glad I did, and I knew he was probably right. Shoes on, left-right-left-right on pavement for about 30 seconds, and I was glad I did. Wahoo!

October Birthdays… in Berlin!

I had a great birthday. Even though no one here knew it was my big day, I got so many sweet messages–and even a blog post dedicated to wishing me a happy birthday, with farts and singing orange aliens, nonetheless–from friends and family back home that it really felt like I wasn’t so far away after all. I really cannot express how wonderful that was. Thank you so much.

So, Berlin! We took a train there, and after his family picked us up at the brand new train station, we headed straight to Kreuzberg, the Turkish district in Berlin, to go to Hasir’s for Döner, Rob’s ABSOLUTE favorite food. He asked me to hold his Döner for a second while he we to get napkins, I snuck a bite:

:)

On Saturday, we spent the day with his mom and her boyfriend (Gert), then in the evening, it was birthday party time! Rob’s grandparents and an aunt and a cousin, along with his sister (Katy), her boyfriend (Stanley), and our niece, came over for dinner. We had yummy brats, hackbraten, homemade potato salad, and veggies. We sat in their basement, which is furnished like a bar: nice corner table that seats 10 comfortably, a great music system and lots of CDs, a bar, and a dart board game. After dinner, Katy, Stanley, Rob, and I played darts. We played several games of 501 (you try to get to 0 points from 501 points) and cricket (hit each number between 15 and 20 three times, then hit the bullseye three times too), and man! I suck at darts! The only game that I came close to winning in, I was standing pretty close. Oh well, it was fun! :)

Helping Jocy open her birthday presents

In the middle of a very competitive game of darts.
(Sorry for the darkness!)

Katy has fun while Stanly focuses on hitting the bull’s eye.

They were both playing air guitar,
but Mutti stopped just in time for me to take a picture!

On Sunday, we went to Marzahn, the district where Rob used to live. It is this whole neighborhood of apartment complexes, complete with every kind of store you’d need, several schools (well, they aren’t there anymore, but Rob pointed out the field where his elementary school used to be), and a youth sport hall. I would say there are easily apartments for 3,000 families, and that’s a safe estimate. I’ve never seen anything like it in America, but there has to be places like this in big cities, like New York. I mean, NO HOUSES. I guess that has to be done in big cities: Since you can’t build out, build up, waaay up, to accommodate all the people. Besides all that, it was really awesome to get to visit Marzahn, this place I’ve heard Rob talk about for as long as I can remember. Very cool. :) So here is Rob, in front of his old apartment. It’s the one over his left shoulder with the blue lettering on it.

On Monday, before we went to the train station, we were planning to go to Hasir’s again, but because of the riots in Kreuzberg the day before, we decided not to. So it was straight to the train station. Unfortunately our train ride from Berlin to Giessen was not as simple.

The ICE (Inter-City Express) that we were on was experiencing some technical difficulty, so it wasn’t able to go as fast as it should (ICEs are normally able to go very fast). That put us 45 minutes behind schedule. We didn’t have a specific connecting train, as our tickets allowed us to catch the next train to Giessen from Kassel (good thing!), so all we had to do was find the next train to Giessen.

Unfortunately, we misunderstood a page over the loudspeaker, ran to track 9 where we thought our train was being redirected to, only to get there and see it pull up back over at track 2 where we were originally. Dead sprint up the looooong ramp, over the other tracks, me carrying a backpack and Rob the little rolling suitcase, only to hear the conductor’s whistle when Rob was about 50 meters away. That whistle means “no more getting on the train.” We had to wait another hour for the next train to Giessen, so a trip that was supposed to take 4 hours ended up taking 7. We bought ourselves Döners at our favorite place on our way back to our apartment to make ourselves feel better. :)