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I am a Spender, but I am Changing

During NaBloPoMo, I wrote about an inner struggle I was having about smoking, and today another struggle is on my mind: controlling my spending.

I did not use to struggle with buying things because I’d just put whatever it was I wanted on credit cards and think nothing of it. This strategy work for about two years, and then I found myself chin-deep in debt.

It was depressing.

I balanced between having the payments under control and getting calls from creditors for another two year until Rob came into my life. He told me what I needed to do to get out from under that burden of debt, and within 9 months of living on $40-for-the-month grocery trips, no eating out, and very understanding roommates, I had less than $1,000 of debt on one credit card, which means one payment a month and a much more manageable cash-flow.

Since then, Rob and I have been working on my spending habits, and boy do I need that accountability.

Part of my problem with money is thinking about it. When I see something on sale, I only see what I am saving (50%! $20!). Rob sees what I am spending: 50% off still means it costs $50. $20 off doesn’t mean much if I still have to spend $80 to get that thing home. It took me several years to correct my thinking. And I still think my way first, but now I go one step further and realize that spending $50 on that thing that I want but don’t really need means less money for traveling or less money for saving. So I have my spending under control.

But I don’t have my thinking under control. When I find something to want, it consumes my mind. I think about how it will make my life better. I start imagining myself using it, which makes me realize how inadequate the current thing I have is. In my mind, I see how wonderful my life will be once I have that thing, and it feeds my desire.

Of course, all of that is crap. A new purse, new shoes, a new iPod, they aren’t going to make my life flashy cool, super smooth, mega-star perfect. But one-half of my mind believes it and believes it until I’m in a frenzy for that thing.

I am trying to change the way I think, which is why “I am content with what I have” is on my New Year’s Resolutions list every year. I control my thinking when I notice what I am doing. I tell myself, “Self, be content with what you have. You have a perfectly good purse that carries your wallet, phone, and camera just as well as that one will. You do not need that purse. You are content with what you have.”

It is hard to change the way I think, but I am determined not to let my material wants rule my life. I am more than my things, and if I truly believe that, I think half my problem will be solved. It is a long, hard battle, but eventually, I know I will successfully change my thinking and behavior.

Tuesdays with Linden’s Favorite Links: Christmas Gifts | 16 Dec 2008

With eight more days until Christmas, I know there are many pChristmas gift Naveedeople who are still struggling to buy a few final gifts, so I figured I’d write a post to help. I don’t usually write much in these posts, but I’d like to share a few of my own brief ideas for last-minute gifts.

  • iTunes gift cards. Have a friend or family member with an iPhone or an iPod? This is the perfect gift because they’ll have some extra clams to spend on music or apps.
  • Audible.com gift cards. Know someone with a long commute? Know a reader who has been complaining about not having enough time to read? Audio book gift credits is a great solution. EDIT: Also, gift memberships to Flickr, Visual Thesaurus, or even a magazine subscription are other good ideas in the “gift card” category.
  • Baked goods. Who can’t enjoy homemade cookies, breads, or fudge, or candy? Maybe diabetics and the Grinch, but for all the other people on your list, a home-made gift hits home, and the taste buds!
  • Other hand-crafted goods. If you have a free evening (Yeah right, huh?), you could knock out a couple simple scarves that can warm the body and the heart.
  • Time. In this fast-paced world, nothing means more than an hour of time. Have coffee with someone and remember: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Maya Angelou” Make that person feel special, make them feel like you are sincerely interested in them. It’s worth more than any knick-knack you could give.

Well, there are my €0,02. Here are what some other bloggers have to say.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

It’s All Foreign To Me: Nikolaus [PICTURES]

Today is Nikolaus, or St. Nicholas Day. Last night, children all over Germany polished their boots and left them outside for St. Nikolaus to inspect. Here’s a bilingual poem about St. Nicholas Day for your reading pleasure.

Ihr Kinder, stellt die Schuh’ hinaus, / Children, put your shoes outside
denn heute kommt der Nikolaus; / because Saint Nikolaus is coming today;
und wart ihr immer gut und brav, / and if you were always good and well-behaved,
dann lohnt’s euch Nikolaus im Schlaf. / then Nikolaus will slips gifts in your shoes while you sleep.
Er bringt euch Äpfel, Feigen, Nüss’ / He will bring you apples, figs, nuts
und gutes Backwerk, zuckersüß / and delicious pastries, sugar sweet.
doch für das böse, schlimme Kind / but for the bad, naughty child,
legt er die Rute hin geschwind.  / he will quickly leave only a switch.

We especially enjoyed several Nikolaus sightings of the day. Our little “Giessener Schlammbeiser” was dressed up as a Nikolaus. . .

Giessener Schlammbeiser

Giessener Schlammbeiser

And we enjoyed a very tasty Lebkuchen Nikolaus with almond, hazelnut, chocolate, citrus-flavored white chocolate, and marzipan decorations.

Linden and the Lebkuchen Nikolaus

Linden and the Lebkuchen Nikolaus

Poem Source

German version: [link]
English: Mine and Rob’s translation

Tuesdays with Linden’s Favorite Links: Productivity | 2 Dec 2008

I just pledged to turn these into themed links, and I have to admit, I was a little stressed about picking a theme for this week, but as I was processing my feeds, it became pretty obvious which links I would be sharing today. Well, that and the stress (read: stack of papers to be graded) I’ve been feeling. This week, we’re going to look at some great productivity and Getting Things Done links. I’ve got some productivity tools, some sad news, and the first–and free–issue of the first Productivity! magazine.

I seem to go through periods of productivity and periods of the opposite, whatever that is called. Eventually I’ll get there, I guess; reading all these articles helps. I’m reading and collecting ideas and tools, trying them out, adapting them, and just basically trying to change my habits. That seems to be all that you need to do to really be productive, lose weight, start running, et cetera, et cetera. If only changing our habits were as easy as flipping a switch.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

What NaBloPoMo Means for My Blogging Future

NaBloPoMo: I did it!

NaBloPoMo: I did it!

When I click “Publish” on this post, I will have successfully completed NaBloPoMo. Definitely fun, and definitely challenging. I already looked back over what I have learned during this daily writing adventure, and I think now it’s time to look forward to see how coming up with something to write about every day.

I used to love blogging, and that was back before anyone liked reading my posts. I have actually never stopped enjoying writing blog posts, but the pressures of school and teaching took the joy out posting. And NaBloPoMo has renewed my interest in blogging. With the possible exception of yesterday, I did not have much trouble coming up with posts every day.

Sometimes those posts where hard to write. When I wrote about dealing with depression, I worked on those 239 words for hours. And this wasn’t revision, either. It was more like walking on a balancing beam: slowly, word by word. There were lots of words and feelings swirling around in my head, but with each press of the keys, I was torn between opening up and publishing onto the internet my deepest pains and often irrational insecurities. I didn’t end up revealing why I was depressed or some of those dark emotions. But the post was honest and writing it helped me to continuing dealing with this bout.

Sometimes they were easy to write yet hard to publish. I mean, who wants to publish a blog admitting that she has been wanting to smoke when she knows that her parents, younger, impressionable cousins, and aunts and uncles would be reading it? In the end, I decided to publish it because it is real, it is what I’m dealing with right now.

I learned a lot this month, and I’m ready to put those lessons and my renewed passion for blogging into practice.

5 Blogging Effects of NaBloPoMo

  1. I’m going to pick back up on my 100 Things That Make Me Happy Besides Money blog. When I left off in August, I was on number 26 on my list, and that’s where I’ll pick up on December 1st. Since this blog doesn’t demand long posts, I’ve decided to do NaBloPoMo again there. Last fun announcement here: I’ve moved this blog from Blogger to my own hosted WordPress, so you can find it at http://LindenAMueller.com/besides-money/. If you want to subscribe in a feeder, click here. For delivery by email, click here.
  2. . . . and also my photoblog, which I started and almost immediately abandoned. There were two posts, and then *crickets* But I love taking pictures, and I want to develop my skill, so by publishing my work online and opening it up for criticism, I can hopefully improve.  This blog has a much different format than a written-content blog, obviously. Each post contains one picture and a description in the form of the title, plus a link to the photo on Flickr. I’m planning on starting of with 2 to 3 posts a week and move to eventually one post a day during the workweek. You can view my new photoblog at http://LindenAMueller.com/photoblog/. Same as before: If you’re interested, click here to subscribe in a reader, and click here for delivery by email.
  3. I’m going to revamp my Tuesdays with Linden’s Favorite Links posts. When I published my first link post, I intended to just share my favorite links from the week. But LorraineDesign does themed Wednesday’s Weekly Reader posts, and I’m going to offer the “sincerest form of flattery” and copy Lorraine’s great idea by collecting themed weekly link posts.
  4. I am going to write more often. But I won’t always publish those drafts right away. If there is one thing I have learned this month it is that when I get ideas, I need to sit down and write it. How many blog post ideas have I missed out on because I didn’t sit down and write them? Well, no more. I don’t want to publish more than 4 posts a week because I don’t think you want that (but if you do, let me know in the comments).
  5. I am going to set aside some time each week for blogging. Because I was forced to blog each day, I did. It is as simple as that. It forced me to come up with an idea if I didn’t already have one, and so I wrote for 30 days straight. The limits that I set for myself on day 1 stretched me, and I don’t know that there are limits I should establish for every single blog post I write, but it is something that I will be considering over the next few weeks.

Questions of the Day

If you are subscribed to my blog (via feed or email), did you read every post I wrote this month? Also, how many posts would you want to read a week?

5 Blog Posts I Should Write (Or Not–You Decide!)

I have no idea what to write about. I spent about 25 minutes brainstorming and came up with several great post ideas (5 Phrases You Must Know If You’re Visiting Germany, 5+ German Dishes You Must Try If You’re Visiting Germany, 5 German “False Friends”), all Germany-related, which Google Analytics tells me that my readers like. But none of them were truly inspired. I might save them for another day, but honestly I don’t think any of these topics are very original, so I might not. Let me know in the comments what you think and want to read here on Linden’s Pensieve.

Since we celebrated Thanksgiving today with the Baileys, a natural post would be “Our German Thanksgiving,” but it was a pretty normal Thanksgiving day, different from what I’m used to, but pretty normal.

I have really enjoyed writing photo posts about German food and German graffiti because I love taking and sharing pictures, but I probably should have spread out the photo posts in NaBloPoMo better.

I even considered publishing a video post. I’ve been meaning to since FrayedLaces posted her first one, but if I don’t have anything to write in a post, why would I have anything to say in a post?

But this is NaBloPoMo. I can’t just not write a post today. Since I spent so much time brainstorming, I figure I’ll let you in on a few of my ideas. Some of these will never see the light of day, but maybe if you express interest, I’ll write it. Let me know in the comments.

5 Blog Posts I Should Write

  1. 5 HP Magical Concepts that I Wish We Muggles Could Use. I think the difficulty here would be limiting it to only five. Likelihood That I’ll Write It: Probably Will
  2. German Phrases You Won’t Learn in German Class. This would probably have some rated R phrases suitable only for married people, but that is what you get when you marry a German. Likelihood That I’ll Write It: Slim to None
  3. Just Keep Chasing Pavements: A Review of Adele’s 19. I love music and it is a big part of my life, but just as I learned after four years as an English lit major, I much prefer enjoying art to critiquing it. I have thought about reviewing this album, but I just don’t feel qualified. Whether I write this post or not, you should definitely check out Adele. Her voice is like butter. Likelihood That I’ll Write It: Maybe
  4. How to Start Running and Keep Running. This was a mystery to me before February 2005, but now I think I have enough experience to write it, as I’ve started and stopped several times in there, not to mention helping other people start running. And in anticipation of all you smart alecs out there, I don’t mean how to physically run. I mean how to get into the sport. Likelihood That I’ll Write It: Maybe
  5. How to Pass College Composition in 5 Easy Steps. I have helped approximately 420 students learn some important writing lessons, and I think this blog post would be a challenge. It would essentially be the 5 most important lessons students should take away from their “comp 1” class. Can I do it? Likelihood That I’ll Write it: Probably Will

Question of the Day

Which of the above posts would you most like to read and why?

What I Love About Gmail, Plus My Gmail Wish List

I could not live without Gmail*, and I shared a few reasons yesterday that show how email makes living far away from friends and family easier, but it makes work life easier as well. Even though Gmail and Google have become a dynasty which scares some people away, their innovative, cutting-edge products have proven that they deserve the cult-like following they have amassed. Google is rarely, if ever, content with just putting another widget out onto the market. They rethink–and in many cases, completely redesign– the current widgets, creating a new generation of widgets which surpasses in quality those currently available.

The most recent example of this is Google Chrome. While Google hasn’t ironed out all of the kinks yet, they have certainly raised the bar for the other browser developers. They started from the ground up, instead of building on an already existing framework.** That is what Google did when they created Gmail, and the effects changed emailing for me forever.

5 Things I Love About Gmail

It’s hard to narrow down what I love about Gmail, but here is what I think are my top five favorite things about Gmail.

  1. It’s free. And it offers services that other email providers make you pay for. Hotmail, AOL Mail, Yahoo Mail are some of Gmail’s top competitors, but none of those services provide full access to all of their features for free. For example, Gmail allows you to forward mail from another service for free***. Hotmail and Yahoo will let you, but you’ll have to pay, and I don’t see this option at all in AOL.
  2. It has 7268 megabytes (and counting) of free storage. When it launched, Gmail offered 2 gigs of storage, which made Hotmail’s 200mb look like peanuts. Gmail is constantly adding more and more storage, so in this age of emailing photos, PDFs, and all sorts of other things, you never have to worry about messages bouncing back to the sender because your inbox is full. Or having to worry about carefully deleting messages you hope you’ll never need again. And it’s all free. Other services charge for the extra space. (How do they do it? The Joy of Tech has a creative answer!)
  3. Gmail convo view

    Gmail convo view

    The conversation view revolutionizes using email. Instead of keeping each email separate, Gmail rethought email and came up with the conversation view. Emails stay grouped together**** so you have context for each message. It does take some getting used to, but once it becomes the norm, non-conversation view emails feel so awkward. Try it; you’ll like it!

  4. Gmail auto-adds contacts you email frequently. Gmail automates this action, and it’s nice. One of the big changes made in the last year or so was a total rehaul of the contact management systems, including a division between “My Contacts” and “Suggested Contacts” which significantly–and for the better–changed this feature. My Contacts are the people you have explicitly added to your contact list, and Suggested Contacts are ones that you have only emailed several times. This new division essentially eliminated true automaticity of new added contats, but returns some control to the user. Now, we have the choice if we want to add email addresses, but you don’t have to worry about mistyping an email address or copying and pasting incorrectly.
  5. And much, much more! Google Talk is built in, so there is no need to have other windows or programs open if you need to chat. Labels allow you to escape the confines of folders. Filters, and the “Filter messages like this” feature, can help keep you focused when you’re working and create an overall neater inbox. Plus, who doesn’t love Old Snakey and the recently added themes, some beautiful, some fun?

My Gmail Wish List

  1. Continued improvement of contacts. I mentioned above that the Gmail team made one very necessary improvement to contact management, but there are still several needed. One example is contacts have multiple entires. I don’t want someone to have 5 entries in my contacts list just because they’ve sent me emails from all 5 of their email addresses. It should be dead simple to combine contacts. But instead, you have to copy email address #2 and then delete the contact before adding it to email address #1. If you don’t delete address #2, you get a nasty red message telling you that a contact already has that email address. Frustrating.
  2. Zenbe File Tab

    Zenbe File Tab

    Better attachment management. Yes, we have over 7 gigs of storage space, but that doesn’t mean I want to keep all those extraneous attachments. Someday I might actually run out of space, and it should be easy to make sure that doesn’t happen. I have two suggestions. First, there should be a tab, perhaps under Settings, where we can manage our attachments. Zenbe does it, and quite nicely, I might add. Why can’t Gmail? Second, we shouldn’t have to delete a message to delete an attachment. We should be able to select attachments from the nice file manager mentioned previously, and then selectively delete them.

  3. Full support and development of “Canned Responses,” including a more accurate name and description. “Email for the truly lazy”? Are you joking me? These email templates make a busy life much easier, and they have already eased mine. To make these email templates more effective, though, several changes need to be made. First, the Canned Response shouldn’t completely replace the message that’s already there: No more context. Second, better management (seeing a trend here?). Create a tab under Settings, much like Labels and Filters.
  4. Default font settings. This is surely a simple request, right? Again, under General Settings, we should be able to choose everything from the font face to the size to the color.
  5. Make complex labels easier to add. I know that we can write complex rules for filters, but I want it to be easier. Lots of academic search engines have implemented practically dummy-proof complex search pages, and it would make Gmail that much more (easily) powerful for its users.

Question of the Day

What would be on your Gmail wish list?

Notes
* Okay, okay, I could live, but so many things would be so much more complicated!
** Just to be completely fair, Firefox apparently also did a complete, from-the-ground-up redesign for Firefox 3.
*** If you’re like me, you have at least a email private address and a work address. Simplify your email by forwarding your work address to Gmail, as long as your workplace allows access. Since most universities don’t force people to use a specific mail server. This simplifies my life so much.
**** For the most part. Sometimes, messages don’t stay together, and I don’t know why. It’s somewhat rare, though.

What I’m Thankful For: Yet Another Typical Thanksgiving Post

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.

President Abraham Lincoln on October 6, 1863

This year has been the most different year my life has ever had. I never ever would have imagined that I would, by the end of my 26th year, be an English teacher at a German university. While it is completely wonderful, there is also one huge drawback: I am 4,700 miles away from my family and friends. Because of that, this year, more than anything, I am thankful for the Internet.

Without the ability to talk instantaneously through cyberspace, the past year would have left me feeling much less connected.

Without the ability to send a digital image (which I am also thankful for), the past year would have made me feel left out.

Without the ability to compose a letter that is delivered instantly, the past year would have been much more lonely.

5 Other Things I’m Thankful For

  1. Friends who make me feel like I am truly not forgotten. For some, it seems like “Out of sight, out of mind,” but there are several who make me feel the opposite.
  2. Surprise letters. As much as I love and appreciate communication through email, my little heart skips a beat when I see familiar handwriting on an envelope.
  3. My husband. He is every thing I need and gives me a constant supply of laughter. We’ve now celebrated four Thanksgivings as husband and wife, and it gets better every year.
  4. Security. Rob and I have been saving and I have been working on controlling my spending, so for the first time in my adult life, I am not worried about money. It isn’t always fun or easy, but it sure is worth it.
  5. Humor. Even though the past year has been amazing and life-changing, it hasn’t always been (German) chocolate and puppy dogs. And what better way to brighten a dreary day than a nice belly laugh?

Question of the Day

Today’s question is a challenge. What is one thing that you are thankful for that I and the previous commenters have not yet mentioned? First commenter has it the easiest! Go!

It’s All Foreign To Me: Graffiti in Germany [PICTURES!]

Graffiti is huge over here! And it looks much different than most of the graffiti I remember seeing in America. Instead of unreadable scribbles*, most of it is art. In fact, every time that we go to Berlin, I expect to find another interesting piece, like this one that we found one day when we walked part of the marathon course a couple months before the race. It’s on a bridge at about kilometer 3.

"1984 is now" graffiti (Berlin)

"1984 is now" graffiti (Berlin)

Banksy, a semi-anonymous British graffiti artist, is probably the most famous European graffiti artist, and his work often doubles as social commentary. Some of his art is cute, and some is ballsy. Most notably, Banksy uses stencils to create his graffiti. To me, that is what sets apart the crap graffiti from the interesting stuff.

One of my favorite Giessen graffiti pieces is a cute batman boy stencil. I’ve found five different ones around the center of Giessen. I take my camera with me almost everywhere, so I’m hoping I find more of this cute little guy.

Superhero Graffiti (Giessen)

Superhero Graffiti (Giessen)

There is also a graffiti group in this area, 3Steps.de, who are either commissioned to do graffiti or are just really good at not getting caught. On one walk we took, we found a panorama on a wall that is easily 150 feet long. Before we knew what it was, on our first day in Giessen, we saw their art on the concrete supports for the Autobahn that surrounds Giessen. Since then, we’ve been back for photos.

The Schiffenberger Weg panoramic graffiti

The Schiffenberger Weg panoramic graffiti (click here to see it bigger, but it's a LARGE FILE; Giessen)

3steps.de's graffiti

3steps.de's graffiti (Giessen)

Another one of the first pieces of graffiti that we saw when we moved here was right around the corner from where we live and a favorite from my childhood, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (heroes in a half-shell, turtle power!)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles graffiti (Giessen)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles graffiti (Giessen)

While some graffiti is art and some is just random (TMNT!), I’ve also seen a few that speak to me.

ich liebe dich

ich liebe dich (Giessen)

"smile now, cry later! xxx" (Marburg)

"smile now, cry later! xxx" (Marburg)

power face graffiti (Giessen)

power face graffiti (Giessen)

5 Reasons I Enjoy Graffiti

  1. It’s so random. We’ll be walking down the street, minding our own business, go around a corner, and be struck by someone’s art on a wall.
  2. It often seems like a spontaneous outpouring of emotion. The most public place I feel comfortable doing that is Twitter. Some people do it in a very public place, and I don’t know if I could do that.
  3. It’s amazing art (some of it, anyway). 3steps.de is an example of a group of recognized graffiti artists. Even some of the unreadable lettering I see in Berlin (I’ll try to get a picture, but I usually see the cool stuff while we’re in the train) is just amazing.
  4. It seems to me a uniquely effective way of making social commentary. Both the “1984 is now” from Berlin and Bansky’s work illustrates this idea.
  5. It’s colorful. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles piece is in the middle of a rather boring street. Really spruces things up, plus it makes me laugh and remember Saturday mornings and playing with Daniel, Steven, and Aaron.

Question of the Day

What is one kinda illegal thing that you enjoy anyway? And let’s keep it clean, folks. :)

Notes
* Although there is plenty of that as well.

My First Encounter with the German Police

That’s right. I got “pulled over,” if you can call it that. I was on my way home on my bike, when a policman, Herr Kolb, called me over to him, just past the railroad tracks on Schiffenberger Weg. They had a stake-out on that corner, a much-used route from the center of town to my campus. It was dark, and they were trying to catch people whose bikes weren’t properly dressed up. My problem? My lights weren’t working.

And here’s the kicker: I noticed they weren’t working two weeks ago, so we bought new bulbs, which Rob replaced. They worked fine for a couple days, then I noticed they weren’t working again. Rob looked at it on our way in Saturday night, but it was dark and he couldn’t get the wire connected. Said he’d do it sometime during the day. I thought I’d see if I could fix it Thursday morning before I left for school, since I don’t have to be there at a specific time.

But today was the day the cops had the stake-out. le sigh.

The Bike Ticket

If you look at the ticket*, you’ll see that I was cited for not having two reflectors on both my front and back tires and for having defective lights.

I’m an eternal optimist, though. I learned the word for wire (die Leitung). I was understood completely by the officer, and I, for the most part, understood him–I’d put my Verständnis** at about 90%, which is well above what I feel my average is***. This is good for my language ego.

The cop was very nice, and he clarified several times that they are doing this for our safety, and I understand that.

Also, my bike is fixed now. Rob said if I brought it up, he’d fix it. But in the end, I did it. So I also learned what I need to do to fix it, should the wire come loose again.

What an adventure we’re having!

5 Fun Facts About Riding a Bike in Germany

  1. It’s important to make sure you have working lights. That should be obvious by now. Learn your lesson from me.
  2. Bikes often have their own lanes, and sometimes even their own traffic lights. In fact, car drivers in Germany, unlike our experiences in Springfield, understand how to travel safely on the road with bikers. They don’t freak out about bikers on the road.
  3. Everyone bikes! I see old people, young people, mothers with a kid in front and back, sometimes with one in a little bike trailer. Women  ride in their skirts and dress shoes, men in their suits with brief cases tucked neatly in the baskets on the back.
  4. It has been cold here lately, but that doesn’t stop many bikers. We’re all bundled up–hats, scarves, boots, and thick gloves–and we’re still taking our bikes to school, work, wherever. It’s kind of nice to not want to ride my bike because it’s so cold, do it anyway, and see lots of other hard-core bike commuters on the way.
  5. Doesn’t matter where you ride your bike, wear a helmet.

Notes

* and you know German.
** die Verständnis = understanding
*** I’d say, on average, I understand 65% of what is spoken to me, and that takes into account conversations with Rob and his family (usually around 90%), and conversations with various random Germans and some support people at the university (usually around 45%).