Taking on Transitions – Advice from One Military Spouse to Another

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I’ll readily admit it: two months into our move here I had no idea what I was doing, and it scared me (see: A Time for Everything). I had just moved to a new country, started an “adult” life, and married. In fact, it had been a pretty crazy year (see: The Last Eighteen Months: A Reflection). One day, sitting in the house by myself on our temporary rubber couch loaned from base, I felt like I had hit rock-bottom. I couldn’t imagine doing this crazy new life, day in and day out for three whole years. How did anyone survive this sort of transition and isolation? Realizing however that some folks had (and I knew some of them already) gave me pause: so people do live through this! But how? I picked up my laptop, flipped it open, and typed in a name on FaceBook of a girl I grew up with. We’d been on the same swim team, debated in the same high-school league, and come from the same Southern state. But most importantly, she was a military spouse too, and she seemed to be thriving where she was. I asked her recently if she would mind if I shared some of the advice she gave me, and she said “anything I can do to help new military wives!” which is a summation of her usual awesome attitude.

I’ll add this as a caveat: I don’t think this advice is helpful just for mil spouses – I think anyone going through a big transition (be it a move, college, career change, etc.) can benefit from some of these strategies.

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Kristen started off by telling me something we all need to hear: you’re not alone. “…the question you are asking is one that every military spouse stationed abroad asks.” With that in mind, here are eight things that can be done to help during times of transition.

  1. Get a job. I’d heard this advice from others, and it did indeed make a huge difference for me. As Kristen said: “If a job is available, and you’re interested, go for it. That will help a lot. I chose not to work while in Japan because I wanted the freedom to travel to Michael’s different port visits, a sacrifice for time together that was absolutely the right choice.” Five months into my new job, it has already brought me an increased sense of purpose and community, and helped me to learn so much more about the area here and the resources on base.

2. Socialize, despite the distance. “Don’t let travel time keep you from social opportunities. We’re South Carolina girls, used to the luxury of everyone/thing within a 20 minute driving distance, so I can see how being 45 minutes away from most Americans seems impractical to drive/train/bus just for coffee or a social meet up. Do it anyway. You won’t regret it.” This is so true! We are at a remote location, so our base is about 40 minutes from everything else American here. I didn’t want to be “that expat” who went to base for everything, but the face remains that sometimes you just have to go somewhere you can understand the language!

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3.  Spend quality time with your spouse. Even though Aaron leaves for work about an hour and a half before I do, I still get up and have breakfast with him. Kristen emphasized the importance of intentional time with your spouse as well: “In the brief times when Michael was in port, I always drove in with him in the mornings. Sometimes I went home after dropping him off, sometimes I stayed on base for various reasons, but we both loved that time together first thing in the morning, even if we weren’t talking the whole time, just sitting quietly in the car together.”

4. Volunteer. “Look for volunteer opportunity on base. These are a great way to get connected, meet people, and feel like you’ve spent time well. The organizations may be different, but I bet your base(s) have a lot of organizations that would love your talents!” This has proven so true in my case! I have loved becoming part of the great non-profits and spouse groups on base. The Officers and Civilian Spouses Club (OCSC) and the Protestant Women of the Chapel (PWOC) are two groups I’ve enjoyed helping with.

5. Bible Study. Like me. Kristen found some of her closest friends through her base Bible Study. “This past year I also served on the board and that was a good outlet as well. We have a fantastic ministry through Cadence International, a hospitality house that hosts several bible study/teaching services a week.” We have also been blessed with a great Cadence house nearby – what a great outlet that has been! A group of us from the house are even training together for the Athens Marathon and 10k this year!

6. Getting out and about. Whether it is a trip to the store, a walk in the woods, or a day at work, getting out of the house in some shape or form every day is worth more than a change in scenery. It gets you engaged in the world around you, learning new things, and even just getting some good exercise. Kristen added: “I would encourage you to develop some kind of routine, an appointment every day that gets you out of the house.”

7. Exercise. Kristen emphasized this strongly: “Military life often leaves us feeling out of control and sometimes powerless. For me, I decided to challenge myself to see how much progress I could make physically, how much stronger I could become from the beginning of a deployment to the end. It’s fun, and gives a sense of accomplishment I missed when I left the professional setting.” When Aaron decided to run a marathon in November, I decided to sign up for the 10k. Modest in comparison, but it gets me outside and running! There are also lots of exercises classes offered on base, and I have taken advantage of them when time and work schedule allow.

8. Stay connected with home. I expressed my sorrow to Kristen about missing important family moments, and Kristen reminded me that there’s not always much we can do about that, but we can “keep in touch, and Facebook messenger and its voice and video call features, iMessage/FaceTime are gold.” I try to call my mom once a week, and when Aaron is gone for training, I will use my evening time to call and catch up with friends and family members as well.

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Unfortunately, there’s no “big secret” to perfectly adjusting through transitions… or at least I haven’t found it yet! If you do, definitely let me know. However, there are things that can be done to help ease into a new life. The eight ideas above have been useful to me, but I’d love to hear from you! If there’s something I missed, or if you have had success by using one of the things above, do let me know!

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“Alles Ist Gut” – Ian and Will in Germany

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Skipping slate on the Moselle

Dropping McBryde off at the airport was hard. I loved having a family member/old friend here (he really is both in equal measures), and I’d really gotten used to having him around the house – randomly humming and scrolling through his blog while sitting on the couch, or sidling into the kitchen in search of snacks, or to ask me which filter I liked best on his Instagram picture.

However, the sadness of his departure was mitigated by two things: 1. I am sure he will try and get back over here before we move, and 2. IAN AND WILL ARRIVED THE DAY HE LEFT! In fact, I dropped McBryde and Tony off at the same time I picked Ian and Will up. They got to see each other for about 20 minutes in the airport before we had to split.

Let me take just a moment to brag about how Ian got here. That kid worked HARD. He took extra hours at the pharmacy where he works, and would often go back and forth between the college where he was taking classes this spring to go to work, and then back to school… and then back to work… We got his tickets through ABCTravel.de this past March, and as we FaceTimed and booked the tickets together, neither of us could hide the big grins spreading across our faces. I’m so grateful to have such good relationships with all three of my brothers, and knowing my (biggest)(youngest) brother was coming to visit me did me so much good back in the early days of transition.

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Cappuccinos at Andy’s place

Ian and Will were both pretty exhausted when I picked them up – the adrenaline of their upcoming adventure had kept them  awake on the flight over. As I drove them through the German countryside on the way back from the airport, we talked non-stop about Germany – cultural differences, history and landmarks, and all the adventures that lay in store for the next few weeks.

McBryde had been to Europe recently, but this was a new adventure for Ian and Will. Everything was exciting: from the way the recycling worked to the endless walking trails and everything in between.

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St. Joseph getting his picture taken by Will in Monreal

I didn’t give them long to recover from jet lag – just a day after they landed, we began exploring the surrounding area. We started with a hike down to the Moselle, where we met up for coffee (homemade cappuccinos to be precise) with our vintner friend, Andy. Andy was fantastic, as always. We drank our coffee in the mild sunshine beneath his grape-vine covered porch, and he told us all about his days as a German pilot, his early efforts in the art of grape-growing, and the prospects for the year’s crop.

We left an hour later, armed with a map and directions from Andy about the best hike nearby. We walked down toward the river through sweet-smelling rows of grapevines, and soon spotted the beautiful ruins of Beilstein castle towering above the picturesque town across the river.

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We crossed with a ferry, the ferry-master had a Bavarian cap, which fascinated Ian and Will. I loved exploring with them – their excitement was so contagious. I actually held quite a decent conversation in German with a family that was also crossing the river, and was pleased to think about my progress in the language, compared to what it had been just a few months before. Ian and Will were eager to pick up the language, and were always asking: “How do you say ____ in German?” They really mastered quite a few good phrases during their time here.

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We had a beautiful hike, and skipped rocks by the river as we waited for Aaron to join us after his work. We then went to dinner in a lovely little restaurant in Ellenz-Poltersdorf, the village where Andy lives. The food there is fantastic, and we got to introduce the boys to real German schnitzel.

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Playing “Betrayal at House on the Hill”

In the days that followed we traveled all over the district – climbing up winding paths to take pictures on the top of ruined castles, seeking out the best radler in little biergartens in the valleys, and sampling far too many pastries.

One evening, we went to Himmerod Abbey and had dinner and explored the grounds and buildings, and even got a behind-the-scenes tour by a friendly pilgrim who had been working in the garden. The boys were delighted by this, and I thought they were going to pop from excitement when they were blessed by a passing Swiss priest.

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Walking down the winding streets of Beilstein

Some of my favorite moments of their stay with us in Germany were the evenings, and the time we spent together in Muellenbach. After our adventures of the day, and Aaron’s return from work, the boys would help me set the table and get dinner ready, sometimes going into the garden for whatever fresh veggies we could add to our meal. One day I sent them out to get lettuce, and they returned with their arms literally full of salad – the next door neighbor had seen what they were doing and added about four plants’ worth from her own garden to supplement ours. After dinner, we would sit around inside (or more often on the back porch) and play board games, chat, and watch the late summer sun sink down behind the tree-line.

Often our thoughts and plans would focus on our upcoming trip together – to Paris! But that can wait until next blog post…

**Note: for those of you who don’t know, Will is not actually one of my three brothers – he is Ian’s best friend, and my best friend’s younger brother, so he’s family in all but blood. 🙂

 

Someone Blonder in the House – Adventures with McBryde Part 1

The week after I returned from Barcelona was spent with preparation for our first guest to arrive! Sheets were washed, tables painted, shelves dusted, food stocked, and itineraries planned. My brother McBryde was coming from a fashion show in Florence and staying with us for a few weeks before a conference in Oxford took him to England, so I was a little intimidated about entertaining him in the quiet German countryside.

As it turned out, Germany was just what the doctor ordered. The few weeks of comparative quiet he spent at our house allowed him to rest before he continued with his European Grand Tour.

After picking him up from the airport, Aaron and I drove him home along the beautiful Moselle river, passing vineyards and ruins, and stopping for dinner in a Biergarten in a village that was holding a wine fest. Sitting at the table eating fresh spargel and schnitzel, chatting face-to-face for the first time in four months, and watching the rain drip slowly down on young grapevines surrounding the restaurant was a truly heavenly experience.

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Adjusting to German time

That weekend we took a train trip to Cologne, and in the days following explored the Cochem castle (at sunset, and early in the morning to catch the early sunrise glinting off the rising mist on the river), the little picturesque village of Monreal (tucked deep in a valley and overlooked by two ruinous castles), and even one (very exciting) trip to the German grocery store, Rewe.

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Overlooking the Moselle

 

Even more than the day trips, I enjoyed the quiet evenings, watching the mist rise in the valley from our perch on the back porch, and talking about home, adventures abroad, and memories shared. One adventurous evening we ran through the village (McBryde still holding his wine glass, and Aaron carrying along a walking stick, and me without shoes) to try and catch the sunset from the top of the hill. There may have been some random Bill Murray impressions for no discernible reason, and I sincerely hope our neighbors didn’t see us.

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After our evening scramble up the hill, we were rewarded by a glorious sunset.

Half-way through McBryde’s time with us, a mutual friend who happened to be studying in England came out to spend a weekend with us. After a very adventurous trip (which included a missed flight and an exorbitant taxi fare) Wil arrived in time for a big dinner and a board game, mixed in with a healthy dose of political philosophy along with the dessert. Brexit (Britain’s vote to leave the EU) had just happened, and our thoughts were all focused on the stormy island and its future.

The next day we took Wil and McBryde to Burg Eltz – Germany’s second most famous castle, and the home to a family that had been living there for 33 generations.

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Burg Eltz, inner courtyard

Wil left after the weekend, and I geared up (and packed up) for our upcoming trip to Switzerland for the 4th of July. However, that’s a story in itself, so I’ll save it for next time.

’till then, suffice it to say that missing family has been the hardest part of living abroad, but having McBryde here brought home so much closer.

 

If you want to check out McBryde’s pictures of his time in Europe, go to https://www.instagram.com/charlesmcbryde/?hl=en

40 Differences in Deutschland

A lot of people have expressed interest in the details of daily life here in Germany. While I don’t want to give you a run-down of my day, I will share 40 things that I have discovered in the four months here that are distinctly German.

If you’ve ever lived here and have more to add, feel free to do so in the comment section!
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1. Everything is closed on Sundays. I remember my parents talking about America being like this when they were kids, and I can honestly say I really like it. It makes you slow down for a bit, which is rather lovely.
2. Kids walk to school. And by kids I mean 3-4 year olds! It is just safer here I guess, but I’ll never forget the first time I saw it… blew me away!
3. People don’t wear stilettos around. I figured out why when I decided to wear them in Bonn and nearly broke my ankle twice when my heel got caught in between the old stone pavers. 😉
4. Germans recycle everything (see my post from February).
5. The public transport system is amazing. Truly. I can get to anywhere in the country from the stop that is about 20 minutes from our house.
6. You can turn in most water bottles for store credit. Most stores have this nifty bottle disposal thing that will give you a coupon based on how many bottles you recycle.
7. Village festivities are a thing. At least in the area where we live, villages still come together to celebrate, and they really get into it. Village community has to be one of my favorite things about living here.
8. Wine and bottled water are super cheap. Seriously, an excellent bottle of wine can cost as little as 4 euro.
9. People walk a lot. And hike a lot. Technically every path is public, even if it passes across someone’s field or yard.
10. The sun doesn’t really come out for long. Think Seattle, and you’ll have an understanding of the weather.
11. Germans really get into gardening. The amount of veggies that people are able to grow in their gardens blows me away.
12. The autobahn is just as awesome as it sounds. Not going to lie, I passed a Porsche going 120mph the other week. Yes I did.
13. German icecream (and Italian imported icecream) is the best thing you’ll ever taste. End of story.
14. Germans aren’t big into beef or steak (a steak from the grocery store can cost up to $30 easily) but they eat a ton of pork.
15. Germans stare. They just do. It is not meant to be rude, and they’ll almost always smile and nod if you do so first.
16. Germans will not cross the street unless the pedestrian light is green. I’ve seen a group of 20 people stand at a completely dead empty street in downtown Bonn and patiently wait for the little man to turn green before crossing. (P.S. You can always spot the Germans in Spain because they are the only ones who wait.)
17. There is literally a castle in every corner.
18. Germans are very loyal to their local beers. If you don’t order Koelsch in Koeln or Alt in Dusseldorf, you may as well just leave the restaurant. In our region it’s Bitburg beer, just so you’re forewarned if you come.
19. German beds are really low to the ground. I have no idea why, but they are! You can tell they’ve not always been this way, because the beds in antique stores are the normal size.
20. Regular garbage only goes out once a month, so you’d better be sure you’re sorting your trash! Otherwise your can will be full well before it is time to get it emptied.
21.  German houses don’t really have doorknobs. They have handles which range from normal to very strange square blocks of metal.
22. The wildflowers in the German countryside are incredible. It seems like as soon as one type dies another starts to bloom. Thankfully we’ve not suffered too much from allergies…yet!
23. Germans go on a lot of holidays. They are one of the strongest economies in the world, and yet they get a three or four day weekend almost every month… coincidence? I think not!
24. Germans stores won’t give you grocery bags unless you buy them. It is awesome not to see plastic bags littering the side of the autobahn, but you can be in trouble if you forget to bring your own!
25. Public restrooms cost about .50 euro… but they’re usually very clean!
26. Smoking is a lot more common here. I think that’s Europe in general, but it was definitely interesting to see.
27. College is free, but it’s not quite what you think. You won’t pay for classes (just about $300 for an enrollment fee) but you won’t have the infrastructure a lot of college students in the US take for granted.
28. Not everyone speaks English! I think this is one of the biggest misunderstandings for Americans moving to Germany. A lot of folks in the big cities do speak English, and most people under the age of 50 have taken English in High School, but that doesn’t mean they’re fluent! It would be like assuming everyone in the US speaks Spanish.
29. German houses are all different colors, shapes and sizes. In the villages around here there a lot of half-timbered ones, but lots of newer ones too. One of my husband’s coworker’s joked that the way Germans decide what to paint their house is that they go to the store and pick out whichever color is on sale. That’s not quite fair I think, but it is true that there are some strange colors on the block! The house across from us is a vivid pink.
30. Most German houses (including ours) don’t have AC, because the summers are so short.
31. There is a (REALLY GOOD) pastry here called a Berliner, so when JFK said his famous line “Ich bin ein Berliner” for all we know he could have been referring to himself as a donut. Just saying.
32. Germans seem to like rock gardens. A lot. For a country that is so green and lush, it still surprises me to see so many gardens full of rocks.
33. Germans vacation in Mallorca like Americans vacation in the Bahamas. Germans get a better deal: Mallorca has castles.
34. There are bakeries (Backerei) on every corner. And they’re all amazing and cheap.
35. It costs around $2000 to get a driver’s license if you’re German.
36. It costs around $1500 to get a hunting license in Germany.
37. When the sun comes out, so do the Germans. It’s always a race to get yard work or a walk in before it starts raining again!
38. There is a certain kind of ice cream here that is shaped like spaghetti noodles.
39. I think I’ve seen a total of two pickup trucks since we moved here. Big change from SC or TX!
40. I really like it here. I’m still adjusting, but I look forward to the next two and a half years and the challenges and adventures they’ll bring. Come and visit any time!
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The Last Eighteen Months: A Reflection

The Last Eighteen Months…

One of the best things I’ve been able to participate in since we’ve arrived in Germany is the Tuesday morning Bible study provided by the PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel) on base. It has allowed me not only to fill my time with directed Bible study, but also introduced me to Godly and encouraging women who have all, at one time or another, been in exactly the same place as I find myself in now. Many a foggy German morning I have sped down the autobahn, eagerly looking forward to good food, fellowship, and in-depth study of God’s word.
The study started in early March, and at that time I had little else regularly scheduled during the week, so PWOC was something I looked forward to greatly. The first few weeks of the Bible study I arrived so full of need and desperate for friendship and encouragement. As the weeks passed by, those needs were met above and beyond my expectations. The days became filled with coffee dates, lunches, encouraging Facebook messages, and meeting familiar faces while shopping. Last week I was outside the base coffee shop enjoying the elusive German sun and in the space of an hour, saw five friends from PWOC, one of whom sought me out to give me some books before she headed back to the States. As I sat in the sun and sipped my coffee I reflected with gratitude that where three months ago I knew no one, now I saw familiar faces on every corner. Truly time heals.
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(Protestant Women of the Church temporarily residing abroad in Spangdahlem, Germany)
The Bible study we’ve been studying at PWOC is Beth Moore’s “Children of the Day” an overview of 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. Whatever you may think of Beth Moore, I can only say that her study has encouraged me more over the last three months than anything else. As we reached the end of the study, Beth asked us (through the medium of her written words) to reflect on the last eighteen months of our lives to see how God has grown us. She asked us to write down the date that was eighteen months ago. For me, that was December 30th, 2014. And that was when all the craziness of my recent life started.
Little would I have known, on December 30th, 2014, that two weeks later my beloved grandfather would pass away. I would be about to start my final semester of college in a few weeks, and little would I know that in two months I would be engaged to be married to my beloved (now) husband. Little would I know that I would graduate five months from December 2014 and then work through months of stress as I adjusted to post-graduate life, as well as planning a wedding and a move overseas. Little would I know that after a wonderful wedding and two weeks of marriage, my husband would leave for four months of training six states away. Little would I know that in a little over a year from that date, I would leave the States with my husband and move into a place where few people spoke my native tongue, and everything was strange and unfamiliar. Little would I know that the first three months of living overseas would be the most challenging of my life. Little would I know how much I would grow. How much I would be forced to rely on the grace of God to get through each day, and his faithfulness to guide me when I couldn’t see his grace.
Little would I know on December 30th, 2014 how insanely crazy the next year and a half would be. But what is the saying? “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.” That’s true enough.
I don’t know what the next eighteen months, or even eight months, or even eight days holds in store for me, but I know that my God is good. I remember in my prayer for the dedication of our senior class gift during my commencement that “God would guide our future as he has our past.” Many things change, but I know that truth will remain.

Magic, Music, and Müllenbach

Forgive me for the lack of recent posts! It has been (blessedly) busy here, so I’ve neglected my blog. Below is a story I wrote during the first week of May, so the dates may be a bit off.


May 2nd, 2016

This past weekend was a relatively quiet one for Aaron and me, but it ended up being one of the most interesting we’ve spent here in Germany, and definitely one of the most “German.”

Since we picked our house, we’ve known about the village’s reputation as a center for international music. Müllenbach may not have a grocery store, but it has hosted musicians from the U.S., Ireland, Britain, and even the flautist who played for the Lord of the Rings soundtrack.

The concerts take place in the Alte Schulhaus (Old School House) in the village. Frans Somers and his wife, a couple from the village, bought the building a few years ago and renovated it, turning it into a gallery for Frans’ artwork and a music hall (complete with a bar, #germany) below and a small local museum upstairs. The concert didn’t start until 8:00pm, but our landlady  told us that we should arrive an hour early at least – the room was always crowded.

We walked down to the Alte Schulhaus with our landlords, Ute and Rüdiger, well bundled up against the cold and wet weather. May was just around the corner, but the local weather forecast promised snow for the weekend. We entered the old building after five minutes walk, and were welcomed by the warm glow of a fire, and lots of happy-sounding voices.

We made our way to some fine seats, right at the front and near the fireplace – the warmth of which we were quite grateful for! Aaron and Rüdiger got up and ordered drinks, while Ute and I talked to her friends – she graciously introducing me to everyone who came by. Frans the proprietor came up and introduced himself. Originally from Switzerland, he married a German lady and settled down in Müllenbach some years ago. Frans perpetually calls the village by its English translation, Mill’s Creek. “I live in Lower Mill’s Creek,” he explained to me, “and you live in Upper Mill’s Creek.”

Frans didn’t talk for long – he was the host and quite busy making everyone comfortable. Soon a tall man with a grey beard came up, and introduced himself as Kevin, a man from Scotland who’d also married a German woman and settled in the village (that seems to be a popular thing hereabouts). I told Kevin about my own Scottish heritage, and before five minutes had passed we were happily quoting Robert Burns’ poetry back and forth, and discussing the merits of the kilt versus the trews. Aaron came back then with drinks, and we all found our seats as the band tuned up.

The band was called “Barrule” and was made up of a trio of excellent artists from the Isle of Man off the coast of England (http://www.barruletrio.com/about/). The band began to play after a short introduction by Frans, and we all held our breath as the ethereal music filled the hall.

I love Celtic music. It is a genre I never remember not hearing played in my house, but I became infatuated with it when I was a pre-teen and discovered a CD of Celtic Women hits. Aaron loves it too, and we were not disappointed in the quality of the music we heard that night. The hands of Jamie Smith, the accordion player, seemed to fairly fly over the keys as he pumped out deep bass notes or trilled high flights of soft music that seemed to float down from above our heads out of fairyland. The whole night was like that really – just sheer magic. The soft glow of the fireplace, the landscapes of the Irish coast hanging on the walls, the rich songs sung in the beautiful Gaelic language… the night sped by in an almost dream-like state of beauty.

The music ended around 11, and most of the audience left soon after. Frans told us we were welcome to stay as long as we liked, and so we chatted with the band for quite some time about the similarities between Celtic and Bluegrass music, the band’s history, their native land, etc. Soon Frans ushered us back to the fire where he had drawn up about twenty chairs. Ute and Rüdiger were there, as were Kevin and his wife, and several others. Aaron and I sat between Kevin and Jamie, and when we weren’t being plied with neat Scottish whisky by the one, we were talking with the other about Tolkien and his works (Jamie’s a big fan!).

Around 1:00am we finally broke away, making our excuses and heading out with Rüdiger and Ute. We left them still hard at it, and I am sure they talked until late into the night. We walked home down the quiet streets shimmering in the moonlight, with songs from the Isle of Man running through our minds.

Little did we know, our very Müllenbach weekend had just begun!

The next morning we woke to find the outside lawn dusted with snow! It was May first, and the temperatures were well below freezing. We were sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and watching the flakes fall when Aaron suddenly said: “Oh! Did the neighborhood boys steal anything last night?”

I’d completely forgotten that the night before had been hexenacht; literally meaning “witches night” the celebration is a hold-over of the old pagan days, and is still celebrated in many of the villages here. Village boys sneak out at night and steal things from people’s yards: doormats, pots, trashcans, etc. and take them to the village Maypole (usually located somewhere in the center of the village) and put them there for the hapless owners to retrieve in the morning. Duly warned by our landlords, we’d carefully put anything portable in the garage, and hoped for the best. The one thing we didn’t pull in from the yard were some metal garden decorations Ute and Rüdiger had installed the week before. We figured they were too firmly embedded into the stones and dirt to be stealable. I was still a little worried though, so when Aaron asked, I looked to see if they were still there.

The poles were, but the metal balls that ornamented them were gone. “Darn it,” I said. “They took the garden decorations.” Aaron’s sense of personal privacy was justly outraged by the theft, but I thought it was a rather interesting bit of fun. “Well, let’s go find the Maypole!”

We grabbed our jackets and set out into the quiet village. It was a bank holiday, and everyone seemed to be celebrating that fact by staying quietly indoors. We headed toward the village church – I thought I remembered Ute telling me the Maypole was usually erected near the building. Upon arrival we saw no sign of the Maypole, but the door was ajar and the railings decorated with sprigs of boxwood, so we decided to try and peek in.

The inside of the church was beautiful. Romanesque, and able to house a large amount of people, the church must have hailed from the time when Müllenbach was a successful slate mining village. Ute said the village had four pubs back then, and was quite the center of local activity. We lingered a bit in the quiet and brightly lit sanctuary, then resumed our search for the missing decorations.

We headed down to the small soccer field behind the elementary school, in hopes of finding the Maypole there. As we neared, we heard loud music and people’s voices. Walking into the tree-ringed field, we saw a group of young men hanging out around a bonfire, and drinking beers. They nodded at us as we walked in, but didn’t offer any conversation. Later, Ute told me that they were there to guard the Maypole and the things beneath it from the neighboring village boys, who apparently could endeavor to cut it down and steal the items.

We found lots of interesting things beneath the Maypole, but alas! The garden decorations were not there.


As we walked back to the house, I had an idea. I texted Ute to see if they had perhaps put the decorations away to keep them safe from the village boys, or if perhaps the boys had stolen them. Soon after she texted back:
“That naughty boy was Ruediger. He hid the tops in the garage yesterday.”

With that, our very German weekend came to a close. It has been such a neat adventure to become part of a local village and enjoy its traditions. I look forward to getting further involved over the next three years.

Meg

 

A Time for Everything

Thus far my blog has mainly chronicled Aaron and my travels. Right now though, I think I’ll share a little bit of an emotional journey that I’ve embarked on over the past few months. To start, I’ll share the below post that I wrote a few weeks ago, originally just for myself. As the weeks have passed and I’ve gone back and forth battling with the same emotions I dealt with below, I thought “Gee, maybe I’m not the only one who needs to hear this… maybe someone else does too!” So in that hope, if you’re lonely, tired, dispirited, or just in need of a little encouragement, I hope the below post gives you Joy.

Caio! Meg

March 2, 2016
I am a people person. I LOVE people. I love sad people, quiet people, happy people, loud people, people. I love people.

“My best life now” is when I am surrounded by people 24/7, pouring into them and they pouring into me. It’s why I loved college.

Even in college though, there are times when people are not around. I remember anxious hours of waiting late at night for my roommate to come back from study sessions in the library. I remember hours spent by myself in the dorm. I remember whole days my freshman year where I had little to no meaningful conversations. Those times frighten the Dickens out of me.

Why? I think I often use people as white noise to drown out thoughts that I don’t want to deal with. I’m stressed, so I distract myself with people. I’m bored, so I fill my time with people. If I make them feel better, that’s a good thing, right? But then there are times when I’m not with people. What happens then? If I define happiness by being surrounded by people, can I be happy alone?

To make me answer this question, God picked me up out of my comfortable familiar life back in the states and plumped me down in the middle of a country where I don’t know the language. Added to that, he placed my husband in a job where he is gone for about 75% of the day. So…… Now I have to confront that niggling doubt that’s always been in the back of my mind: can I survive without people I can communicate with?

If you were able to look at my heart over the last two weeks, you’d say no, I cannot. The best moments of these last few weeks have been when I was with people. But sadly those have also been the only moments when I was psychologically OK. So I know, I’m in a new country, leaving behind friends and family. I should allow myself to go through a hard time, it’s only natural, right? Wrong. Yes, I should expect some hard times, I should be patient with myself, but I can’t keep up with self-destructive behavior. It’s not fair to me, it’s certainly not fair to my husband, and most of all, it is not obedient to my God.

This past Sunday Aaron and I went to the contemporary service of worship at the base about 45 minutes south of us. Aaron is most comfortable in a suit and tie, so it was a big deal for him to don jeans, use the gas, and drive us to church. His experience with base chapels has not been good, so he was not really looking forward to the service. However, the pastor surprised us by reading large portions of the bible and preaching directly from it. A government employee being brave! He preached about the woman at the well in John 4. At the time, I’ll admit I kind of tuned out. I’d heard this sermon many times, and I let my mind wander.

Temporarily refreshed by being around people during the weekend, I dreaded the upcoming week and the time alone. After a few more days of depression, selfishness and moping, God changed me this morning.

Usually after seeing Aaron off in the morning, I jump straight into the shower. This morning however, I decided to read a few chapters of That Hideous Strength, a sci-fi story written by C.S. Lewis. This book does something I’ve never seen another book do: it creates a sci-fi world that is meshed with Christianity, fantasy, and philosophy. In a true Lewis manner, it uses description of fantasy to show the true beauty of Christ (much like Lewis’ better known series, the Chronicles of Narnia). As I read, God used the words to transform my spirit and remind me of my true Joy and purpose as his child. He showed me that the last few weeks I’d been responding to spiritual attacks in a fleshly manner. Much like the woman at the well, I’d been going day after day to pour myself, water from an ever-shrinking well, when all the time a fountain of Living Water had been welling up behind me, ready to refresh my soul.

This revelation came to me in such a burst of joy that I almost jumped and danced right there in the flat of the Hotel Maas. The world had taken on a new perspective because once again I had found those things I’d been trying to find in people (joy and purpose) in the one Source who would never disappoint, and who was always there for me. Not only does He speak English, He speaks the hidden language of my heart.

I truly felt this morning that I had been liberated. I still love people, but at least right now, I can remember that I don’t need them to be happy. This is the truth I’ve caught glimpses of over the past years, but never felt so fully. I know the attacks will come. I know the world, the flesh, and the Devil will do what they can to push me back down into the pit of selfishness, but I also know that I can come back to the fountain of Living Water and drink from it until I am satisfied. In Christ, I am more than a conqueror.

Cross-Country Training Part 2

 

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Last Saturday morning Aaron and I rose (somewhat reluctantly) at an early hour to drive to Cochem and take the train from there to Cologne via Koblenz. I tried to remember what I had learned from our guide in Trier, but apparently did not select the right tickets because the only option the machine gave me was for a ticket costing 300 euro. Deciding I needed help, I walked over to the information booth where a young German man was sitting. Thankfully he spoke excellent English and soon had us sorted with the right tickets and an awesome schedule detailing when and where we would need to be to get the train home. Praise!
We boarded the train with a few other student-aged Germans a few minutes later, and were soon speeding towards Koblenz along the Moselle river. When we first boarded the train we noticed how many of the passengers seemed to be in a very jovial mood. They were sipping alcoholic beverages out of glasses (where they got the glasses, or if they brought them along I guess I’ll never know!) and talking to each other in loud voices. We caught a glimpse of a young woman in a white dress, holding flowers and surrounded by other young women in red dresses some way down the train. We shrugged our shoulders and Aaron said: “Wedding, I guess?
We seated ourselves and before long we heard laughter and loud German voices coming our way. The “bride” and her party came up to us and amid laughter breathlessly said something in German. I responded with my ever-handy “My German is not good, do you speak English?” phrase and one of the young woman who spoke some English took over. “We have choco-balls” she pointed to a bowl one of the red dress-wearing woman was holding, “roses for your wife” she said holding up her bouquet, “and also shots of alcohol!” With this last triumphant display the woman in white pointed to her belt where, ammo-like, she had little glass shot bottles strapped to her waist. Aaron bought me a rose and I got two choco-balls to share, but we declined the alcohol: it was after all, 10am.
We were confused as to why on earth the women were selling these things, or whether or not this was a normality on German trains. When we switched trains in Koblenz we did see lots of people wearing the white and red colors of a local soccer team, so we think the women might have been selling concessions to raise money for something having to do with the game. Anyway, we made the switch at Koblenz Hauptbahnhoff and had a longer ride to Cologne. As we neared the city, the train became increasingly crowded as more people hopped on. By the time we arrived, we were rather squished and eager to get off.
The whole reason we went to Cologne was to meet up with one of Aaron’s college friends who was studying theoretical physics at Oxford, and was doing a research project for his PhD in Germany. The last I had met him was at a nice burger joint in Columbia. I was struck by his charming eccentricity, but he did not seem to make sense in the context of Columbia. Here however, he was perfectly at home. “I’m sitting on the steps of the cathedral right outside of the station.” He texted Aaron. “I am wearing a violently blue toboggan. You can’t miss me.” We walked out of the station and sure enough there he was: sitting on the steps in front of the massive Cologne Cathedral and wearing a very blue hat.
Here in Europe, Jim seemed right at home. Aaron once told me one of their mutual friends had described Jim as “A 30s actor playing a theoretical physicist.” Looking at him now, I could see why. Jim personally reminded from a character out of Brideshead Revisited and I could easily pciture him walking along the stone cloisters of one of the Oxford colleges, chatting about physics with an Oxford Don.
As we walked we talked about everything from the state of current American politics (an inevitable item for Americans abroad), Germany, school, plans, and philosophy. We walked a little ways until we had found a restaurant that looked pleasant from the outside, and went in.
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It was crowded, but we were able to find a place near the window. A waitress arrived soon bearing a huge wooden tray with glasses of pale yellow Kolsch beer. Incidentally, one should never order Altbier (the beer made in the nearby city of Duseldorf) at a restaurant in Cologne: these cities are as proud of their beers as American colleges are of their football teams. We all ordered schnitzle (when in Rome…) and were soon feasting, talking, and laughing in the leisurely European style.
After a lunch that lasted over two hours, we made our way back to Cologne Cathedral and went inside. I have seen several cathedrals now, and a few abbeys. This one topped it all – pun intended. Cologne Cathedral was by far the largest cathedral I have been in, and one of the tallest in the world. The church I was married in could have easily fit inside it. It was very dark – much more dim than any other churches I’d seen, and not just because of the cloudy day. The candles, however, burnt more brightly because of the gloom, and the effect was not at all unpleasant. After roaming around and viewing the restored stained glass (the original was almost all destroyed in the World Wars) we decided to climb the belfry.
For some reason we had to pay several euro to do this. Considering the feat, I think we should actually have been paid to do it. Half-way up the narrow winding steps I was already out of breath, and by the time we reached the top, my legs felt like noodles. The view from the top was worth it though: miles upon miles of city stretched below us, and we could make out most of the 12 Romanesque churches scattered throughout the city, as well as the long brown Rhine stretching away below.
Our next stop was the museum of modern art, and we spent several hours on a self-propelled historical tour and philosophical conversation as we meandered past Surrealism, Dadaism, and Postmodernism. By the by, I am not a huge fan of modern art, but I really enjoyed talking about the movements, the artists, and the philosophy behind them with Aaron and Jim. We finished around five and had time for a quick coffee in the nice restaurant attached to the museum before Jim had to leave. I hope we shall get to spend more time with him in the future, he was an admirable fellow-adventurer.
Aaron and I had time to eat dinner at the hotel restaurant before we left, but soon enough we were also speeding through the night, past the German countryside and to our home. Two train rides in three days, and I must say that I am a fan of this mode of travel.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below with your favorite train experiences – I’d love to hear from you.
Meg

Cross-Country Training Part 1

In the last week, I have been on the first two train rides of my life (unless the ride at Tweetsie Railroad counts), and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The similarity of the German train system (in appearance and organization) to the London Underground meant that I felt accustomed to the operation pretty much right off the bat. However, the comfort and ease of travelling by train far surpassed the Tube, and I must agree with Aaron that “Travelling by train is my favorite way to travel.”

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My first ride was a short trip: just from a station outside Spangdahlem down to Trier. Captain Payne picked me up from the hotel in the wee hours of the morning, and we met the group we were to travel with. It was led by an indomitable German man: wine-taster and connoisseur, chef, hiker, backpacker, and guide. He was basically the equivalent of a cultural Gandalf, and I asked him many of the questions I’d had about Germany since landing over a month ago.
The group was an extremely diverse one: one young couple just arrived, a civilian contractor who looked more European than most Europeans (she was actually from Florida, I think), a few other singles (Aaron had to work, so I was soloing this time), and several small families. We bused to the station, but then when our guide (pretty sure his name was Andy – I missed it at first and didn’t have the courage to re-ask!) went in and talked to the stationmaster, we heard that the train was going to be a few minutes late. I decided to take a look at the station, which was a brick castellated building, surrounded  by woods and the ever-present bike-trail.
Soon our train arrived, but we had not been on it for more than 10 minutes when an announcement in German came over the loudspeaker: alas, our train was going to have to drop us off at a nearby station and another would pick us up. I never found out why the trains switched, but sure enough when we reached the next station (this time attached to a tiny German village) the train stopped and everyone went to the doors. I made a mental note to always ask in future if I heard an announcement over the speakers that I didn’t understand! We had about 30 minutes of standing around on the station platform, so I walked up and down the village front to see if the village had a bakery or cafe – alas! It was only houses.
Before long another train had arrived, and in no time this one was zipping into Trier with all of us safely on board. We got off at the giant (comparatively speaking) Trier Hauptbahnhoff (main-station), and headed downtown, led by our German Gandalf (can I just call him Germdalf or Gandman? I can’t even remember if his name was actually Andy…). I had already seen many of the landmarks that he pointed out, but he was able to shed new light on a few of them, and I learned all those interesting historical tidbits that the best of guides knows.
We lunched at the famed Kartoffeln house (that means potato house for the uninitiated. It is very German and quite delicious!). As we ate, Gandman (I’m just going to go with it) told us all about the local wines (apparently the white Reisling is the best) and how to drink it. He told us about how and where he got his vegetables and fruits, and I listened attentively to that. Our new village has no grocery store, so getting fresh vegetables is going to be an interesting challenge.

After lunch, the group had several hours of free time. I joined our guide and a few others who went to a local bookstore so that Gandman could show us the best hiking maps for our respective area. I left with one myself, already daydreaming about hiking all along the creeks, fields, and forests of my new neighborhood. I split from the group then, and in the remaining hours before our train left, I walked down the main street and then sat drinking a cappuccino at an outdoor cafe.

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As I sipped my delicious coffee I realized that it was the moment thus far in my trip when I felt (simultaneously) most at home in my surroundings and most definitely in Europe. My previous trip to Trier and the coffee in my hand explained the security and comfort, and the sunny stone-paved street, the cheerful cafes sprinkled about with people on tables (none of whom were on their phones, by the way) and more people strolling by with their shopping or ice creams explains the feeling of consummate European-ness.
After a while I headed back to the station, meeting up with my group along the way. We had a pleasant, uneventful ride back to Spangdahlem, and I left that evening thinking with gratitude of the all the things I had learned; not the least of which was that now, at last, I felt at home here in my new surroundings.
Meg
P.S. Keep an eye out for Cross-Country Training part 2 – a trip to Cologne!

Dining in Deutschland

I’ve had a couple people ask me about the food here, so I thought I’d do a short post on some of my culinary experiences thus far.

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(View out of our window-seat at Zum Domstein in Trier)
Several times within the first week of our arrival, I had heard people mention how tired they got of the food at the hotel where we were staying. This surprised me, especially after my first meal there. I ordered a chicken, stuffed with sage and topped with cream sauce, with carrots and potatoes, and found it quite delicious. Aaron and I chuckled a little at the English translations on the menu. (Side note, English and German syntax are so different from each other that word-for-word translations can be quite laughable.) But after some further translating, Aaron got beef with Mosel peaches, and enjoyed his meal as well. In the ensuing weeks I tried wienerschnitzle (pork with mushroom and cream sauce), chicken with curry (there are some interesting Turkish and Indian influences mixed into the German culinary palette), tomato and veggie soup, and more. Aaron had spatzle several times – a sort of special noodle made with potato, I believe (probably a safe bet, everything here is made with potato).
Once I got situated and learned how to run the gauntlet that is the German grocery store, our meals were varied by my own culinary attempts. As our stay at the Maas lengthened, these home-made meals became more frequent and agreeable. Eating at one restaurant every night for weeks can certainly bring on a sense of ennui, and Aaron and I both lost the initial fervor that we had for the restaurant’s food. I used not to understand the Americans who, in foreign countries, sought out the nearest Chipotle or McDonalds. Now, I have more sympathy. Food is such an innate part of comfort and community, that one sometimes wishes for a familiar meal at the end of a long day.
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Besides the Roman meal we ate in Trier (see previous post) most of our meals have been similar to those described above. Germans seem to thrive on pork, potatoes, yogurt, and salt. Even dishes that seem to have none of those ingredients seem somehow to taste like them, though not necessarily in a disagreeable way.
One of the most interesting experiences I have had with German food thus far happened last week. Normally at the Maas while your food is preparing, a nice waiter or waitress will bring out a basket of delicious bread, and a small dish of a sort of sour cream with herbs in it. Aaron prefers butter (being the good Anglophile that he is) and usually forgoes the cream, but is generally happy to help me with my portion of the bread.
Last week as were waiting for our food, the waiter brought us something different to go with our bread. This waiter is probably in his early twenties, kind and very German-looking, and has served us many times. Though he doesn’t speak much English (and we don’t speak much German) he has always made us feel at home with his ready smile and constant question of “Alles gut?” (“Is all well?”). He seemed particularly pleased that evening when he brought us something else in a small dish to eat with our bread that night. I thought at first that it was the usual herbs and cream, but instead it was something that looked more like stiff mashed potatoes. “Was ist das?” I asked him. He smilingly replied in German, but I had no idea what he meant. He obviously figured that I didn’t understand, so after thinking a few moments he said: “I don’t know how to say. But all I can say is that it is pig-butter?” I nodded and smiled, pretending to be ok with this strange item. He pointed to the bread, and said something in German that obviously meant “You dip your bread in it.” I thanked him again, and after he left looked in dismay at Aaron.
We were equally divided between amusement at the strange dish (which we think might have been lard?) and the uncertainty of how we were going to pretend that we ate some. In the end we smeared it around a little in the dish and hoped that it would do. Neither one of us considered for an instant the possibility of eating any. Perhaps we were not being adventurous enough, but when it comes to pig-butter, I think I can be safely allowed to pass.
On a more agreeable note, our wonderful new landlady had us over a few Sundays ago to discuss our house etc. and served us a fine afternoon tea while we were there. Beef and cucumber sandwiches, egg sandwiches, cakes and tarts of all sorts were laid out for us on a beautiful table decorated with candles. She even got our her china for us and served us coffee! We felt like royalty.
German grocery stores have inexpensive and fresh fruit and veggies, and that has been a delight to an apprentice cook like myself. But that’s a story for another day, perhaps.
Until then,
Meg