Tuesday, August 23, 2016

My week: August 21 ed.

I met with my tandem partner to practice German. I've been wanting to practice pronunciation so we worked on words like Eichhörnchen (squirrel), hören (to hear), and some other umlauted words. I don't think I'm ever going to get ö, ü, and r correct in German. I've given up on ever saying that it's humid outside because an umlaut makes all the difference and can dramatically change what you're trying to say (German speakers know what I mean on this one).

It's been about the two year mark since tandem partner A. and I've started meeting. She's helped me immensely with German and any errors are mine, despite her excellent tutoring. A. is pleased with her progress in English and I'm impressed. She uses many idioms and employs a wide understanding of English. I highly recommend that those learning a new language practice conversation regularly with a native speaker because it enforces what one learns in the classroom.

I took off Friday and headed to Darmstadt for a seminar in the evening. I was feeling as if I could use a mini vacation so I decided to explore the city and meet some locals. 

I ate lunch at Djadoo, a Persian restaurant that offers a buffet lunch for about 10 euros. I won't lie; this lunch was part of the reason for taking the day off. The other more pressing reason was that I was feeling a little burned out so a day off seemed a good way to refresh myself. Anyway, I was able to snag a table inside at this handsome restaurant. I think it would've been even nicer to sit on the terrace under the umbrellas. If you'd like to do that, make a reservation. The buffet was tasty with various rice and sauce dishes, plenty of them vegetarian. There were sauteed vegetables, salad with dressings, and a few desserts. My favorite was the eggplant dish. I tried the ghormeh sabsi, which I also eat at home (from a tin), and it was good but a bit more citrusy than I usually enjoy.

After lunch, I took a short walk to Waldspirale, a housing development designed by an Austrian, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. It undulates over a whole block, and is mostly apartments with some businesses scattered throughout. For those interested in art and architecture, it might be worth stopping by to view the building.

I wasn't done with viewing architecture; my next stop was Mathildenhöhe, an Art Nouveau artists' colony, reached by a pleasant 20 minute walk across town. I am enraptured by Art Nouveau and enjoyed my time very much. I visited the museum, which is somewhat small, for 5 euros, and admired works from the artists who were in residence in the early part of the 20th century. I also stopped by the lovely Orthodox church on-site and basked in its opulence.

Afterward, I stopped by the bustling downtown area to look around before the seminar that had brought me to Darmstadt. It's a typical German downtown with chain stores but does also have a palace, a theater, and other amenities, and was very busy.

The next item on my itinerary was the seminar, held in a suburb. It covered optimal body alignment for both everyday living and for sport and performance. I was chosen as someone to work on at one point and I unintentionally turned my session into a stand-up comedy routine, with full support from the teacher. He's from Ohio originally so we joked about Ohio-Michigan rivalry. I made sure to tease him about "The" Ohio State University. Yes, really, that's how the university refers to itself -- always with "The" in front of the name (I find this practice silly and pretentious.) 

The other participants had been shy and demure; I am neither, so we definitely had a lively session. One of the ground rules of using this method is that one has a head and a body. The teacher started to ask if I had a head. I told him that I definitely had a mouth. At first the other students were a bit shocked by our bantering (they were mostly Europeans and seemed rather serious) but they really seemed to get into it and clapped loudly at the end. I hadn't set out to be so raucous but since the teacher encouraged it, why not?

That night, I stayed with an architect. Man, the theme really was architecture on this trip! We had a nice chat and the next morning he made a lovely German breakfast.

I then met another Darmstadter for a hike at the Freizeitpark am Oberwaldhaus, which cracks me up a little bit at its name. It's a "free time park." Heaven forbid that one goes there when one should be doing something else! I enjoyed a nice chat with the woman who showed me around and I even navigated us successfully back to the parking lot after she missed a turn (I'm usually quite good with navigating, even in new places).

I really enjoyed Darmstadt, which I hadn't expected to enjoy to that extent. I'd recommend it to those who enjoy architecture. Oh yes, and I'd also recommend it to those who enjoy Persian food, too, as there seem to be several Persian restaurants in town!

The next day, my coworker hosted a potluck for my friends. We all had a great time and she was happy to meet some new people. She enjoyed it so much that she offered to host again! How sweet is that? I love to introduce the people in my life.

It was an excellent week, filled with architecture, friends, and new experiences.

Friday, August 19, 2016

My week: August 7 ed.

Ooh, we're out of order here.

Anyway, I worked on German a bit this week, attending a tandem meet-up. I didn't meet with my tandem partner since she wasn't available.

The big thing this week was the Autofreies Lautertal, the auto-free day when the B270 is closed to traffic between Kaiserslautern and Lautertal. Ever since my first year here, I've attended it.

It's a contrast between the first time I did this ride (I describe my first one in 2013 here). Until last year, I spent most of my year suffering from allergies and sinus issues. I finally decided to listen to the advice I've received from many doctors over the years and take the inhaled steroids they recommend. As a result, I've gone from feeling crummy and/or getting sinus infections often to getting sick very infrequently now.

So, this year, even though the bike ride is during high allergy season for me, I could breathe freely and wasn't recovering from being sick. It definitely helped with my endurance and I did not huff and puff like the first year during the 18 mile ride.

I also bought myself a much nicer bike than my previous $200 sporting goods store bike. (Well, I bought the "new" bike two years ago so I guess it's not so new now.) Having a quality bike makes a huge difference. I love the commuting kit on it too, which a heavy duty, built-in bike rack and hardwired dynamo lights.

I've upped my activity levels since I moved here. Though I'm still tired at the end of the ride, 18 miles by bike isn't daunting like it was before. It also helps now that I'm familiar with the route and that makes it not feel so long. The awesome thing was that I wasn't sore after the ride the next day.

Reflecting on this ride, I think of the way I've come over the past three and a half years I've been here, and the people who've come through my life. The first year, I was unfit and sick and struggled on an old bike. I rode with a Scottish lass, who'd become a very good friend, and her two British sidekicks. The next year, I went with a German guy and an American gal and we played drums along the way. I'm sad that isn't offered any more! In 2015, I rode with a Persian guy and made him stop along the way so I could pick some sumac to make lemonade. This year, I rode with a Palestinian guy and a French lady and most of the time we spoke German. What I love about all of this is that it combines enjoying the beauty of the Pfalz region with interesting people from a variety of backgrounds.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The clothes drying rack almost takes me down

Very painful moment: getting my finger stuck in the clothes-drying rack. I tried to yank my finger out and it just made it worse (think: Chinese handcuffs). It was so painful that I had to stop trying to free myself and just stand there for a couple seconds to avoid blacking out. Who knew that drying clothes in an ecologically-friendly manner could be so painful?!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

My week: August 14 ed.

These will be out of order now that I'm not caught on writing up the vacation posts but oh well! (Though not "oh well" in the brain of mine; for someone who's not typically Type A, it does make me feel a bit unsettled to be out of order.)

Anyway, since I came home from the US, I've been "lazy," which means I've been spending more of my free time on exercise, reading (both for fun and personal/vocational enrichment), and lots and lots of Mootime. I kind of take the opposite approach from others: during the summer, I do less and stay home more. I don't like hot weather and touristy crowds so instead I catch up on home life or mostly travel locally. From fall to spring, I'm very busy and do most of my traveling then.

Some of this week was quite cold for the summer - like between 55-70 degrees and I was loving it, sweaters and all.

After a hiatus between travel and other reasons, I met up with my tandem partner again. We ate at Julien, which is a French-style restaurant in Kaiserslautern. The garden area is absolutely beautiful and I highly recommend a visit, especially during the summer. I normally am not really one for French food because it's richer/meatier than my preferences, but I do like Julien. They do receive some criticism that they're not super French so maybe that's why I like it there. However, the main reason is that they have a decent selection of vegetarian and vegan selections and both the indoor and outdoor dining environments are pretty.

I also attended two language meet-ups and caught up with some friends. I've been keeping my eye out for language games and easy German games at the thrift stores and brought one along. Such games are really useful for practicing a foreign language because it breaks things up a bit and offers some fun.

My German friends invited me to their French cottage for the weekend. These are the same lovely friends who visited me in the US (oops, didn't get to writing that part yet) and saw my cottage. My family's cottage is rustic (no hot water or bathing facilities).
My friend's cottage is a beautiful six-bedroom home. :)

Anyway, this weekend was what I had been imagining life would be like when I imagined my life here before I moved. I imagined being surrounded by Germans/Europeans and speaking German with them. I hadn't imagined this being in France, but it's close enough, right?

The funny thing is that such a weekend in reality is not 100% as I'd imagined. I'm conversational in German now (ENDLICH!) but in a big group and for the whole weekend, it's a lot to process. I didn't talk as much as I normally would because I didn't catch everything and sometimes I just didn't have the energy to put things into German since the discussions were complicated. I don't mean this in a poor-me way; it was just a good way to listen more. I talk a lot normally and am accustomed to arranging social meetings; this was an opportunity to step back and just be a guest.

Some of this felt like a B2 test prep session since we were expressing opinions and talking about the news. We discussed politics and the insane behavior of a certain person...all of which really felt like a sample conversation for a B2 test. I do think that saying that "er ist total verrückt" might not be test-worthy though.

We enjoyed a paddle boat ride and some swimming. The cottage is located in the French countryside, not too far from Germany. I would enjoy visiting again, I think, and maybe some bicycle riding, and of course, plenty of time with my two friends who are the most adorable and sweet couple around.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

What'll it be in Charlotte, NC?

When I was flying to Michigan in June, I had a layover in Charlotte. My friend from college lives there so she picked me up for a quick lunch together. As we were leaving the restaurant, I just had to get a picture of the business next door that was renovating.

The owner decided to leave everyone in suspense about what the store will be next.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A German's take on why Germans don't like air conditioning

There is a lot of interest in expat circles (especially for American expats) about why Germans don't like air conditioning.

I've written about it in the past. You can read the entry here.

Trixi from Don'ttrusttherabbit gives her insights, as a German. Check out the Youtube video below.

So, what do you think? Does the cold air make you sick? Or do you hold the scientific view that bacteria and viruses make one sick?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

My week: June 26 ed.

This vacation week in the US's theme was LAZY. It was so sluggish that it could be pronounced lay-zee. Seriously, except for a few bursts of activity, I was sloth-like. After my spring, I needed it.

I did attend a foraging wild foods class with my brothers in another town. Last year, I started learning about wild foods, mostly because I like the idea of enjoying foods that don't come in a package at the grocery store, but I'm too lazy and gone too often to have my own garden. Foraging is great because nature does the gardening for you.

We learned about plantain (not to be confused with the banana-like thingies), willow bark, and my favorite of the evening, mulberries. I'd only known of it from the song Pop Goes the Weasel ("all around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel") so it was surreal to find out that we actually have them in my home state, and just growing out in a public park, no less. I had never eaten them before. They're tasty and very sweet; the white ones are especially sweet. Even better yet, I later found a bush of them on my parent's road.

After the foraging, we dined and (the brothers) drank at a brew pub in town. One of my very good friends is from this town and I remember how it used to be hardly anything. If her family needed anything major beyond groceries, they usually had to drive 45 minutes to an hour to the bigger cities (my hometown included). Now the town has a brew pub. Wonders never cease.

During the weekdays, I did a lot of lounging around the house with some shopping trips and lunches out with my family. We introduced my aunt to a Thai restaurant that we used to visit when I was completing a practicum in college.

On Friday, my brother drove the two of us up north and we camped in Boyne City. Ah, had I missed lakes! We watched the sun set and the next day, ate (GOOD) diner food, which is one thing I miss from the US. [One can have jelly or a pat of butter and there's no charge for it nor is it one made to feel as if one has received a rare gift, unlike in Deutschland.]

As we walked around Boyne City and visited the silly tourist stores, I realized then (and later on during the vacation) just how Michigan people are obsessed with our mitten-shaped state. My favorite t-shirt is the one that says "Great Lakes: unsalted, shark free." I like that very much as I prefer to swim somewhere that does not have animals that want to kill people and where I don't have to slick salt off my skin later.

The next day, my brother took us out jet skiing. I also had missed that very much as it combines time spent on the lake in an exhilarating manner. Younger brother and I used to take several trips a summer to jet ski and it's some pleasant sibling time.

On Sunday, we drove back home and we stopped at his favorite Mexican restaurant, Herradura's Bar & Grill, in Cadillac. I'm always game for Mexican food and was happy to eat some that didn't include the sugar/curry combination that's popular where I live in Germany.