Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Valentine's Day

I am fully aware of the fact that the very title of this blog can be deemed pitiful when one looks at the calendar and observes that I am still ruminating over the holiday nearly a week later, but not one to be afraid (in this instance) of potential mockery, I will proceed to recount the events surrounding my celebration of the holiday. To understand the dramatic difference between my celebration of the lover's holiday this year and in years past, it seems beneficial for me to confess that I once started a club in preparation of the holiday. I was either in early high school or just finishing middle school in a time and community that walked high-nosedly past those poor lost children who dated on another to that higher calling of courtship, when I began this club. Adhering to the principles of courtship though naturally jealous of the attention and status that one attains in a dating relationship, I named the club the Valentine's-day-haters-alliance. I even typed up an invitation for select people to join this select number of people who would bond together in a group (as dictated by the rules of courtship) and commiserate our single fate (young as we still were). This year was entirely different. The personal tradition of the day that I did keep, was the tradition of not sharing the holiday with a boyfriend, but for the first time I was utterly unphased by this. I started my morning as usual power walking to the bus stop to avoid having to endure the humiliation of running and waving my hands to convince the driver to stop for my late person, went to school where I earned three pieces of chocolate by merely sitting there and being a fellow student, came home and cared for the kids, did all of my nightly routines and went to bed. This seems to be the end of the story, but no, the longest part of this tale is the beginning. The day before Valentine's day, thanks to the lovely and dangerously creative Tegan, I received a care package in the mail containing tea, popcorn ingredients (which anyone who knows me well could assert is a deep passion of mine which occasionally borders on obsession; particularly when I am unable to find Brewer's yeast), Sixlets, and most entertainingly, an entire entourage of my friends carefully rendered in black lines pursuing various activities. On Saturday, I was thrilled to receive another package, this time from the Taylors, jammed with deliciousnesses I have dearly missed such as Kettle Chips, Oreos, and yes, more popcorn, feathers (which are not included in the category of deliciousness) and a mad lib Valentine which I will include in the comment section. The weekend rolled around and I spend it with some fellow students, but along with Monday arrived yet another care package, this time from my mother. Hers included chocolate chips (which I believe I have already complained that of all the forms of chocolate in this country, chips is not included), Cheetoes, peanut butter filled pretzels (which happens to be nearly the only occasion that I enjoy peanut butter), and pajama pants! If this is the new standard that is being set for this holiday that I have so long despised and despaired before, then it might soon rival Christmas and I will need to over-celebrate a holiday in August or September just to spread the festivity a bit more evenly throughout the year. So that was my Valentine's days. Deepest, most heartfelt thanks to Tegan, Bryan, Ella, Coal, Will, and my Mother.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Days of tea and white paper

Last night, to end a week that seemed to move slightly more slowly than other weeks of my experience, I indulged myself and watched not only the film adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion (which novel resides on the top -rather small- tier of my hierarchy of favorite books) but also another of Mrs. Gaskell's novels brought to the screen called North and South. Charmed as I was and always am by these period romances, I find myself today in a corresponding mood where it is my occupation and leisure to sit at my desk with a deliciously hot cup of black tea to fortify myself against the chill which quietly enters through my open window, and write those things with pen and ink which are the creation of my combined imagination, reflections and romantic fancies, and which, I am quite confident, will not be admitted to the censure of any but myself in this lifetime. Still, I am quite contented to sit and write my ramblings to my imagined audience, as I find it a most soothing exercise for my soul and mind. These are the moments and hours so quickly forgotten, but which adds that richness and joy to the rest of our lives, and for them I am profoundly grateful.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I think it sounds better in German

Frauen sind wie Teebeutel. Du weißt nie, wie stark sie sind bis du sie in heißes Wasser geworfen hast.
~Elanor Roosevelt

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Kinder verteuern

This theme has been a natural background to my thoughts for the past nearly seven months, but has taken several steps toward the foreground in the last few weeks. I heard rumors that David C. formed many of his opinions about the way he wanted to raise his children while he was working as an au pair in France. I certainly have a different perspective now than I did before I came here. Previously, I assumed that I would be able to figure things out when I got there; that I didn't really need to work it all out right now; that of course, I'll basically just follow the pattern by which I was reared. I have also been theoretically aware that culture has a great and formative influence on our lives. This year is something of a cross between a training session, and an observation class in parenting, in culture, as well as in how the two interact. I have found the most dramatic representation of the difference between American and German styles of parenting can be demonstrated in the fact that spanking is illegal in Germany (as in many European nations). The reason I find this significant is because whether it is symptom or cause, it is representative of the German mindset regarding parenting. From what I have observed in both my guest family and other families I have encountered, German parents are very indulgent and maintain hardly any authority. Even the non-physical punishments that I have seen commonly applied in the US such as time outs, or revocation of privileges are virtually non-existent here. I find this harmful to both the kids and the parents because without authority and the freedom to enforce that authority, parents resort to trickery, manipulation, and yelling to coerce the children to obey. In turn the children learn to manipulate, trick, and yell. I awaken nearly every morning to the dulcet sounds of Carolin yelling at her mother because she doesn't want to do some thing or another; which sounds are generally repeated in the evening as Carolin fights against going to bed. Unfortunately, many of her sweet moments are also not particularly genuine because she has learned the art of manipulation is an effective tool in getting what you want, trumped only by crocodile tears. Really, it isn't spanking or not spanking that concerns me; the thing that is really saddening is the fact that I don't see the parents working to instill selflessness, kindness, and obedience in their children. It often seems that they are merely concerned with keeping them happy until they reach adulthood when they're on their own. All of these thoughts come at the tail end of nearly three quite difficult weeks and this space is severely limiting the scope and detail that this subject deserves, but nevertheless, I am learning to deeply appreciate you parents I know and see working so diligently to instill virtue in your children regardless of how difficult that task may be. Thank you especially to my own parents for working so hard and sacrificing so much for your children.


Chilled fingers fighting the keyboard, Tori Amos playing over the speakers, I am, on this very cold day with smatterings of snow, to be found in Woyton coffee shop. This is the most Americanized coffee shop I have found other than Starbucks. That is, it has couches, and all the employees wear the same maroon polo shirt, and I don't feel guilty for sitting here for hours on end taking up space for my writing, thinking, or reading, as my mood dictates. If you want a European cafe experience, skip right past Woyton, and go to Cafe Klinge on the corner where they have the "Taglich Kaffee und Kuchen Angebot," (daily cake and coffee special). Woyton is my destination today because part of its taglich Angebot is an internet connection. Yesterday, for confused and insufficient reason, Telecom discontinued our telephone and internet services at the house. The other factor which makes Woyton a justifiable place for me to visit, is the fact that it is one of the places that the youth of the city spend time during the day. Other than the few in my language class, I have begun to lose contact with people my age. My time is spend most often with people ten-twenty years on either side of my age, and proximity to my peers is, however superficial, refreshing. So this afternoon I am making my home in a corner of this coffee shop. With my greatcoat supporting my lower back, and hot coffee amply (though not necessarily economically) at my disposal, I have spent the charming hours hiding from the cold. It's not all that common, as far as I have been able to discover, to find snow in Oldenburg, but this afternoon we had an honest fall. Not the deceitful flakes that make you wonder whether you're seeing snow or rain, but the large clumps that would completely blanket the earth in a matter of minutes, were it as cold on the ground as it apparently was up in the clouds. Of course it snowed today only because Holger, Sabine and I were talking about the joys of spring and summer over what was my late breakfast and their lunch. Still, I am grateful because I still perceive snow as a rare commodity, and find myself thrilled every time I see it on the other side of the window enclosing my place of warm repose.