reading 2016: books 10-17

I'm still reading, and can't tell you how nice it is to have a library card in hand! I never used the library very much before we went to Europe, but now I'm not sure how I lived without it. The first thing we did after getting our driver's licenses was to go to the library and sign up for a card. I'm looking forward to the summer months and picking up the pace with reading, especially since we have a pool I can sit by!

Here are some super quick summaries--maybe you'll find something new to read.

PS: 75% of my reading here fits into the Middle Grades or Young Adult category as I'm reading for a MG & YA Writing Class. If you've never read much current MG or YA titles, you might want to try something new and give these a try!

#10: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I remember my parents having this movie (directed by Alfred Hitchcock) at home when I was younger, and in my mind I always mixed this title up with Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (?!). (Just a Fun Fact, because I'm pretty sure those two books couldn't be any more different!) This Gothic romance takes place on an idyllic English estate and will take you completely by surprise, as everything turns out to be very different than you'd think.

#11: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. I'm slowly but surely reading through all of Kingsolver's novels. This one was very different from the others that I've read by her, and though it wasn't my favorite (The Bean Trees takes the cake), it is clearly a masterpiece. A historical fiction novel, she follows Harrison Shepherd from Mexico to the U.S. as he fights against the rising tide of anti-communist sentiment, weaving in historical characters such as Lev Trotsky, Frida Kahlo, and Diego Rivera along the way.

#12: Hush by Jacqueline Woodson. In this Middle Grades novel, a young girl and her family must leave their town and their identities behind when her dad witnesses the murder of a young black boy by white police officers. Woodson's writing is memorable.

#13: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Another Middle Grades novel, this memoir written in free verse is so beautiful. Woodson writes about growing up as a black girl in the South, and then moving to Brooklyn where life was very, very different. I especially loved that she was writing about Greenville, SC, where she spent many years of her childhood. If you want something new and different to read and haven't read anything by Jacqueline Woodson, go pick this one up!

#14: Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin. This Middle Grades novel is written from the perspective of Rose Howard, a young girl with autism who lives with her emotionally distant father. I really loved this book, and am finding that I especially like reading books from the perspectives of people who have some sort of syndrome or disability--they help me see from their point of view, and that's invaluable. Rose's void is candid and warm, and sometimes humorous: she is obsessed with homonyms and can't understand why everyone else isn't equally interested in them, too.

#15: Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff. Another (!) Middle Grades novel, Absolutely Almost is told from the perspective of Albie, an elementary-school-aged boy who has learning disabilities. It seems like with everything in Albie's life, he's almost (but not quite) good enough. Only when Calista, his afternoon caretaker and friend, sees the best in him does he begin to believe the best about himself.

#16: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Eleanor is awkward, overweight, has bright red hair, and wears the worst clothes. Park is cool, half-Asian, wears all black, and likes comics. She stands out, he fits in. But when their worlds collide on the bus, and after a rocky start, Park becomes Eleanor's first friend at her new school. Life is awful at home, but she has Park at school. This is a quirky, funky YA novel set in the '80s (I'm sure kids reading it today are wondering what Walkmans are...)--beware, though, lots of language.

#17: The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. This Middle Grades book follows Ada and Jaimie from the slums of London to the countryside of Kent, England, during WWII, when many children were evacuated due to the fear of bombing in the cities. For the first time in their lives they experience love, compassion, and friendship...but is it real? Or is it too good to be true?

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Once Upon a Time, in Germany... (part ii)

Parking my bike at the train station to go into the city.

Parking my bike at the train station to go into the city.

Once upon a time, a young American couple moved to a small, quiet suburb outside of Munich called Ismaning. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed husband and wife looked like they could pass for locals, but when they opened their mouths everyone knew that they weren't from Ismaning, and they definitely weren't German. The husband's place of employment said, "We'll pay for your housing!" and the young couple jumped up and down with excitement. Being paid to live in Germany seemed like a dream! And on that first rainy day in Munich they dragged their luggage into the quaint, sleepy town and met their landlord at their apartment, which also turned out to be his house. Soon after, the landlord's wife crawled out of the shadows with her rules and her DAS IST VERBOTENs and her crazy eyes, and they knew that Petra was the Big Bad Wolf who had come to blow their hopes and dreams down.

And that's when the wife's dreams of a sweet, paradisaic six months to study art whilst her husband spent his days in a German office ended...

At the start of our time in Germany, we were a few pounds lighter (thanks, German food + beer) and not yet jaded by days without sunshine.

At the start of our time in Germany, we were a few pounds lighter (thanks, German food + beer) and not yet jaded by days without sunshine.

*

I'm painting a rather grim picture, but that's how many days for me felt living in Germany. I say for me because John had a pretty different experience in Munich. We shared the same stresses about our housing situation, which was grim indeed, but every morning he woke up and biked to work across the river. He liked his office and his coworkers, some of whom we spent time with out of the office. At the end of the day he felt like he was doing work that was, for the most part, fulfilling. On the weekends, we did some traveling (see posts on Bamberg, Rothenburg, Nuremburg, Passau, Edinburgh, Athens, and Paris, for example), and were really thankful for those opportunities to see the world in our backyard, especially when we thought it was going to end in October of 2014 when we left Spain.

We did get to Germany at a really beautiful time of year.

We did get to Germany at a really beautiful time of year.

I, on the other hand, didn't have anything pulling me out of the house on a daily basis, and you can only spend so much time in a local bakery before they start looking at you funny. Especially because Germans don't sit and work on their computers in public spaces like Americans tend to do.

Prior to moving to Munich, I was excited about this time to dig into writing and art classes more. Technically, I could have worked in a German business because I had a European Blue Card (similar to an American Green Card), but my options would be seriously limited due to my non-existent knowledge of German. But our first week in town, it became abundantly clear that I was going to have to find some way to escape the house. Our apartment was tiny: essentially it was an itty-bitty studio with a tiny loft. We had one dresser and no closets. The only door was to go into the bathroom. And our behinds barely fit on the tiny kitchen table chairs.

And yes, we lived in the same house as our landlords. Why John's company thought this was a good idea is beyond me. (And why they didn't mention this fact to us is also beyond me.) A fifty-five year old German couple with a child in the university (empty nesters, in other words) decided to turn a TINY part of their large house into an apartment to make some dough, but they were exactly the wrong kind of people to do this. They wanted to manage the times we took our showers, when we washed our dishes, and when we washed our clothes (and dictated when we could dry them...and sometimes if we could dry them). We weren't allowed to open our windows (there's a draft!) or our blinds (there are robbers!!) but had to open our windows when we cooked (?!?). All of this was happening with a pretty big language barrier on both sides. By week two, I was nearly having panic attacks because The Big Bad Wolf was trying to micromanage when we could breathe and was leaving her Ten Commandments of heretofore unsaid rules on our doorstep. #nojoke

(If you haven't guessed yet, the moral of this story is NEVER LIVE WITH YOUR LANDLORDS. EVER.)

I took two months of introductory German classes (but please don't ask me to speak any German!), but didn't want to continue--it's expensive and my commute was pretty long. By the end of my A1.2 class, I could order in a restaurant and understand more supermarket vocabulary. I was definitely more comfortable existing in Germany.

To say that German grammar is complicated is an understatement, believe me. I'm sticking with Spanish. #deathtodiederdas

To say that German grammar is complicated is an understatement, believe me. I'm sticking with Spanish. #deathtodiederdas

At the same time, I was taking a writing class with the University of California as well as a digital design class. I had things to do, but I had to stay at home to do them. That was tough.

But when we met our super awesome friends Jimmy and Deborah at church, and Deborah finished her master's degree internship in February, things began to change. She had a project to work on, and I had lots of drawing and writing to do...so we met up several times a week to do work, drink coffee, and eat Turkish pasta (YUM). Spending time with someone else while doing work and getting out of the house made such a huge difference to me; it was a God-send for sure. Being in a tiny apartment + bad environment scented with incense (the Big Bad Wolf was a hippie at heart, apparently) + super quiet suburban life + being alone all day is a recipe for depression and disaster. Having a friend makes it all OK.

So all this to say that Germany had its challenges FOR SURE. And though I blogged about our travels, I didn't blog about life much because I was having such a hard time and so much of my heart was just longing to go home. Not knowing the language, hating where we lived, not having a car in the suburbs, frequent cold/dark days, and loneliness weighed especially heavily on me. And yet, John and I have talked frequently about how through it all, we wouldn't trade that experience for anything. We met wonderful friends (Jimmy & Deborah, Christian & Antje), experienced a new culture, and got to travel (sometimes with friends!). And those things were so, so very worth it, even though other things were really hard. I had time where there was absolutely no pressure to work where I could focus on this new path I'm exploring with art and writing. We leaned on each other and we leaned on God.

Skipping rocks on the river with friends.

Skipping rocks on the river with friends.

Now, I don't want to go back to live in that town and you better believe I never want to see that house again...but Munich, hard as it was, will always have a special place in my heart. 

...and they lived happily ever after.

...and they lived happily ever after.

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Once Upon a Time, in Germany... (Part I)

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Hello readers, it's been a while. It's nearing a month since we left Munich, and I've blogged ONCE. I've had blogging on my mental to-do list for a while now, but until now I've logged in and seen my Athens post time and time again, I scraped together a quick Paris post...and everything else has been very quiet.

Our last week in Germany was not ideal. I just finished (semi-jokingly) telling John that he "had a weak immune system" when I came down with something fierce. You see, I hadn't been sick in at least a year, so clearly my immune system was superior, while my poor husband was sniffling and coughing. As soon as his sniffling/coughing/sore throat ended, I went to bed with a terrible headache and woke up feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. I was wheezing and felt like I couldn't breathe, so I walked (!) myself to the doctor. (The grace of God is real, friends, because getting myself there before the doctor left early for the day, dealing with the language barrier, not being able to breathe well, etc. was challenging.) At that point, we were leaving in two days for the U.S. and all I could think about was how miserable the 10.5 hour flight home was going to be if I didn't some medicine, and quick.

Doctor visits are definitely different overseas. You typically sit on the opposite side of the desk from the doctor, who asks you what your symptoms are. (Mine were headache, body aches, chills, some congestion, fever--at least I assumed so, since I didn't have a thermometer at home.) I've never filled out one piece of paperwork when going to the doctor in Spain or Germany, never had my temperature taken, and I don't think 99% of the doctors I've seen have even asked me what medications I take or if I'm allergic to anything. After a less-than-professional "listening to my lungs" procedure (i.e. your stethoscope can go under my shirt, I don't have to take everything off--seriously--please and thank you), the doctor concluded I had a "touch of the influenza." (How do you have a touch of the flu? Never mind.)

I was handed a prescription for some eucalyptus pills (no kidding) and ibuprofen, and wheeze-coughed my way home. I was a sick, sweaty mess.

To make a long story (and a long two weeks) short, the plane ride felt like an eternity, and when we landed in Charleston I immediately went to a clinic where the nurse on call gave me antibiotics and a cough syrup that I'm allergic to (I'm glad to know I'm allergic to codeine!). When I wasn't feeling any better a week later, I made an appointment at my home doctor. He ordered a chest x-ray and some blood tests, and two days later I found out that while I probably initially had the flu, my body had developed pneumonia. As bad as it is to have pneumonia, it was finally nice to know what was wrong, and to have medicine (steroids + a second antibiotic and a steroid inhaler) to combat the illness. Within a day of taking the steroids I was already starting to feel better, and my cough was subsiding.

So while our last week in Germany was not what I'd had planned or hoped, we still spent some time with friends and enjoyed our fill of Wienerschnitzel and Kaiserschmarrn. And while I didn't want to arrive back in America in the state I was in, it was so nice to have family take care of me and to be able to rest and see the doctor in my home language and culture. 

We're glad to be back in so, so many ways. Because shopping at Trader Joe's again is a dream come true.

But there's still some sadness that we're processing. We miss our friends Jimmy and Deborah. I miss having a friend that I worked with several days a week (Deborah), she on her master's degree project and I on my art and writing classes. We miss walking and taking the train, and planning trips to local and more exotic places for the weekend. And I miss the beauty of the architecture and general European-ness (shopping frequently for groceries, riding bikes, etc.).  But here we are, adjusting to life in South Carolina and trying to start making our little home here.

I didn't talk much on the blog about life in Germany--so that's another post, coming soon.

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