Saturday, November 28, 2009

I am thankful for....

I have to say that Thanksgiving is very strange this year. First, I am at job training up in Braunschweig and was in it all day. Justin worked all day and we are not together. That being said don't worry I am not having a meltdown because honestly it just feels like another day. Plus the Christmas spirit is so high it is hard to be sad. We did do something fun this year and made flip video greeting cards for our family and I hope they enjoyed them. We also called our families to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving. I really do love thanksgiving because you get to stop and think about all the blessings in your life and think about how thankful you are. To be in the Thanksgiving spirit we thought we would bring back the Top 5 list and this time it is the top 5 things we are thankful for in Germany.

Justin's Top Five:

1.  church / small group - Being part of a community in which to grow and pour into others was a main priority coming over here.  We had an awesome small group with our last church and knew that it would be critical to have something similar in our lives in Germany.  In the past month or two we have found both.

2.  gym - After taking a few months off, it was nice to find a place to exercise within walking distance from our apartment.  It also helps to establish a routine and to feel more like we live here, rather than are just visiting.

3.  Haribo Gummi Bears - This is both a top five thing I am thankful for here, and a top 5 thing that is going to lead to the decline of my dental health.  I absolutely love the gummi bears and the bags cost less than a Euro, which means I easily eat a pack a week.

4.  Trains - Probably because not many people use train systems in the U.S. that often, but it really is nice to commute from my doorstep to the school using trains.  It's mostly quiet, you don't have to pay much attention to what's going on, you can read or listen to music or sleep and it's a great way to wind down after work.  Also, the long-distance trains are also fun because we can leave our apartment 30 minutes before we have to go somewhere and literally walk onto our train - no check in or security or bag check or's also nice to check out the countryside along the way.

5.  lazy weekends - not that you can't have one anywhere, but we literally get up most saturdays and don't have much of anything planned.  I'll cook up bacon and eggs or bake a streudel and we can lounge around until we feel like strolling through the neighborhood street market or see what's happening down in the city center (always some kind of festival it seems)

**also thankful for technology, including but not limited to ESPN gametracker, ESPN 360, skype, and flip video

Marisa's Top Five:

1.) finding a job- This was a big concern for us moving over here for me to find a job. After a week of training for my new job I can say I am really looking forward to getting started. With my income we will be able to do a lot more traveling and achieve some of our financial goals while we are here. I am so thankful for a job!

2.) local and inexpensive food- I know I have said this a million times, but I am so thankful for the bi-weekly farmers market by my house and all the fresh fruit and veggies in grocery stores here. I get to eat healthy and not pay too much. We spend about half the amount on groceries that we did in the States and mom's don't worry we do still eat.

3.) Not having a T.V.- Don't get me wrong I watch American T.V. shows on my computer every once in a while, but it is nothing like having a T.V. I never thought I would say this, but I don't even notice it is gone most days. I can just remember in the States spending hours on a given night in front of the T.V., but now we spend most nights talking, reading, blogging, talking a walk, or getting hot chocolate. I really think it has been great for our marriage and has taken us to another level of communication skills. I am not saying we will never have one again I am saying that I am thankful for this time without one.

4.) Our neighborhood restaurant- Zur Sonnenuhr is the name and they make the best schnitzel I have ever eaten. I am just so thankful it is a minute walk away and we can take all our friends and family there to enjoy it too. The staff knows us and we enjoy getting to know them. Kind of feels like Cheers. Tonya is our waitress of choice and we like how over the past 3 months she has warmed up to us.

5.) Blogs- I really enjoy writing the blog, but more than that I am thankful for all my friends blogs. I get to stay up to date with their lives and smile at their personality shining through the words. Blogs are a great way to share our experience in life and to share in others experiences. I am a firm believer that people inspire people and blogs are a great way to spread your story to inspire. Thanks everyone for all the great reading material.

Of course we are so thankful to have each other, supporting family and friends, good health, a roof over our heads and just so many blessings from God. We hope all of you had a fabulous Thanksgiving and I hope you know we are thankful to have you in our life.

Gobble Gobble!!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Braunschweig Christmas Market aka Weihnachtsmarkt

I will warn you now this is just a teaser because all these pictures were taken on my crappy canon powershot SD200 (I know ancient). I debated even taking any photos or even to post them, but I couldn't resist once I was there, it was just so fabulous. Today was the first day for a lot of Christmas Markets aka Weihnachtmarkt across Germany. I had the privilege to enjoy one right here in Braunschweig. After training today, myself and one of the other teachers in my class decided to go wonder around and I am so glad we did. I have been so excited and it is hard to not be in the Christmas spirit here. I have been watching the market be built in Frankfurt and even walking through the construction I would get a smile on my face. This is one thing that Germany just knows how to do right and do it all out. With tons of vendors and tons of amazing food it is just a sight to be seen.  Enjoy a few photos and expect plenty more throughout the month of December.

A giant weihnachtpyramide

One of the many food vendors selling, brats(of course it wouldn't be Germany without them), gluhwein (a warm spiced red wine drink), and all kinds of fried bread similar to funnel cake with powdered sugar on it. The smells were amazing, my nose was in heaven.

The best part about going to the market was that everyone was out tonight. It is a Wednesday night and going to the opening of the Christmas market seemed like such a tradition. Everyone was laughing and having a merry time with friends and family.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Job training has begun!

Hey everyone I am up in a town close to Hannover in north Germany called Braunschweig aka Brunswick. I have started my job training and before you know it I will be teaching english. I have to say I am still super excited and even more excited to learn a ton at this training. I have not explored the town too much yet, but from what I have seen it is very cute and I can't wait to get out and take some pictures. By the way Christmas is in full force here and I can't wait to post pictures of the Christmas spirit all over Germany.

In the meantime enjoy this video and think of me in Germany because this is exactly what it is like.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Getting Fit and Healthy Update 1

Don't worry this will not be turning into a health blog, but I think throughout this journey I will write little updates of my struggles and my victories. I also hope to tell you about some of my findings and any helpful tips. One tip I got from my friend Nikki's blog was to keep a workout calendar and I find that definitely helps to give you a visual of how many times you have gone to the gym or a run. Plus it feels good to write it on the calendar when you are done, kind of like a check in the box.
Another helpful tool that I have used in the past and decided to use again was a website called SparkPeople. With this website I can keep track of what I eat and count my calories and also keep track of workouts and cardio. I know it sounds like a lot but by using it I am able to see if I am getting enough protein to keep me full and it breaks down all the food you are eating into categories. It also lets you keep track of how many calories you are burning. This is just a great tool to keep track of calories in vs calories burned. Also I think this is great for people just starting out because sometimes you don't realize what you are eating. I know I have entered a food and didn't realize how many calories were actually in it. Plus it is helping me with portion control too.
Technically this is week three at the gym and I have to say it felt great. One thing my friend Nikki said to be aware of is what your body is saying. So after a few days of interval running (if you don't know what this is-ask, it is awesome!) my shins and knees started to hurt a bit so I switched it up and went on the elliptical for 30 minutes instead. I want to make sure to get my cardio in, but running can take its toll sometimes so please listen to your body. I will say the eating this week has probably been the most healthy I have eaten in a while. I made lettuce wraps for lunch and they were awesome. One victory for us here in Germany was we did not eat one potato this week for dinner. I know I don't have to avoid them but at the rate they eat them here and the rate they made it into our dinners it was just too much. Justin has been such a good sport and actually didn't complain too much when I made 2 veggies for dinner instead of one veggie and a carb.
All in all a great week for getting healthy and I am learning so much and I am always open to any tips, advice, exercises you like, cardio you do, or just plan overall health tips. I have decided to do kind of a mini weight in every two weeks and I was so lucky to have a friend who wants to do it with me. My friend, Mae, all the way in Thailand is also on a journey to get healthy and we decided to weight in together every two weeks.
One big obstacle I have the next two weeks is I am at training for my new job up in the North of Germany and I have no idea if my hotel has a gym. But these things happen in life and I am hoping to make a full body weight circuit I can do in my hotel room if there isn't a gym. The real kicker will be getting my cardio in. It is getting pretty cold here and the thought of running outside in this weather and in the dark is not something I want to do. So in life we figure it out and adjust...hopefully. Wish me luck!
Lastly all you blog followers I was serious when I asked for healthy recipes. I need them to mix up my rotation. So please if you have some recipes even traditional recipes that you make healthy please send them to me.
Thanks everyone for your support!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Teaching Abroad

After one term (12 weeks) into the school year I think that it’s safe enough to summarize my observations to give you an idea of the differences between school here and public school in the States.  A couple of caveats before we proceed….first, this is only my fourth year of teaching and my previous experience is limited to one public high school in the metro-Atlanta area (so that is about the only thing I have to compare with and thus, I cannot speak on behalf of the whole of U.S. education).  Second, the school that I teach at is a private, international school, run by an organization that has schools around the world and so, the school is not anything like a true “German” school.  Therefore, one shouldn’t think that my experience here reflects the German school system either.  Third, for obvious reasons I will refrain from mentioning the name of my school.  I will try to be as objective as possible, but also include some of my personal thoughts as well.
                  The school that I teach at is a K-12 international school with somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 total students.  We have modern facilities and a staff of around 150 teachers.  The school year runs from August through the end of June with many breaks in-between as follows: Fall Break – 1 week in October; Winter Break – 2 weeks in December/January; Ski Break – 1 week in February; Spring Break – 2 weeks in April; Summer Break – 7 weeks in July/August.  The holidays are different from the U.S., reflecting the national holidays in Germany.  That basically means no Thanksgiving, but a bunch of extra days off in May for religious holidays I think. 
                  Rather than a principal, we have a school director and administrators who head up different grade levels (i.e. upper secondary, lower secondary, upper primary, lower primary, etc).  A typical school day consists of 9 periods that fluctuate between 45 minutes to 60 minutes of instruction.  The official school day runs from 8:20 – 4:10.  Since the school is K-12 and the schedules are different throughout the day, there isn’t really a bell system to indicate classes ending and beginning.  There are also no “morning announcements” to signal the start of the day.  Students report to their homeroom by grade level at the beginning of the day for attendance and announcements from the HR teacher, then report to their first class. 
                  Instead of students having a schedule resembling some pattern throughout the week, a student will typically meet 3-4 times week per subject and a particular class could meet in any combination of days and periods throughout the week.  For example, math can be on Monday 2nd period, Tuesday 5th period, and Friday 1st period.  Also, at this school instead of teachers having their own room, nearly all teachers simply have a desk in a large teacher workroom.  This works out well for collaboration with other teachers sharing the same courses, but it’s slightly crazy running around the building to your next class.  It seems that students tend to stay in more of a central location while the teachers come to them throughout the day.
                  The organization that operates my school also produces the curriculum, books, tests, and pacing charts for teaching these courses (with the exception of language courses, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate courses).  As a teacher I have more courses to prepare than I am used to (five now compared with two before), but I also teach fewer lessons in any given day (3-5 now compared to 5 every day before).  That means I have more time to prepare for each class while at school and so, I don’t bring much home to work on at night or on weekends.  So far I have found that teaching these courses and keeping up with the pacing charts/testing schedules (students are tested EVERY week with standardized tests from the organization) has forced me into the habit of teaching a textbook and preparing students for tests that I don’t write.  This approach makes it difficult to be as creative as I want to be, but on the other hand I do have free reign in my I.B. Physics course so at least that course is more of what I’m used to. 
                  Unlike American schools, there is not much of an emphasis on sports here.  The focus is clearly on academics, but there are sport teams that do compete with other schools.  The sports offered include swimming, basketball, soccer, volleyball, tennis, cross-country, and track-and-field.  No football, no baseball, and thus, no rednecks either.  Also, much to my disappointment, there is no mascot and no school colors.  I’ve heard that new Americans to the school always make comments about this minor detail.  School sports in Germany aren’t really that big anyways.  Most students participate in club sports outside of school or really competitive athletes attend “Sportschule” which is like a magnet school for athletes.  One thing that I find neat about sports here, is that instead of driving in a school bus 20 minutes across town to play another school as in the States, our teams will take a charter bus or train across the country to play another international school in Munich or Berlin, etc. 

Personal Thoughts – The thing I like the most about this experience so far is that I am teaching students literally from around the world and teaching with colleagues also from all over (U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Canada, Pakistan, Spain, India, Korea, etc).  Much can be learned on a daily basis from my students and co-workers and I’m trying to soak it all up.  One of the things that I didn’t think much about before was the fact that nearly all of my students are being taught in their second or third language.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be funny to my students at first, but then I realized that I’ve got to be more worried about slowing down and choosing simpler language in order to get points across.  By that I don’t mean that these students’ English is poor, because that is definitely not the case – just that even good English speakers won’t understand any slang that is used or be able to process the language as quickly when they’re also trying to process new information in the subject.  I haven’t had much experience in the past with teaching English Language Learners (ELLs), but I think this will help me tremendously. 
                  So far I have noticed that students seem to be the same everywhere.  Although the background of my students is much different from my previous school, kids are kids and teenagers are teenagers.  They act about the same here as they would in the U.S. 
                  One surprising thing is that, although the building and facilities are very nice and the science labs are modern, the classrooms don’t have computers or LCD projectors.  I actually use overhead transparencies and chalk in some classrooms.  Computers are limited to teacher workrooms and computer labs. 
                  So, that’s my overview/impression of things so far.  There is much to be learned and plenty of adjusting to go through.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Finding Motivation

After 3 months of transition I finally feel like this is our life in Germany. From finding a job, having a routine, making friends, finding a church and small group, and joining a gym. I am very excited to say this and even more pumped to get into a regular routine. Don't get me wrong I like the fly by the seat of your pants life and I know by living here there will be plenty of that, but I need structure to be productive. So that being said this post is about finding motivation to lose weight. I know some of you might be saying but Marisa you look fine well 4 years after college I can say I have put on a few pounds each year and they are starting to add up.  My friend Nikki has started a blog about staying healthy and my friend Jason writes daily updates as accountability for his weight lost journey. I figured if I put it out in the universe and told all my friends that I want to lose 20 pounds by April then maybe just maybe it might happen. By losing 20 pounds I will be back to the weight I was when I graduated college and back to the recommended weight for my height. One thing to keep in mind I am very good at starting things it is the sticking with them for the long haul that I have trouble with.
So the plan:
I will be working out in the gym 3 days a week and doing interval running for 30 minutes. I play volleyball for the local team in Frankfurt called Eintracht (more on that in another post) and I practice with them 2 days a week and a game on the weekends. I have also thought about to kick start this I will also run on the days I have practice for 30 minutes, we will see how that goes this week. So far I have been in the gym for 2 weeks and feel great. My co-trainer for my volleyball team actually works at the gym Justin and I go to and he has made us each an individual plan. For me it is low weight high reps in a circuit type of format. I have been playing volleyball for 2 months and I finally feel like I am moving quicker and actually can do some things I used to be able to do. We are talking 6 days a week with physical activity and I am hoping it will be fun with the variety. One thing I must say is that I love working out, but only once I am there doing the workout and I know lots of you can relate. When I am finished with a workout and totally sweating it feels so good. I am hoping that by doing this I can create a better attitude of working out and that it becomes a lifestyle for me. I want to look forward to working out and enjoy it.
I really think for me to lose the weight it is going to come down to my eating. I will say I do eat a lot healthier here and smaller portions. So I am sure I have lost a few pounds already, but as you know losing those last pounds can be very hard so I am going to be extra careful with what I eat. I am going to cut the butter, cheeses, condiments, extra sugars, limit beer drinking (come on I live in Germany let's be real), cut down on carbs, and of course drinking lots of water. I am fortunate to have a fresh market  right down the street from me twice a week and I plan to load up on fruits and veggies. I am not an expert, but I have trained enough and learned a ton from being a college athlete (thanks to Scott and Rob) and being obsessed with Biggest Loser to know what I need to do, but it is actually putting that into practice. That being said I am always open to your ideas. If you have some success stories or great recipes please feel free to share. One thing I am looking for is healthy recipes. I need to try new foods like eggplant and any recipes using healthy options would be great. One question I have too is should I count calories and I am leaning towards yes just because it is 20 pounds and I think to do that I will need to know if I am burning more than I am eating. Your thoughts?
That is the plan and I hope by sharing it with all of you, you can be the encouragement I need when I am a month in and just want to sit at home and eat some cookies. I want to be serious about this and in the past I started off strong and then just fallen off. I am hoping like my friend Jason to take it one day at a time and if I slip up to not get discouraged and just continue on the path of good health. It comes down to choices and I am hopping I have the discipline and commitment to be able to make good choices everyday, every meal, every workout and every snack. Like I said this will not be easy at first but I am hoping it becomes part of me and eventually very natural. If you are wondering about Justin he is very supportive and actually into parts of it too. He is also back in the gym 3 days a week and playing soccer once a week. I am very thankful to have a husband who encourages and supports my efforts to have a healthy life and also a healthy family.
Hopefully in 6 months when I am back in the states for a visit you will see a healthier ME!!!
Thanks everyone ahead of time for all your love and support! Now off for a run......

Before picture...Nov. 16,  2009

Where I want to be. I know this isn't a great picture, but it is the motivation of where I want to be. Back to my weight at college graduation.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Let the Shredding Begin!

On a previous post you noticed that I recently borrowed a six-string banjo from a friend here.  With all of the pluckin’ away on that thing I started to get the itch to want to play a real guitar.  I thought I could wait until April to dig mine out of our storage unit and bring it back, but that’s really not very soon as it turns out.  The music director at our church has also asked me to play guitar in the worship band, which is a cool opportunity that I’ve been excited about. 
                  All in all we decided to start looking for used acoustic guitars around here.  Marisa checked out a couple of music stores and it turns out that the closest music store to us (~10 minute walk) had some used guitars.  We went down there this Saturday and met the owner, an awesome Bavarian (south Germany) guy that seemed to be really excited to put any instrument in my hand. 

                  This joker was a trip and probably the most entertaining German I’ve met so far.  He sold me a new Epiphone for 150 Euros and threw in a strap, a few picks, strings, and even gave Marisa a harmonica.  He kept saying that “take this because you’re so friendly” and suggested that with Marisa playing the harmonica that we could get a band going.  Then he wanted to show us his crazy guitar/harmonica/drum instrument (pictured above).  The whole trip made a great Saturday.
                  Now I’ve got a nice little piece to shred on for a while.  Maybe I’ll actually have the time now to try to improve my skills.  

Saturday, November 7, 2009

It's Official...

I have a job!!!

After 3 long months of looking and applying for jobs I finally found one I am excited about. I will be a freelance English teacher at a worldwide language school.  As some of you know I have been very hesitate to teach. You would think coming from a background of teachers and actually being married to one I would have more consideration for the profession. Don't get me wrong I love and adore teachers and think what they do is amazing I just wasn't sure it was for me. Now after thinking about my options and opportunities here I gave it another look and I find myself actually pretty excited. It is not in the normal classroom setting and some classes can be very specific like business terms. My classes can change from week to week as well as the people. I am also very intrigued by the actual skill of teaching English to someone. I know what you are thinking, "Do I even have a clue how to do that?" and the answer is no, but they send me to two weeks of training and I have a mentorship for the first 2 months I am there. Like any job and new skill I will learn as I go. It does get me pretty excited to think down the road and utilizing teaching English to people. Who knows what God has in store for Justin and I on this journey called life, but that could possibly involve living in places where the demand for English could be high and I would love to be able to provide that to people that wanted or needed it. I have learned a few languages in my life and have enjoyed all my experiences for different reasons and I hope that through this I can bring people a great experience with learning English. I know I am wide eyed and very naive right now, but I am going to give it my best shot and hope for the best. Wish me luck and keep me in your prayers!

On a side note I waited a week to blog about this because I wanted to make sure I was legal to work in Germany and I am now! Yeah for work permits!

Enjoy this German commercial for my company! Don't worry you don't need to know German to understand it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Happy Fall Y'all!

As my friend Ron would said, Happy Fall Y'all!! I just couldn't help but share some photos of what it looks right outside our door. From looking out on our balcony to walking to the subway it is so beautiful right now with all the fall colors. I feel like I am in New England. Enjoy some fall photos of Frankfurt.

Enjoying the fall weather for as long as I can. All I need is some pumpkin flavored food and a cinnamon  candle.

Let's Get Physical!

Me and my free banana with membership.
     I know you've been wondering from looking at our pictures, "how in the hell are those Jackson's managing to maintain their boyish and girlish figures?"  Well, let me tell you that over the past three months it has definitely not been because we've been working out.  To be honest, we've had plenty of other stuff going on, but have been meaning to join a gym to take better care of ourselves and keep in a routine.  
     So, this weekend we went to the local fitness club "Turngemeinde Bornheim" for their open house where we could basically come in and have a look at the facilities and join the club for a reduced price.  We signed up for two monthly memberships which includes access to the workout facilities and as many fitness classes as we want - I know I've been dying to get my Tai-Bo on and focus my chi with some old ladies.  
     Also, one of Marisa's volleyball coaches is a trainer there and he informed us that this gym is partly subsidized by the government, so you can have a FREE personal trainer as many days as you'd like.  We're thinking that as part of the national healthcare system the government invests in these type of things to keep the general public as healthy as possible.  It makes sense.  Our memberships are cheaper than private gyms because of this (only 39 Euro per person per month).
     So if over the next couple of months you notice that I start filling out my clothes more and some of my shirts start to rip, you'll know why!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Halloween!

In honor of Halloween we decided to watch some scary movies, since it just isn't celebrated in Germany like it is in the States.

Movie #1 Texas Chainsaw Massacre- 2003 version with none other than Jessica Biel. When picking a scary movie you can go in all different directions, but a classic is always a good choice.  We went with a slasher film over the creepy "ring"- type genre.

Movie #2 Beetlejuice. Since I (Marisa) am not a huge scary movie person I wanted to watch something to get me in the spirit and it was between Addams Family, Hocus Pocus, and Beetlejuice. And since I haven't seen Beetlejuice in a longtime it came out on top.

Hope all of you are getting to celebrate just how you want. Either all dressed up or snuggled in bed with a scary movie.

Happy Halloween Everyone!!!!
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