Sunday, February 28, 2010

Do I really live in Germany?

I really can't believe we have been in Germany for 7 months. I was telling a friend yesterday sometimes it feels like longer and some days it feels like we just got here. So much has changed and a lot of reflection has happened.
One thing I told Justin the other night was I still don't feel like I fit in and I mean that in a way that I am ok with. I get it I don't speak german and that hinders me in many ways to get connected to more Germans and the true German lifestyles. The reality is we have become very involved with the expat/international community. We both work in English speaking schools, we go to an English speaking church, the common language with friends is English, and we speak English to each other. When I studied aboard in Spain I had to speak Spanish I had no choice, I lived with a Spanish family and all my friends spoke Spanish. I am at a total disadvantage as far as being forced to learn German. I have to be totally honest though I haven't had the motivation to learn German either. I know, I know what all of you are saying or thinking I can't believe that you live in another country and this is such a great opportunity. I believe that and I do plan on taking a class soon, but the truth is unless you are forced to learn a language for necessity it makes it more difficult to want to. I know it frustrates Justin because he thought his German would have improved much more by now. I do feel for him and I hope he gets more opportunities to use it. So to all my German friends please don't hate me (Alex and Ulli) and I promise to try a little harder.
Also I had the thought why would Germans want to be friends with me? My lifestyle is just so different. When you don't know how long you are going to be somewhere you live differently. We are always looking for the next adventure and we have no idea if we will be here after two years. I spoke with a girl at church who is German and she said it was hard going to an international church because her friends come and go. That must be hard and I totally understand. Not to say that we can't meet some incredible people in two years because we can and we will, but for people in the expat/international community they understand the constant change and try to make the most of there time here. I am truly grateful for all the Germans who I have become friends with because they can show me the real Germany and I truly cherish that. I do love the community we have been given here in Frankfurt. We have met some really amazing people and  have started some really great friendships.
This is one of hopefully other posts about living in another country. From culture shock, cultural differences, personal discovery, and things that you just need to know.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Someone is having a baby...and it's not me!

A congratulations are in order because my sister, Kendra, and her husband, Jeff, are having a baby! She is about 20 weeks along and found out last week that it will be a boy. This is their first child and they couldn't be more excited. I am super excited to get my first nephew. It is just crazy that Justin's brother and my sister have a baby when we live in another country. The funny story about her getting pregnant was they got pregnant right after they visited us in Germany this past fall. I guess the schnitzel has some mojo. We said they should name the baby something like Wolfgang, Hans, and any other really German sounding name.
Just to make sure you know, they labeled it for you. It's a boy!

Who is he going to look like?

Kendra and Jeff we are really excited for this new chapter in your life and we can't wait to meet the little guy.  Love you both and enjoy the journey!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Fasching 2010

Fasching is the German equivalent of Mardi Gras. They go all out just like New Orleans minus the beads and boobs. There are still costumes, parties, and parades, but different traditions. From the cutting of ties to floats with current event/political themes. The biggest Fasching celebration is in Cologne and we hope to go there next year, but we gave the second best city a try this year - Mainz. Last Saturday night we got together with our sidekicks for fun, Ryan and Katy. Like true thespians they were in full costumes as a strawberry and a Mexican. The funny thing about Ryan dressing up as a Mexican was that we thought it was unique, but when we got to the party so did five other guys. Since this was our first time we didn't know what to expect, but we managed to get some masks. We ended up going to a brewery that was Bavarian style and enjoyed the classics- beer and brats. The place was decorated with every color and as we ate dinner a band came marching through playing songs from Grease. They also had a DJ for later in the night and he played lots of German songs that are traditional for Fasching...think YMCA and Macarena. They also had a costume contest and a group of cavemen and cavewomen brought home the prize. For our first Fasching experience it was definitely fun and full of laughs, I mean we were hanging out with a strawberry and a Mexican all night - what isn't fun about that?
Ryan and Katy all dressed up. We loved it and they fit right in with everyone.

Our little effort for a costume. Not too bad right?

Where all the celebrating went down.

Bier Turm = Beer Tower = A good way to get the party started

Next train 942 minutes? Might be faster to walk home.

Fasching...takes it out of you!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Birmingham aka Selly Oak

After London we hopped on a train to see our friends in Birmingham. We have seven friends that work in campus ministry in Selly Oak, a town right next to Birmingham. They work at an amazing place called Canvas.
The Canvas house - an old converted church

We were really excited to see all of them and to experience Canvas. After a few delays in our train we were joyfully greeted at the train station by our good friend, Robert Braden. We headed back to his and Natalie's house for some lunch and my introduction to their son Benjamin. He is probably one of the most calm and laid back babies I have ever been around. So many of you know me and know when I get excited and are around people I haven't seen in a while I turn into motor mouth. You would think I hadn't spoken to anyone in weeks and wanted to make sure I told them everything in the first hour I saw them. After I calmed down from all the excited we headed over to the campus house to see everyone else.
Jackson's upon arrival

As I walked in the Canvas house I was greeted with a big hug from my friend, Tatum. It was really awesome to see him in England because it was such a journey for him to get over there. Next we saw Allison, Mike, and Jenn. Mike and Jenn took us on a tour of the University of Birmingham and we ran into some of the students involved in Canvas. Being on and around a college campus is such a great feeling. I am not so far removed that I feel out of place and I even like to pretend I am still there.

Our tour guides - minus much information about the campus

According to a student we met, this free-standing clocktower on campus is the tallest in the UK (world?)
Also, we learned that J.R.R. Tolkien lived near this area and Birmingham/Selly Oak was a source of inspiration for the city of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings (must be a great selling point for the local real estate agents!).  Recognize the Eye of Sauron?  (Keight?)

To get out of the staff's hair before their big night of the week Justin and I went to dinner and enjoy a few Magners (I can't get a enough of this cider). From there we headed to the big showdown and what a night! Kevin and the band were rocking and they sang some great songs. The atmosphere in the house was chill and relax and you could tell people were enjoying the evening. It is awesome to see your friends doing what they love and also changing the lives of college students for Christ. It is even more amazing to think that campus ministry is happening all over the world. Our campus ministry, GTCCF, had such a profound impact on Justin and I that I truly wish everyone could experience it and at Canvas they are. Nathan gave a great talk and even threw in a little Seinfeld. After Bible study we headed out to the pubs with some students. Just to make this clear in England pubs are like coffee shops and people go and hang and have some awesome conversations. Pubs have a great vibe and you can tell a lot of minds and mouth are processing some deep thinking. It was a great night with many laughs, but than anything a lot of admiration for our friends.
Do you feel the atmosphere?

Kevin and the band doing a heck of a job.

Nathan rocking out the talk

What Canvas is all about

The next day we headed to CADBURY WORLD! That's right folks and it was as awesome as it sounds.  Cadbury officially began in 1831 and the famous Dairy Milk Bar was introduced in 1905. We took the tour and loaded up on chocolate... nuff said.
Welcome to Cadbury World

Initially I was excited to pose with REAL Cadbury Creme Eggs, but later I found out that they were actually supposed to be cocoa beans......LAME!!

Oh My God!!  Have you ever seen a more glorious sight?  Me neither.  I love these things....and I took a 12-pack home!

After a chocolate filled afternoon we headed back to the Braden's to have a family style dinner with everyone. This was one of those nights that you will look back on and just smile. Good friends, good food, great conversation and tons of laughs. Between Justin giving his best Rick Harper imitation and Benjamin spitting up on me it was a recipe for a good night. The one thing I loved about hanging out with everyone is that they know me for me and I can be myself. The girl that says stupid stuff and can get a little fired up at times, but they love me anyways. It is so cool thinking about how we all met in college and all have a common bond. Good friends are the ones you don't see all the time, but can pick up right where you left off. The whole night was such an encouragement and just good for the soul.

How can you not love that face?

How about when he spits up on you when you were just trying to have a nice time.

Even Justin got in on some baby holding time. (No spit up for him)

In lieu of our best friend, Keight, not being there we wanted her to know we were thinking of her.

And her husband, Jesse, and their dog, Chopper, were missed too. Check out Robert's sweet drawing.

The whole gang. This is the only good picture because everyone got excited by the camera remote and starting taking pictures left and right.

Out-take number 50. What a night!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

London was calling...

….and we answered.  For my school’s “Ski Break” we went the opposite direction and headed up to England to check out London and Birmingham.  It’d been about 12 years since my last visit to London, so I was pumped to see the sights again and take it all in with an adult perspective and this was Marisa’s first time so it was gonna be great.
            First off………the hostesses:   Joanna and Laura Stephens.  I’ve known Joanna since the 8th  grade when I shared a homeroom with her after she had just moved to Paulding County, GA from Manchester, England.  Culture shock is not a strong enough term for what she encountered that year.  I still remember (and Matt Davis will back me up) half of our classmates cornering Jo at lunch or in the hallways and asking her to stay words like “water bottle” just so they could laugh their tails off over the British accent.  Anyways, I went to high school with her and her sister, Laura, who just moved to southwest London last September to live it up and continue their careers in social work. 
Jo and Laura

            Jo and Laura were awesome hostesses that gave us our own room, cooked us English breakfast, and toured around with us for two days straight.  We had a great time catching up with them and sharing stories of ex-pat life and laughing about quirky things that have happened since we’ve moved.  They even took us to their church, which was a refreshing experience. 
            To keep it brief and readable, we’ve compiled a Top 10 list of experiences in London (in no particular order of importance):
1.  British Museum – a fine collection of antiquities stolen from all portions of the former British Empire; a few highlights were the Rosetta Stone which helped decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, an Easter Island statue (one of the big stone heads off the coast of Chile), samurai armor, wall carvings from ancient Iraq, a significant portion of statues and carvings from the Parthenon, lots of mummies and Egyptian artifacts, etc
Rosetta Stone - Level 1 Ancient Egyptian

Assyrian tomb entrance - didn't think you could take an entire entrance but there you are

one of many awesome Assyrian wall carvings of a lion hunt - apparently back in the day the Iraqis were so B.A. that they grabbed lions by the throat with their bare hands (that's how they remember it anyways)

headless sculptures from the Parthenon

samurai armor and sword - not in any way related to a recent incident at Ga. Tech

Easter Island statue - I've always wanted to see one of these; apparently so did the Brits

2.  Tower of London – fortress built around 1066 to house some of the old British royalty; also included the crown jewels and tours from the Yeoman or Beefeaters that guard the grounds. For all you Anne Boleyn fans this is where she was executed and buried.
outside of Tower of London

our Yeoman tour guide - they live on the grounds

as close as cameras can get to the crown jewels - supposedly the most secure place in England....

... until I overpowered this guard and made him look silly

beautiful Tower Bridge on a not-so-beautiful London day

3.  Royal Observatory/Greenwich – if you’ve ever heard of “Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)”, this is the origin of that term; it’s where the Prime Meridian passes through (0° longitude)
straddling the Prime Meridian - looking back, I should've thought to flash opposing "East-side" and "West-side" signs; isn't it true that you always think of witty things to say and do AFTER the fact?

4.  Houses of Parliament/Big Ben/London Eye – saw it, got the picture
"Remember Remember the 5th of November"

the London Eye - the largest observation wheel in the world with ironically the least amount of clear days to be able to see the city in the world (arguably)

5.  Buckingham Palace/Changing of the Guard – want to see all of the tourists in London all at once?  Check out this event and you’ve got it;  pretty neat processional though with all kinds of pomp and circumstance;  it takes a long time and there was a band that started playing jams like “Dancing Queen”;  if I was waiting to get relieved from duty I would’ve been pissed
our first half-time show in over a year

fresh guards coming in (I think - it was hard to tell who was who)

the second string band with much cooler hats, and they even knew some Abba tunes

last group arriving fashionably late

Marisa and Buckingham Palace - the queen was home since the Union Jack was raised

6.  Portobello Market – really massive and trendy street market in Notting Hill filled with artists, musicians, antiques, boutiques, food, and lots of fun
I may be the only one, but I only know of this street because of the old Disney movie "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" (look it up, it's got the Murder She Wrote lady in it)

How many stereotypical London items can you find in this picture?

entering the street market that stretched for days

you may remember this store from such films as "Notting Hill" - on the other hand, if you're like me, you might not

7.  “Chicago” in the West End – London’s answer to New York’s Broadway; we got a great deal on tickets and really enjoyed the show
lots of good music including "He had it comin''"; apparently Kelly Osborne played a role in this for a short time years back - when we asked a staff member about it she claimed, "you didn't miss anything"

8.  National Gallery – more of a traditional art museum with a nice impressionist wing
outside the National Gallery

view of Trafalgar Square from National Gallery

9.  Tate Modern Museum – set in an old power plant, featuring a variety of modern art, but not the best art museum we’ve been to.
neat-o power plant renovation was my favorite part

St. Paul's Cathedral in background

10.  Trafalgar Square – really neat intersection of town featuring museums, shopping, views of parliament, and a big phallic monument with four massive lions at the base.
classic shot with one of the lions

All in all it was a swell time in London thanks to some fabulous hostesses and a guidebook from Rick Steves.  If you’re looking to check it out for yourself, we can recommend a great place to stay!
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