31-Day Challenge: Day 20

Yesterday we walked through seemingly endless fields of grapevines. The sun was hot and the wind barely blew.

Today we hiked up 800 meters to a shelter. While we stopped for beer and a snack, I stepped outside to take a few pictures of the ever-changing skies. As I turned to go back into the house, something soft and cold hit my hand. It was snowing.

We’d been watching rain showers pass over the valley and peaks across from us, so of course we didn’t expect to escape it totally. There was something special about it; watching out the window as the soft drops fell, chatting to the Wirtin on the first day open of the season. That was as unplanned as the snow, and felt as lovely.

When people think of Italy, they think of the Mediterranean, brightly colored houses spilling down to the sea. They think of Rome, of Vespas and ruins. They think of Tuscany, of golden sunsets and dusty hills, vineyards and villas.

But this place?

I had never really heard of South Tyrol before coming here, and my theory is that the Germans are keeping it secret. It’s got all the charm and the same language as South Bavaria, with a slightly different accent and better food.

The area we’re staying in has one of the most striking landscapes I’ve ever seen. The views in the valley are lovely, all pastoral with a mountainous background. But when you go up?

You have to work for it, but the result is worth so much more than I can express.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge: Day 19

If someone threw a surprise party for you, it would include…

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honestly, a fair amount of confusion on my part. Any friend who knows me well, will hopefully know that I’m not really a fan of parties, surprise or otherwise. There’s a very good reason that I usually try to go away on my birthday. I’d much rather go off grid up a mountain, than have to feel obligated to answer messages as they come in. That is the opposite of relaxing.

Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate the fact that many people take 30 seconds out of their day to write and wish me well. And that’s a million times preferable to calling (BV’s Oma is the lone exception to that rule). I do enjoy seeing friends, I’m not completely anti-social, but parties? No thanks. I am much more comfortable in a small group (less than six, I’d say), or one-on-one.

Part of it probably goes back to me having been a decidedly nerdy kid. Especially going into the preteen years it was pointed out to me more and more, and I always got the feeling that I was the butt of the joke. Sometimes it was in front of me, sometimes not. But I was never quite sure where I stood. And who wants to have a party if you’re not sure if anyone will come? Or if you’ll end up being the one locked out of the camper at the sleepover?

In other news, kids are giant assholes sometimes.

From that phase, I developed into a mostly sarcastic smart-ass teenager as a defense mechanism. I probably owe a fair few teachers apologies but those were rough years. We moved to our town when I was in second grade, but all of the above, plus a few other factors (a brain but total lack of athletic ability* leap to mind), equated to me never feeling like I really belonged.

That was a long time ago and thousands of miles away, but those feelings are hard to shake. On the plus side, I am incredibly comfortable on my own. I don’t always have to be in motion, or with friends. I see people when I want to see people, and that’s it. The fact that we’re on vacation, it’s 10:30 on a Friday night, and I’m writing about my dislike of parties while BV lounges in the bathtub? Seems pretty fitting, actually.

 

*#priorities

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge: Day 18

I know I am getting older when…

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I know that time waits for no man. I know I feel older when one of my very professional-seeming students says they were born in the 90s. I still can’t believe the artist names advertised on the over-30 party posters. Because these days? I just don’t feel it.

It’s hard to compare to the last time we were here. That was two years ago, celebrating BV’s last year in his ‘early 30s.’ He’s now onto his ‘late 30s’ and it’s the same place but different.

Two years ago, I was just getting on German insurance and learning that my thyroid was a lazy jerk. For awhile, I let that explain my near-constant exhaustion and overweight state. Once on medication, I felt better, and a few kilos (like, two), fell off, but it wasn’t too drastic.

At the beginning of last year I began doing yoga. Starting slowly with a 30-day challenge, I gradually increased the time, committing to an 8-week program launched by my favorite YouTube yogi in July. My light and varied summer work schedule made it easy to do the program as scheduled, and I had never felt better.

I kept up with yoga over winter and for Christmas, my mom gifted all of us Fitbits. I wasn’t too sure about it at first, but I’ve worn it religiously every day since I set it up. It’s encouraged me to move more, and I’ve combined it with a nutrition app as well.

Since I wasn’t keeping good track of things last time we were here, I can’t be exactly sure of the difference, but I think it’s about 10 kilograms difference to two years ago. That’s about three kg less than my last lowest weight, which was five years ago when that beach holiday in Greece was looming. I also tracked food then, and was working out nearly daily. I know for sure that I’m seven kg down since Christmas, and I have to say, I feel ridiculously good. I’m not running up and down the mountains, but a lighter load and more energy really does make a world of difference.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge: Day 17 

Peeking over the green top of the mountain in front of me are a few jagged, stony spikes. From the altitude of our little hamlet, they don’t look like much. A steep, serpentine climb up the grassy hillside behind the village starts to reveal more. 

Running into a thin road, we continue along, passing farmhouses where cats sun themselves and cows munch grass. Coming past a chapel perched high up, we wonder who visits. Turning around, we realize that after the short and steep climb, a whole new world has emerged. 

Clouds wisp around high peaks still coated in snow. The light changes constantly, making one photo unimaginable. 

Leaving the road and turning towards the forest we decide against going higher now, instead aiming towards the grassy fields and scattered chalets surrounding the valley far ahead. 

A long shady walk through the forest brings decision time again. The first farm is just ahead but we’ve lost height. Seeking the sun and a less-populated place, we turn left up a gradually sloping forestry road. 

Small animals dart across the road and birds chatter their voices. The sound of a chainsaw behind us gets fainter and fainter as we climb. In the deep, shady places, snow still lingers. More moss hangs from the tree branches and blows across the path, proving the quality of the air up here. It sways in the breeze; the wind is picking up. 

The trees to our left are thinning as the path evens out. Ahead of us the view opens up as the trail gently curves off to the right around the mountain. 

A long valley twists ahead far below us, a road winding down its center, towns dotted along the way. 

We choose to turn left again through the forest, the trail markers promising a meadow. Finally after a few more twists and turns, a fence appears in the distance. Between the trees a grassy expanse is dotted with wild flowers. It won’t be too long before the cows are driven up but for today it was only us, our backpacks filled with bread, cheese, sausage, and wine, and one running deer, to enjoy the view we’d been looking for. 

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge: Day 16

I’m sitting under a giant saw. 

It’s probably five feet long, but would feel much more ominous if there weren’t a large decorative heart hanging right underneath it. 


The rest of the room follows the Alpine motif… hearts on the light fixtures and pillows, a tree trunk as a TV stand, and a painting of the town on the wall. 

There’s a double door to the right of the bed. The shutters are down, but I think in the morning we should be able to walk right out into the garden with our coffee. 

We arrived much later than we expected, due an unbeknownst plan (to me) to avoid the tollway across Austria. This meant that we were treated to some fairly spectacular Alpenglow there as the sun went down, but we arrived in darkness and the valley will be hidden until we wake up. 

The only noise at the moment comes from the TV. I did a little channel-surfing earlier and the only person I recognized amid the mix of stations in German and Italian was Tom Hanks, so I stopped there. 

I wasn’t sure at first what movie it was, but one dramatic plane crash later I figured it out. I don’t recall ever seeing Castaway before, but now all I hear is Tom Hanks talking to himself in dubbed German. Luckily, this part of the movie is fairly light on the dialogue. 

BV is now bustling around unpacking, and soon it will be time to crash. It’ll be morning soon and the mountains await. 


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Editor’s Note: this is part of a 31-day challenge series, in which I spend at least 15 minutes a day writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary. 

31-Day Challenge: Day 15

The last thing I said…

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The last thing I said was, “I can wash the dishes since I’ll be here later. I don’t have to leave until nine. But you can pack the food bag.”

BV and I have pretty much been running around the house since we got home, me at about 7:30 and him shortly before. We’re off tomorrow to spend a few days in South Tyrol, but our plan to leave directly from work means that we are somewhat frantically trying to get ourselves together tonight.

We dropped Marry die Katze off at our friend S’s on Sunday, so she was taken care of, but I was out of the house for 12 hours today and the place is a total disaster. After I got home we threw together dinner, BV took the chance to haul all the plants out of the office and onto the balcony, while I put away laundry and packed my stuff together. Now he’s getting his bags packed, and organizing the last bits and bobs from the fridge that we’ll take along with us.

Normally on Tuesdays we ride to and from work together, but my first class is cancelled tomorrow. I’d love the chance to sleep in, but since we have to load up the car in the morning, that means I’ll still have to get up and going to get all my morning necessities in before he leaves. Then, (lucky me), I’ll clean up the disaster area of a kitchen with my extra bit of time here.

I would like to think of myself as an efficient packer, but the amount of stuff that we usually end up bringing for a long weekend, or in this case, five nights, gives me away. I imagine it’s a lot easier if you’re just planning on lounging at the beach or the pool, but since we’re planning on hiking, maybe visiting some towns, eating all the things, and going to a winery, I can’t take a “one size fits all” approach. Apparently I’ve adopted the German mentality of needing to have activity-specific clothing. That means hiking shoes, regular shoes, and house shoes, and that’s just footwear. No sandals, though the forecast promises some warmth. Inevitably it’ll be too much but hey, at least I have options. Sometimes I miss just wearing jeans, hoodies, and flip flops, but those college days are long gone.

I recently thought that it might be nice to just go somewhere for a weekend with a small carry-on bag. I can’t even tell you the last time I did that. My suitcase going and coming from the States over Christmas was so heavy that they managed to break the handle somewhere between Chicago and Dublin. I had to buy a new one while we were there and since I was still fully loaded with post-Christmas goodies and random things from my childhood room, I had to go with one of the larger options. I don’t even have a carry-on sized suitcase, only a big bag with a broken zipper. Needless to say, unless I get it replaced (repair was unsuccessful), that won’t be going under a plane anytime soon. It seems that anytime I’ve flown in the last couple years it’s been packed to the gills. I may have to talk BV into a last-minute long weekend in Greece or something, just for the luxury of traveling light.

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Editor’s Note: I’ll still be doing the challenge while we’re way. The internet connection was questionable last time, so we’ll see how this works.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge: Day 14

Mud room organization tips.

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Oh, writing prompt app. You are so funny sometimes.

I think I’ve made this observation at least once on Twitter, but I’ll take this opportunity to elaborate.

When we were visiting my parents over Christmas, my mom handed me a ‘Parade of Homes’ brochure to flip through. They’re looking at moving sometime in the somewhat-near future, so they had toured a few of the show homes on offer this year, mostly to get some ideas of what has changed since they last house hunted back in the late 80s. As BV and I have been (very) casually looking at places for awhile now, it was quite the eye-opening experience.

To be fair, these are high-end show homes in the south-eastern Wisconsin area, and I am well aware that this brochure is not really representative of what the average person has in their homes but GOOD GOD is there a huge difference to the market here. There’s a reason that when I did House Hunters International, Courtney and I continually joked about me possibly being the only person ever to appear on that show and NOT demand granite counter tops. Or whatever it is that people seem to think they need in their houses these days.

Mud rooms were just the tip of the iceberg with these houses. Three-car garages are now “small,” and there were so many bedrooms in some of them that I wondered if the Duggar’s religion has become more popular than I thought. My personal favorite was one house that featured a “family command center” with set ups for school/sports equipment storage (thought those went in the bedrooms or garage?), an office area (in addition to the actual office), and a dog washing station. Again, isn’t a stationary tub in the basement, a bathtub in one of the six bathrooms, or the garden hose pretty much sufficient on that front? Guess not.

BV and I are looking at the “cheap as possible” price range of the German market, and it is a little bit different to say the least. I know that it is possible to get a house that is move-in ready here, but so far in our price range, there haven’t been too many of them. So what have we seen?

For starters, I have learned that the trend in German bathrooms over the years has hit every. single. possible. shade. of the rainbow. So many colors. So many bathrooms that haven’t been touched or renovated since the 70s at best. So many of these houses that have, just that one bathroom. That means if we buy it and want to redo it, that’s got to happen before we move in. A second bathroom is fairly rare, but in my opinion that is almost a non-negotiable. At some point in time, if we decide to procreate, I am not dealing with more than two people in a house with one bathroom. It’s already questionable enough when we have guests at our place now. Not into it.

It’s often been noted that rentals here don’t come with light fixtures. If you decide to move, you better take your old ones with you, or you’ll spend the first few days in the dark. Since we have been looking at fixer-uppers, we’ve also seen a fair amount of places with unfinished plumbing. That means that in addition to the wires hanging from the ceiling, there are sometimes the ends of pipes sticking out of the walls. What happens after that is up to you! The excitement!

Lots of the older places also don’t have things like heaters. Or heating systems. Or a fireplace. Sometimes there was  a fireplace, but it’s long since been removed. Sometimes there is a person (or people) living in these places, and I just have so many questions. Our current place was built in 1928, and added to over the years. Where we are in the upstairs probably dates from the 1950s or so, and it doesn’t hold heat worth a damn. How people are living in these old houses with no heating is just beyond my comprehension. We don’t have Wisconsin cold temperatures here but I don’t think anyone ever described a German winter as balmy.

I’ve occasionally flipped through the real estate listings for higher price ranges and while there are a lot less brown or orange bathrooms, there still are no dog washing stations. How the Germans survive in their cold houses with all the dirty dogs running around? Perhaps that’s a secret I will never learn.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge: Day 13

Technically, I’m an hour late but since I’m still awake this definitely counts as the 13th. It’s my blog and self-imposed challenge, I make my own rules. Plus, post-dating!

Today was a fairly busy Saturday. BV’s good friend, the Gardener, had the Day of the Open Door at his nursery, so our plan was to head over there. They have it every year on the day before Mother’s Day, and quite often, a group of BV’s friends/colleagues come by to stock up on plants and have a chat.

We got up fairly early for a Saturday, and I got to baking. We had offered to bring a cake, and it didn’t get done on Friday afternoon. Good thing we did, too, as we arrived shortly before 2pm and all the sausages were already gone. There were a few random pieces of other cakes still on offer, but the crowd made short work of them.

The weather was fairly nuts today, with thunderstorms rolling in and out, so it seems that many people opted to come by in the morning. That meant it was less busy when BV’s crew made it through, but there was less food available. Luckily, they all had dogs/kids with them, and had brought their own snacks. We went home hungry, because we have no kids and therefore don’t carry provisions.

We had a nice afternoon of chatting with everyone (BV chats, I smile and nod, interjecting basics), and wandering through the nursery. We left the plants behind, since our garden is not prepared yet, and we’re going away for a few days this week. BV has a few more things to fix in the nursery, so he can easily pick up whatever plants we need on his next repair job.

The Gardener’s sister, co-owner of the magnificent hillside in Tuscany, was also in town, and we had a good chance to catch up with her. We’re hoping to make it back down to see them sooner than later, as an Italian farmhouse is almost always a good idea.

After the group slowly dispersed, we made our way home and prepped for dinner and Eurovision. Tonight’s post is late for that very reason, as we were fully consumed in watching the crazy. But, it was enjoyable as always. No dancing grannies this year, unfortunately, but there’s always next year.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

31-Day Challenge: Day 12

Write your job description.

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Long-time readers of this blog will know that I have survived this long in Germany and the Czech Republic by working as an English teacher. When I first set out on this little adventure, I took a TEFL course based in Prague, which taught me valuable skills on how to teach grammar, vocabulary, and how to set up a white board using snazzy colors and time graphs.

Then I started teaching for realsies.

My first job in TEFL was at Berlitz in Prague. This experience had a lot of pros, and a lot of cons. One pro was that it was basically teaching for idiots, in that they have all of their own material and teachers were mostly restricted to using that. This sounds negative (and in my opinion, it is for the students), but for teachers it meant that prep time was nearly nonexistent and it was easy to crank out tons of classes every day without thinking much about them. However, a big con was that often there weren’t that many classes to crank out, and despite their courses being among the most expensive in a town crammed with language schools, their teachers were among the lowest paid.

And all those skills I learned in the TEFL course? Pretty much out. Some tactics I held onto of course, but so many of them that dealt with using different source material, bringing creativity in, and so on, were out the window with the official Method we were supposed to use.

Then I came to Germany and was thrown into the deep end. Right off the bat I had ten classes at one school, with more coming as the year went on. I was supposed to be working freelance, and therefore for more schools, but for a long time I literally did not have free time to work anywhere else. The schedule plus the prep time was far more than I had done in my previous two years of teaching. All of a sudden I had a bunch of different books, vastly different needs, and this time there was no cookie cutter.

I was kept pretty busy that whole first year here and then rough financial times led to a bunch of classes falling off. And, as I’ve noted before here, you can apply to every school in town but if no  one is hiring, you’re out of luck.

With a little persistence and a lot of help, I stuck it out though, and over the last few years have built up a pretty steady business. I’m no longer at the mercy of one school, which is a HUGE relief, and I am much happier when I’ve got a good variety of groups. Sometimes you get one that is a bit of a struggle, but if you have one right afterwards that is peppy and excited and involved, that goes a long way.

I’ve now been doing this for more than eight years, and was chatting to a fellow teacher friend of mine the other week about how neither one of us feel like “real” teachers. He had attended a training session recently, and was so impressed by some of the other people there. They had been in Germany teaching for 10-20 years, were totally settled here, and were Teachers. Capital T. Neither of us feel that way, despite the fact that we’ve both been doing this almost as long as some of those people had. I wonder if they have similar discussions with their friends.

If I don’t feel like a teacher, what do I feel like? I’ve given this a fair amount of thought and there are a few skills that I think are under-emphasized in all those wonderful TEFL training courses. However, I don’t think I would have made it this far if I couldn’t do the following things. Grammar and 3-page lesson plans did not make the list, sorry to disappoint.

  1. Fake it til you make it. I am not a morning person. I would much rather be in bed than on a train at 6:30 or 7am to make an 8:30 start time. Which is actually pretty reasonable. 7am classes also exist, for some ungodly reason. When that group comes in though, the teacher can’t be dragging ass, because someone has to act like they want to be there. Which leads me to…
  2. Acting! In normal social situations, I am also shy. I would never go up to a group of people and just introduce myself unless I absolutely had to. In this case, it’s my job to walk in and act like I’m not completely intimidated by a group of eight professional adults.
  3. Reaction time. I’ve always been quick. Not physically (godawful at sports), but with a comment or a wisecrack. When a question comes up and I can come up with an answer or a definition or an explanation off the top of my head, it’s great. I do get stumped occasionally, but usually I’ll try to look whatever it is up later and shoot them an email. You have to expect the unexpected and react as best as you can. I think that has been extremely beneficial when it comes to unplanned situations in class, which brings me to…
  4. Flexibility. In TEFL, we learned to write out every single thing we planned to do in class, down to how we would say some things. One school I work for requires us to write long form lesson plans and it makes me absolutely crazy. I procrastinate on those things for as long as humanly possible. I never use them in class because 1) I know what I’m going to do, I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me and 2) half the time, something comes up and the whole thing goes off the rails. If a student brings in something they want to look at, or a question comes up that leads the class in a direction that was unplanned but helpful for them, isn’t addressing that so much more important than following the “plan”? Yeah. It is. Do you know what happens when a teacher says, “No, we can’t do that right now, it’s not on our plan. Maybe next week.” The students get annoyed that their needs aren’t being addressed. If you are too rigid, and can’t adapt quickly, you won’t last long.

Possibly my favorite part of this job is getting to talk to so many different people and hear so many different takes on life. I’ve learned so much about so many things, and heard so many stories that I would never in a million years have come across if I had stayed back in Wisconsin. To say that that is invaluable is an understatement.

I think if I had come here and only had the perfunctory interactions with Germans at the supermarket or government offices, it’s possible that I wouldn’t have lasted this long. It always bums me out to hear that some people come here for business or with the military, barely interact with the actual people here, and think Germans are cold or rude or what have you. They are not. They’re a lot of things, some good, and yes, some bad. I think if my job, despite some headaches, has given me anything, it’s given me the chance to see so much more of the good. But they don’t teach you that in the TEFL courses either.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.