The Man Behind the Tree.

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A man was waiting for me behind a tree.

I didn’t know this, yet, as I unlocked my bike after watching a World Cup game on a big screen outdoors at Marstallhof with friends back in 2006. I had no idea what was coming as I rode along the Neckar River and followed the curve of the bike path over to Bergheimerstrasse. It was reaching 9 p.m. and it was June, so there was still some daylight refusing the hug of encroaching nighttime.

I remember that I rode fast, and even stood up on my pedals as I crossed over a bridge—like a child—so that I could rise above my handlebars and face the wind head-on. I looked to the left, over at the distant hills, and then below the bridge where the train tracks were. I saw fluorescent lights, the clean platform, a few ICE trains like long white bullets resting on the track.

There’s so many bike rides that I forget. Even now, I ride my bike home to and from work every day and often get so lost in thought that I barely remember the journey from point A to point B.

But, I’ll never forget this particular ride.

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Peanut Butter and Butter, and What it Taught Me About Presents

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I take the giving of gifts seriously.  In a way it’s a personal challenge—can I pick out a present that’ll be rewarded with the oh, WOW, I didn’t even know that I wanted this! But I do! 

My favorite is when the gift is for someone who isn’t expecting much of me.  Maybe we don’t know each other well, or they didn’t ask for anything in particular so they assume I couldn’t possibly have picked out something they really want. 

Now, just because I care about gift giving doesn’t mean I’m any good at it.  Sometimes I’m really “on” when it comes to what I pick out, but just as often I’m completely, well, off.  People are too polite to say they don’t like their present, but it’s obvious. And it bothers me.

It takes me back to a fiasco back in second grade at summer day camp.

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No reason to be sad, no big goodbye’s.

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“There’s no reason to be sad.”

That’s the line I use to reopen this conversation I’ve been having with my parents for fifteen years and counting. On average, it comes up every third day for the duration of the time I’m home for a visit (with variations in the talking points depending on my life situation and level of alcohol consumption.)

I’ll write the most recent version of this conversation. I had it with my dad while we strolled Laken around the Buffalo suburb I grew up in.

Here’s me, revving it up: “There’s no reason to be sad.”

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Thirteen Flights: An Ode of Sorts

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I was going to write about my second visa “strike” this week, but that’s a very long story (with back stories, and back stories to the back stories, and back stories to the back stories to the back stories…) so honestly that might be a “Resettled in Germany” assignment.  Feeling as tired as I do, it’s hard to imagine finding the motivation.

Laken and I are entering the second half of a two-week visit to Buffalo, New York, where my family lives.   Since I’m on maternity leave for the year, it made sense for the two of us to take advantage of offseason prices.

Todd misses us, terribly, and looks a bit like Grumpy Cat when we see him on Face Time, but he gets why we’re here. And why we generally spend five to seven weeks here a year.  And why 99.9% of my salary goes directly in to the “Trips Home” pot.

See, when Todd and I first got married, one thing I gave him fair warning about is that I don’t just like to fly home a lot—I need to fly home a lot.  Truly, I’m that person who, if I didn’t live 4,000 miles away from my family, would probably own a house on the same block and stop over at all hours of the day to steal canned goods and, as my dad says, “shoot the baloney.” Living internationally is a very big stretch, even fifteen years in.  The only way I can hack it is with frequent trips home.

The need to make these trips home is a thousand times truer now that we have a baby.  It’s crucial to us both that she knows her cousins, her grandparents, and our close friends.

So, Laken—who is nine months old—is already a seasoned, passport-holding traveler with no less than thirteen flights under her baby belt.  (I’m counting the intermediate flights between Frankfurt and Buffalo, where my family lives, and on to Washington, where Todd’s family is. We also did a weekend trip to England over Thanksgiving.)

Since our baby has reached teenage status when it comes to traveling by plane, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share thirteen thoughts, experiences, or tips in honor of each flight we’ve survived thus far.

One: Plane Rides Are Just Zippy Marathons. Continue reading

Visa Baseball

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I’m not really the international criminal “type,” per se.Screen%20Shot%202013-12-16%20at%202.40.23%20PM

Not that I’m a total angel, either—I’ve definitely had my moments (mostly in my late teens/early twenties) that make me look back now and say, “Whaaaaaat was I thinking?!”

Adulthood, expat life and teaching have brought out a more outgoing version of me. But, at my core, I don’t think I’ve ever fully shaken that timid, over-the-top obedient child I once was. I was the one voted “Most Likely To Be A Librarian” in the class yearbook. Every. Single. Year. I don’t think people knew me well enough to vote any other way.

Throughout childhood I spent a lot of time at the local fire hall with my best friend at the time.  (Her dad was a volunteer fireman.) She invited another friend to join us, once, and I was so shy that the girl finally came over, poked me in the arm (not in a mean way—she was just genuinely curious) and asked, “Are you mute?”

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MetaSchnitzel

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When I was a kid, my dad made up a bedtime story every night. I still remember one about this skunk who was always ditched by his friends because he smelled so bad. They liked him, but they’d hang out and eventually the stench got to be too much. So, then the skunk’s birthday came around and everyone felt guilty because, hey, he was a decent guy, they knew they should throw him a party, he always went to their parties, etc. But what about the smell?

My dad built up to the climax really well. He got in to that skunk’s mind and how insecure he was. How hopeful he was that he wouldn’t be passed by on his birthday, of all things.  My anxiety was through the roof by the time the big day came around.

And…we weren’t disappointed! The local owl (who, of course, was super wise) organized a surprise party and EVERYONE EXCEPT THE SKUNK WORE NOSE PLUGS SO IT WAS PERFECT FOR EVERYONE.  God I loved that story.

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Death, Sheets, and Sarah

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Quite a few people have asked where we came up with our eight month old daughter’s name—Laken.

I wish we had some super cool story with loads of meaning and an ancestor or two thrown in, but that isn’t the case (sadly!) To be very honest, I first heard the name when I was teaching in London. One of my colleagues was named Laken, and I fell in love with it the second I heard it.  Any time she was mentioned at faculty meetings or in the hallway, I found myself rolling the name over my tongue again and again.  It just had such a good sound to it—no matter whose voice said it.

Like all parents, Todd and I took our duty to name a human being very seriously.  We wanted something that was unique and yet not impossible to pronounce or spell.  Since that seemed a tad broad as a starting point, we added the requirement that it be Irish (for no other reason than just because Todd loves Ireland so much) and we both had to be 100% in support of it.  Period. No compromises.

Todd’s initial pick for a name was Ireland. I just couldn’t give that big a tribute to the country, so we kept thinking.

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Turkish Birds

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Fifteen years ago a carpet salesman in Fethiye, Turkey offered me the strongest, muddiest cup of coffee I’ve ever had. After I was done drinking, he read my fortune in the leftover grounds at the bottom of the mug.

“What does that look like to you?” he asked, pointing.

I peered down, trying to see something clever in the dark smudge, but he answered for me. “It’s a bird. It means you’re flying in the direction of your happiness!”

He was right on two counts. First of all, that clump of grounds really did look exactly like a little bird traveling up towards the rim of my cup. As soon as he said it, the thing transformed, came in to focus. Second, everything that happened in my life after that trip ultimately led to what can only be described as my happiness.

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In front of the carpet shop.

Now, he could have been a bit more specific and told me that it was not going to be an easy journey. I wouldn’t have minded a head’s up that it was going to involve all sorts of things—like, the decision to leave the so-called ‘gravy train’ of teaching middle school on a military base in Germany to pursue a Master’s degree in creative writing in London, subsequently moving back in with my parents when I was 30 years old (single, unemployed, and broke,) sleeping on a friend’s dorm room floor in London while I job hunted the following year, a detainment on my way in to England, a deportation on my way out (both bureaucratic nightmares, neither one my fault, I swear!) There was a relationship with someone twenty-two years older, an attack while riding my bike in Germany, and two rounds of expensive, invasive fertility treatments before we were able to have a daughter.

But…

At this point in life I can say the prophesy has been fulfilled.  I’m living in Heidelberg, the city that first drew me to Europe. My husband is the ultimate life partner. I enjoy my job. I have a baby daughter who is the light of my world, and two grown stepdaughters whom I love and who have accepted me from day one.

The thing is, in a very strange way, the past few years of happiness have made me…lazy? Definitely less motivated.  Desensitized to my surroundings, even?

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