getting back in the swing of things...

after a ridiculous hiatus, i will be posting new stuff very soon. the last year-and-a-half has been filled with many ups and downs, a lot of pain and joy, and a lot of new beginnings.

i can't wait to share more of my story with you...



caught off guard

grief is a strange thing. it catches me by surprise at the strangest moments... and the raw pain of it shocks me every time.

i was driving home from work a few weeks ago - after a really pleasant day, actually - and i stopped by to pick up the mail before driving up to the house. there, nestled among the bills and the advertisements, the letters, and the abundance of birthday cards (my younger brother, my father, and i all have birthdays in july), was a catalog of medical and anatomical charts addressed to my older brother, todd. all i could think of, as i held that glossy magazine in my shaking hands, was that i had no idea that todd even had any interest in anatomy. i missed him so acutely in those few minutes, was so totally overwhelmed by the reality of his utter absence, that i had to simply stop and let myself cry in my car (todd's old pickup truck) until i could, after a surprisingly long time, finally compose myself.

the other day, i was standing out on my balcony, soaking up a little bit of sun and listening to music. i found myself captivated by a little spider spinning its web and was reminded that todd had a collection of photographs of spiders and their webs, when a small cloud passed over the sun and the song i had chosen for todd's memorial came on over my headphones (to build a home by the cinematic orchestra). at that moment, it felt like he was truly standing there with me... maybe for just a heartbeat... but it hit me so hard, i thought my legs wouldn't support me anymore.

i think about todd a little every day... how i wish that i had known him better... how much i idolized him and his very calm, collected, and yet rebel-like demeanor when i was a kid... how i used to stand outside his door when i was younger just to listen to how brilliantly he could play the guitar... how inspiring his love and shear compassion for every living creature on this earth was and still is. i remain focused on the positives of his life almost all the time. every once in a while, though, i am reminded of the fact that he just isn't anymore and it grips my heart so hard, it steals the breath right out of me.



it's storming outside right now, and the bells are ringing at the church down the hill... there is a quiet sense of anticipation in the air. i am reminded of how little time i have left in stuttgart - a mere three weeks - and while i am excited beyond expression to get to go home for a while, my heart is breaking for all of the things that i will leave behind here.

my friends here - a motley crew of architects, ballet dancers, bankers, computer programmers, businesspeople, designers, writers, bouncers - mean more to me than my words could ever put to paper (or web page, letter, insert your preferred method of verbal expression here). when i first came here three years ago, i was honestly terrified about moving to a place where i knew two people, but didn't know the language, the city, or the customs/culture of the people here. i somehow had the great fortune to come across a few people who just brighten every day... people who, in an instant, will drop everything to stand by my side. let me tell you, had i not had my friends here, there is no way in hell i would have made it through this last year in one piece.

i will miss the bar i hang out at most days - oblomow... a kind of ratty-looking place where you can just be (as opposed to the abundance of overly-chic-see-and-be-seen locales around stuttgart). i will miss the presence of stairs all over the city... some tucked away between tall buildings, others sprawling in a picturesque landscape. i will miss the parks, and reading in the garden in front of the old castle in the center of the city. i will miss being able to walk through the city with a bottle of beer. i will miss the bells marking the passage of each day.

... i will miss my apartment and the soft light that filters through my window each morning along with the sounds of the dove that has nested in the ridiculously tall pine directly outside my window.

it's strange, though, the certainty i have that though i am leaving here, it will not be forever. there are places i have been to or lived in that i have no desire to see again. stuttgart is not one of those places... less so for the actual place (which is beautiful and wonderful in a kind of surprising way) than for the people i have met here (and treasure beyond all reason) and the experiences i have had here.

it seems that my last little bit of time here is simply slipping away from me... it makes me more resolved each day to really take advantage of what i still can. but for right now, i am completely content to sit in my room with a hot cup of coffee, listening to the rain and the bells and the birds, and reading a picture of dorian gray in the soft light of the afternoon.


on my way!

finally some good news: i have been accepted to the daap at the university of cincinnati to pursue my masters in community planning with a focus on international development (no, i am not going to the dark side. i am not on the way to becoming a developer... just read the wiki article) in the masters international program (i will due a two-year stint in the peace corps - pending my acceptance there, as well - sandwiched in-between two years of study).

after everything that has happened this year (getting so sick i had to go to the hospital several times, losing my job, having to bury my older brother last month), i was literally so over the moon about my admissions letter that i had a bout of cry/laughing (while doing fist pumps and a happy dance around my room at 2am).

so it begins, i suppose... or continues on a new path, rather. now all i have to do is get accepted to the peace corps, find an apartment in cinci, ship my stuff home, ... ok - so i still have quite a bit to do yet in the next two months... but i am going to take a bit of time and really, really enjoy the bit of good that has (finally) come my way this year.

in the wake of this, i hope that something really good comes your way, too ... and if nothing good seems to be looming on the horizon, just be patient (i cannot believe that i - the least patient person in the world - am giving this advice, but c'est la vie), keep your chin held high, and keep a smile on your face.



a bit of good and a bit of bad

the bad:

i stopped by a little shop last night to grab a shawarma - because i finally found a place in stuttgart that has them and they are the best thing ever - at a little lebanese place downtown. the food takes a little while, but it is so fresh and so worth it... it is also run in the evenings by a really nice, very generous, soft-spoken guy who kind of looks like he needs a hug.

anyway... there were four guys sitting at a table across from me as i was waiting for my food... i don't think i can accurately describe just how irritating they were - loud, obnoxious, rude, unsatisfiable... and, of course, speaking in english. i sat back and listened as they harassed this poor guy and did nothing but complain, while the waiter/cook was going way out of his way to be accommodating... even speaking english when most people in this city look at you like you have two heads if you speak english to them. i got up to get my order and pay (and tell the waiter to just take a deep breath...), when one of the men at the table started actually banging his coke can on the table like an impatient two year old (apparently, the grill wasn't cooking his meat fast enough for him). i saw red... and i got all soap-boxy... and i lectured.

they tried to use the excuse that they were irritable because they were stuck in stuttgart due to the volcanic ash. then they tried to use the excuse of being very - and i quote - 'particular about food.' i found this particularly funny because, in a city full of gourmet restaurants and cafes (one of which, i currently work for), they were huddled around a (plastic) table at a fast food restaurant in an alley. then one of the men tried to brush off his - quoting again - 'regrettable display of rude behavior,' speaking in a tone as if i was simply going to excuse him. i almost laughed at the shocked expression on his face when i told him that, yes, i had seen and heard all of it and that he should be ashamed of himself for subjecting anyone to that kind of appalling treatment. ... i asked him/them to be more considerate and then i left. i can only hope that they were at least shamed into being more civilized.

this kind of (pardon the lack of eloquence here) utter crap is why i believe every single person should be required to work in the service industry for at least a year of their life. military service imparts honor, discipline, loyalty, etc. ... waiting tables or working in customer service teaches patience and appreciation for service, and - most of the time, at least - comes with a whopping dose of humility and gratitude. it probably wasn't my place to wag my finger at the four toddlers-in-adult-bodies at the restaurant last night... but i was also shocked that i was the only person who said anything in a room full of other people.

disappointing is about the only word i can think of (aside from being steaming mad) for how i felt as i walked off with my (absolutely delicious) shawarma.

the good:

a little boy came into the ice cream parlor i am working at, along with a gaggle of other kids. he told me that he had forgotten his money but that he would pay me/someone for the ice cream the next day... i wanted to pay for him myself, but i knew that if i did that for him, it would be completely unfair to not do the same for the other kids (not to mention that word travels through these kids' grapevine at warp speed). my heart broke at the dejected look on the little boy's face... but then the most amazing thing happened: a kid standing next to the cash register - who couldn't have been more than maybe 12 or 13 - turned to the very sad-faced boy and asked him what he wanted, pulled out a couple of euros, and told the little boy to enjoy his ice cream... and then, smiling, simply walked away.

maybe i am blowing this way out of proportion, but i think such a pure act of simple charity is pretty awesome. very few people would go out of their way for a stranger and if/when they do, most of the time, it's in the pursuit of recognition for their 'giving spirit.' i wish you could have seen the look of complete and utter joy on this little boy's face after he realized that he would, in fact, be able to get his ice cream (he picked chocolate). it very literally made my day. ... it also reminded me that little acts of kindness go a long way.


new things in a kind of in-between

radio silence is over.

in the midst of a time of immense changes in my life (preparing to change careers, change countries, change my health... for the better, i hope), i got laid off. yes, i am now just another unemployed architect... i have never been more glad (read: bitter) about spending five years stumbling through (read: torturing myself with) architecture school at the cost of my health, normal sleep schedule, some semblance of a social life, and - possibly - most of my sanity.

needless to say, i have been dealing with some pretty ridiculous emotional ups and downs this month - one of the primary reasons i have not posted anything in a while - i am not quite off of the roller coaster, but i am resolved to have more positive days than negative ones. i realize that things could really be so much worse (after two appeals and a lot of fighting with bureaucrats, i have been deemed eligible for unemployment benefits in germany, and i can still keep my health insurance... which is a huge weight off of my shoulders right now), and i am determined to remind myself that i just need to keep fighting in order to make things better.

i am a stubborn little shit and i do not give up (which is both a positive and negative thing)... and i prefer to keep smiling through the pain than to dwell and be broody about things that have already happened (<-- definitely not so much my style).

so, while i am waiting to hear back regarding my graduate school application, i am working part time at an ice cream parlor (in a weird mix of italian, german, and english... my brain feels like soup at the end of the day) and am focusing on doing the things i have always wanted to do here in stuttgart but have never found the time to do (i.e. touristy nonsense, laying in the sun in the park with a good book and a beer, going for a run in the forest every day, going to the theatah and the operrrra, brushing up on the languages i have learned but recently forgotten, etc.).

i have booked a flight to return me to the states, regardless of grad school admissions, at the beginning of august. it's a little terrifying and a lot exhilarating to be making such a big change once again. i have no idea what i will be doing at the end of the summer or where exactly i will end up... but i am ridiculously excited to find out what is to come.




i have been window shopping all day... for cookbooks. anyone who knows me knows how much i love to cook; to play with ingredients; to experiment with flavors. my dream is to, one day, have a kitchen in which an entire wall is composed of bookshelves filled to bursting with cookbooks... inspiration. (i also want a multi-story library with rolling ladders, a studio, darkroom, and a never-ending herb garden, but that is neither here nor there)

cookbooks are wondrous things to me - like stories told with food. my only problem is that i rarely follow a recipe exactly. ever. i have notebooks on top of notebooks filled with recipes that i have tweaked or completely revised for a location/season/occasion.

i have been teaching myself a few german recipes... i am particularly fond of the southern food, as it reminds me of summers at my grandmother's house in southern arkansas somehow. i have found a delightful swabian cookbook, but it is entirely written in dialect (which is a far cry from the german i learned in class), and i am going to try my hand at some real traditional swabian cooking! i will post pictures and recipes as i go :)



a little something you should know...

i just finished reading the last lecture by randy pausch. it made me laugh, cry, and think a lot. this man was 47 and was given a death sentence - pancreatic cancer - and instead of spending his last months in despair or wallowing in pity, he chose to share a little bit of himself and leave a bit of profound advice for his very young children (and all of the people who read his book/watch his lecture, by proxy).

here are his words:

i have been repeating several things in my head of late, and they have only been reinforced by hearing and reading what dr. pausch had to say...
the first is what has become my new mantra: 'live fully, love deeply, and smile with your eyes';
the other, i found on an antique wax seal: 'dum spiro spero.' in latin, that's 'while i breathe, i hope.'

so, keep hoping and never stop finding ways to get over/around/through any of the brick walls you may come against.


too important to leave to politics

you'll have to forgive me for posting this late, as due to the time difference, i only just saw this... but if you're an american with a functioning brain between your ears, please take a minute - or forty - and watch this video. i am so thankful that someone with as much reach as mr. olbermann took the time to talk about our healthcare fiasco not just with reason on his side, but personal experience and real emotion... i know he won't read this, but i just want to say, 'thank you, mr. olbermann, from the bottom of my heart - for taking this as seriously as it needs to be taken and for continuing to talk about the facts and the issues that really matter in this debate.'
this really is too important to leave to politicians who seem to have less than honorable intentions with regards to our national health. i have, personally, spent way more of my life fighting with insurance companies and not getting coverage because i happened to be bitten by a tick that passed lymes disease on to me at age 2 to not get overly impassioned about this issue. i hate the fact that both arkansas senators (where i am registered to vote and where my family farm is) are on the list of people who just seem to care more about getting their next campaign contribution than actually performing their civic duty - a duty we elected them for - to ensure the betterment of their constituents' lives.

in arkansas (and texas), i have been denied coverage for almost every type of treatment because of a preexisting condition i had and have no control over. in arkansas, i had to pay out of pocket for an mri to search for what my doctors thought could be brain cancer because, according to my insurance provider, brain cancer and lymes disease are inextricably linked. in arkansas and all over the states, i have friends who have to choose between buying insurance for themselves and their children and paying rent or making a car payment. i am honestly wondering why senators lincoln and pryor, of arkansas, aren't addressing this problem - in arkansas and the rest of the country - with the seriousness it deserves. i am wondering how our elected officials can sleep at night while those who gave them their votes are going bankrupt, losing their homes, and dying because of a problem they turn a blind eye to.

i hope that hearing these segments from one honest american - whether you agree with him on what exactly needs to be done or not - moves you to contact your representatives. i hope that you have the chance to tell them that if they do not do something real about this very serious set of problems, that they do not deserve the office they hold and that you will be giving your vote to someone who will deserve that honorable position.

i know that i am far removed from this debate - for now. i know that some would think that because i do not currently reside in the u.s. (even though i will be moving back next year), that i should not be entitled to the opinion i am giving here or the right to vote that i so proudly exercise when given the opportunity, even from a distance. but i also know that now that i live in germany, i have full healthcare coverage for the first time in my life... real coverage that actually pays for treatment and prevention. i know that i had to sit in a hospital and recovery center at my father's side last year and listen to stories about how people - my dad included - have to sign over their farms and houses before they can be treated for a heart attack that is currently threatening to take their life just in case their insurance doesn't pay. i know that my family and friends and their families and friends have to deal with the consequences of this every day. i know that i voted for 'change [i] can believe in' and i want that change desperately... not just for me but for everyone in america, because the right to good healthcare and prevention is what i consider to be a basic human right. as american citizens, it is high bloody time we were provided with it.



i have been rather neglectful of ye olde blog here for a while... i just wanted to post a note here to inform anyone who actually still reads this that i will be writing more (actual substance) here very, very soon. real life has kept me somewhat busy of late, but i will be posting pictures of stuttgart (finally), my quick trip to berlin with my friend enrica, and more soapbox-y type stuff than you could ever hope for in the immediate future.