Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pay it forward

Fruitful

In these last few weeks I have been especially enamored by the view over here - miles of terraced olive groves with their short stone retaining walls and the picturesque hillside villages they surround. But views here are often colored by the conflict. I try not to think about it too much.

Next week is Tu B'Shvat, a minor Jewish holiday to celebrate the trees and we've been gearing up by eating a lot of dried fruit and reading the Lorax. This new painting, called Fruitful, was inspired by a little passage from the Talmud (that has made its way into the Jewish summer camp storytelling canon. I don't actually read the Talmud regularly. Or ever, come to think of it). Has me thinking about the kind of legacy I want to leave for my own kids. Heavy stuff.

Once, while the sage, Honi, was walking along a road, he saw an old man planting a carob tree. Honi asked him: “How many years will it take for this tree to give forth its fruit?” The man answered that it would require 70 years. Honi asked: “Are you so healthy a man that you expect to live that length of time and eat its fruit?” The man answered: “I found a fruitful world because my ancestors planted it for me. So, too, will I plant for my children.” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a)

Available here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When life gives you lemons

Octalemon

When the lemons look like this one, then you best run for the hills because no one should be drinking lemonade from this many-tentacled citrus freakshow. It seems that whatever has turned our zesty friend into the OCTALEMON may be in the water or the vents or somewhere lurking in our quirky home. This has been the winter to beat all and we are down for the count. Uncle. There I said it. We are beat. You win, evil Octalemon.

Since we arrived in November it's been one illness after another. First the boys both had mystery fever with rash and the older one had vomitting. Then the girl had the vomitting. And the older boy had more vomiting. Then the baby had a nasty cough with walrus snot and eye goop. Then I had strep. Now I have a sinus infection and the baby's coughing again. And Mr. Rosen has impetigo. Yes, impetigo, the childhood disease. He's the only adult ever in the history of the world who managed to catch impetigo. Coincidentally last week's Torah portion was about the first seven plagues, one of which was boils. I guess we can feel lucky that it was only boils and not also frogs and lice. So he's in quarantine and the rest of us are trying to stay warm enough to get healthy and survive our first winter in the Jerusalem hills. We were not prepared for this much cold and wet.

And the thing about Israeli houses is that they are mostly built to combat heat. But that appears to be the case in the winter also. Whatever heat we do manage to create just evaporates into the cinder block walls. Bye bye. So the other day Mr. Rosen's dad came and taped plastic sheeting to all of our windows and sliding glass doors to protect us from the cold and, incidentally, chemical warfare. Funny what Israelis have lying around the house. It's not the most attractive option but it was cheap to buy, free to install (thanks Saba) and works great. Hopefully the worst is behind us and we can get ready for a beautiful Spring in another few weeks. With this much rain we have high hopes for a dazzling wildflower season. And a few rounds of hay fever.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Big in Japan

Photo and art credits: Bella Sinclair

Today's guest is the one and only Bella Sinclair, a favorite illustrator of mine and a generally delightful person, beloved by many. She's an Illustration Friday enthusiast and her work is pure magic. I'm especially enamored by Bella's rendition of Hayao Miyazaki's large monster bunny, Totoro. I knew that Bella had spent some time living with her family in Japan and since her own blog is focused mostly on her illustrations, I crossed my fingers she'd agree to be in the Strangers in a Strange Land series so that I could learn more about her. And about smart toilets. Who knew?

1. How did you come to land in Japan?
My husband's company transferred him to develop new business in Asia.  Manhattan was wearing him down, and I could tell he was itching to fly across oceans.  So when an opportunity came up in Tokyo, we took it.  I was reluctant at first.  Okay, I'll admit it.  I cried a little.  We had a house I loved in the suburbs that we had just finished renovating.  Most of my friends were there, and I felt rooted.  But I eventually got over my initial shock and fear and absolutely loved it in the end.




2. Do you speak Japanese or did you take any language courses before you arrived?

I took a year of Japanese in college, but that had been eons ago.  Once I got to Japan, I started taking lessons again.  Unfortunately, the area where we lived was full of expats, so it was easy to get by without using much Japanese at all.

3. If you are not a native speaker, do you have any funny stories about language errors?
Actually, I learned not to speak Japanese to people because they would assume I was fluent and speak back to me at a million words a minute.  So I didn't have any language errors that I can remember, but I do have an amusing story.  My Japanese teacher and I would often make small talk during our lessons, and one time she was describing dishes that she likes to cook.  She kept saying, "sea chicken." 
Huh?  "Sea chicken?"  I was completely  baffled. Yes, sea chicken."  And then I realized that she was talking about tuna!  Chicken of the Sea! 

4. Tell me about one of your lowest moments?

Our time in Tokyo was a fantastic adventure, perhaps being some of the best years of our lives.  The only low point was when my husband suddenly passed away.  It would be a difficult time for anyone, but having to deal with the hospital and police and funeral parlor in a foreign language made me feel even more isolated.  Luckily, I had a friend who was fluent in Japanese who helped me through it all.


5. What was the best part about living in Japan?
The Japanese are a wonderfully refined, polite, and honest people.  And they take pride in keeping things clean and orderly.  People smiled and nodded hello.  I felt very safe and hyper civilized.

6. Did you ever feel totally at home?
Oh, yes!  We had our routines and frequent haunts.  And between work and the international school, there was no shortage of English speakers.

7. What did you miss most about the United States?
Definitely mobility!  We didn't have a car in Tokyo, nor would I have trusted myself on the roads.  So every time one of my kids had a playdate at a friend's house, I'd have to carefully map out the subway route to get there and back.  And sometimes, their friends lived in places unreachable by subway, which meant we had to jump in a cab.  A playdate could easily cost me $40.  It almost made me wish my kids had no friends.

8. What are some of the things you didn't know how you lived without before you moved to Japan? (i.e. foods, customs, culture...)
Did I tell you about the smart toilet that stays perpetually warm, automatically opens and closes and auto flushes?  Aaaaah, pure heaven!  And Japanese pastries, oh my goodness!  They make bread that is so incredibly light and fluffy. 

9. How did the kids adjust to the move?

Kids are mighty resilient.  My girls were in the fourth grade and kindergarten when we first got to Tokyo.  Being that we went to an all-girl international school where lots of kids come and go after a year or so, they did not feel singled out or unusual.  They made the transition quite easily.  There were a lot of British and Aussie teachers at the school, and my little one actually started to pick up a British accent.

10. Was there any chance of "blending in" or did you always feel like "the American"? Did it matter?

Blending in was easy where we lived.  We were in an area affectionately (or not) known as gaizin ghetto.  The neighborhood was crawling with foreigners and you could practically hop from one embassy rooftop to another without touching ground.  We lived next to the French Embassy, and down the street was the German Embassy, and a little further away was Finland and Qatar and China and so on.  So many different people, so many different languages.  As long as we stayed where the embassies were, we blended in just fine.


11. Can you reflect on any cultural differences that were challenging to navigate or led to a funny situation or misunderstandings?
My Japanese teacher would come to my apartment on Tuesday mornings.  I remember one time, my husband was still there because he had decided to go to work late that morning. My husband and I were very informal about comings and goings.  "Bye."  "Bye."  "Hi, I'm back."  "Hey."  But I guess in Japanese culture, the man is king of his domain.  My Japanese teacher was very apologetic and embarrassed to be there, feeling that she had invaded his territory.  And she physically made me get up to give him a proper, ceremonial send off.  What did she want me to do, fluff up his jacket and lay out his shoes?  I had no idea.  So my husband and I just stood there, staring awkwardly at each other for a moment.  Then he said, "Bye."  And I said, "Okay, bye."

12. Did life there have any impact on your illustration style?
Definitely.  You cannot live in Japan and not absorb all the kawaii or cuteness.

13. What lessons can you draw from the whole experience?
You know what?  I've learned that I'm a lot tougher and more resilient than I thought.  Life can change in a blink, and everything you know can be gone tomorrow.  But new adventures await, and I will go on.


***************
Thank you Bella! Your mad skills and sense of humor shine in every illustration. Get a taste of the kawaii that I'm talking about over at Bella Sinclair's Doodlespot. Tell Totoro I sent you.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

How the universe sent me a babysitter - Part II

Havdalah

When I walked in to her little house on the prairie I immediately breathed in the smell of spice tea. It was toasty warm inside, clean but not sterile. Yael had the look of a home schooling, bread baking, granola rolling, all-terrain strolling, pioneer mama. I stayed for about forty minutes and we played with the babies. I nursed my boy. She nursed hers. We talked about how he sleeps, what he eats, how he motors across a carpet on elbows. He stared at everything with his giant eyes. When it was time for me to go he made the boo boo face and started to cry. I said goodbye and left him with Yael. And then I went to get a great big coffee from the cafe across main road. After, I went home and straightened up the house, did some laundry and generally felt happy to be alone. Really alone. Not the kind of alone where you still have a baby strapped on to you. We were separate and it was fine.

I picked him up two hours later. He had cried. But he also slept. I gave him the food I had made. He hadn't taken it from Yael. But she wasn't discouraged and neither was I. We wanted to make it work.

The next day we came straight after dropping off the big kids. He was tired and I didn't stay long so that she could put him to bed. Before I left she changed his diaper and sang his favorite song, Itsy Bitsy Spider, but in Hebrew. He calmed down. He was starting to connect to her. He cried again when I left but she texted soon after that he was asleep.

This time when I got home I got out my paints and a drawing, the third in a series, that I had sketched a while ago but never painted. So I painted it. The series is called Day of Rest. One panel is Sabbath Eve with the two candles, the glass of wine and the challah. The second panel is Sabbath day - a tree of life shading a quiet village. The third one, the one I just painted, is called Havdalah, the separation between the Sabbath and a new week, the symbols of which are the braided candle, the glass of wine and the spice box. It seemed the perfect theme to celebrate my own brief separation.

When I went back to Yael's he was awake and cried when he saw me. I nursed him and we snuggled. He relaxed.  He had slept a lot and eaten both jars of his food but still no bottle. In due time. While I was nursing him Yael asked me if I knew someone named Galit from the moshav. I asked, does she have a seven month old? Yes. A few weeks before I had been in the cafe with my kids and another family was there with some out of towners so they were speaking English. I guess the husband overheard us speaking English too and when we were leaving he asked where we were from. We had a brief conversation about California because someone from his family was living there but I don't remember the details. Nice guy. They live in the moshav across from the cafe. A week later I was at our health clinic with the baby and I ran into the guy's wife with their seven month old. She asked, didn't I see you at the cafe? Yes. I gave her my card and said she should email me if she ever wanted to get together. I told her I work from home but I don't yet have childcare and I'm with the baby a lot. Hoping to find a sitter sometime soon...

That was Galit. Turns out Galit had given that card to Yael a few days later and mentioned she had met an American looking for some part time childcare. At that point in our conversation Yael went over to her jacket pocket and pulled out my card.

The universe is funny that way. Sometimes it expects you to take the last step and close the circle. Which is fine by me since I'm one who thinks we make our own fate. But I learned from a good friend not to  dismiss the powers of attraction and our abilities to draw exactly the right people at the right time into our lives.

Friday, January 13, 2012

How the universe sent me a babysitter - Part I

Seven months

This was a very big week. I found a babysitter for Bug Eye McChicken Legs. This is big for a number of reasons but mainly because I wasn't totally convinced that I could rationalize spending money for someone else to take care of him when I only earn barely enough to cover it. I always have it in my head that I can still run my business and my household in two hour increments while he's napping and why would I pay for someone else to watch him sleep. Except he doesn't always nap as he should. And I never feel at ease starting the next project because I know that at any moment I will have to stop. And then I secretly start to resent just a teeny bit the McChicken. Plus maybe the reason I am only earning enough to barely cover childcare, is that I'm not actually working much at all.

Since he was born I haven't painted a thing. In the weeks leading up to his birth I had several commissions to finish and it was quite a fruitful period. But then the baby came and the house sold and the RV trip and the move and leaving the country and settling into a new county. Well, it hasn't been super conducive to creating. And unfortunately I'm not the type to just jot down sketches and doodles whenever I can. I know that about myself so I don't even buy journals anymore.  I've continued to fill orders and have them printed and shipped through a lovely print shop in North Carolina thanks to the magic of the Internet, so business goes on. But nothing new has hit paper in seven months which had me feeling like I'm not really an artist (I feel this way from time to time. Impostor syndrome. Very destructive).

So when I saw a flyer posted next to the neighborhood grocery (think Israeli bodega) advertising a 29 year old mom of two (baby and toddler) looking to watch another baby three days a week in the morning while her two year old is at preschool, I sort of thought this might be perfect. So I took a tear off with her number.

And I stuck it in my pocket where it sat for a week.

I had those thoughts again that I don't deserve childcare. That my baby is too problematic. (no binky, no lovie, no bottle, lots of nursing). That it's not worth the hassle of getting him ready in the morning and packing up his food and diapers and wipes. That surely she's already taken another baby since half the tear-offs were gone and that was a week ago.

Finally I called and even during the conversation I felt a weight rising in my chest. I don't really want to do this. I can't do this. I don't deserve it. She had one other family interested but she was waiting to hear back from them. She'd call me back. A few days later I got a text that she'd like me to bring the baby over and we could try it out for a week or so. See how it goes. I liked that approach.

So this week on Tuesday I took the kids to school and put the baby down for his nap when we got home. When he woke up we rode over to the village next door where the sitter lives (across from the awesome cafe that I wrote about last month which will prove to be an important part of the second part of this story). As I drove in I already started to feel lighter. She lives in a moshav which is kind of a little farming community. This one happens to be a vineyard. And she lives down a dirt road next to a few abandoned chicken coops which I find endlessly charming. Her personal roost overlooks a beautiful valley. And when she opened the door and welcomed me with a giant smile, I sort of knew this would be right for us.

Part II to come.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly in San Sebastian

all photo credits: Jane Green

It's time for our second installment of Strangers in a Strange Land. I came to find Jane Green and her beautiful blog Spain Daily through another blogging friend when she was hosting a weekly photography prompt called Corner View.  I still look to Jane for photography inspiration. She has a way of sneaking in on people's lives and capturing the exact moment that tells their whole story. That goes for her incredible pictures of architecture and scenery too, of which there is no shortage in beautiful Spain. She also has a knack for shots of tight little matador tushies. And who doesn't love a little eye candy now and then, am I right?

But for all of her candid shots and explorations of daily life, she's not one to write at length about herself. So I'm honored that she was willing to participate in this series. As usual, her humor shines through. Enjoy!

1. How did you come to land in Spain?
Love

2. Did you plan to stay as long as you have?
My first trip to Spain was to San Sebastian for just three weeks to see “how I would like living there.” The sun shone every day, I met wonderful people, and the food was amazing! (And there were palm trees!!!) I went back to the states, packed up my life, and moved there two weeks later.

It turned out to be a freakish warm winter where I went to the beach every day. The following year things were back to normal where it rains for 9 months a year. But, by then I was hooked. I still think Jorge had something to do with it ;)


3. How was your language acquisition? Did you learn Spanish when you arrived or did you already speak the language?
When I got to Spain I considered myself almost “fluent” in Spanish.  I had taken it at school for 7 years and got straight As. The first day of my visit I ordered a cafĂ© con leche. The waiter handed me a pack of cigarettes, I paid, walked outside, and cried...

4. If you are not a native speaker, do you have any funny stories about language errors?
One of the funnier ones. (There are many.) I wanted to start working as soon as I got here. One day I saw an add in the newspaper for chicas (girls) wanted for Bar Americano (American bar.) Here I was picturing a “Friends” type bar where everyone knows your name kind of a place. Turns out- “chicas” are prostitutes and Bar Americano is a brothel. I think Jorge laughed for a month!

5. Tell me about one of your lowest moments?
See number 4 ;)

6. What is the best part about living where you do?
I love that my kids get to grow up here. We have beaches, mountains, and cities (plus France, Portugal, Italy) at (or almost at)  our front door. Add to that art, history, and inexpensive haute cuisine ... I think it has made them much more open minded. At least that´s what I tell myself when I´m craving a walk up Walnut Street and strawberry pancakes. 


7. When did you realize where you are home? Or are you not there yet?
Nope, still not there. I don´t think I´ll ever be. But what´s strange is that I don´t feel like I´m home when I´m in the States either. I´m away for such long periods of time that I always feel a little out of the loop when I´m there too. I think it´s a really common feeling for people living abroad- and one you get used to.

8. What do you miss most about the United States?
Don´t get me started...Besides the obvious, I miss big bookstores, my favorite coffee shops, breakfasts out, diversity, creativity, even the guy that does the voice overs on TV...



9. What are some of the things you don't know how you lived without before you moved to Spain? (i.e. foods, customs, culture, shoes...)
Tortilla de patatas... soooo good!

10. Did you raise your kids bilingual? How's was that?
 Yes, definitely! From day one, Jorge spoke to them in Spanish and I spoke to them in English. And from the day they spoke their first word- it was in Spanish to Jorge and in English to me. We really didn´t give it much thought. And the kids just knew. (It´s my gift to them.)

11. Are you still "the American" or do you blend in at this point?
 I´ll always be “the American”  If you heard my accent, you´d understand. ;)


12. Can you reflect on any cultural differences that were challenging to navigate or led to a funny situation or misunderstanding?
 There are, I just can´t think of any at the moment. The Spaniards eat every part of the pig, cow, fish, shrimp.... I´m sure they have to do with food... :) That, and I´ve had some funny situations trying to figure out how to flush a toilet.

13. How has your experience colored your photography?
I think life is slower here, so it´s easier to live in the moment. Plus the fact that I´m surrounded by beauty.... but then again, beauty is everywhere, if you are looking.

14. What lessons can you draw from the whole experience?
 I´m the first to laugh at myself.... and never underestimate the power of diplomacy...


*************

Gracias Jane! Clearly a sense of humor is a must for any expat. Note to self. Head over to Spain Daily to get a glimpse of daily life in Spain. Jane even has an ETSY shop where she sells a selection of her beautiful prints.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Cross Sell

Up sell at the gas station

Israelis are masterful at the up sell and the cross sell. It seems like with everything you buy there is the option to get something along with it for really cheap. Or not so cheap. This goes for the regular stuff like health insurance add-ons or services you don't need from the phone company. I even got suckered into buying some fancy conditioner from the guy at the hair salon to help keep the salt and stone that is apparently in the water from wrecking my hair. The supermarket is especially notorious for the up sell.  The checkers always offer you one of the specials sitting right there. Would you like some mushrooms for ten shekels? A jar of jam? Gum? Two for three shekels? Or if you spend a certain amount they'll sell you a toaster or a set of glass cups or a towel. I'm usually so flabbergasted by the end of my grocery shopping, what with Screaming Jeepers McSpongey Butt strapped onto me making me sweat like it's the middle of summer, I always pass.

The other day I was at the gas station and saw that for a mere 24 shekels I could get a pastrami sandwich, a bottle of water and a pack of mint Mentos to go! I don't know why but that cracked me up. Maybe because it made me think of those Mentos commercials that are so obviously made in Europe or who knows where and dubbed in English.

In fact the gas station offers a world of cross selling opportunities. Marketers take heed! Mr. Rosen came home a few weeks ago from the gas station with an espresso machine! Here we go... We were on the market for one after having a delicious coffee at our friends house not long ago. But instead of buying the one they had which would have been the smart way to go, Mr. Rosen went with the model at the gas station. Only 500 shekels ($150) which unfortunately is quite cheap here. Except it took Mr Rosen about half an hour to make a cup of coffee and it made so much noise the baby woke up and the coffee tasted like diesel fuel which is what you get when you buy an espresso maker at the gas station. Not true. The coffee tasted fine but did not seem worth the effort. We figured we'd just add that to the account we've set aside for newcomer miscalculations. Sunk cost. But after cleaning it up and repackaging it, and with my encouragement and a very believable story (it was such a good deal my parents bought us the same one in white and my wife prefers the white one), he was actually able to return it a week later.

I'm hoping the cross sell applies to house cleaning services too. I'm actually hoping to hire someone to clean my house twice a month one of these days. And I'm hoping that in addition to the usual kitchen/bathrooms/floors/dusting regimen, s/he'll try to cross sell me on windows, laundry and childcare. It won't be a hard sell.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A few things to smile about

Mr. Happy Pita Man

OK. Here is why me and Mr. Pita Face are smiling:
  • I'm reading this book and it's great. I haven't read a book since Jumbo babypants was born so it's kind of nice.
  • Aimee just gave up the goods over at Artsyville. Her online workshop Three Little Words is posted and you can use her wordy workouts to get your poet mojo flow-jo. 
  • I just signed up for Liv Lane's e-course Building a Blog You Truly Love because Liv Lane is one of the most authentic, hard-working, creative, savvy and inspiring people I know. I saw this post featuring some of the content and decided it was a must.  Her class starts January 9th so there's still time to sign up.
  • Did you know that my brother has a blog? He lives in Mexico and runs a small hotel, surfs and plays piano. We live very different lives. That was an understatement of epic proportion. Go read his stuff and see what I mean. Tell him I said hi.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Studio with a View of Munich


I don't remember where I first discovered Stephanie's artwork - she's been featured all over the blogosphere and published in several books and magazines - but her signature style drew me to her blog where I found a kindred spirit. In fact her responses to my interview questions completely resonated with me down to the tiny details - like missing cranberry juice! (Seriously, Rest of the World, how are we Americans supposed to treat our urinary tract infections without cranberry juice!) She's been living in Germany for the last 15 years and now with her German artist husband and her two beautiful girls she juggles her studio work, her ETSY shop, her 12 countries in 12 months project and her teaching schedule. Her upcoming e-course Creative Courage is a practical guide that will help you clarify your own unique path and give you the tools you need to start making your goals real. It starts January 9 and you can sign up here.

1. How did you come to land in Germany/Munich?

I came and stayed for love :) Way back when, while I was studying Art back in the US, I met a German physics student who was working on his Ph.D. We fell in love, got married, and moved to Germany. We started out in Berlin, then moved to Heidelberg because of his job, then moved back to Berlin so that I could complete my Master's degree. After several years, that relationship ended - although we are still friends - and I met my husband Florian, who is also German and an artist. In 2005, we both completed our studies in Berlin and moved to his hometown of Munich.



2. Did you plan to stay as long as you have?

I had no idea. When I came over, I was 24 years old, fresh out of university, and I had two suitcases full of my belongings. Completely naive, but ready for adventure. I remember thinking that the food tasted more intensely in Europe, everything seemed richer and more exciting.

3. How was your language acquisition? Did you learn German when you arrived or did you already speak the language?

I spoke about 10 words of German when I arrived. After one month of living in former East Berlin (where at that time most people didn't speak any English in the shops), I realized that I HAD to learn German if I was going to be able to communicate with others in any kind of coherent way. Even with friends who spoke some English, at dinners and parties they would tire fairly quickly and start speaking German again. I tend to talk a lot, so I had a strong motivation to learn German quickly.

I went to a private language school where I took daily intensive, immersion classes in German - about 3 hours per day plus homework. We didn't have much money, so I think my language school was one of the cheapest in Berlin. This meant that the classes were really huge - about 25 students - and full of people from literally all over the world. From Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, Iraq, Brazil, Malaysia, Bosnia, Iceland, and so on. I think I was one of the only Americans, but it was good because I was forced to speak German with the other students even in the breaks.


4. If you are not a native speaker, do you have any funny stories about language errors?

I learned German such a long time ago, so I can't remember any really funny stories about specific errors at the moment... But what was difficult for me (and sometimes still is) - was getting used to the extreme German directness. I remember being at a dinner party and one woman said very loudly proclaimed in German, "Well I don't like Americans because they are always fake and you never know what they think about you." This woman knew that I was an American and her comment was somewhat directed at me, but I was so flabbergasted that I had no idea even how to respond, especially in German!

I'm from Tennessee, and with my Southern upbringing, I was completely unprepared for situations like this. In the meantime, I have learned how to be more direct - and to take things people say about the US or American culture less personally. Sometimes I agree with them too! My German is fluent these days, so I can get involved in a discussion, rather than just helplessly sitting there not knowing what to say.

5. Tell me about one of your lowest moments?

When we made the first move from Berlin to Heidelberg, I didn't have any friends, it was the coldest winter in years, and I had to wait a couple of months before any language classes were starting. I spent some hard weeks there when I wondered what on earth I was doing. We still had very little money, no real furniture in the apartment... just an old black and white TV that played German movies in the afternoon. It was kind of depressing. But finally spring arrived, and I enrolled at the University in Heidelberg to take more German classes, I met lots of fellow international students, and life improved dramatically.

6. When did you realize where you are home? Or are you not there yet?

I think being an ex-pat you are always somewhere in between. I still identify myself as an American because I grew up in the American culture for the first 25 years of my life. The way I talk, the way I think is still very American. However, I do like having the perspective of viewing my home culture from abroad. It puts many things in perspective. And the longer I am here, I feel more "Europeanized"  at least partly. In 10 years, I will have lived for equal amounts of time in both cultures. We'll see how I feel then!

In the end, it feels to me like things are becoming more and more global and international. I see and hear many, many Americans in Europe, and so many Europeans have visited the States. International travel has become very commonplace, and now with the speed of the Internet and other media to communicate - I feel like we are all very connected these days, more than ever before.

7. What do you miss most about the United States?

Cranberry juice! Well, actually you can get that here now, but it is expensive. I miss going out for huge, decadent American breakfasts at diners for an occasional indulgence. I miss the relaxed way that people communicate and make small talk in an easy manner, even in shops and with strangers. And of course I miss family and friends.

I love New York, San Francisco, the beautiful national parks, and there are still so many gorgeous places I've never visited in the States. I'd love to travel with my husband and kids through the US on a monumental road trip.
 
8. What are some of the things you don't know how you lived without before you moved to Germany?


I truly love being able to walk everywhere to do my shopping, to bring my kids to school, and so on. The bread and pastries here are amazing (although I know we're all supposed to be eating healthy, low carb, and gluten-free these days...)

9. Are you raising your kids bilingual? How's that going?

Yes, I speak English to my kids - but they usually answer me in German. We try to read lots of English books and have English videos, but it is difficult to offset the German kindergarten and German-speaking environment. So we are working on it, and I hope as they get older, they will understand and value the importance of English. I also hope that they will go on a school or university exchange in an English speaking country one day.


10. Are you still "the American" or do you blend in at this point?

I will probably always be "the American" among my German friends, but I also feel that I blend in pretty well too. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, so maybe I am just used to always making new friends and being a little bit of an outsider. I think it also helps that I have always lived in larger, multi-cultural cities in Germany where most people come from somewhere else too.

11. Can you reflect on any cultural differences that was challenging to navigate or led to a funny situation or misunderstanding?

One thing that drives me crazy in Germany is that you usually have to install your own kitchen and light fixtures when you move into a new apartment. The Germans defend this practice as "everyone has their own taste" and you can be much more individual in your apartment style this way... which is perhaps true, but it is kind of a pain, especially right at the beginning when you are just moving into a new place.

12. How has your experience colored your work?

My travels - especially my travel project this year 12 Countries in 12 Months  - are most certainly a big influence on my artwork right now. All of my latest collages are a result of this project, and I have lots of ideas for new collages based on materials and sketches I've gathered so far. I can't wait to get started on these new mixed media collages too.


13. What lessons can you draw from the whole experience?

Adventure is good, mind-expanding, and if you ever have the chance to live abroad for a time, you should go for it! Despite the challenges and a few hard times at the beginning, I wouldn't change a thing and I definitely do not regret my decision to move to Germany. At the moment, I'm happy in Europe and I appreciate all of the different cultures and travel opportunities here!

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Thank you Stephanie! Make sure you spend some time on her blog and ETSY site. And for the love of strudel treat yourself to her seven week e-course Creative Courage.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Strangers in a Strange Land

Herd

Well a friend of mine (I'm not naming names but he's a charming Scotsman) said some of my earlier Welcome to Israel posts were a wee bit melancholic. Moi? He's probably right although a little slack from the readers! This move was major upheaval wrapped in crazy and piled high with distress. And we didn't move to New Zealand, you know. Where all you have to contend with is sheep in the road (although from the looks of this picture taken about half a mile from my house it would seem we are contending with goats on top of everything else). This is Israel after all. Maybe you've heard we're experiencing some wee conflicts.

So while I'm working on adjusting my perspective, which feels like an everyday exercise, I thought it would be fun to reach out to other transplants and get their stories of transition for a weekly blog series.

We'll get started tomorrow with the talented and delightful Stephanie Levy - an American artist living in Munich. Hope you'll join us.