The Four Year Itch

The heat wave featured in my last post has finally subsided. It left its mark on the landscape though. Everything is extremely dry and it looks like fall already.

Upon closer inspection, the summer heat left its mark on me as well and I don’t mean in the form of sunburn. As the rage that fueled my last post moved out of my heart, a quiet realization was left in its place. It turns out that after four years of living here it has finally dawned on me that this move to Germany was not just a visit or a long trip. It was not a stint or a gig. I didn’t move to Germany for a little while. I moved here with the intention of building a life. Or did I? Maybe I wasn’t being honest with myself.

Now that I’m being honest, I can say that I saw the move as more of a challenge or a game. i.e. How fast can I learn the language? How fast can I assimilate? I originally named the blog Becoming a Franconian for goodness sake. I don’t know what I thought was going to happen when I had successfully assimilated but maybe in the back of my mind I figured that after four years a new challenge would present itself and I would have a chance to move on like I always have.

This mindset resulted in the pressure I mentioned in the last post. The pressure to become more German and less American in record time. And maybe I did that because the assimilation part of moving can be painful no matter where you are. Maybe I just wanted to get it over with quickly. But I see now that in doing so I missed the point. The point all along was to create something meaningful—slow and steady, right? Right. But I have been practicing fast and furious instead.

So why the sudden realization and what’s the problem exactly?

Well, it turns out that on average, my entire life has been made up of four year stints. Here’s what I mean:

We moved away from the first home I remember when I was 5. We moved again half way through elementary school when I was 9 and then again at the start of highschool when I was 14. Notice a trend? High school was four years and then I went to college–for four years. After college I danced for various ballet companies (also for four years) before I committed to one company for guess how long? Yes, that’s right! Four years. Then I moved to a different ballet company (four years there as well) before I headed to graduate school where I broke the mold because it was only a two year fellowship.

I celebrated my four year anniversary as a legal alien in Germany this July and it’s not surprising that I have found myself itching for some kind of change ever since. Every little imperfection, every difference that used to be charming is now something that makes me want to move on.

But there is no moving on. There is no saying, That was neat, and now I’m done. My husband and my two children are German citizens. Germany is woven deeply into the fabric of our family. I am not raising expat kids. Mine are instead bi-lingual, dual citizens, living in their own country. I am the only person in this family who really understands what Bruce Springsteen is talking about when he sings, Born in the USA.  I am actually the odd ball among us.

Hopping around every four years of my life was never planned. But it meant that every four years, sad as I was to go, I was able to tie up the loose ends and move on– from relationships, friendships, jobs, what have you. I was always aware of it and I never liked it. I longed to be grounded, to put down roots and to be a regular around town.

Now, finally faced with the chance to stay put, I’m not really sure how it’s done.

Many people said that it was brave when I moved to Germany. But I don’t think so. Starting anew and managing a life change was normal for me. I hadn’t done it in a foreign country, but I had done it plenty of times.

No, the real test of bravery comes now. Can I stay put? Can I build a longterm existence in a foreign country? Can I care for the things I’ve planted here and let the roots dig into the soil and become something strong?

In my mind, the answers to these questions are the start of the real adventure. Staying put is the next trek into the great unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

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Heat Wave

It has been hotter than Hades here for weeks and I mean like 95 degrees hot. It’s even humid. It’s absolutely reminiscent of summer on the East Coast of the USA except for the fact that no one here has Air conditioning. No really–no one has it. Offices don’t have it. Even lots of stores don’t have it.

Thank goodness the cars do–And that’s what’s funny–Of course the cars have A/C. This is not a third world country, this is the country of BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Porsche. We are talking about a serious standard of luxury here.

And when I’m in a positive state of mind I can admit that sunshine every day means a gorgeous summer and a happy balcony garden. Additionally, given the right frame of mind, I marvel at the way buildings and homes here are constructed. Built mostly out of concrete instead of wood, they trap cool air. You can air out your home in the evening by opening all the doors and windows and then close everything up the next day before the sun gets hot. Unbelievably, the cool air that you collected stays in and keeps the temperature relatively cool all day.

Or that’s the idea…

The thing is: after weeks of 90 degree weather, stone buildings can do the opposite, trapping heat instead. We are in week four of this heatwave, so our apartment is now turning into a stone oven. Even when we make it like a cave during the day the temps continue to rise.

Leaving the doors and windows open at night sounds lovely except for the fact that there are no screens on the windows and doors. That means that when we air out the apartment we have to keep the lights off or the mosquitos will come in and eat us alive. So, here we are since weeks just sitting around in the dark. I know, it could be a recipe for romance, right? …. But it’s not. It’s seriously too hot to touch each other. And don’t get me started about trying to get little kids to go to sleep when its 100 F.

In the middle of all this, it just so happens that we need a new refrigerator/freezer. Perfect! I can’t wait to get one with an automatic ice maker. Wait, what? They don’t make freezers with automatic ice makers in Germany?

How is that possible? Is this considered a luxury good?

Germany is a country that hosts beer festivals in the middle of a field with thousands of people and running water. Believe it or not, they find a way to run water from somewhere to the bathrooms that they build, especially for the fests, so that no one is ever forced to use a gross, stinky Port-o-John.

All this to say, it seems I have hit a wall with Germany and with expat life in general. Maybe the heat has forced some of the frustrations of living away from home to the surface.

I have always proudly thought of myself as more of an immigrant than an expat. I integrated myself, embraced the language and can even laugh at the Franconian Friendliness instead of taking it personally. Aside from remaining an American, speaking English with my children and writing this blog, I live a very German life–the language, the food and drinks, the traditions, our friends etc. But still like it or not I seem to miss home and the way I thought things would be when I envisioned my family life.

And for some reason I feel kind of bad about it. Like I failed at immigrating to Europe somehow. Like I was supposed to just seamlessly become something new. Maybe my expectations for myself were too great or maybe I was naive?

But am I really so convenience obsessed just because I want a fridge with automatic ice? Is it a ridiculous expectation to be able to put ice cubes in a bag when you sprain your ankle without needing to have ice prepared ahead of time, especially when your freezer is the size of a post box!? Is it really a luxury to have screens on the windows so that everyone isn’t covered in bug bites?  Is it so wasteful or weird to want a garage that is connected to your house or a bathroom that is connected to your bedroom? Is it totally ridiculous to want to cool down when you come inside from hot weather? To be able to get ready for the day without being covered in sweat before you even walk out the door?

It is my intention for this blog to exemplify the idea that getting out of your comfort zone pays off. I want to only share the funny stories and the important worldly insights. I want this whole thing to always be an Instagram perfect adventure. But sometimes it’s not. At times it’s boring, sometimes it’s sweaty, sometimes it’s lonely and ugly and it’s hardly ever convenient. It’s life no matter where you’re living it.

So, even though it has been four years, this weather is showing me that some ideas die hard. It seems that in order to really build a life here and create a home, I need to re-envision the life I imagined for myself or at least accept that it’s going to look different than I thought it would. I think I need to see life, at this stage, for what it is and move forward.

So for now I am betting on two things:
1. This heatwave will end. ( I’ll likely go back to complaining that it’s always gray and never feels like summer in Germany.)
2. I will accept the things I cannot change. Doing so will allow me to better see the adventure of this chapter of life–Or let’s get serious–maybe I’ll just find a freezer that makes automatic ice?

Total knock out

Hello friends,

I apologize for the delay in sharing the news of our little “Turkey.” She made her appearance well after Thanksgiving, which means much to her eventual delight, we will no longer be referring to her as a “turkey.”

The labor started in the night so when I walked into “the ring” (the labor and deliver room) things were already underway.

There I was–face to face with that moment I had prepared for… You know the one–whatever your battle is–You walk to the center of the ring and try to stay in the moment. You try not to think about how it might go. You try not to think about how long it will take–“I just need to make it through one round of punches at a time,” you tell yourself. This worked– for a while. I was able to “relax” in the way they say you should, and then get ready for the next onslaught.

For. A. While.

Then very suddenly “relaxing” became impossible and I thought I was going to die. Literally. When I say “suddenly,” I mean we had only been at it for about 40 minutes.

The birth of my first daughter was very long. In the realm of comparing giving birth to a heading into battle, I would compare that first birth experience to a 15 round boxing match. If you’re a Rocky fan you’ll remember in Rocky II when Rocky says, “I just want to go the distance with Creed.” And so it was. We went the distance and finally after what seemed like an eternity she was born.

I was mentally prepared for this birth to take some time too then. Well…doesn’t life like to surprise us?

In comparison to that, the birth of our second little lady was more like a One-Round, Total Knock Out. Labor came at me like it was trying to kill me. It was all the punch of the first labor in about 1/10 of the time. This girl was coming like a freight train and there was no stopping her.

Right at that moment when I started feeling like I might die, the midwife said in a shock, “Oh, the baby is coming now!” No joke- in that 40 minutes, I went from 3 cm dilated to “time to push.” Ten minutes later our little lovely was there.

To be honest- it was intense and pretty terrible–like something beating its way out of you- or having waves nearly drown you, coming so close together that you can’t come up for air in between–but in the end– like many great adventure stories–you emerge victorious just in the nick of time.

I’m proud to say that we had a totally natural birth…but in all honesty if there had been time I think I would have begged for the drugs.

While our girl is a total knock out herself, this first month has been one long reminder that we are never too old to learn something new or relearn something we learned before. It has also reminded me that I am an impatient soul– I like to learn stuff and move on–relearning is not my favorite. That truth has made this time especially challenging.

Life and death–two things we saw much of in 2017–are game changers. For those of us who get to observe, they are life’s teachers, but their lessons are not easy and they often seem to do nothing but break our hearts. Still some, like the birth of this tiny bean, fill you with a respect for what is magical, inexplicable, astonishing and miraculous. These moments are the fuel to help you carry on, curious and hungry to see what’s next.

Happy New Year everyone

The Waiting Game

As people in the USA get ready for Thankgiving (this Thursday) I’m waiting on my own little bird to come out of the oven. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, as I’ve reported in past posts, and so it’s ironic or perhaps special that our second baby chose Thanksgiving as her intended b’day. Since we all know that due dates on babies coming to the world are just estimates, the likelihood of her making her appearance on the actual holiday is pretty low. For that I have been thankful, hoping she might make an early debut, as I have had enough of being an incubator/kangaroo and I am ready. The thing is, now all I can do is wait. And try not to think to much… while I try to mentally prepare at the same time. No. Small. Feat.

This waiting period reminds me of a conversation I once had with a mixed martial artist. He was describing the mental control it took to walk into a space where you know that you are choosing to be physically assaulted. It doesn’t come as a surprise to a boxer or trained fighter when they are hit in the face or attacked. They have strategically prepared for that moment. But their intense training doesn’t take away the challenge, the danger, the fear of actually walking into the fire. They still have to take that step. I thought his description was interesting and realized at that time (probably 10 years ago) that while I considered myself a brave person, I certainly didn’t pursue activities that required that brand of bravery or self-control.

Fast forward 10 years. Enter motherhood. Now I know personally what he meant.

Basically as soon as you find out you are pregnant you start training for your new hobby/career as a mixed martial artist. The only difference is that the ‘fights’ or ‘battles’ don’t have a starting time and they don’t typically have a decided end point. Like a fighter you don’t know exactly what will happen in the ring but unlike a fighter you never know when the assault will begin or how long it will last.

Maybe you will be a person who doesn’t get morning (all day) sickness, but maybe you will. And maybe it will end after the first three months but maybe it will last the whole time. Maybe you will be a person who doesn’t get food aversions, but maybe you will. Maybe you’ll get this terrible thing that causes you to itch incessantly till the baby comes out. Maybe you’ll get lucky enough to get varicose veins (did you know that you can get varicose veins in your private zone?  No? Oh, well you can…) Anyway, as it turns out, all of this is just your training period.

Then the end nears.

One of the things I’m most thankful for is the total discomfort that comes in the 40th week of pregnancy. This adds to your ability to be brave– 100%.  It becomes so uncomfortable to keep this bird in the oven that you will do just about anything to get it out even if it means walking into the ring of fire for a fight that could last 30 minutes or four days. In this fight you don’t know whether the pain will come from behind you or in front. As you get exhausted the onslaught will pummel you with increased speed, waves coming closer and closer together. You will not escape without undergoing very serious pain and while some people get the gift of a baby at the end it could become complicated and you might leave the fight without your parting gift. And yet you walk in, chin up, brave face and you do it.

You mommies, you are all mixed martial artists—winners, champions. If you are reading this blog and there are kids that are connected to you in anyway–you won this fight. Whether still born, adopted, miscarried, born by C-section, or brought to the world in the usual way, you had to walk through some kind of fire to get where you are. You know overcoming fear as well as any trained fighter. And this is just the beginning because parenthood, as it turns out, is a different kind of battle, all its own.

I’m ready for ya Turkey Day, come and get me.

Unbefristet= Unlimited

This summer I celebrated my third anniversary as an immigrant to Germany. I was first given an allowance to live here for 1 year with specific limitations, then for 2 years and now finally I have a pass that allows me to live in Germany indefinitely. The document states, “Unbefristet. ” It means “without restrictions,” but as I looked up the definition I saw that the word also means “Unlimited.”

And there it was, that inspirational, yet elusive word–“unlimited.”

The word first struck me around 2008 when I saw the broadway show “Wicked.” I heard the character singing unbelievable notes with lyrics about being “unlimited.” My mind was blown. When I heard the song, I knew that I wanted to feel “unlimited” too but at the time I felt the limits all around. Then a few years later I was drinking tea at home. The tag on the tea bag said, “You are unlimited.” I pulled it off and kept it as a reminder to try to live as if I were unlimited even when I felt the opposite. I have kept that little paper with me through at least two moves and it is now hanging on a bulletin board in my daughter’s room. Perhaps it won’t take her so long to reject the limits and achieve in life.

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What’s interesting is that the unlimited allowance to live in Germany has come in the same year as the big 4-0. 40 years on this earth, and the good new is: most days I finally feel “unlimited” in life and not only because the German government has sanctioned it.

I know now that I can do anything and when I look back I realize I could’ve always done anything. It was me who made the limits. Likely none of us need 35-40 years of limiting ourselves to finally become free. Likely we spend a lot of time in life denying ourselves success and satisfaction because we see the limits instead of seeing the path forward.

But I was talking with a friend the other day, who is in the television industry and I realized that everyone does not feel so positive about racking up the years. This discussion of age reminded me that our society so highly values youth and doesn’t necessarily encourage or reward people who have experienced life long enough to let go of their limits and share something meaningful with the world. I wondered then– what is the youth obsession really all about?

Here is what I figured out: In the case of the entertainment industry it seems the obsession with youth is mostly about appearances and potential. Those things are a real turn-on for everyone. I suppose looking at someone who has already reached their potential is not nearly as exciting as looking at someone who is just at the beginning. The seduction is always in what “could be. But it is a dangerous business valuing things purely on their potential, as every stock broker and thwarted lover knows.

Outside of that gamble, being obsessed with age and appearances is limiting for a number of obvious reasons. Only one of which is the fact that the outer beauty we are born with is the one thing over which we have very little control. Should our value on this earth be dictated purely by that and a ticking age clock?

This line of thinking took me further. I thought about actresses like Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Maggie Smith, and Judi Dench. Do they offer less now that they are older? Not really, it seems to me they offer more.  Then I thought about Sandra Bullock–she’s 53! Of Marissa Tomei, she’s 52 now, even Reese Witherspoon is 41. Jennifer Aniston is 48, Ashley Judd and Julia Roberts are 49 and Nicole Kidman is 50. These women have done and continue to do great work. They have lived. When I see them on film I would not rather see a younger version of them. They have something so trustworthy, so awesome, so believable to offer on the screen now. They also offer a myriad of things off screen–wisdom and ideas, direction and insight. Aside from all that they have an opportunity to use their voices to enact change, revealing stories and angles we may have never seen.

That they are fighting battles to be seen, heard or appreciated in the industry is a mystery to me because what they have to offer is so obvious.

When I’m being honest, I actually feel now a lot more beautiful on the inside at 40 than I did at 25 or 30 because I know what I’m made of. I’m not waiting for someone to answer life’s questions for me. I’m not hoping someone will give me my break. My every life decision is not based on whether someone will hire me, like me or want me.

I’d love to look the way I did when I was 25 but honestly I’d never go back– unless I could take the wisdom, security and the unlimited feeling of 40 with me.

So here’s the truth that we all need to hear: No matter where you are on life’s road–know this: you are already unlimited. You might not be able to impact huge change in the world but you can make out of every situation what you will. Look around you, check to see if you are being limited by others or if you are setting limits based on your own fear. Look for the path forward and believe that you are unlimited until you really believe it …or until the German government gives you a certificate that says it.

Thanks for a great three years Germany and for the reminding me that in life, over the things we can control, we are unlimited.

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“We are diamonds, taking shape.” -Coldplay

 

 

Fasching

I’ve now lived in Germany now for three Februarys. Each February a holiday comes along that I’ve never fully understood and until this year I never participated. It’s called Fasching, (the German version of Mardi Gras or Carnevale). It’s a celebration leading up to the Tuesday before Lent. As with Mardi Gras or Carnevale the idea is that people should really party it up and indulge before they get serious about Easter. Here in Germany though, they take the idea to a whole new level.

It starts in mid-January and takes up the entire month of February. For some cities in Northern Germany, like Cologne, it’s a holiday that starts in November and goes straight through til spring.

There are parades in every town, social clubs dedicated solely to getting ready for and celebrating Fasching. Everyone dresses up in elaborate costumes; there are endless variety-type comedy shows that make fun of politicians. Best though, Fasching Time features a delightful pastry called Fasching’s Krapfen. This snack can be pretty easily  translated to jelly donut. In Northern Germany, its called a Berliner. (Thus the joke about JFK. In his defense though, a person from Berlin is also called a Berliner.)  Maybe the Krapfen are akin to the Pennsylvania Dutch Fasnachts, but I’m not sure because I’ve never eaten a Fasnacht.

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It probably comes as no surprise that my favorite part of this holiday is the Krapfen.  The traditional ones are covered in either powdered or chrystalized sugar and the ones in Franconia are filled with a Rosehip marmalade. Some very talented people make them at home but you don’t need to because every bakery has them. They are not greasy at all, you can hardly tell they are fried. The dough is light and fluffy and ever since they appeared about a month ago, I just want to eat them every day.

 

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I have fully missed why people dress up in costumes for Fasching, so I did some research. Here is what I discovered: First, for millennia Fasching has been a celebration to ward off of winter. Some people attribute the costumes to actually trying to scare the Winter away. There is evidence of parades that date back to Roman times and historically, the servants dressed up like their masters and were able to actually make fun of them for a few days. During Fasching it was typical to poke fun at the aristocracy and everything was generally turned upside down–drinking and partying were acceptable and the clowns of the society became the most respected figures. It was even a time during the year when people were able to criticize authority without getting into trouble. That part seems to have stuck, explaining all the roasts on television about the local politicians.

The photos below are from parades in nearby towns over the weekend. It’s pretty neat to see. The local farmers lend or rent their tractors and act as the drivers for the floats. Each different club has a float and the members stand on top throwing candy to everyone. The kids race around collecting as much candy as possible and every single town seems to have their own slang so I can hardly understand any of the jokes. There are bands and dancers and everyone shouts Helau! (This word seems to be related to warding off evil or welcoming spring but its actually meaning must date back pretty far–I had to look it up because no one could explain what it means.)

The whole holiday makes more sense and seems more fun now that I understand it. Little Mouse is still pretty small but I bet next year she’ll be old enough to be a interested in wearing a costume. All the local kindergartens walk in the parade, so I guess eventually she’ll get to be in it herself! She has already made her interest in Krapfen very clear- a girl after my own heart.

Helau!

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Fasching Parade Heroldsbach

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Courtesy of the Neunkirchner Carnevals Verein

 

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The Time it Takes

It’s the start of a new year and for most people it’s a time for taking stock, seeing where we are and getting started. At the end of 2016 I started a free lance writing job, my first real job here in Germany. Finally getting paid to write is a dream come true. And so it appears that with relative ease, one by one, things have simply fallen into place.

love…

marriage…

moving to Europe…

language…

baby…

job…

Just. like. that…

But in reality, it wasn’t just like that. Because up until the point at which the job opportunity presented itself, I was clueless about finding meaningful work in Germany. I just couldn’t see any possibilities. And while I can talk all day about the beautiful love story, the great adventure of moving to Europe, and the honor of being someone’s mommy–without work, a big part of myself has been missing.

Moving and finding out that we were expecting a baby happened almost simultaneously, so in between all the wonder and the love and the awesomeness, there was a kind of freaking out, a mourning over the seeming loss of my career, my homeland, my freedom, myself. Everything I’d prepared for was nothing I was doing. All my practice and education, all my areas of expertise were going unused, sitting on a shelf, while I spent my days in unfamiliar territory being challenged by the mundane.

It’s important to note I didn’t go into this blind and that I didn’t go in to it alone. When I made the decision to move to Germany, I had a partner and a family built in AND I knew what I was getting into. I had a conversation with myself and made an agreement. It was an agreement to take a break from my normal in order to pursue a new path. The relationship, marriage and subsequent move to Germany each presented an opportunity to vier from the familiar and to hopefully experience something much bigger than I could do alone. I was sure that eventually I would have the time and the possibility to pursue my career dreams and I figured until then I would be busy with other things and not really notice.

But I didn’t think about the fact that it would be hard and I didn’t even consider that it might take a long time to find my way.

The idea I had was that I would kind of cut myself in two. I would leave a part of myself behind, on hold so to speak. I would send the new me on a kind of jug-handle curve of adventure–at a much faster pace (I thought)–and eventually we would find each other. That was the idea.

And I figured it would be quick and relatively painless. I would just hurry up with the challenging parts.

I didn’t think I would miss my old self or miss feeling like an expert at something. I didn’t anticipate feeling lost.

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Now that I’m metaphorically, out of the woods, I can admit that the jug-handle curve of adventure was certainly not paved. I would go as far as saying that at points it was very dark AND that it felt like it took forever. I wasn’t looking at the map from above. I wasn’t navigating toward my ultimate goal from a bird’s eye view. No, like everyone else, I was in the trenches. And I spent more than a few moments silently screaming, This is not what I meant by adventure!

Life consisted of having so many cool opportunities and loving my new family so much juxtaposed with months of looking in the mirror and not recognizing myself. Not speaking my own language, not fitting into my old clothes, not knowing where to buy things, not having a project to work on or a career achievement to go after. And however strong I was, I missed the familiar.

I see now that in thinking I could hurry up with the challenging parts, I missed the point of the whole adventure. I thought the next phase of life was about being comfortable, experiencing love mixed with the taste of champagne while basking in the shine shine, seeing new sights and looking better than ever.

While thinking I was going to run around Europe becoming a Franconian, I missed all the other things I was going to become. Even more I had no idea that the next phase of life would be transformative. The introduction to becoming a mother included the refining fire of pregnancy and labor, so I don’t know why I thought that becoming other things was going to be any easier. The point is: becoming is hard and it’s time consuming.

I like to think of it in terms of Gandalf (The wizard from the Lord of the Rings). When the story begins, he is Gandalf the Gray. He is good and wise and funny. He is not lacking in any way. I don’t think he imagined himself ever becoming Gandalf the White. I don’t think he had his sights set on becoming a White Wizard. Who wants to die in a pit of fire with a dragon just to become a better wizard? And even the readers (or viewers) couldn’t have imagined that Gandalf’s fall was not his end. But life knows better that the endings are the real beginnings. This truth was not something out of Tolkien’s imagination. This is how it is with us as well–During the dark moments on my adventure path, I mourned the aspects of myself and my life that were lost. But I could not fathom or visualize all that I was going to gain as a result. This shedding, this becoming–no one talks about this. No one talks about the time it takes to become the next version of yourself.

And so after two and a half years, I have fallen more and more in love with Franconia and its people. I am raising a Franconian and I love a Franconian. I’m shocked to realize that I have become a whole list of things in this time — wife, mother, friend, organizer, cook, shopper, immigrant, bi-lingual person and a professional story teller but as it turns out–I have not become a Franconian. No– lucky for me I can speak German and understand the Franconian accent, but I will always be the American ballerina-turned-gardener, who met her husband on the Amazon River and moved to Germany. And isn’t that enough? Finally, I think so.