Marching Through March

Get ready everyone, there are a lot of flower pictures coming your way here:

Off to Hamburg to Fetch an Adam #

The timing worked out rather well, as it turned out. Adam was set to fly back into Hamburg airport on Sunday February 27th so I was able to tag along on the craft-night crew's day trip to Hamburg and then camp out at Maggie's house overnight.

The train journey was uneventful except for the annoying moment when I broke my mask-strap as soon as I put it on. Luckily Kurt had an extra he was kind enough to lend me. The ladies of the group had all brought our knitting so it was a pleasant stitching and chatting filled journey where I got to know Mallika, a lovely visiting researcher working on her PhD at UC Berkley.

Upon arrival in Hamburg we strolled through some stores, since Amber had a couple of things she wanted to pick up. After Mallika and I decided that Amber (having just learned to knit this year, but with several large projects under her belt already) could definitely make better versions of all the sweaters for sale, we headed towards the vegan bakery where we would meet up with Maggie.

It was a beautifully sunny spring day, so we enjoyed the walk and then reveled in the myriad options for Amber's dairy-free requirement and Mallika's vegan diet. Maggie met us just as we were checking out, and the five of us grabbed some lunch at a little middle-eastern restaurant (where I was somehow able to order a delicious spinach feta empanada) and then set out for "Planten un Blomen," one of Hamburg's lovely parks. We found a low wall to soak up as much vitamin D as we could while eating lunch. We then strolled around and watched some ducks waddle about, some parents struggle along with laden strollers, and saw a plethora of crocuses and daffodils.

After a quick pit-stop in a yarn store, and an unsuccessful search for a suitably funny German card for my mom's rapidly approaching birthday, the group diverged. The rest of the Rostock crew wanted to do more shopping, while Maggie and I couldn't resist the lure of the sunshine, so we said our goodbyes and parted ways.

Maggie and I headed towards the harbor to survey the still-flooded but nowhere near as flooded waterfront area, and to watch the sunset from the impressive many-storied Dockland Dachterrasse in the Altona Altstadt. We then headed back to her place for a giant salad dinner. We were able to shove the produce we bought for the meal into our backpacks and made it back to her roommate-less apartment for some washing and chopping.

We watched "Encanto" after dinner, and I did really enjoy the sweet movie—it's good to watch a cute cartoon every once in a while. We headed to bed before too long. The next day Maggie headed out to accompany her former Au Pair family to the beach, so I set off earlier than strictly necessary for the airport. It was partly because I was excited to see my boy again, and partly so I could enjoy yet another lovely sunny day in the airport-adjacent Winterhude Stadpark.

A bed of purple crocuses in Hamburg's Stadtpark
The foot soldiers of spring: the crocuses

As I texted Maggie, the Stadpark tally amounted to: 1 remote control car, 3 remote control sailboats, 1 kite, countless dogs and 1 man in a speedo. Miraculously I saw a man in a speedo drying off from a swim in a scummy park pond, but Maggie saw no speedo-clad individuals at the actual beech…No accounting for some things. After strolling around the extremely crowded park on that sunny Sunday afternoon, it was eventually time to finish my journey to the airport to meet Adam. At last he arrived and we set off for the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof and then on towards Rostock…

Symbiosis #

The last days of February and most of March were largely marked by routine days and the process of re-integrating Adam into Rostock life. It's not that he had been gone all that long, but I realized that up till that point, I had always been the one leaving for a few months and coming back to the fort he had been holding down. Because of my work in a school for the past couple of years, I have had the freedom to galavant off to Wisconsin in the summers, leaving him in Indianapolis to continue working. So it's not as if we were really new to the whole reintegration of the other half of the couple into the house, but it was surprising to see things from the opposite perspective.

This may seem like a tangent (and ok, you're right, it is) but stick with me, it will relate back to our story, I promise. I strongly believe that healthy relationships have to be between two whole people, so all this crap about being each other's "other half" is just that: crap. I am half of a couple but I am a whole functioning adult person on my own too. In Spanish the phrase "Mi media naranja" (literally "my half orange") expresses this idea as well, and while I was in Ecuador I started thinking in terms of food to come up with a healthier metaphor for the ideal relationship.

What I came up with ended up being sort of German, and really Kate-specific. I decided that rather than being the other half of my orange, we are individually the separate and versatile ingredients of cabbage and salt. Both are great in various mixtures with other ingredient-friends, family etc. but together, after some fermentation time we can become the truly delicious German delicacy: sauerkraut. OK, so you could choose two more normal ingredients like peanut butter and jelly or something, but I happen to love sauerkraut, so that's what I went with. The point is that I had managed perfectly well on my own while Adam was gone, and so had he. We had missed each other, sure, but we are both functioning adults in our own rights. Salt is good in a lot of dishes, and you can make a lot of things out of cabbage, even though sauerkraut is one of my favorite things.

So there's this tension, is I suppose what I'm trying to say, between the romantic (and somewhat alluring) idea of "finding your other half" who you "can't live without" and the feminist ideal of being a strong independent woman who doesn't need a man in her life. I think about this a lot, sometimes in vegetable metaphors. The experience of Adam coming back to me rather than the other way around lent me a new perspective however, and pointed out the one-sidedness of some of my own ideas. I was being a strong independent woman, but actually he needed me! For example, when I had been away for a while in Wisconsin, and then I would arrive back to Indianapolis, I would sometimes notice that things were not quite up to my desired cleanliness standards. Adam is extremely tidy but sometimes forgets that you also have to take time to actually clean things… And even dustings is good occasionally. But again, he remained a functional person in my absence, and it's not as if it was a pigsty or anything. He just has different standards for certain things than I do.

In reflecting on this, I had taken extra care to make sure that the house was clean, golden rule and all that, for his return. And yet, it turns out that he also has higher standards for certain other things than me, so the process of him moving back in wasn't so different from when I would return to the shared house. Instead of complaining about the dusty shelves, he couldn't believe I hadn't changed the Brita filter or emptied the vacuum cleaner bags since he left. I would have gotten to it eventually, ok! Just like, I realized, how he would have eventually deep cleaned the house too, I was just more prompt about moving that up our to-do list.

So yes, we each managed to live apart mostly successfully (I mean let's be real: adulting is hard) but neither of us is really lost without the other, despite both of us jokingly asking "How did you survive without me?!" But since being a real grown-up who pays the bills and showers and goes to work and cooks reasonable meals and even changes the vacuum bag is pretty exhausting, it's just nice to have a buddy who is better at remembering to do some of the things you're not as good at. Interdependence>independence, as my mother always talked about growing up. Salt is good. Cabbage is good. Sauerkraut is delicious. It was good to have Adam back.

Adam sitting on the sunny terrace eating lunch
Adam resumed his typical Rostock diet, but was no able to enjoy it on our sunny patio

Pride and Prejudice, The Spring Botanical Garden, and a Bike Tour With Gabi and Frank #

On March 5th, Karis' host family was out of town, so she kindly invited me over so we could take advantage of their spacious apartment and giant TV to watch some Pride and Prejudice, since we are both giant Jane Austen nerds. What a delight, as always, to eat pizza and popcorn, do some knitting and lots of chatting about school and life in Rostock but most of all, to laugh along and quote most of the lines with the brilliant actors in the beloved BBC mini series. If there's ever a time when I don't relish watching, reading or listening to the story of Pride and Prejudice, something will be seriously wrong with me. Due to some technical issues, we didn't manage to get through all 5 hours of the story, since we started later than planned, alas, but we did get a solid start, and we able to finish it a few weeks later.

It was a remarkably sunny March, so I insisted that Adam and I should revisit the Rostock Botanical Garden once again, since we had only seen it in its autumn form. We did this on a Wednesday, since my new schedule only has me in one class on Wednesdays, finishing by 9:30. I don't have too much to say about this excursion, other than to mention how lovely it was to stroll through a sunny garden not yet blooming with its full potential of flowers, but brimming with possibility and carpeted in crocuses. There are lots of pictures in the google photos folder, if you like that sort of thing.

I do however, have more to say about the bike tour with Gabi and Frank—always an adventure with those two! We met at 11 on Saturday morning, after some confusion since Gabi inadvertently introduced me to a new vocabulary word: Sonnabend. The normal/official word for Saturday is "Samstag" and Sunday is "Sonntag" So you can perhaps sympathize with my confusion. Apparently a casual way to refer to a Saturday is as the "abend" (evening) before a Sunday, so suffice it to say we nearly crossed our signals and missed it entirely, but thankfully my German-English dictionary app cleared things up just in time.

We met at Dierkow Kreuz, and after fine-tuning the seat adjustment on Adam's bike, since Maggie had been the last to use it, we were off. Our first stretch of the route was fairly uneventful, except when my fender popped loose and Adam and I had to pull over to get it back in place, nearly loosing Gabi and Frank who were ahead of us. We did catch up however, and made it to the edge of town and onto a scenic (and apparently newly paved) path. Our first stop was at a lovely beach across the river from Warnemünde, where Gabi and Frank got out the picnic blanket and we settled in to soak up some sunshine. Though it was barely after noon, Frank pulled out some beers and offered Adam one. Gabi just rolled her eyes since she had given up alcohol for lent. Before long Frank revealed that he had also brought a flask of red current schnapps and plastic shot glasses for us to sip. Full of surprises!

We set off before too much longer, and it was about an hour later when we made it to Rostock-Hinrichshagen where there was a small roadside smoked fish stand. Frank and Adam got some fish burgers and I snapped a hilarious picture of Adam trying to take a bite of his when it barely fit in his mouth. They also had some fun murals on the shed which I of course also took pictures of, Frank obligingly posing with them without even needing a prompt.

From then on, the trails got a bit more…rugged, shall we say. We were biking through narrow forested hiking trails mostly, but at one point an extremely muddy and squish-prone grass track that forced everyone but Frank to get off and walk, at least briefly. We did however make it to our final destination eventually: Karl's Elebnis-Dorf, or "Strawberryland" ad I translated it for Adam, much to Gabi's amusement. Karl's strawberry stands are everywhere in Germany in the late spring and early summer: setting up shop in grocery store parking lots all over the country, but I had had no idea that they originated right here in Rostock!

Since it is indeed the birthplace of Karl's, the Elerbnis-Dorf (literally "experience village") is sort of Disneyland meets the strawberry stall at the farmer's market. Hard to imagine? Yah. It includes the following elements: strawberry-themed toilets, kiddie rides, large vats of jam being made (strawberry, of course) a cafeteria, a candy factory and somewhat inexplicably, the 2012 Guinness World Record collection of 27,390 porcelain coffee pots. You might just have to look through the pictures. It was a lot. It was certainly extremely kitschy but also still legitimately a strawberry based business, since their main item for sale seemed to be the jam that was grown and made on site. Gabi gifted us a jar of delicious strawberry-lime which is already gone, and a vanilla-strawberry that we are still working on.

A toilet with a strawberry pattern
It turns out EVERYTHING really can be strawberry themed!

Much to Gabi's disappointment, the pancake house was not yet open for the year, but we still got some lunch in the food court area and browsed the shops before checking out and saddling up our bikes again for the return trip. Riding behind him, Gabi and I noticed that Adam's seat seemed to be slowly slip-sliding down again, so Frank suggested we swing by their friends' house to see if we could use their bike tools to fix it. They were the same friends who had given us a ride home from the DDR party, so I expected we would say hi, fix the bike and be on our way again. But of course that's not quite what happened.

Somehow we found ourselves sitting in their lovely sunny kitchen drinking an assortment of tea, coffee, beer and some homemade sour cherry liqueur. Somehow Frank and Adam's glasses also kept getting filled up every time Gabi's back was turned, so it was a while before all the comments of "well, we should probably get moving I suppose" turned into any action. It was nice to rest and chat with them though, and we did indeed get moving before there was any risk of biking home in the dark. The sun was indeed sinking low towards the horizon by the time we got back to their house though. We helped Gabi reheat and dish up the delicious vegetable soup, top the pizzas and before long we were sitting down to eat.

I was surprised to find that I actually do like arugula on pizza! This is another win for the "I don't like that yet" mentality towards food, because it really is true that you probably will like it if you just try it prepared a different way, I have found. I had always found the spicy bite of arugula a bit overwhelming in salads, but apparently in pizza form I do indeed enjoy it. Wieder Was gelernt!

After dinner we decided we would indeed take Gabi up on her kind offer of a ride home, since we were pretty well biked out for the day after just over 40 km (or about 25 miles) of biking spread out through the course of the day. So we helped Frank secure the bikes to the car and then settled in for some chatting, relaxing and listening to Frank's eclectic music as we also looked through their impressively hefty photo album from their February break vacation in Madeira. A wonderful way to finish off a great day. It was after 1 am by the time we got home, so Sonnabend had officially turned to Sonntag by the time we crawled into bed.

Is that really it? This might be the shortest post yet! #

And that folks, it about how March went, really. There were lots of walks in the sunshine, showing Adam all the routes I had explored in his absence, and of course a bunch of lesson planning as well. Most interestingly I taught a lesson on Warsan Shire's poem "Home" (which I think you should go out and read right now if you haven't already) to Gabi and Daniela's 11th graders as we continued talking about immigration, diversity and national identity, the second semester's focus. I find "Home" to be not only a wonderful, though dark, piece, but also a deeply important and relevant perspective, now more than ever.

I also really enjoyed breaking down (both in the sense of explaining and debunking) the idea of the "American Dream" with those same 11th graders as the resident American at the school. That lesson started with the students going around and sharing the image they had brought in for something typically "American" and why they thought it encapsulated the US. We had such a fascinating range of things: a crowded football stadium, a civil rights protest, a classic car, a suburban street, a bloody painting of the Spanish-American War, an overweight man in a red, white and blue suit and the Manhattan skyline. Truly the good the bad and the ugly of the USA—it was really captivating to me to hear their rational for picking the things they did, and to see the broad assortment of aspects of the culture that they picked up on. This year is certainly reminding me of what I mostly already knew: though teenagers certainly have been known to do some dumb things, they are also a lot more insightful and intelligent that the world gives them credit for.

Before I knew it, it was almost the end of the month, and time to set off on the flurry of adventures that will be the subject of the next post. So long for now!