May Oh My

Here are all the photos, like usual:

Unlike most months, May is kicked off with a party (in Germany at least) to really start things off right. I was lucky enough to be invited to join Gabi and Frank, as they celebrated the first of May (a state holiday to recognize workers) with their friends by organizing a bike tour, as they do every year. Everyone was relieved that this year’s tour would be more relaxed, due to the presence of a dog and the planned first-time attendance of Gabi and Frank’s grandson. The kiddos ended up getting sick at the last minute and were not able to come, but by then the shorter route was already set.

It would still be quite a respectable route however, especially given that I was biking the 12 km to Gabi and Frank’s house before the official tour started, and then doing the same thing in reverse in the evening. The tour itself was still around 28km, or almost 18 miles, so not nothing either, though certainly much milder than the tales of 62 km in the rain with the wind ripping off the coast that I heard about from past years. It’s apparently a “rain or shine” type event, so I guess we were lucky to have a few clouds but no rain and even the occasional breakthrough of sun.

I was the first of the crew to arrive at the house, very punctually at 9:45, and was almost immediately offered a shot of Frank’s black current liqueur. It would be that kind of bike ride, to be sure. Eventually the others started trickling in, Harald and Kirsten the last to arrive, which was immediately forgiven, since they came bearing a cart with full-sized speakers bungee-corded over the crate of beer and flying an “All musics of the world” flag. The party had started, and we pedaled merrily away.

Harald's beer and flag and speakers trailer
Beer, speakers and flag, what more does a bike trailer need?

The first stop was just after 11am, on the edge of a nice green field we broke out some wine and beer (but no food, because, as Gabi insisted, it wasn’t an official stop yet) and before long we saddled up again and were on our way once more.

Lunch was an hour or two later, on the edge of a brilliantly blooming lemony-yellow canola field. We unpacked the various snacks we had brought (I contributed some cut up carrots, apples and celery, along with some pretzel sticks.) We passed whatever we had around, and all ate and drank everything from meatballs to Eierlikor (German’s cold and somewhat thicker version of Eggnog) from chocolat-lined mini-ice-cream cone shot glasses.

I had a good laugh when Gabi’s brother-in-law, also named Frank, tried a celery stick, which he had apparently managed to never have tried before. He made a comically disgusted face before flinging it into the field with a shudder. Even this more leisurely break eventually came to an end, after managing to spill at least a little bit of almost every available type of alcohol on Gabi and Frank’s picnic blanket.

There were a couple more quick drinking breaks along the way, and one memorable interlude when some surprise construction work meant we had to walk our bikes diagonally through a field to get back on track. We did eventually manage to make it back to Gabi and Franks in the afternoon, where Gabi (of course) had cake waiting for us, and whipped up some coffee and tea to enjoy with it in no time.

We sat and chatted for a few more hours before it was dinner time, another delicious meal thanks to Gabi’s wonderful cooking. After all that eating and drinking and biking and chatting, we were all rather tired a bit earlier than normal, and were feeling quite aware that although it was a holiday, the day after was a Monday like any other.

I tagged along as Harald and Kirsten headed back into Rostock, and was home just after dark, catching some lovely glows of sunset between the hills and over the water on the ride back. It was certainly the earliest I've ever gotten home from an event at Gabi and Frank’s! It is apparently somewhat more traditional to “Dance in the May,” but I was happy to participate in the bicycle equivalent of the holiday this year.

The next event of note was hosting craft night at my place and getting to actually use the grill! I made two kinds of veggie burgers, Diego contributed a delicious salad, Amber brought roasted veggies and Karis brough the closest thing she could find in Germany to s’mores stuff. It was a fun group effort, because I realized I had never actually been the one in charge of the grill myself. I had always sort of been on “team kitchen,” just sending stuff out to be grilled, rather than doing the actual grilling myself. No one else really knew the procedure either, so having no grill masters among us we had to muddle through it together

We eventually got the charcoal hot enough to cook the burgers however, and had a lovely time lounging on Diego’s picnic blanket, since there weren't enough chairs for the 6 of us. Armand, a fellow ETA had joined the group and was learning to knit, as was another coworker of Amber and Diego’s, Xinyi.

Some hilarity ensued while trying to make a suitable fire with the one remaining log (Edeka had failed us when it came to selling firewood) and then again later when we tried to find appropriate roasting sticks for the marshmallows among the meager options offered by my small yard. Despite the lack of resources, Armand and Diego were eventually able to start a decent fire that burned down to some good roasting coals while we ate the main meal.

The dessert course commenced with Amber roasting four marshmallows on the various prongs of a small branch over a now barely smoking single log. The Americans had to explain to Xinyi and Diego, who had never tried s’mores, that this is not exactly the typical US s’mores experience… This was especially true since, with a lack of Hersheys or graham crackers, we had to make due with significantly thicker (and might I add, much better) German chocolate bars, and plain butter cookies. While not typical, the result was still pretty tasty, although Diego and Xinyi concluded, like Mara, that s’mores are a bit too sweet to really eat more than one.

Karis helping Amber load up her 5 marshmallows on the multi-pronged stick
It looked goofy, and worked mostly

The next few weeks were fairly uneventful as far as big adventures went, but I did enjoy the lilac-splosion that took over Kirchenplatz. That is the true magic of spring to me: when previously unremarkable bushes burst forth with blooms in white and every shade of purple imaginable and perfume the air with delicious scents. I have also realized that the real answer to “what’s your favorite flower?” is just “whatever is blooming right now.” I seem to fall in love with and then mercilessly forget each type of flower as they bloom and fade each year.

a blossoming tree at sunset
I never could resist this style of photo, the world over

I also planned a lesson for Gabi’s 11th grade advanced course during this time that I was pretty proud of. It was based on Spike Lee’s 201 minute Malcolm X film, which I managed to both watch and discuss in a 90 minute class. The students got pretty annoyed with me skipping scenes every 5 minutes or so, but I think they managed to get a pretty good sense of this fascinating figure’s life nonetheless. In the end it felt good to see that the hours of watching scenes from the movie and deciding what to cut and what to show eventually did pay off.

The weekend of May 14th, Magie Mara and I converged on Bonn once again. This time we came to celebrate Mara’s friend Jana (who we had met and eaten falafel with in December) and was now about to leave on a year long world trip.

The cheapest train from Rostock to Bonn wouldn’t arrive until around 11 something on Friday evening, which I already felt a bit bad about. Even though I insisted I could take the bus to her mom’s house, impeccable host that she is, Mara insisted more that she could pick me up. Then when the train was delayed by over an hour…Well it was late enough that an exhausted Mara ended up having to get her mom to drive her and Magiie to the station after midnight to get me. But I did eventually make it.

It was really quite a chill weekend. It’s always an interesting mix of pacing on our trips, since we have the contrasting paradigms of: stressed-out full-time-teacher-Mara’s need for relaxing, unstructured weekends so she can face another hectic week feeling refreshed; and Maggie and my extra chill work schedules that mean we are ready to goooo on all the adventures on the weekends, in order to make the most of our one year in Germany. We were on Mara’s home turf, so we leaned into her style this time (which Maggie and I enjoy fine too!) We woke up without any alarms on Saturday, Maggie went for her run, and we had a leisurely breakfast on the sunny balcony. We then ventured out to the grocery store to buy ingredients for the multiple treats Mara had promised to bring to the party.

We got home and tag-teamed the baking. I took charge of the lemon cake, Mara tackled the pizza rolls, and Maggie managed the feta-spinach muffins. It’s amazing what can get accomplished with that many hands whirling through the kitchen. We were done in a flash, and set timers and went out to enjoy some more sunshine while things baked or cooled, depending where they were in the oven-use lineup.

Before long it was time to get ready to go to the party. We set off for Cologne after donning our party clothes and sprucing ourselves up a bit. Iin my case that meant throwing on a sundress and pulling back the messier bits of hair with a couple of bobby pins. The height of elegance, I know. On the drive we enthusiastically car-danced to Mara’s vast collection of mix CDs from her teen years, which is always an amazing time.

It was a bit challenging to find a parking spot, but we eventually did manage it, and were soon on our way to Jana’s apartment, carrying our baked party-offerings with us. Luckily Jana had her phone with her because no one heard the doorbell when we rang it, given that they were all in the courtyard setting up the tent, tables, food, fairy lights and drinks.

We helped with the last of the setup and once everything was ready the party began! It was fun to meet so many of Mara’s oldest friends, and we had a nice time chatting and eating before the little farewell ceremony for Jana got underway. Her friends had all contributed songs for her travels playlist that would be the soundtrack to her adventures. The perfect gift idea for someone who won’t have space for anything extra in her already crowded pack.

Before too long the dance-floor got set up and the party really got started. There was much merriment all around, and it was well after midnight by the time we got back to Bonn.

There wasn’t time for much besides breakfast the next day, before my train departed. It wasn’t such a sad goodbye though, since I would be seeing both Maggie and Mara later that same week.

My class schedule lined up perfectly, such that I only had one class on my birthday anyway, and even that got canceled at the last minute, so my Hamburg birthday adventure could begin without delay. I met Maggie at Mara’s apartment in Hamburg to drop off my stuff, and we packed up the picnic items that she had prepared and set off for the park. She had gotten the exact right amount of food for us to finish almost everything without being either hungry or too full, and we soaked up the sunny day, watching the geese and ducks cavort in the pond.

We then went back to Mara’s apartment, even though she was finishing up her school day, and wasn’t there. I would stay the night there rather than at Maggie’s, because she had an excruciatingly early flight back to the US the next morning, to go to a wedding. Long story short: we dropped off the leftover picnic stuff, I donned my swimsuit and shorts, and we set off to rent some stand up paddle boards.

I had messed around with a stand up paddle board at a rented cabin, but had never actually tried it properly before. It’s a lot harder than it looks to navigate in a straight line, I discovered. The ferry boat ended up honking at me as I scrambled to get out of its path. A collision was avoided, and neither of us actually fell in either, but mostly I ended up zig-zagging erratically down the canal.

I decided I prefer kayaking, but it was fun to give it a try and enjoy the first really properly hot day of the year. After our hour was up, we headed back to Mara’s house and let her in, since we had forgotten to arrange to leave the keys for her.

Dinner was Mara’s delicious shepherd’s pie and then for dessert the scrumptious carrot-ginger birthday cake with lemon cream cheese frosting that the two of them had prepared the night before. They had even compiled a recipe book for me with some of their favorites—another super fun, useful and thoughtfully space-conscious gift. I also got tons of chocolate, which is always wonderful.

Kate and Mara with Kate's delicious birthday cake
It was even more delicious that it looked

Pretty soon after the meal Maggie had to head to bed, in preparation for her early morning travel the next day. Mara and I set off for the night flea market at the same time, which serendipitously coincided with my birthday that month.

It honestly felt more like a party than your average flea market, since there were DJs spread among the vendors, the whole place was strung with fairy lights, and beers were being sipped as people strolled, browsed and chatted. Mara bought me some fun flower print shorts (a steal at €2!) and she found several nice things for herself, the most expensive of which was still under €10–you gotta love a good flea market!

It was a lovely end to a really wonderful birthday, spent doing and eating great things with friends in person, and getting calls and messages from friends and family from afar too. What more could I ask for to start off my next year on this planet? I slept well on Mara’s couch that night and then headed home in the late morning the next day.

The next week was pretty routine. The 25th was the start of one of two long weekends in a row however, so I had arranged with the teachers to reschedule classes so I could miss only 3 days of class in order to fit in a 10 day trip to Spain. But that, my friends, is definitely going to need to be its own story.