“Uh, It Was an Accident?”

Accidents happen.  Fact of life.  But what do you do about those things that aren’t quite accidents but really shouldn’t have happened?

I’m talking about the things we do that were just plain stupid.  I might be the only one who misjudges my own body shape and routinely runs into the doorframe with my shoulder. (Or even more painful, opens the car door into my shoulder.)  But I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who pours orange juice into my bowl of cereal.

Is this clumsiness?  Tiredness?  Laziness?  (“I just don’t want to move over so the car door doesn’t whack me.”) These are all nearly valid excuses for life’s “Not-Quite-An-Accident” incidents.

But what about this one?  While babysitting for two little girls, I saw a  small hole in the carved back of a wooden dining room chair.  I thought, “Huh.  That looks about the size of my pinky.”  So I wanted to check and see if I was right.  It almost was.  I had to push a little to get it all the way in.  Yes.  I know.

Four hours later, after a phone call to my dad (“Is it cold water or hot water that makes swelling go down?”), a movie for the girls (remember that scene in Dumbo where the mommy elephant is locked in the cage and can just barely reach her baby by stretching out her trunk through the bars?  Never empathized so much in my life.), and a lot of carting that chair around with me, the parents came home.  They were greeted with, “Mommy!  Andra’s got her finger stuck in a chair!”

My dad and the girls’ father considered sawing but weren’t sure how to stop the saw before it hit my finger.  (Ack.) They settled on black grease from his garage.  Then they pulled until I thought my finger would dislocate.  It didn’t.  (Oh, and the chair survived, too.)

That really wasn’t an accident.  So what was it?  Wanting to satisfy my curiosity?  Lack of thinking clearly through my actions?  (I’m trying just avoid this: Just plain stupid.)

Please say I’m not the only one with this problem.

At least I’m not accident-prone.  Just not-quite-an-accident-prone.

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Pop-Ups

Do you ever have a phrase from someone that rings in your head at certain points?  Something someone said to you that just permeated your inner workings and won’t go away?

I have lots of these “pop-ups.”

Every single time I prepare raw chicken breasts, I hear my cooking friend’s tsk-tsk, “Andra, you’re cutting the best part of the chicken off!  That fat will cook off and the tenderloin is the most tender part!”

Every single time I trim strawberries, my frugal friend’s tsk-tsk, “Andra, you’re cutting half the strawberry off!”  (Does it seem like I get a lot of tsking for my cutting skills? I thought so, too.  Beside the point that they were all right.  I hack clumsily and waste.)

Every single time a car brakes in front of me, I hear my older brother’s advice from when I had my driving permit, “It’s best to brake when the car in front of you brakes.”

Every single time I finish washing up the dishes in the evening, I hear my mom’s “Sending my daughter off to college” voice, “I wash my towels and washcloths every day.”

Sometimes it’s advice, sometimes it’s criticism, sometimes it’s a funny joke.  But the voices of family and friends cling to me – at odd times and in odd ways.

When it happens so often, it starts to make me smile.  It reminds me of a time when I was with that person, a happy day when we cooked together, drove together, planned together, talked together.

What doesn’t make me smile, what makes me cringe and shudder, is wondering what I’ve said that other people have stuck in their heads…

Surprise, You’re (kind of) Home!

Up until this year, I hadn’t set foot in Germany, even though it borders Czech Republic.  We travelled to Austria several times, giggling about the town names as we drove.  (Yes, people.  We’re that immature.)  Drasenhofen, Poysdorf, Bad Pirawarth.  Salzburg, Austria is where we fell in love.  Vienna is where we got our Czech visas.  And somewhere between Durnkrut and Hohenau, my dad nearly lost his head leaning out the train window.

But Germany just wasn’t on my hit list.  (That would be Italy, dear readers.)  My husband had to go to Berlin for graduate school and he returned raving about the city.  I admit, I was surprised.  My color for Berlin was gritty gray.  I had absolutely no basis for this, but that’s what was in my head.  (Never have I claimed that what is in my head makes much sense.)

Then we all trooped up to Berlin for his graduation and I was blown out of the water.  (Figuratively, of course.)  I know you’ll think me shallow (rightfully so?  I’m not saying.), but the fact that every street name was labeled with consistent font on every corner delighted me to no end.  The map perfectly matched the streets so that I finally gained “competent navigator status” in our car. (A title previously elusive to me.)

More than that, there was a certain familiarity that soothed me.  Some cities I travel to make me feel nervous, some make me feel awe, some make me feel dirty, and some make me feel cultured.  Berlin’s gift to me was acceptance.  We didn’t stick out of place.  Our clothes were similar to theirs.  Our face shapes were similar to theirs.  You could half-listen to strangers behind you and imagine they were speaking in English.  We almost fit in (except for the maps, travel brochures, and the ten minutes we spent trying to buy tickets at the S-Bahn machine.)  Image

Then on the way home we stopped for a night in Dresden.  It is now highest on my list of European cities to visit, a shining gem of class, sophistication, and architecture.  Even the McDonalds was discreetly hidden, dressed in Renaissance finery.  (Actually, I have no idea what kind of architecture that building was, but doesn’t it sound grand that way?)  (The kids found the McDonalds anyway.)

We were smitten tourists the entire trip.  Camera snapping, exploring, souvenir-trapped tourists.  Yet it was more like visiting a new city in my home country.  I’m not saying Germany is like America.  But there is a cultural and linguistic bond that countries further east lack.

I love where I live and I wouldn’t change that for the world.  Life has become normal for me in Czech.  But to step away for the weekend and feel almost home, to almost belong, was like a hug from a dear friend. Thank you, Germany.  I’m sorry I ever doubted you.

Flowers for Algernon

I used to be great at spelling.  Not because I know the spelling rules (we all know how helpful those are with Exceptlish.  I mean English.)  It just sort of happened because I’m visual and I read a lot.  I would sit in class at school and think, “Can’t they just look at that word and see that it’s wrong?  Doesn’t it look wrong?”

Ten years into living in Europe, my visual cues from seeing English written all over the place are scarce.  And reading in my free time?  Uh, that died when my brain fried from (the attempt at) learning Czech.

Czech is a one hundred percent phonetic language (its one, shining, easy point) so everything is spelled exactly how it is said.  None of this “G says guh or juh” stuff.  (I really could do a better job explaining this considering I was a linguistics major.  Did I mention about the fried brain?)  Now it’s as if my mind, at seeing how beautifully simple spelling could be, simply stopped acknowledging any other system.

It is appalling to see how low my spelling skills have sagged.  Even typing with spell check and auto correct, I am often so far off that I have to google the word.  “Did you mean ketchup?”  (Google is so condescending.  But yes, thank you.  I did mean ketchup.)  I took 10 minutes out of my day on Tuesday to try to text message the word “tentatively” to my friend.  Normally I would have given up and used a synonym, but there was a complicated word play – my favorite thing – dependent (not dependant) on that word.

If I had always been a terrible speller, I might not mind so much.  But spelling has always seemed to me the mark of a learned (wo)man.  And I suddenly find that mark high, high above my level.  Imajin my shagrin.

Thanksgiving

This is the time of year when people start posting their lists of things they are thankful for.  In fact, this year my group is going through One Thousand Gifts for our study and I considered posting my list of a thousand things I’m thankful for.  Except there isn’t one. Yet. I’ll get there someday. Someday after I start on it.

Instead, I am going to unpack what Thanksgiving is here in non-America.  The first year I was here, although we were invited to another family’s Thanksgiving feast, we still had to go to work that day.  The whole country went to work.  That is way more depressing than you would think.  No matter how crusty-brown that turkey steams on the platter, or how sticky sweet the pecan pie tastes, when no one is celebrating with a day on the couch or in the kitchen, when everyone is attending to their normal, workaday lives, it is NOT Thanksgiving.

The consecutive few years of Thanksgiving overseas, my husband and I had a little more flexibility in our schedules and didn’t have to work (although everyone else around us still did.)  Finding a turkey and cranberries (this was in 2005) was a feat in itself (and forget about recognizable brown sugar).  We collected as many American foods as we could, laid them down on the table, prayed over our meal, and then sat despondently, alone, and remembered all the Thanksgivings of our childhoods filled with family and kids and football games and travel and leftovers.  It was enough to make a nostalgic writer cry.

Then we began trying to invite people over, to give it the “family” feel.  This was a lot of stress for the cook, inexperienced as she was, and perfectionistic about the housecleaning.  (I’m talking about me here.)  And it was just plain awkward.  We barely knew the Czech landlord and his family.  And you don’t just hand an amateurly baked turkey to a near stranger.

Then we decided to have a lot of teenagers over on “Thanksgiving” Saturday.  My husband was teaching them baseball and they were coming over for movie nights on Fridays.  So we were getting to know them well and teenagers like to eat.  It was a big group – maybe 18 – and that went well, but we still wanted our own Thanksgiving so I cooked a fourth turkey just for ourselves to enjoy afterward.  Not only was I too exhausted to appreciate my own hard work, but our kids were definitely too little to appreciate my own hard work, which is much worse.  It was utter failure.  And so very much not worth it.

The same group came for the next four years.  We moved to another city and they still come.  After awhile, those Czechs came to expect the same pies, gravy, cranberry sauce, and the “sit down together for a massive meal” that we’d always delivered and this year, for the first time, I realize what has happened.

I spent nearly 7 years trying to replicate Thanksgiving, cut and paste it onto my European life.  And it made the holiday depressing at best, miserable at worst.  It wasn’t until I totally gave up the idea that Thanksgiving is a Thursday to sit with out-of-town family and eat that I began to finally enjoy this time.  Now it is a time for me to serve and let friends be family.

Seeds die before they can grow something beautiful.

This is a new Thanksgiving.  Not the cozy Thanksgiving of my childhood with sounds of parades from the TV no one is watching.  I love that Thanksgiving.  But it is unattainable here in my life overseas and I had to let that die.  But the Thanksgiving I have now is perfect too.  And as different as a flower is to its dead seed.

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Why I Make Lists

I’m a list-maker.  I know there are a lot of us out there, but for those of you who just don’t get it, let me fill you in on the types of things that I need written down to remember.

  • What time I’m supposed to pick my son up from school.
  • Get a babysitter for date night.
  • Lock the door.
  • Pack underwear for our trip.
  • Children’s social security numbers.
  • Buy diapers.
  • Pack my son’s snack for school.
  • Buy Christmas presents.
  • Family birth dates. (I’m talking about  my own children.  Dead serious.)

And last but not least, the password for my blog account.  Which didn’t make it on the list.  Which is why I’m starting fresh today.  This time around, I wrote it all down so I can access my account again and hopefully I won’t be starting fresh again tomorrow.  If I remember to check my list.