Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Hohegrete (or, The Retreat)

This weekend was amazing... I went on a retreat with a couple of very dear families and people from church. Instead of actually writing about it (which would take pages and bore everyone to tears), I'm going to list the high-lights. Oftentimes it's the little things that make the difference and make life beautifully meaningful.

- getting to know everyone better

- seeing a glimpse of God's love through people

- late-night talks over tea

- learning how to knit from Eleanor*

- watching people beat eachother up

- singing beautiful worship songs

- singing worship songs in English (though they have a tendency to reduce me to tears)

- going on late-night walks under the stars...

- actually "getting" jokes! (well, most of them)

- learning new words such as "Eierlegendevollmilchsau" - roughly translated, an "egg-laying, milk-producing pig". This term is used to describe something that is capable of everything and makes everyone happy (and is unfortunately non-existent).

- walking arm in arm with Bizarro Mom

- being continuously impressed by how people interact with and serve one another

- trying to create a church logo/slogan with Sydney and Eleanor

- practical talks/sermons

- snickering to myself when the preacher inserted the occasional "Scheisse" (sh*t) and "Arschloch" (*ssh*le) in his sermons.

- fascinating seminar on communication

- singing "my hat, it has three corners" in German

- thinking about life and such

- afternoon naps and journaling

- singing "if you're happy and you know it, clap your hands" in German

- being challeneged

- witnessing a car accident on the Autobahn (albeit minor)

- no computer or telephone for four days

- taking two days off of work

- an ever-deflating personal space bubble

- getting a new Jars of Clay CD (old hymns re-done!)

- goofing off in the snow without a jacket or mittens on, and neither caring nor freezing

- always being the last group to leave anywhere

- convictions, affirmations, focus and encouragement

*name changed to protect privacy

Lyrics of the day: "When peace like a river attendeth my way... when sorrows, like sea-billows, roll... whatever my lot, You have taught me to say: it is well, it is well with my soul..." (Thanks to Horatio Spafford)

Friday, February 24, 2006

First times to second times to patterns...

In the past couple of weeks, I've begun noticing a sort of pattern or cycle in life. The first several months of being here, everything was new... everywhere I went, everything I did, and everyone I met. It was a constant adventure and challenge. Things are settling down and becoming a little more stable now.

For example, we had Inventory at work last week. This time, I was more familiar with how things work, how to prepare, and who to contact. Also, I know my co-workers and how they function better now, which makes things easier.

Then, there was choir last week... we're practicing for another stint at the hospital. The first time we sung at the hospital, I was rather nervous, as I'd never done anything like that before. But this second time will be different.

Yesterday after work, as I was driving to Bizarro Mom's, I started thinking about the first time I drove to their home. It was all about looking at the map every ten seconds, trying to find street names, and wondering if I was headed in the right direction. This time was different... just floating along, listening/singing in the car, not paying attention to much of anything. Except the occasional stop light, street signs, other drivers and cop I passed, of course.

Several people came and visited me yesterday afternoon/evening... and I started thinking about the changes since the first time they came over. I had to give directions, explain where I live, and make sure things were perfectly spic and span. But now, people just drop by. And if things are slightly catastrophic, who cares?

There are two things I strongly dislike using... cleaning supplies and maps. And in the past few weeks, there's been a noticeable decrease in the usage of the two. :)

Life can still be crazy, as I still have a ton to take care of and learn... but it's nice to settle into a sort of pattern, normalcy, stability.

Lyric of the day: "I recommend biting off more than you can chew to anyone; I certainly do.... You live, you learn... you love, you learn... you cry, you learn... you lose, you learn... you bleed, you learn... you scream, you learn." (Thanks to Alanis)

Monday, February 20, 2006

On Numbers... (or Relativity, Pi and Kate Bush)



At one point, I thought that numbers and calculations were concrete, absolute, definite, authoritative, unchangeable, universal. But they're not. They're relative, fluid, self-defined, malleable.

People are frightened by numbers. When a number is attached to a piece of information, it's taken very seriously; the number somehow gives credibility to things that would otherwise be questioned.

Calculations and formulas are not perfect ends in and of themselves. Just because they're prescribed in some program/list/textbook doesn't mean they're God-given-absolutes. People created them. If you want to calculate something, you must determine what you want to calculate, set your parameters, and create a formula. The important thing is that you know the implications of your outcome... that you know what your end result is telling you.

There is no single correct way to calculate anything. Similar to the thinking of today's society, numbers and calculations are relativistic.

Numbers are also easily manipulated. If I can learn to manipulate them in a few month's time, I don't even want to know what the professionals are capable of. Give me a couple of years worth of practice, and I'll give you any value you want, allowing you to prove anything you want, backed up with "concrete" statistics. It's that possible.


Between work and discovering a new musician, I've had numbers spinning in my head pretty much 24/7. Kate Bush * wrote a brilliant song called 'Pi' on her new album, Aerial *. She somehow manages to turn a string of numbers into something serenely beautiful and melodic. The song flows... if you were to listen purely to the music without paying attention to the lyrics, you'd never know she simply rattles off numbers. Interestingly, Tori Amos is heavily influenced by Bush... their music is eerily similar both vocally and instrumentally (piano).

The complete song is on her myspace page, though you might have to be registered to listen to it: Kate Bush's myspace page

To hear a sample of Pi, you can go to Amazon and scroll to the bottom of the page (unfortunately, the rattling-off-numbers part isn't included!!): 30 second Pi sample on Amazon

Lyric of the day: "Sweet and gentle and sensitive man with an obsessive nature and deep fascination for numbers and a complete infatuation with the calculation of Pi... oh... he does love his numbers and they run, they run, they run him in a great big circle, in a circle of infinity... 3 . 1 4 1 5 9 2 6 5 3 5 8 9 7 9 3 2 3 8 4 6 2 6 4 3 3 8 3 2 7 9 . . . 5 0 2 8 8 4 1 9 7 1 6 9 3 9 9 3 7 5 1 0 5 8 2 3 1 9 7 4 9 4 4 5 9 2 3 0 7 8 1 6 4 0 6 2 8 6 2 0 8 8 2 1 4 8 0 8 6 5 1 3 2 . . . 8 2 3 0 6 6 4 7 0 9 3 8 4 4 6 0 9 5 5 0 5 8 2 2 3..." (Thanks to Kate Bush!)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Intruder in my appartment?

For the first time since I've been here, I've felt scared. The blood-rushing-to-the-head, heart-pounding, this-could-be-my-last-minute-on-earth kind of scared.

There's a little electrical box in my hallway, and though I've opened it a couple of times, I haven't touched it in weeks.

It's always the first thing I see when entering my flat... and when I got home the other evening, it was open. I know that I didn't open it. And I know it can't open by itself, as it snaps shut. Which means... someone else must have opened it. Intruder!! I suddenly felt quite sick and panicky, and debated how to proceed. Fortunately, my place is rather small, and there aren't that many places for intruders to hide. So, out of my right jacket pocket came my handy little Siemens cell phone, and I pretend-dialed an imaginary friend. Here's the logic: if someone is going to attack and murder me, they'll be less likely to do so when I'm in the middle of a phone conversation.

Mary: "Hey Hon, just wanted to let you know that I made it home..."
*strategic pause*
Mary: "Yeah, it was a long day... so when will you be home?"
*looks behind the shower curtain*
Mary: "Oh, in about five minutes? Perfect timing."
*looks behind the sofas*
Mary: "What?"
*another strategic pause*
Mary: "You're kidding!"
*looks inside the dishwasher*
Mary: "I can't believe it!"
*wonders if she's losing her sanity*
Mary: "You'll have to tell me every detail when you get back."
*looks in and behind the closet*

And so it carried on until the flat was thoroughly searched.

Is this kind of behaviour normal? An eye examination for my driver's license is pending... and I'm wondering whether a psychological examination is also necessary.

Lyric of the day: "Every move you make, every vow you break, every smile you fake, every claim you stake... I'll be watching you." (Thanks to Sting)

Friday, February 17, 2006


Hehe, here are some "stereotypes" Germans have of Americans... I've actually been asked the following questions or have been told the following statements! :)

But first, a disclaimer.

To any German person reading this - the questions are fabulous, and please keep them coming. Some are rather cute, which is why they've made their way here.
*end of disclaimer*

"Do you use AOL?"
No, not all Americans use AOL. There are other options.

"Your family has a large refridgerator back home, don't they?"
Yup, you got that right. And in Texas, the fridges are even larger. And Texas itself is larger than France.

"There's not traffic on the interstates, is there?"
Ironically, that's what the Americans think about the German Autobahn: unlimited speeds and no traffic. Everyone is wrong in this case.

"He chews gum like an American."
Yeah, Americans are fixated in the oral stage. *smack* *smack* *smack*

"Do you always eat pancakes for breakfast in America?"
Pancakes? Where did they come up with this?

"Americans drink a lot of diet coke, right?"
Yes... it absolutely must be diet... to balance out the mega-bacon-cheesy-burger and super-size-fries. Maybe we are achieving balance, after all.

Lyric of the day: "We've got to come together... and thank the maker of us all. We've got to come together... aren't we all human after all?" (Thanks to dcTalk!)

Drivers License Complications

If I had to describe Germany with one word, it would be "complicated." All I want is my driver's license, but I'm being forced to jump through a myriad of hoops. If I wanted to jump through hoops, I would have (a) stayed at Texas A&M, where you can not only jump through hoops, but can also jump over hurdles and fight your way through jungles of red tape (b) said good-bye to the cruel world and joined the circus.

A professor used to try to describe people/countries with one word, which can be quite entertaining.

Russia, for example, would be "manic." They're either completely convivial... dancing, singing, telling jokes... or they're depressed. If you and I had to live through their six-month winters, we'd be down too. Then we'd be high as a kite if we saw even one tiny ray of sunshine.

America would be "extreme." We can't seem to find a balance. Everything is either black and white or blurry-grey. Fundamentalism vs. relativism. Fortunately, it's quite popular to be a "seeker"... seeking some form of God, awakening, nirvana, purpose, light, etc. Maybe we'll find that elusive balance.

Mexico would be "laid back." Think: siestas. The whole country takes a break for an afternoon nap. Lovely. Sometimes I think my sisters would make a good Mexican, as she's pretty content, laid-back, and seems to float happily along. Her catch-phrase is, "It'll all work out." And it does.

China would be "industrious." Spending two weeks at a university there, and having several Chinese friends while in college confirms this. No one works and studies as much or as hard as these people do.

Back to Germany being complicated... I was going to describe the complicated process of obtaining my driver's license, but thought it'd be more entertaining to stereotype and generalize other countries and people groups. Yeah, stereotypes are bad... but if they didn't contain a certain extent of truth, they wouldn't exist.

Lyrics of the day: "We're colored people and they call us the human race... we're colored people who depend on a Holy Grace." (Thanks to dcTalk!)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Life-changing Reality :)

Exciting news! My church in Germany now has the homepage of our webpage in English as well as in German. I've been helping Sydney*, one of the guys at church, on it, and we thought it'd be good to have at least the homepage in English, in case there are internationals who find us and want to visit.

Here's the link:

Christus Gemeinde Neukirchen-Vluyn, English!

All you Hill Country people are going to get a kick out of this - on the front page, we mention the "life-changing reality of Jesus". I couldn't resist working that in there. Speaking of Hill Country, I'd like to take this moment to give a special shout-out to Shelby*, Jen* and *SCREEEEEEEEEEE* The Receptionist. :)

*name changed or shortened to protect privacy

Lyric of the day: "Hey, Jude (not Judas), don't make it bad... take a sad song, and make it better.... and anytime you feel the pain, hey, Jude, refrain. Don't carry the world upon your shoulders." (Thanks to the Beatles)

Monday, February 13, 2006

Progress and such

Today was encouraging, as I think I jumped a major hurdle language-wise. In the past, I've always noticed that the later in the day, the more difficult it is to both comprehend and speak German. It's as if you hit a wall with the language... you simply run out of words.

This evening, a few co-workers and I had planned on going out after work. It had been a rather long day, and I'd done more talking than normal, as I had to explain some functions to a co-worker (and let me tell you... it was difficult! He had so many questions!). Honestly, though I wanted to go out, I was dreading it a little, as I anticipated not being able to follow or add much of anything to the conversation. Surprisingly, not only did I make it through the evening, but I was able to follow and speak at the normal level. There wasn't a noticeable leap forward... but at least there wasn't the normal stumbling backwards.

Progress is being made! Slowly, but surely.

People I just meet tend to ask similar questions... "Why, of all places, do you want to live in Germany?" and "How long do you want to be here?" Many don't understand why I left the States. America is a wonderful country, and living here has made me appreciate many aspects of the American way of life. But I also love it here... I love the people I've met, the groups that have been established, the church I'm involved with, the way of life, and the way of thinking. Heck, I'm even growing accustomed to the fact that 99.9999% of life is "geregelt."

Living here and being thrust into independence and a new life has been a challenge, an adventure, an excitement, a stretch, and a continuous learning experience.... mentally, spiritually and physically. But it's exactly what's needed.

Status Quo, Schmatus Schmo.

Lyric of the day: "It takes a man (woman?) to suffer ignorance and smile... be yourself, no matter what they say. I'm an alien... I'm a legal alien... I'm an Englishman in New York (or an American Girl in Nordrhein-Westfalen)." (Thanks to Sting!)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Postcard from... (guess who!!)

Guess who I received a postcard from today...



... Constantine Maroulis!!!

Here's a photo of it:

It says, "Mary, You Rock... *heart* Constantine *squiggly line*"


I'm sure I'm one of thousands of other people who "rock", but that's ok... I still like my little hand-written postcard, muah!

As I was studying it, I realized that he didn't actually write "Mary". Hmm. How do I know this? Because by night, I'm a CIA hand-writing analyst. Actually, here's why:

1. "Mary" is in all-caps, whereas the rest of it isn't. Most people write either all-caps or not. You don't switch sides in the middle of a sentence.

2. The capital "R" in "Mary" and the capital "R" in "Rock" are obviously different.

3. The letters in "Mary" are closer together and noticeably smaller than the remainder of the postcard.


That's my postcard from The Pretty (and someone else whose job was to write names).


These past several weeks have been rather trying, and I've been forced to re-think and re-shuffle some of my priorities around. Things are becoming clearer, and I'm now understanding the important things of life. Such as writing letters to rockstars. Playing Skat. Lego Technik.

Lyric of the day: "My baby, she wrote me a letter... she wrote me a letter, said she couldn't live without me no more... listen, Mister, can't you see? I've got to get back to my baby once more... any way." (Thanks to Constantine for covering Someone!)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Doctor's Appointment...

Well, it finally happened: the appointment with the infamous Betriebsartzt. And it wasn't bad at all. As a matter of fact, the doctor wasn't even there today (which is strange, as it's a Tuesday)... the nurses just had me fill out a questionnaire, took my blood pressure, weighed me, measured me, and did an eye exam.

The questionnaire was interesting... on the one hand, many medical terms are similar to those in the US. On the other hand, there were some pretty long scary-sounding words, and I unfortunately didn't have a dictionary. With the words I was unclear on, I figured it'd be safer to check "no" as opposed to checking "yes." I'd say there were about 10 to 15 terms I was unclear on (automatic "no"!)... so... the next person who looks at my medical records is either going to think I'm (a) quite healthy, which is true, (b) infested with diseases or (c) a pathological liar.

The nurse probably thinks I'm a moron, but what's one to do? I'm too busy calculating statistics and forecasts to bother converting my own weight and measurements, as the following conversation proves:

Nurse: "How tall are you, Frau Barber?"
Mary: "I'm sorry, I only know my height in feet and inches, not meters."
Nurse: "That's fine; we can measure you... how much do you weight, then?"
Mary: "Umm, I don't know that, either. Well, I do know it, but in pounds, not kilograms."

Oh well.

The eye exam went fine. I think they want to be able to trace the deterioration of my eyes due to excessive amounts of work-related computer time.

Lyric of the day: "I don't want to be your other half... I believe that one and one make two... and I'm not the doctor." (Thanks to Alanis.)

Monday, February 06, 2006

At least I've still got my piano.

Some words of wisdom I'd like to reiterate... concerning significant others (or lack thereof, in this case).

1. Find someone with the same values. This is the advice that my grandmother gave my mother, so it's very special. When my mom asked her parents what they thought she should look for in a man, this is what they told her. Other things (think: hobbies, interests, the physical) can change, but values are core to who you are. These absolutely must be in sync.

2. If you're not happy when you're single, you won't be happy with someone else. My Mom told me this years ago, and it's always stuck with me... interestingly, I was talking with Bizarro Mom the other day and she said the exact same thing. It's amazing and encouraging how God works and speaks through people.

This statement is so true. Why? Because, ultimately, contentment is not found in another person. Contentment and true happiness are found outside of ourselves, and outside of other people. If you expect another person to fulfill you and bring you contentment, you're going to put an insanely unfair amount of pressure on that person, as it's impossible.

This last one is for the ladies...

3. Do you respect his judgement and decision making? Before my parents were married, one of my mother's mentours asked her this question. Though marriage is a partnership, women, for whatever reason, are called to *ahem* submit themselves to a certain extent to their husbands. If there is a lack of respect, an absence of trust, or a difference in values, this cannot function correctly. If at all.

Everyone makes mistakes, of course... and we're to forgive... but if a man makes decisions that are repeatedly out of line with your values and what you believe and hold dear, and if you do not respect the decisions he makes, then... ADIOS MUCHACHO!

*steps off the soapbox*

Lyrics of the day: "Wait a minute, something's wrong... oh, the key won't unlock this door. Hey, I have a bad feeling... my baby don't live here no more... but I still got my guitar." (Thanks to Jimi Hendrix.)

Yes, and I've still got my piano. Muah.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Collecting coins vs. collecting children

Whereas people in the States collect things such as coins, stamps, postcards or creepy porcelain dolls, people in Great Britain collect children.

Instead of "picking up" their children, they "collect" them.


And they still use the word "rubbish."


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Drowning in Statistics, Formulas and incomprehensible German Words

It finally happened: I had a bad day in Germany. A very bad, frustrating day. A Statistic of expected/unbooked costs was due today... which means going through the actual costs and comparing them with the expected costs and orders that haven't been booked yet. Whatever is expected, but hasn't been booked is your "Statistik." Sounds simple enough, eh? Compare the actual with the expected, and calculate a nice, clean, pretty little value. Maybe even a whole number!

Well, let's throw in some other factors. Such as multiple cost elements. Multiple months. Costs being backed up over several months. Costs being booked in non-chronological order. One specific cost/order running over multiple cost centers. Costs running in little hidden corners of cost centers. Costs running over cost centers that I'm not responsible for. Formulas that calculate things I don't understand. Having to change formulas. Having to estimate based on what "feels right." Not understanding when co-workers are trying to explain things to me. And the list (like the beat) goes on.

The most frustrating thing is not understanding, and today was worse than usual. I was staring intently at my co-worker, trying so very hard to understand, but it simply wasn't happening. Sure, I understood about 95% of the individual words that were coming out of his mouth. I even understood most of his sentences. But for some reason, I couldn't put the pieces together to grasp the concept.

Imagine someone saying the following to you: "Yada yada yada Kostenstelle yada Einzelmonate und Auflauf blah blah Statistik bilden blah blah Ist-Werte blah gekaufte-bezogene Dienstleistungen yada Materialverbrauch yada yada ganz wichtig." Then, imagine having to take what was just told you, and having to calculate an official Statistic with it. A Statistic that's going to find its way into the upper management levels. Help!!!

Once 5:15 hit, I wrote a snazzy little Excel forumla containing an infinite loop that crashed both Excel and the computer. Then I called it an evening.

Lyrics of the day: "Do do do, da da da... is all I want to say to you... do do do, da da da... they're innocent and all that's true." (Thanks to Sting and the Police.)