Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Anyone intersted in a turquoise 1991 automatic VW Golf?

Do you ever feel like life is some sort of sick joke and you're the butt of it? Or like someone somewhere is watching you and either snickering or shaking their head? If so, then maybe we could start a club. Or a support group. Or a new political party.

Why the frustration? I had my second driving hour today, and here are the major points:

1. I made every mistake in the book (how I avoided totaling the car is beyond me).

2. My driving instructor had to grab the steering wheel three times because I somehow messed up.

3. My instructor told me twice that had today been the test, I would have failed.

What bewilders me is the fact that I can drive. Or I thought I could. Katinka and I drove all over Germany. I've had my license for about six years now. I've driven in Germany since last September. Why is this so difficult?

At the rate things are going, I might be ebay-ing my dear Scaramouche.

Between Sunday and today, I'm realizing how horribly I react under stress and pressure. My mind somehow ceases to function normally, and in a matter of seconds I turn from a semi-normal person into a blinking idiot with motor-skill malfunctions.

Lyric of the day: "The bitter taste is cumbersome..." (Thanks to Seven Mary Three)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Mission Sunday Piano Playing: Accomplished.

Well, we did it. I played (and by "played", I mean "butchered") a prelude during the church service as well as lead three songs with Helmut. Though it was nerve-wracking, I'm glad we did it... and hopefully next time will be easier and smoother.

It was so weird... the prelude started off just fine, but as I was playing, my mind began to wander and I started to freak out. All at once, if was as if I simply couldn't play anymore and my hands started shaking... so... yes... I stumbled over some notes (by "some notes", I mean "three stanzas and a complicated run that I'd been able to play consistently perfectly until Sunday morning"). It's really a vicious cycle - when I'm nervous and make mistakes, I tend to play faster, which makes me mess up even more. Instead I ought to slow. it. down. Ah well. So, of course, the entire sermon I'm agonizing and beating myself up in my head about it when I know that it really doesn't even matter. Let it go. No one's perfect.

As I was thinking, I concluded that messing up could actually be good for my ol' ego. If I had played everything perfectly, I'd probably be proud of myself. Instead, I was slightly horrified and shaken up.

The three songs I played with Helmut went very well, though. Everyone was singing, and he was sitting right next to me, so I didn't feel as under pressure or in the spotlight.


Syd, I have a lot of admiration for you for pulling everything off so beautifully each Sunday. My goodness.

Lyric of the day: "Vater, unser Vater... alle Ehre Deinem Namen. Vater, unser Vater... bis ans Ende der Zeiten. Amen."

(Father, our Father... Your Name be praised. Father, our Father... until the end of time. Amen.)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

American Idol 5, Pop Culture, and Presidential Elections

As I was browsing the top news stories online, I couldn't help but laugh: tucked in with other major news stories such as Moussaoui's sentence to life-time solitary confinement, controversial phone surveillance in the US, collisions of Greek and Turkish jets, and Zapatero's decision to start peace talks with the Basques, was the news-breaking article: Taylor Hicks wins American Idol Season 5.

Of course, I had to ask Kenny if they'd watched it this season. Yes, they'd seen the Finale, and he informed me that there had been 64 million votes. 64 million. Holy Schnikes. Hi, my name is Average Joe American and pop culture is the opiate of my people.

To put things in perspective, let's look at the 2004 presidential election statistics. In the 2004 elections, a total of 122 million people voted. Bush received 62 million and Kerry received 59 million. This means that more people voted for an American Idol than voted for Bush. *tsk tsk*

Ok, sure, there are differences between a Presidential Election and American Idol...

1. The AI serves a one-year term whereas the President serves for four years.

2. The goal of the presidential election is usually the selection of the lesser of two or three evils, whereas AI has a more interesting and diverse mixture of decent contestants.

3. Many AI contestants actually have talent.

4. The AI is under the reign of Fox whereas the President is under the reign of the House and Cognress (or his wife, depending on whom we're referring to).

5. The AI wins a recording contract whereas the president wins an office suite in the stuffy White House and has to take loads of heat from the media and random miscreants who think they understand world politics and feel a need to express their "freedom of speech" in rather annoying ways.

... but there are also similarities between the AI and the President...

1. They reflect and represent, to a certain crude extent, the people who voted for them.

2. The election/voting process is arguably rigged.

3. In light of eternity, it really doesn't matter who wins.

In order to increase participation in future presidential elections, I suggest Congress take the necessary steps to engage and excite the American public. For example, maybe Ryan Seacrest could moderate the 2008 presidential debates. Or Simon Cowell could be the post-debate commentator. In addition to debate and communication coaching, maybe the candidates should receive voice coaching and music lessons. Music is often a crucial and controversial means of communication*, and I see no reason why Bush, Condy, Blair and even Angie shouldn't resort to pop music and reality television to express their political goals and interests. If anything will spark an interest in politics, this is it.

Seriously, folks... of the following contestants, for whom would you be more likely to vote?

I shouldn't publically admit this... but... I didn't actually vote in the last presidential election. Had popular votes been counted (and had the contestants staged a singing contest in lieu of debating), I certainly would have voted... but because of the electoral system, I knew that Bush would win Texas. Plus, semester finals were pending and I didn't have time to drive back to Austin to vote.

And now for the clincher... I *gasp* did vote on American Idol during Season 4. But only once, and for one contestant. The secret's out!! Pop culture (specifically, Constantine) is my opiate! *hangs her head in shame*

Maybe Congress and I can learn a lesson from Fox Television after all.

Lyric of the day: "I think I love you, but what am I so afraid of? I'm afraid that I'm not sure of a love there is no cure for..." (Thanks to Constantine covering a Partridge Family song)

*some have argued that the Beatles' music was the primary cause of the fall of communism in Russia. Pardon?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

To play, or not to play...

Today was interesting... before describing, here's the background information:

Bizarro informed me last Sunday that their family is going to be in southern Germany (which means Baden-Wuerttemberg and not Bayern) this coming Sunday. What does this mean for me? Well, the primary implication (other than a lack of frantic phone calls requesting that I unlock the church doors at random times throughout the weekend) is that Sydney, our experienced senior church pianist, will also be gone.

La la la la.

So, Bizarro and Eleanor asked if I'd play the piano this Sunday.

Hmm. Whenever I play in front of groups (one or more people, that is), my hands have a history of going cold and shaking uncontrollably. Is it possible for all the blood to somehow rush out of your hands within seconds? I think so.

Also, I've never led any type of worship or choir and I'm metronome-ally challenged. When playing, I change speeds according to what feels right and what's physically possible; I never stick to rigid rhythms. When playing for church, however, you have to maintain a consistent tempo.

After pondering, I decided (a.) to go ahead and play and (b.) to ask Helmut if he'd play as well.

All that to say, today was interesting. I met with Helmut this afternoon to choose some songs for Sunday and to practice them. Other than the occasional piano-violin duet with Katherine years ago, I've never played with someone, so this was a new experience. We actually play well together (he plays guitar), and I had a fun time. :)

I probably shouldn't write this because people from the church read it, but oh well. It's nice that he's playing, because that way it's not as obvious when I fudge chords, skip notes, miss beats, or simply screw up. Many of the songs only have melodies, or melodies with simple harmonies, which means I have to somehow use the chords to create a harmony. Sure, this is easy for someone like Syd (yeah, I'm terribly jealous), but I have to work at it. And sometimes it sounds less than lovely. But that's where the guitar and practice come in, right?

Well, Sunday should certainly be interesting. Hopefully in a non-catastrophic way.

Lyric of the day: "It doesn't really matter what chords I play, what words I say, or time of day it is. It's only a Northern Song." (Thanks to the Beatles!)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Photo Re-cap of Kat's Visit

So much has happened in the two weeks that Kat was here, that it's difficult to even know where to begin and what to write. Not only did she have a glimpse into my every-day life here in NR-W, but we also traveled around quite a bit. She was able to meet most everyone here, as well as see some interesting sights. It was a wonderful two weeks, but also strange in many ways... I often joke about having different "worlds", but I really think it's true. These past weeks were a collision of German and American worlds, as well as the past and the present worlds.

Anyway. Let's save the sentimental reflection for another day.

Here are some of my favourite pictures from her visit... to make the picture larger, simply click on it.

Of course we had to spend a day at Bizarro Mom's when Kat was here... one of the favourite pasttimes is going for rides on the tractor. They also have a Ferrari, but unfortunately I don't have a picture of it.

After going on the tractor ride, we sat around in the backyard and talked and even looked at old photo albums. 'Twas quite cute.

Here's a typical day at Bizarro's: comfortably crowded, with tons of people in the kitchen either helping or sampling. :)

Much of or vacation was spent on the road... it was about 630 km to Friedberg, our old hometown.

Here's a typical Autobahn sign... you can see our exit, "Augsburg-Ost." In the States the highway signs are green, aren't they...?

Here's a picture of Friedberg from the road. I knew we were close as soon as I saw the church steeple...

Here's the church from close-up... ah, this brings back memories.

We stayed with some family friends while in Friedberg... here's the mom. She's crazy! She's a nurse, so she and Kat had a good time talking about things like appendicitis, goiters, urinary tract infections and various intravenous shot techniques. During mealtimes.

Here's Kat and their daughter (who stayed with us for a month or so in Texas a few years back) at the kitchen table...

We went to Neuschwanstein while in Bavaria... heh, and Kat thought Neukirchen-Vluyn was a fairytale! She took this pic while standing in the middle of the Marienbruecke, which is a horrid, rickety, extremely high bridge.

Here she is standing on the bridge... *shudders*

Here's a pic I took while standing on the bridge... I know you probably can't tell how high it is from the picture, but let me tell you, it was creepy standing there and looking down through those huge spaces between the bridge planks.

Here we are, in front of the castle, waiting for our tour to begin.

We spent one afternoon/evening with some other family friends... here we are, sitting in their living room. I remembered them, of course, from a long time ago, but this time I got to know them on a more adult-level, which was very interesting. My parents have cool friends. :)

After having cake and coffee, we went for a stroll in Augsburg. Here's the house where Mozart's father was born...

Bertholt Brecht, a German writer/poet, also grew up in Augsburg, and here's a museum devoted to him. I'd read/seen some of his work while at the University, so it was neat seeing where he'd lived and grown up. Ok, trivia time... did you guys know that the song "Mack the Knife" originally comes from a German opera called the "Die Dreigroschenoper" by Brecht? Pretty nifty, hmm? :) I was rather amused by the fact that everyone in town calls him "Bert" Brecht instead of "Bertholt" Brecht. It's like saying "Wolle Mozart" or "Freddie Haendel." It just sounds a little, well, off.

After walking around town, we went to a little restaurant. We had a typical Bavarian meal: sausages, saurkraut and Spaetzle. Mmm...

Here's our old street, Gaertnerweg...

Here's our old house, Gaertnerweg 15. I even remember our old phone number. *Sniff sniff*. Yes, we ended up knocking on the door and asking if we could look inside, and the lady let us. It was so weird.

Kat and I took a walk through our old neighborhood and found some dandelions on the way. :)

Segmueller is a store we used to go to when we were kids... so of course my shop-a-holic sis and I had to return. We actually bought a lava lamp there, which is much more interesting than watching television. :)

There's a little cafe' in the middle of Segmueller where we used to eat Butterbreze, or buttered pretzels. Delicious!

These pretzels are making me thirsty!

We spent one day with some other family friends (the lady happens to be my current boss!). Here we are playing shuffleboard. My boss told me she hopes my shuffleboard playing doesn't reflect my cost-center controlling. Um. What's that supposed to mean?

And another picture... this is in their living room.

Hehe, I just had to upload one of these pictures... the appartment above mine is empty*, and Bizarro (who's also my renter, in case you forgot) wants to put some pictures of it on the internet. So, Kat and I (well, mainly Kat) "modeled" on some of them. It was awkward!!!

After the photo shoot, we hung out at my place for a while. (That's Sydney sitting between me and Kat).

One of our favourite desserts is Spaghetti Eis, or spaghetti ice cream. What they do is take plain ol' vanilla ice cream and put it through a press so it looks like spaghetti. Then they pour strawberry sauce over it and top it off with shredded white chocolate. In the middle is a healthy dose of whipped cream.

One last picture... we're sitting by a fountain in Friedberg. 'Twas a beautiful day.

It was sad taking her to the airport today, but we talked about it... she has a life to live in Austin, and needs to get back to her church and to figure out what exactly she's going to do this summer. And I have my life here. Sure, good-byes are hard, but we need to be thankful for the time we had together.

Lyric of the day: "And I have no concept of time other than it is flying... if only I could meet the Maker." (Thanks to Alanis)

*If anyone wants to move to Germany, the appartment above mine is available. And I have plenty of pictures of it if you'd like to see more. :)

Friday, May 19, 2006

Back in Neukirchen-Vluyn...

Voila. And we made it back. Time certainly flies, whether it be four days or fourteen years.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

On the Road to München...

Just wanted to let everyone know that I'm going to be taking a brief break (think: a week or so) from writing because Kat and I are going to München tomorrow morning. Yes, the road trip to re-discover our childhood roots... should be interesting.

This past week has been a collision of my American and German Worlds... and next week will be a collision of our Past and Present. It's a strange, strange feeling. Sometimes I feel rather torn and confused, but that's better than boredom and mediocrity, right?


Lyric of the day: "Little town, it's a quiet village... every day, like the one before. Little town, full of little people..." (Thanks to Beauty and the Beast and Kat thinking that life here is fairy-tale-like).

Friday, May 12, 2006

Status Driver's License Test: PASSED!!!


Man, it feels good to have that behind me. And it felt great screaming/singing with Alanis on the way home afterwards.

If the horrid practice tests I've been studying were actually mine, Katherine and I would celebrate by making a bonfire out of them this evening and roasting marshmallows... but that's unfortunately not an option.

So... I guess I'll just gather them up, give them back to Sydney, and never look at them again in my life! MUAH!

*the practical test is the next step... but I'm not going to think about it until after Kat's visit.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Katinka-dabogana in Deutschland!

well, i'm finally here in germany!! yay!!! by the way, this is katherine (also known as katinka dabogana). it was a long flight, without much sleep thanks to the grande starbucks coffee i had in atlanta, but it's definitely worth it!! we've had so much fun already, and it's only been two days! one of the first things we did yesterday was take a nice stroll down the street through the middle of town. the little town reminds me of a fairytail, so we sang a song from beauty and the beast as we passed by the bakery :-) it was great. after that, we went and got spaghetti eis!!! i haven't had that in about 14 years. last night was bible study at mary's appartment. it was so neat to hang out with all of the people that i've been hearing about. we sang some songs in german and english -- it's always cool to hear praise music sung in a different language. today mary woke me up nice and early (around 1pm) and we went to a big mall in a nearby city. it's fun to see little cultural differences, like paying money to use the restroom and smoking indoors. so far, i think my three favorite things about germany are: 1)mary. 2)mary's great little church family. 3)people eat ice cream all the time.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Language and such...

[Disclaimer: sorry if this entry comes across as snotty in any way... I simply find the the entire language phenomena and people's perceptions of my German rather interesting.]

While at the driving school today, I had two distinctly different styles of conversation, which was quite amusing.

Normally, people speak to me, well, "normally." At work, for example, my co-workers don't slow things down for me because I'm the Office American. I simply have to work a little harder than the others to understand everything. When Sydney told Bizarro Mom once that she should slow it down and speak Hochdeutsch* with me instead of Schwäbisch**, she said that she considered me a part of everyone else - no special treatment, that is. And that made me very happy (though I always appreciate Syd's help and clarifications! I can be rather lost at times.).

All that to say, though people know I'm American, and though I sometimes (often? usually? always? no!) don't follow everything, people tend to speak normally to me.

Today was a different story.

One of the guys at the driving school was seriously a German Al Gore communication-style-wise. He. E-nun-ci-a-ted. Each. Syl-la-ble. And. He. Spoke. Down. To. Me. Like. I. Had. Comprehension Issues. Which I do... but please! Not to that extent! And he kept repeating the simplest of things, as if I didn't understand.

Interestingly, about fifteen minutes before speaking with him, I'd had a conversation with a different man. Not only did this man speak rather quickly, but he had a slight accent, which made it even more difficult to follow.

After talking on and off as I was filling out practice tests, we had the following conversation (in German, of course)...

Man: "So, you got your license in the States?"
Mary: "Yes, in Texas. Unfortunately, it's not valid here..."
Man: "That's right... only licenses from certain states are recognized."
Mary: "And of course Texas isn't in the list."
Man: "How long were you in the States? Did you enjoy it there?"
Mary: "Um, I used to live there. I'm American."
Man: "Oh, I thought you had studied there."

He then told me that he thought I was German, had gotten my license while studying in the States, and had to re-do it here. He said he noticed that my German was a little "off", but thought it was due to an extended stay in the States.

*tee hee*

This isn't the first time for such an occurence, and it honestly confuses me. After much research and analysis, I've concluded that here could be several reasons for such occurences...

1. People are hard-of-hearing or don't listen and thus think my German is better than it actually is.

Person: "Your German's amazing!"
Mary: "It's cause you won't let me get a word in edge-wise."
Person: "No, seriously, your German is great."
Mary: "Yeah, all I've done in the past two hours is nod my head and say either 'yes' or 'no'. If I'd actually speak, you'd witness the horrors."

2. I often carry the same surface-y conversations with people I've just met, so I know what to say, have said it before, and thus come across fairly fluent and, well, German.

3. Having lived here as a child gives me a huge language advantage, and I have less of an accent than most Americans. People can tell I'm a foreigner, but they rarely nail me as American. The only person here who immediately knew I was American was a British sales clerk at the local hardware shop. Thus far, no German has been able to tell.

4. It seems that people rate your language-speaking-abilities based more on how you sound as opposed to content. Co-workers, for example, have told me that my German is better than that of other American colleagues. This is far from the truth. I've spoken German with other American colleagues, and their vocabulary is miles (kilometers!) beyond mine. Sure, I have less of an accent, but I can't express myself or carry on a conversation to the extent that they can. But in the eyes of my German co-workers, my German is better because I "sound" better. Strange stuff.

Anyway. One of my goals is for German to be second nature. I don't want people to be able to tell that I'm not a German... eh, maybe in several years. :)

* "high German", or the standard German

** a language spoken by people in southern Germany. They can do everything but speak Hochdeutsch. Bizarro and Helmut would fall into this category.

Katinka-dabogana Countdown: approximately 8 hours and 7 minutes! SCREEE!!!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Sisters, sisters!

Less than two days until my chica is here!

In honor of her pending arrival, a song from the movie White Christmas. Why, you might ask, a Christmas song in May? Because it feels like Christmas Eve!

Sisters, sisters,
There were never such devoted sisters.

Never had to have a chaperon, No Sir!
I'm there to keep my eye on her!

Caring, sharing
Every little thing that we are wearing.

All kinds of weather,
We stick together.
The same in the rain or sun.
Two different faces,
But in tight places,
We think and act as one.

Those who've seen us
Know that not a thing could come between us.

Many men have tried to split us up, but no one can.
Lord, help the mister
Who comes between me and my sister.
And Lord help the sister
Who comes between me and my man.

Thanks to Irving Berlin!

Katinkana-dabogana Countdown: approximately 1 day, 12 hours, 24 minutes!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Motorcross! (should the next project be a Motorcycle License?)

Went to a dirt-bike race last Monday with several kids (and Eleanor's bass-guitar-playing hubby) from church. It's strange... it seems like most of my time is spent with people who are either older or younger. Or with families. Though today after church, I actually hung out with a group of people my own age (that's a story for another entry!).


Motorcross pictures!

The girl with the blue jacket looking at the camera is Eleanor's daugher. The little girl next to her is Bizarro's niece who kept asking me annoying questions the other day. The girl with the goofy grin in the light blue jacket is Bizarro's daughter. To the far right is Sydney.

Here, you can see see where the bikers are getting ready for the start...

In one race, the bikers drove these two-person bikes. One person drove (of course) and the other shifted his weight around accordingly.

And another...

Then, the Michelin Tire Man. I'd even argue that he's cuter than the Pilsbury Dough Boy.

It was drizzling that day, which meant messy, slippery mud instead of dusty dirt. The funniest part was when we made our way down this slick, muddy hill to stand right on the sidelines. Every time the bikers drove by, dirt and mud would come flying in our direction. Sure, my clothes were trashed, it was loud*, and I had clumps of mud in my hair, but it was totally worth it.

Every now and then it's ok to make mudpies in the slums, isn't it?

During Intermission, Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up" was played over the loudspeakers. For some strange reason, it didn't seem to fit. But it was nice to hear nonetheless.

*so loud, in fact, that certain people stuck tissue pieces in their ears... tissue pieces which unfortunately became stuck and had to be later removed with tweezers. Aka Pinzetten.

Lyric of the day: "Go, Greased Lightning, you're burnin' up the quarter mile.... Greased Lightning! Go Greased Lightning!" (thanks to the Grease Musical!)

Katinka-dabogana Countdown: approximately 2 days, 12 hours and 31 minutes. I feel like a little kid on Christmas Eve!!!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Study Break and Multiple-Choice Quiz!

Fortunately I have no paper-shredder, otherwise these horrible driver's license practice tests would be long gone.

Seriously, though: any free time I have is spent trying to stay afloat in an undertow-laden whirpool of multiple choice questions... as multiple choice questions have taken over my life, I thought it'd be nice to have an entry to reflect this inevitable (but thank goodness temporary) thorn in my side.

1. What are you doing right now?
(a) studying for your driver's license test
(b) drinking hot chocolate made with real cocoa
(c) playing with your nosering
(d) fighting a losing battle against distraction and apathy
(d) all of the above

2. What do you wish you were doing?
(a) picking your sister up from the airport
(b) time-traveling back to the 60's and and hanging out with the boys on Abbey Road
(c) playing the piano
(d) floating around Italy with your dearest friend
(e) all of the above

3. Where are you now?
(a) in a field of celophane flowers of yellow and green
(b) home (wherever that might be)
(c) amidst tangerine trees and marmalade skies
(d) in the back of a newspaper taxi with your head in the clouds
(e) down on a bridge by a fountain

4. What's the purpose of life?
(a) nothing... it's all meaningless, and a chasing after the wind
(b) self indulgence in every art and form
(c) to pass your driver's license test
(d) to know God and make Him known
(e) um, this is getting too philosophical for me

5. Has Mary officially gone insane?
(a) yes
(b) no
(c) maybe
(d) who cares?
(e) all of the above

Ok, back to studying... *sigh*

Lyrics of the day: "Lucy in the sky with diamonds... Lucy in the sky with diamonds..." (Thanks to the Beatles!)

Katinka-dabogana Countdown: approximately 5 days, 10 hours and 39 minutes.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Please Pass the Salt, Part II

This morning, I received a frantic phone call from my boss' secretary requiring me to immediately drop everything and take on another super-crucial emergency translation project.

Secretary: "Mary, I need your help! They've changed the menu this morning!"
Mary: "Oh no! All my work... down the drain..."
Secretary: "Instead of Blattspinat*, they're offering Blumenkohl!"
Mary: "Augh!!!"

Ok... I know what "Kohl" is (cabbage), and I know what "Blumen" are (flowers)... but put them together, and Houston, we have a Translation Crisis. Fortunately, Leo happened to be sitting right by me at my desk.

Mary: *taps Leo on the shoulder* "Hey Leo, what's Blumenkohl?"
Leo: "Cauliflower."
Mary: "Aha. Thanks."
Leo: "Sure, anytime. Your German is pathetic, by the way."
Mary: "Shut up."

I'd be willing to bet that the CEO doesn't even know what cauliflower is.


Lyric of the day: "If I had a million dollars, we wouldn't have to eat Kraft Dinner... but we would eat Kraft Dinner.... of course we would, we'd just eat more..." (Thanks to the Ladies!)

Katinka-dabogana Countdown: approximately 7 days, 8 hours and 4 minutes.