.Vide Cor Meum.

Spring is just around the corner I have been told.

“He who has no house will not build one now. He who is alone will be alone for some time. Will be wakeful, will read, will write long letters and will wander restlessly along the lanes when the leaves fall.” – Rainer Maria Rilke (originally in German “Herbsttag”)

I had a discussion about “husband” with a friend the other day. She told me that it felt odd to be married. What is a husband, anyway? As the author André Alex questions: is it someone with whom you have a relationship, a relationship that evolves because time passes and one changes? I would answer: Certainly. But in some way, I could say the same thing about a house or a dog, even (if only instinctively), I feel that a husband is more than a house or more than a dog. So my question is: Is a husband desire or love? Desire and love are way too inconstant to make anything at all, right?! I mean it in the sense that today, for example, my version of love and desire may include my husband, but tomorrow it may not. The next day they will, and then they will not. She did not want to continue the conversation further and switched to “Valentine’s Day” and what to buy for her husband.

“Then things become all at once strange”– Margaret Laurence, The Diviners

Valentine’s Day. 

The New Yorker

Today, I had the most amazing dinner-date at a local Italian restaurant with my five-year-old son whom I love so much. As far as relationships, I believe, a partner does not need to be a constant presence, a shadow, or a version of myself but rather an equal, not an idea, a nuisance or habit to fix or constantly nourish (a project), but rather someone who can challenge me on an intellectual level, a shoulder to lean on, someone who has no fear of change, has confidence, spontaneously invites me to a romantic dinner, has good and not only one-sided conversations with me, plans a fancy night out but is also comfortable talking on the couch with a cup of tea, has good emotional intelligence, has a sense of self awareness, someone who can make me laugh and has similar goals and dreams, invites to spontaneous bookstore dates and at the bookstore comes up with the idea to pick a book for each other – that element of serendipity and then we go out for dinner to talk about all things bookish. Someone who is curious and is willing to read aloud to me (especially when I cannot sleep). The basics. In my head, a couple is made up of two opposites, centered around some passion and attraction that mystery causes. Both are curious about and drawn to each other because of their dissimilarities to ourselves. In a healthy relationship, I am fascinated by my counterpart, and I can learn a lot by spending time together. If I do not feel this, I have to move on. Firstly and more important, however, is self-love and the relationship I have with myself before I can fully open up to someone else.

In addition, it is important to learn to argue properly. We all get annoyed and stressed out from time to time. We can be nagging, grumpy, irritated, stressed out or all of the above simultaneously. No couple is perfect, even if some try to make us believe it by posting “happy couple” pictures on Facebook or Instagram. The key is to argue in style with no tension left afterward. No name-calling, no dishes throwing. I want to add to also be apologizing and forgiving. This way it is easy to move on. The air is clean. Overall, having the same rhythm is more important than I often realized. Going to the gym together, or climbing, or jogging. Having the same sleep/read cycle or how both get inspired by the same author. Whatever it may be for you; just feel the same beat. And if you don’t, then sometimes leaving is the only reasonable thing to do and to give energy to relationships that are deserving of it instead of draining.

I celebrate Valentine’s Day every day so this day has no significance to me. But it is 9.45 pm on the actual Valentine’s Day and if you are freaking out because you do not have anything for the love of your life or you forgot this day altogether, I have some emergency tips for you to make up for it tomorrow. (Him/Her = Them)

Take them for a long walk to reconnect. Look at things together. Go to a museum. Talk. Laugh. Get coffee or tea. Surprise them with a little gift just because it is NOT Valentine’s Day anymore. Read together or to each other. Suggest and start a project together, i.e. train for the half-marathon or any other adventure. Sit them down on the kitchen counter. Pour them a glass of wine and kiss. Put on some Jazz. Cook dinner. Repeat every two weeks. SHOW them you love them. Telling is not enough. Give them a “Sunday”: A whole day carefully planned, no kid(s), Spa, brunch, wine and a movie at night on the couch. Be generous: with money, with matters of the heart and with time. Conquer the world together.

Or alone.

.How I Wrote my Book.


I always had this dream that I would write a book, if only a small one, that would carry one way, into a realm that could not be measured nor even remembered.  I imagined a lot of things but overall I love to write. I would dwell bareheaded and a summit turning a wheel what would turn the earth and undetected, amongst the clouds, I would have some influence and be of some avail or change. Everything contained in this book is true and written just like it was. The writing of it drew me from my strange build-up lethargy and I figured that in some measure it will fill the reader with a vague and curious joy. Let’s begin.

I worked on my manuscript for years and knew it needed a lot of work since English is not my first language. Systematic Functional Linguistics taught me that even the Theme and Rheme (the part of the clause in which the Theme is developed) is sometimes reversed in German.

Do you want to publish a book? The first thing is to write an official proposal and send it to publishers. At least this is how it is done in the U.S. and Canada. The proposal is a document telling the publishers about myself, the book I want to write, some sample chapters or essays, the audience I target, pictures, biography etc. Of course, I hoped this was something I can spit out in an afternoon. I looked at samples publishing proposals online and I was blown away: they were asking for 80-90 pages that won’t go into the book and actually are supposed to be mainly about myself.  Isn’t the proposal a book in itself then? Anyway, I started typing. What initially sounded like boring schoolwork turned out to be so much fun. With a tight schedule at school, I usually worked on the proposal at night or on weekends. I felt like my creativity just popped off again whenever I started to work on it. Overall, I had a lovely time. I was done in about four weeks and after a bit of back and forth and correcting my “charming English” I sent it off to publishers in the U.S. and Canada. Since I am not a Canadian citizen, I cannot publish my book here in Canada, however, I do have resident status in the U.S. so I targeted publishers there.

If you are a new author, sending out proposals can be a devastating time (almost as annoying as sending out job applications waiting for a response). All I initially received were rejections. “It sounds good, but ….”, or “We are sorry, but….” were usually the answers I got. Then one publisher said that my book sounds great and they would like to publish it. Usually, when a publisher agrees to publish a book, they give you a timeframe when you have to hand in your first draft or when the bulk of the work needs to be done. Since my manuscript was written already, I of course needed to edit it which was so much work. My publisher mentioned that I need to change many sentences and structures and came back with the copy editors notes. Changing 80% to his suggestions but he said just keep your “German style” in the rest for “personality reasons”. ” It makes the book more charming. We do not want to take the German out of you”, he said. So the book has 30% of Daniela/German-ism in it, be aware. 😉

I quickly realized that I have to do most of the work at night because I was in school full time and have a 5-year-old son who wants to be entertained. A book project like this takes up mental and even physical time. I knew that I can manage it since I have done so many other complicated projects in half the time and writing is my passion. I actually was not worried at all. All I had to do was to add up a million ideas that I have in my head in a  cohesively and coherent way.

When the writing is done, the font of the text is next. The publisher gives you several options and suggests what works best. Then the publisher works with you on the design of the book. I wanted a picture that my friend Judith Lockett took as my front cover. The rest of the book was designed by the publishing company. I emphasized that the ecstatic of the book is important to me and that the book, in the end, represents me and what I am all about. 

My first book was out. If you had told me this ten years ago, I never would have believed you. I wrote since I learned the alphabet. Writing was and is my passion. Initially, rejections make me think that I was not meant to be a writer. Dejected several times, I never stopped and feel tremendously lucky to have gotten here. 

What I love most about writing? That I can be creative. I baked about a million inside jokes into the text, created mean fantasy boyfriends named Gabriel, many lovely characters but also evil witches. Mining the contents of my memory makes the writing process so much more fun. Sometimes I can just write and have no idea where this all came from.  When I have a very good day, I can write for hours which almost feels like blacking out it pushes me in sort of trance. 

“You have just published a book. This is amazing and a success, ” my friend S. told me when I said that my life was a disaster last summer. Well, she is right. I am proud of myself but I also realize that most books do not earn back the expense it takes to produce them. Writing a book is not fancy. I mean, I am not J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, or Andre Alexis (His new book coming out on February 19th!) who probably make the majority of money for publishers while every other book ends up shortly on the Chapters “80% off-sad-pile” close to the washrooms. Honestly, I am glad my book is published and I do not care too much about how many copies I sell. This may be weird to some but to have the book on the shelf in the store means so much more to me. Success for me is when I feel immersed in my work and that I am getting better at it. 

Lastly, I want to add that reading and writing is equally important to me. I know that I become a better writer by reading more. I read everything I can get my hands on, some voices that are similar to mine and voices that could not be more different, such as Hemingway. I read a chapter in a book on Quantum Physics on my friend’s kitchen table while waiting for coffee and then asked him 10,000 questions, a memoir by Elizabeth Hay or poetry:  The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot. Read. Read. Read.

And then, I get very quiet, sit at my desk and let my own voice speak. I take a deep breath and start typing. My best essays usually come when I am not forcing it and trust my instincts. I work on launching my new book project  “What If This Is Enough” for fun before sending out proposals to publishers on www.kickstarter.com soon if you would like to check it out. 

. Turning Toward.

Does this scarf look good? Photo credit: Konrad Weiss

Let’s say my eccentric brother Thomas would give me $20,000 for my birthday. There is only one catch. I have to invest the money for six years with one of two IT companies my brother suggests. Company A is super well respected all over the world for its ethics and its returns and most clients are very happy even with a sometimes modest gain. Company B guarantees that they will blow my money out of the window and then blame me for it. Which company would you choose? 

Or let’s say I get diagnosed with a rare infection that kills its victims within a couple of days (I may have watched the movie “Contagion” a couple of weeks ago). A friend of mine, let’s call her Diana, had that exact same infection and knows of the only two doctors in the world who work with it. One doctor is into research, testing, and new treatments and is curing patients with rather great success. The other one is an alcoholic who cannot even spell his name, beat her up several times, saved one person and she had an affair with him. Which doctor would you choose? 

Or let’s say it is my wedding day (ha!), and the universe sets some sort of giant stopwatch for five years. When the stopwatch goes off, I will either be divorced or I won’t. I have recently heard the rumor that 50% of marriages end in divorce. Let’s say my friend Diana knows a strategy and secret that makes me stay married while others would guarantee that I get a divorce before the timer went off. Would you want to know Diana’s strategy? 

Of course! You would invest with company A, choose the sober doctor and would do whatever it takes to protect yourself from divorce. But my friend Diana is really onto something. There really is a secret. Doctor Gottman conducted a study with newlyweds and then followed up with them six years later. Several had remained together; many had divorced. According to Dr. Gottman, all the couples that stayed married were much better at one thing: They turned towards instead of away. At Gottman’s six-year follow-up study, couples that had stayed married turned towards one another 86% of the time and couples that had divorced averaged only 33% of the time. In a nutshell, the secret is: turning toward if possible which is easier said than done sometimes. 

I think this is an awesome piece of data that suggests that there is something we can all do today that will dramatically change the course of our relationships. Or more importantly, it suggests that there is something that you cannot or should not do that will lead to its demise. Big questions: How do you turn toward instead of away? I guess in order to understand turn toward, I have to understand the “bid theory” first. My bid-theory is pretty much any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection. These bids can show up in simple ways such as a smile, a wink or in such things as asking for advice, help or requests. According to Gottman, women make more bids than men (duh!), but in a healthy relationship, both partners are comfortable to make all kinds of bids without feeling bad and even recognize many. These bids can all become pretty tricky, too. Sometimes I miss a couple of bids. But men struggle in this regard even worse so it is important to pay attention. Bids usually have a secondary layer. A what? The true meaning is behind the word or you may call it the difference between text and subtext. Yes means no and no means yes? A few examples: 

Text: Does this outfit look good? Subtext: Can I have your attention? 

Text: Let’s put Joel to bed? Subtext: Can I have your help? 

Text: I spoke to my family today. Subtext: Will you chat with me? 

Text: Want to cuddle (kiss)? Subtext: Can I have your affection? 

Text: Want to play cards? Subtext: Will you play with me? 

Text: I have had a terrible day. Subtext: Will you help me destress? 

According to Gottman, to “miss a bid is to turn away” and turning away or rejecting can be devastating. Rejecting a bid at least provides the opportunity for some type of engagement and repair but missing the bid altogether may result in diminished bids or even worse, in making bids for enjoyment, attention, affection or some other crazy stuff. I think it is really important to learn and recognize those bids and to commit to making them to each other in a relationship and then turn towards by paying attention. To simply listen to each other and talk and recognize what the partner is saying may open doors to responses. If the partner has really paid attention, he/she will have recognized and responded to both the text and the subtext. Also, keep in mind that some bids can get more complicated and you may head into more vulnerable territory. However, this will all not be a problem if you built a solid friendship first and have a good foundation from the beginning. If you are committed you can stay focused on this ONE relationship or marriage you are in and make it work if it is worth it by turning toward instead of away. My eccentric brother Thomas and crazy friend Diana would be so proud of you. 

.Struggles.

“We are all just walking each other home.” —  Ram Dass

Oh’ Canada and your insane freezing cold. The other day, my son and I walked to school and avoided frost bites in our face with ski masks and scarves. “You have to embrace the cold, ” the crossing guard said. Very reassuring. Today it was not as cold but we fought our way through tons of snow. This nebulous nature of winter is very pressing and adds to my overall moodiness, anxiety, and sadness. Worries about my seemingly stagnant career bother to the point that not even a lavender oil bath or a massage can make me feel better. Overall fears are gnawing and real to the point that I do not even know if what I am doing here is right and that the decision to move to Canada in the first place was rather rash, impetuous or altogether wrong. There is for some reason this growing feeling and certainty that I made some really dumb decisions in my life.

Thoughts that I have not landed my dream job or have a job at all in this country popped up. I have not bought a house and even my previous relationships seem like things another version of me did. A version saying, “Yeah, sure I understand the serious implications of attaching myself to this person even though alarm bells are ringing. I can make this work though!”

Today, on our way to Kindergarten, we walked through masses of snow and then the strangest thing happened. Joel ran ahead to catch up with his friend and they chatted about a tree house they want to build in spring. I let my thoughts wander; I am thinking a lot these days.

My family in Germany is going through a pretty rough time. There will be a double-funeral next week. One grandfather passed away on Tuesday this week, the other one today and out of the blue, I remembered something a friend of mine told me a long time ago: “I am not scared of death because once I am dead, I don’t feel anything. I am just not here anymore.” When my mother described how her father took his last breaths and what she told him, I started to cry. She simply told him that it is okay for him to leave, that everything is fine, that he is safe and can meet my other grandfather on the way so they can leave together. With these words, he opened his eyes one more time, took three slow breaths and died. My mom and grandmother held his hand which was still warm for a while after. I felt like I stood over a precipice looking down when my mother and father told me that my grandfather passed away. He is not here anymore. And this is somewhat scary to me. Where is he? Just nowhere? Just nothing? It is over? Is he flying on a cloud in heaven as I tell my son he is? Even though it was expected, it is very sad for everyone. My mind is wrapped around death for the last couple of weeks and these cold, gloomy winter days are not helping.

I know death will also happen to me. Hopefully not today or in the next months, but it WILL happen. I have seen many dead people before when I was a Police Officer but when family members die it is so different. Before, I knew that I will die at some point but I was also ignoring the whole thing by not giving it too much attention. When I was in my twenties, I certainly did not think about death. I thought about a career, traveling and such. I subsequently figured that many awesome things happen before I die and that I don’t have to worry about it because it is so far away.

Recently, a friend of mine struggled with cancer which instantly began to challenge my cool-headedness because I related to her. She passed away shortly after being diagnosed and left a 5-year-old son and husband behind. This made me start to grapple with my own mortality. I do not feel invincible as I used to in my twenties. This friend also told me that I should listen to life advice from people in their 80s and 90s because they are staring death in the face for years. About two years ago, I had a conversation with my grandparents about a school assignment I was struggling with. I told them that I just cannot get through some assignment because it is so much work and sometimes wish my life is over so I don’t have to do this stupid work anymore. “Never wish away your life,” my grandfather told me quietly while shaking his head. Back then I struggled to understand and wondered why he got rather upset but now I see what he meant and I am starting to grasp his point. Soak it all up, even the hard things. I am still alive. He is not.

So how can I move forward without freaking out about death and dying? It works for me when I simply reframe things so that I see life instead of death. Barbara Ehrenreich in Natural Causes writes: “You can think of death bitterly or with resignation, as a tragic interruption of your life, and take every possible measure to postpone it. Or, more realistically, you can think of life as an interruption of an eternity of personal nonexistence, and see it as a brief opportinty to observe and interact with the living, ever-surprising world around us.”

My family is incredibly strong and I love them. Our close relationship grounds me. They listen, understand and give me an anchor that holds me to the present, that keeps me from floating away on thoughts of an unknown future. Even though my world has changed I am not afraid. I am loved. They are alive.
 

.Premature Grief and then Tears Fall.

When you can’t look on the bright side, I will sit in the dark with you” — Alice in Wonderland 

Death is part of life and a completely natural process. There is nothing to be afraid of, right? “I don’t want to live anymore”, one of my grandfathers said many years ago. The other one said, “Let happen what happens. I am old and had a good life”. Both of my grandfathers were very resilient to this point in their life; they are in their 90s. One was very puissant back in the days being a photographer for a big German company. He never gave up photography either which was amazing. The other one loved to roll around with us on the floor, sing songs, tell stories and build caves and forts with blankets. 

I am going through a very rough time these days and need to write some of this pain I experience off my chest. Without going into too much detail about what happened but both of my grandfathers are about to pass away. Strangely, they were both admitted to the hospital almost on the same day which was devastating even though sort of expected. One grandfather has been ill for quite some time but the other one was okay. “I am so confused in my head and I feel this dull pain; I am not sure where I am,” one grandfather used to say when he still recognized Joel and I. My grandmother thought back then that he had already escaped. And so did we. Nothing was the same anymore and things drastically slowed down. My grandparents usually call me once a week and every time I spoke to either of them I heard their voices a wee bit smaller to the point where my grandmothers took care of all the talking. Watching a loved one suffer through pain and agony is horrible. “Grandpa is sleeping most of the day now because he is very tired and cannot be on the phone”, my grandmother said. 

When I found out a couple of weeks ago that they are both hospitalized, I was full of premature grief. Or was it grief in anticipation? I am 8000 km away and cannot be with them since I am stuck in Canada. I knew I could provide help and support for my parents because they really need a break. They are the strongest people I know and it is amazing to see how they deal with it all the way they do. They are my pillars; they always will be. My mother and father both put a pretty strong shell and armor around themselves to protect from being too emotional while dealing with doctor appointments like crossing off checklists. 

Even though I was never particularly super close to either of my grandfathers, they are people I love who became lights in my life. What happens when the lights go out or the flame gets smaller? One grandfather, for example, has a brilliant mind and a wonderful sense of humor. He said a couple of days ago that he has “a little bit of cancer” but it will be okay soon. He will never get out of the hospital again. I am crying while typing this. These days, his mind is all over the place but he used to answer questions I had about life. He had knowledge, books and so many interests. Initially, he joked about the hospital and how tedious this all is and how happy he will be when it is time to go home. My heart broke yet again. 

I do not know how much longer they both have to live but I am actively griefing because I cannot be there, cannot help or see them one more time. My parents say it is better that way and that I should remember them the way they both were but I kind of need to say my own goodbye to them no matter how they look or feel. I speak to my mother almost daily and some days the grief feels all-consuming. Some days, I cannot see or think clearly and I am totally bound by it all. It is almost physical pain. I have never experienced anything like this before and I hate that I am not in control of my feelings. Sometimes it is hard to simply breathe. I speak to my closest friends about some things and how I feel but my friend and his parents are incredible and know the entire story. They allow me to just be in that grief, be me and are supportive with everything else I am going through these days. I am very fortunate and they are my rock here in Canada. 

Both of my grandfathers influenced me and added something to my life which is a wonderful thing. Since they have been hospitalized, it has been a lot of waiting. Waiting for answers, waiting for treatment, waiting for possible care and transport to a different department in the hospital, nursing homes, palliative care, waiting for doctors and nurses to comfort them, and waiting for people to tell what to do and how to do it. And then, in the end, you just wait to say goodbye and hope you won’t miss your last chance to do so. I did not travel back home to Germany that often. Maybe once or twice a year but I was always well aware that every time I said goodbye (especially to my grandparents) it may be the last time. When I saw both of them last year telling them I won’t be back home for some time now they both shook their heads like children and told me again, “no, no, no you will be back again soon”. I hugged them, said goodbye, left and believed deep inside that there would be another chance to see them both again. 

In June last year, my grandmother told me that my grandfather looked at a picture of his brother who passed away a couple of months ago and said, “I will see you soon and be with you again”. The last time I saw both of my grandfathers was March 2018. I wish I would have a chance to see them one last time. I am afraid of this deep, hollow ache when they pass away. I read somewhere that grief never goes away, but life gets bigger, so sadness doesn’t feel as big. Their little flame is still on and I will make sure to keep their spirits alive.

“You will lose someone and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” — Anne Lamott

 

My grandfather believes that this is the song they play in heaven.

.Weird Things German People Do – The Ultimate German Guide.

All countries have their own weird traditions and behaviors and Germans are obviously no exception. I am German myself and a lot of these habits I only realized were completely bonkers after I left Germany and moved to another country. I just thought, this is how people behave; it’s human nature all over the world. But I realized quickly, that this is not the case. It is time to roast my own country people and myself obviously and call them out on their strange and embarrassing habits. Let’s get to the bottom of this and demystify the Germans. Keep in mind that the list below may also save your relationship or marriage if you are involved with a German person.

  • Be very direct. Do not expect British level of small talk. As a matter of fact, cut the small talk, and say it straight. “Pass the pepper” will do nicely and does not come across as impolite for Germans. It may take some time to get used to it but in the end, you will realize that it saves quite a lot of time and is not impolite at all. Wearing an awful shirt? Germans will tell you. Gained a bit of weight? Germans will let you know. The good thing about this is that you always know where you stand. The bad thing is, your soul may be crushed. One may experience a certain type of initial German “coldness” or emotional distance toward other people. There is no fluffing around. Germans take some time to build a solid foundation with others rather than a shallow one.
  • Get used to all the German Fairy Tales and don’t be scared. You may leave your light on at night.
  • Germans love to discipline. If you are on a bus and put your shoes up on the seat, Germans will first look at you suspiciously and then lean over and tell you to put your feet down on the floor
  • As a pedestrian, do not (under any circumstances) cross the street if the traffic light signals red for pedestrian crossing (hell will freeze over!)
  • Germans love to send bureaucratic threatening letters and make everything official. You forgot to pay a part of your electricity bill, your landlord won’t talk to you but rather send a letter of immediate eviction without warning if you do not pay.
  • Germans are very impatient and self-control is very important. If you are in line at a cafeteria, you better choose your food quickly if a German stands behind you. If you take to long, they will freak out.
  • The German accent. It sounds funny, but do not make fun of it too much. They will get angry. Why? Because according to Germans, we learned British English in school and talk normally. “Zis is a dog and ze dog looks angry because ze dog lost it’s bone ja. Zis is not cool.”
  • Meat & Food. Many Germans love meat. Surprise a German with sausages, braten, cold cuts or any other meat-dish and they will love you. Try to prevent any meat-loving German from enjoying their schnitzel and you will be removed from the community or even deported from the country immediately. Germans eat “quark” all the time but cannot explain what it actually is. Half cheese and half cream? Nobody will ever figure this out.
  • Alcohol. Talking about the top-German foods, I have to continue with the beverages. When in Germany, you will find (strong) beer everywhere and everybody drinks it all the time. Beer in the evening, beer in the morning, beer after work with colleagues, beer alone at home and you can buy it everywhere, too. Even at the gas stations.  Fun fact: there is actually a thing called “Fusspils” (Wegbier). Germans drink on the streets quite a lot and some people carry a beer for the way (Wegbier) to the bar. Sounds like we are all a bunch of alcoholics. Also, you better look the other person straight in the eyes while clinking beer glass. Germans are pretty strict about that, too.
  • Germans are highly organized; especially socially. There are visual signs everywhere that direct the public to follow rules and regulations to monitor and protect how to exist in Germany. Signs such as “Do not throw your trash here”, “Do not stand here”, “Do not walk here” etc. make things run smoothly for some reason. There is also no garbage on the ground; not even in the subway. You could eat off the ground.
  • When children have their first day of school which is 1st grade (otherwise it is called kindergarten), every child gets a large cone, almost as big as the child themselves, covered in decorations called “Zuckertüte/Schultüte” (Sugar/school cone). In Germany, it is normal to give your child a five-kilogram cone filled with sweets and treats on their first day of school. Kids hold on to that cone during school and then are allowed to open it at home that day in the evening. #sugarshock

  • Polterabend which is smashing a ton of porcelain before you get married. Couples announce the date of their Polterabend in the local newspaper and then usually friends and family from the town or total strangers show up in an open space outside which is usually on the street in front of your house and bring all sorts of porcelain (sinks, cups, plates whatever they want to donate) that they then smash and the soon to be married couple has to clean up the mess. Of course, beer and appetizers (meat) are served.
  • Nudity. German people love to be naked especially in places like local saunas, beaches, and lakes. People look at you in horror if you wear your bathing suit in a sauna. They might actually ask you to leave.
  • Work ethics: Germans have on the average 6-8 weeks paid vacation per year and are very hardworking. They try to avoid mistakes and also work on an issue until it is sufficiently solved. Things need to be perfect.  All this happens usually without asking for help. They also take “Feierabend” (the time after work) very seriously. Germans go home when the clock ticks beer. Germans are health freaks and  usually have hundreds of health – and life insurances so nobody needs to worry or stress out in case something happens #GermanAngst
  • Punctuality: Germans get nervous when they cannot be at least 10 minutes in advance to get to an appointment
  • Don’t “you” anybody unless you are formally encouraged to refer to them as “you”. You call people Herr (Mr.) X or Frau (Mrs.) X until the older one tells you to use the informal “you”. The german language will just blow your mind.
  • Dinner Parties: You invite someone to dinner at 6 pm, they will expect dinner to be on the table and ready at 6 pm. No small talk before, no waiting, no appetizers or anything unless specifically stated that this is scheduled before the actual dinner
  • Other fun facts: The original Octoberfest actually starts in September. Germans ritually return recyclables and collecting the deposit. Especially plastic bottles, beer, and wine bottles. Germans simply love recycling.

It's like a challenge.

And last: you can use the word “Bitte” for many things:

Something to add? Did I forget anything? Does this list save your relationship with a German person?  Feel free to leave a comment below.

.Someone Sets the Tone.

At this very moment, I am here. Sitting on my carpet in the living room typing along. It is dark outside, and very cold. It is just another day and night and I did what I needed to do. I got things done all day long while the day moved forward into this continuous sequence of actions, job applications, emails, and checklists. My brain and mind never stop analyzing. But today, I paused and took a good look at my surroundings. These scenes of my everyday life that came to a blur of an all-too-familiar film and I cannot help but wonder if there is more to it all. For some reason, this country, this city, this neighborhood and this particular street served me well so far but I am stuck. Nothing seems to move forward for a couple of months now. I am sending out job applications every day and I even started to think of all the other places in the world I could be and work at. It didn’t help that it was – 31 degrees Celsius (with windchills) in Ottawa today. Somewhere more exciting, warmer, newer, somewhere that can provide new experiences, challenges, and adventures that are foreign to me. Theoretically, the world is my playground but I have to be responsible for a small human being who depends on me and sort of follows me for five years now. #heisthebestever

Isn’t traveling usually what we look for when we feel the automation of life? This routine of waking up, getting ready for work, eating the same sad lunch in the cafeteria, sitting in boring meetings, going home, eating dinner, relaxing and going to sleep on time to not be too tired so we can do it all over again the next day. “But this pays the bills”, some say who sadly think about the confines of their mundane box they are stuck in all day. This is all considered normal. This is our operating system. This is what feeds and dresses us. This box isn’t always okay but livable. It gives us a certain routine and security. Many are scared of its boundaries and what is on the other side of it all so they get comfortable or simply suck it all up. Someone told me once that if I get a certain degree, I will get a promotion for sure. I was immediately intrigued by this because I love school. I registered at a university and put all the effort necessary into getting that degree. In the end, the promotion is patiently waiting for me, right? This someone has given me a tangible goal to work toward and I gave everything to achieve what needed to be done to get that degree.

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and months into years and I was done. My hard work paid off. I earned that degree. I got the promotion and I was so excited. “Here is your new cubicle with a window, ” my new boss told me. I was really happy but here is the thing. While this new cubicle and work felt great, I noticed that my excitement about it all wasn’t as high anymore after a couple of weeks. The window was great because I could spy on other people in their cubicles who looked sad at me from across the street; some waved. Then more months passed and it felt exactly like my former work and cubicle but with a view. Replacing one object of desire with any other “thing” will lead to the same pattern that is in the end simply another part of normal life. If moving to a different cubicles does not work, maybe I have to figure out the root of the problem. So, I thought about my life and what I really want it to look at the cubicle itself and came up with the conclusion that I need to rip open that cubicle and throw myself into unfamiliar territory. And I quit that job.

These days and one year later, I am thinking a lot while applying for jobs. What am I passionate about? What are my strengths and weaknesses? When I worked the regular 9-5 for many years I escaped and traveled a lot but I realized quickly that a vacation no matter how awesome only serves as a dopamine hit of cultural experience. Let’s say I had a two-week vacation somewhere and I dove with sharks, went to Iceland, then Morocco, France and to a bunch of other places and came back. All these built-in time constraints did not allow me to truly understand the complexity of a foreign place anyway. I took some pictures and posted them on Facebook to impress my “friends” who do not really care. So, this is also not the answer. I have to look somewhere else. This place is far away – I visited it many years ago and loved and enjoyed it so much. It was a long time ago indeed but this place I visited is me.

My focus shifted and I paid more attention to what I felt, thought and really needed. My body is a great place to visit and a good and exciting environment to grow. Looking even more closely, I found more possibilities and opportunities popped up everywhere. Actually, more opportunities than there are points in a Georges Seurat painting. I arrived in a new environment and the last job interview was promising. I met a new crew of really awesome people who work(ed) for this company. Yesterday, they showed me things I have never seen before, and it’s fantastic. I realized again that who we are inside a venue matters far more than the venue itself and I hope it works out and I can start working for them. But I also have to be prepared that it does not work out and that there are my other job applications still open all over the world. My mind is at ease now and the usual angst and restlessness I felt inevitably disappeared for now but I know it is not a cure for discontentment of the mind yet. I genuinely became more curious about myself, my relationships with others, my life and that I only touched the surface with myself and many people that are important in my life. I learned to embrace where I am in life right now, with all its flaws and joys and everything in between and I keep in mind that no matter where I am right now, there is only one direction. Forward.

.My Canadian Winter Mechanism – A Holistic Approach to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

I moved from New York City to Canada in August 2016 and my inaugural winter was a catastrophe. I did not own a proper winter coat or waterproof boots and did not see the need for it either. Initially, I thought I can get away with a pair of normal winter boots and a jacket that I can combine with something warm and lighter underneath. “That should do the job, ” I thought. It starts getting significantly colder here in Ottawa at around November 1st and I realized quickly, that my winter outfit needs to be improved. My friend tells me I have to toughen up and stop fighting the cold because I cannot change it. He uses the words “embrace the cold” actually. Again, I chose to live here but I take freezing temperatures (anything – 25 Celsius) personally. “Why are you doing this to me, winter?”, I hissed into the ice-cold wind the other day while jogging along the canal. Whenever it is super cold but there is some sunlight during the day, I am fine. It becomes challenging when it is just gloomy for days, more snow accumulates that then turns into ice followed by more snow. “The good times are gone”, I said to my friend who told me that spring is just around the corner. He means well.

I found this chart online but it is not even funny. It is shockingly accurate.

That first winter went on forever and I thought that this will be my last one in Canada. “I cannot do this anymore, ” I said to myself one morning in late March when I found out that another snow storm was around the corner. Then, some sort of miracle change happened and summer was here, just after one short week of spring. I am not exaggerating. This is Canada-weather at its best. During those long, cold months, I need something that cheers me up and makes me less depressed. Being indoors and not able to “play outside” makes me really sad.

According to research I have conducted, 2-3% of Canadians struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which is a type of depression. This sounds like a small percentage, but the disorder affects nearly a million Canadians (and one German). SAD typically occurs within the long fall and winter months when there is just an average of 2-4 hours of sunlight (if even) per day in comparison to spring or summer when there is an average of 8-10 hours. Without enough sunlight, Vitamin D (the “sunshine Vitamin) levels in the body are very low. Symptoms usually are a feeling of depression, low motivation, energy, and fatigue, anxiousness, change in appetite (weight gain or loss), poor concentration and sleep problems to just name a few.

So, why is sunlight so important? Vitamin D levels in the body are increased through sunlight as it is synthesized through the skin and then triggered by exposure to UVB (Ultraviolet B) radiation. Research that examined the relationship of Vitamin D to SAD has found that just one hour of light therapy or exposure to sunlight can dramatically reduce SAD. According to Haas (2006), Vitamin D regulates bone formation. If Vitamin D is low, blood levels of calcium and phosphorus decrease and the body pulls these minerals from the bones which then may create demineralized and weak bones.

The sunlight (or lack of it) can cause hormonal changes. To make this easily understandable: serotonin levels drop and melatonin (our sleeping hormone) increases. The pineal gland, which is situated just above our cerebellum at the same level as our eyes, is responsible to produce melatonin. So, if there is limited amount of sunlight we find ourselves starting to get more and more tired throughout the day. I supplement with this Vitamin D product (the active form of D is commonly known as D3 or cholecalciferol which is the best!) and it seems to help me get through these super long winters in Canada easier. Make sure to either calculate your optimal individual intake for Vitamin D if you know how to or ask a pharmacist. Of course, I take every opportunity to expose my face to the sun and eating an adequate amount of vitamin D-rich food such as fatty fish (salmon, tuna), eggs, etc.

Serotonin is a chemical produced by our nerve cells and acts as a messenger between cells. Usually, serotonin goes hand in hand with tryptophan (like peanut butter and jam), which is an essential amino acid and needed to produce serotonin. A what? Essential amino acids mean our bodies cannot make it and therefore we should eat/add it. Tryptophan also promotes calmness, sleepiness, and relaxation. Before taking or recommending supplements, I rather choose to get the same effect through eating tryptophan-rich foods such as: pumpkin seeds, lamb, beef, turkey, chicken, oats, eggs or bananas.

Excercise. Other holistic approaches that help me get through this cold season are to exercise and to spend at least 30 minutes outside working out, especially if and when there is sunlight. Working out could just mean to take a faster-paced walk in the park if jogging is not your thing. Simply, just move and breathe in fresh air to reduce mental fatigue.

Essential Oils. I discovered Saje Pure Essential Oils a while ago and fell in love. It is a Canadian company that produces 100% essential oils. A Christmas gift to myself was their little pocket pharmacy with 5 essential oils good for stress release, eater’s digest, pain release, to strengthen the immune system as well as the ultimate peppermint headache oil. In several courses I have taken at The Institute of Holistic Nutrition, essential oils have been mentioned and their benefits explained. I use essential oils first instead of traditional drugs or medications; for example, peppermint oil as a headache remedy and lavender oil to sleep better and relax. I would like to share some essential oils that help me and are beneficial for Seasonal Affective Disorder:

  • Peppermint oil: Benefits: refreshing, anti-inflammatory, mental-stimulating, cooling. Blends well with patchouli, lemon, cedar or rosemary.
  • Lavender oil: Benefits: balancing, calming (mind and skin), mood-lifting, healing, decreases mood swings and insomnia. Blends well with lemon, cinnamon, pine, cedar, peppermint
  • Rosemary oil: Benefits: physical and mental stimulant, revitalizing for skin, grounding. Blends well with cedar, peppermint, grapefruit
  • Eucalyptus oil: Benefits: cooling, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, deodorizing, energizing. Blends well with pine and cedar (very good cold/flu remedy to inhale with, put under the nose to breathe more easily or put in the essential oil diffuser)
  • Lemongrass oil: Benefits: Vitalizing, purifying, regenerating. Blends well with basil, cardamom, spearmint
  • Mandarin oil: Benefits: relaxing, soothing, uplifting. Blends well with peppermint, franincese, cedar, rose, lavender

Be happy. Be healthy.

RESOURCES

Haas, E.M. (2006). Staying healthy with nutrition – The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. New York: Random House Inc.

.Breaking Open – Are You Dating A Loser?

From the bridge, I see the shoreline shift, move away upstream. A flow in the strong current plows toward the pillar beneath us. The ice solid, an island glides in the roiling water and strikes. Slush drives up the pillar, the ice sheet cleaves in two, but the dock does not quiver. I look up and catch your eyes – we lean over the railing, faces broken in grins while eyes sparkle. – to the one who wants to go ice-fishing

A good friend of mine asked me the other day why people hide when they are sad. Or why they choose not to tell everyone and scream it out loud. Maybe, so we don’t receive pity? Maybe because we all just pretend or we don’t want to bother others? I have this humbling ability that I sometimes see life one brief moment at a time – and it feels good. I knew I needed a change from my previous relationship and move on. Life could not go on like this. After the breakup, I reminded myself constantly that there is life beyond my bed, that I need to finish my research essay to obtain my Master’s degree, that I need to feed my son and myself (with healthy food) and that life isn’t actually over. This all kept me going. I remember how comforting it was to have a family to talk to and my closest friends around to help me out. I was a disaster for some time.

I journaled and wrote furiously through all of it. About feelings I felt, realizations I had and advice I found particularly helpful or profound. Although none of my previous breakups hit me quite as hard (maybe because this time my son was involved), nothing stings as acutely as believing I had lost the person who promised to always love me and be faithful. What is a promise? I guess the only way through a breakup is to give it time. I let myself feel the pain because I knew I won’t heal otherwise and may forget how to love altogether.

When the bad times outnumber the happy times, it is time to leave. While it may seem like I left everything, it’s my nostalgia talking. As soon as I got my little froggy self out of the metaphorical frying pan, I saw how life does go on, and how much space my marriage filled. That space can now be anything I choose. Also, I am somewhat permanent and everything else is sort of temporary. Just staying with the person because I am afraid of being without him is the wrong reason to be in a relationship.

I moved out and into the right place to find myself and heal. In some way, I was frightened, as if I had found myself on a new path that I had to discover alone. Also, when I moved it initially felt like being attached to the ghost of my previous marriage, unable to live in it or get away from it. I looked at the bright side. There is peace here and calm. I can do whatever I want and this sensation gave me a feeling that my body can somewhat shift tectonically under my brain.

Usually, whenever a relationship hits a breaking point it means something; something was not right for quite a while. Whether or not the reasons are clear, they need to be observed from an emotional distance to be fully understood and eventually communicated. Not via text messages but in person. There were previous relationships that I ended due to a lack of compatibility. We were wonderful and compatible in many ways, but there were certain things I felt were missing from the beginning. These certain things I could not stop myself from wanting no matter how hard I tried. In the end, my desire to find those things overcame the desire to stay with the person. I was looking for something different which is totally okay. It is my life and I  am not a monster. What I did was save myself from a relationship I knew I would continue to find unfulfilling and something that cannot be fixed because trust is gone. I listened to my gut, in spite of my fear and after some time, even the nightmares completely stopped. I started dating myself again, and shooting stars.

The aftermath of a relationship is when I process what happened and contextualize its significance in the overall scheme of life. It is important to note that an ex moving on and enjoying his life with someone else does not have to be aggravating, sad or annoying. Initially, there was this teeny tiny minuscule yet totally insignificant part of me that wanted to know what the ex is up to. Is he with her now? Are they traveling and erasing trips that once meant something to us? These feelings did not last long, however. I am truly fine, neither actively hurting nor overly bummed anymore. Life goes on. Everybody moves on and there is so much more (and better) out there. Where I am and who I am is no mistake. No man will ever determine my self-worth nor who I will become. Initially, after a breakup, it is just going to suck until it does not. 

Have you ever wondered if you are dating a loser? Because you may. Read this article. 🙂

.Twinkle Lights and Tears.

It seems the older I get, the more the holiday season weighs on me. My parents and brother left a couple of days ago and, as usual, it broke my heart. Family means everything to me and I am so grateful that they are all in my life. My brother and I had conversations on my balcony while snowflake die-cuts and strings of tinsel summon somber reflections on all the things that have not worked out as planned in 2018 which in the end, is all okay. My friend brought over twinkly lights to outline my windows and get this special Christmas feeling. More conversations, more love, more light, more everything.

My initial reaction to the lights and decorations was warmth, comfort, and family without linking it to the particularly challenging year I had been through. I am still without a job in December, arguably the worst time of year to be without a steady paycheck and too busy cursing at my pending job applications and LinkedIn inbox to feel anything remotely close to gratitude. The preceding months of 2018 had overflowed with life’s lemons, and I did not want to make more lemonade so I stopped. I actually resolved to obsessively seethe in the darkness over all the things that were going wrong in my life and appreciated the bright twinkle lights that interrupted my plans to feel sorry for myself.

With all the people I love around, I suddenly felt so much gratitude for the life I built for my son and I. We have limited support but we make it work – and even make it comfortable when my family is visiting. My apartment was full of the items we needed and held plenty of the things we love. I am blessed to have my family and friends to lean on, which is most important to me.

“Do we have to take the shiny, beautiful lights down after Christmas, “my son asked the other day. “Well, if they make you happy, let’s keep them up, ” I replied, not questioning the speed with which my skepticism had turned to devotion. My son loves those shiny lights and turning them on became a delightful nightly ritual. For some reason, they also make me feel less agitated and more inspired in these cold, dark, gloomy month of winter in Canada. I have this feeling that they have to keep glowing until I find a job, either in this country or anywhere else distracting me from all the irrational reasons I have in my mind why things take longer than expected. My family reminded me to ruminate less on what is going wrong, but rather on what I can focus more and on all the things I already have to be grateful for since every moment spent in that kind of presence is a moment worth celebrating.

I had to say goodbye to my family at the airport. Did I cry? Sure did but I had my friend with me who is the best support I could ask for. Crying is fitting though, I suppose, since tears have at times felt like glue: tears of laughter, of stress, empathy, love, support, help, sadness and so much more. Everybody has their own routines and rituals but it is good to share emotions. Whatever anybody feels and to enjoy them fully is to traverse the emotional chasm that typically separates human being. With this in mind, it is important to chip away at things that are not important and to focus on stuff that truly matters to me. With my family, I do not have to give the impression that it is all good, even if it is not. They simply have to look at me and know anyway. I knew it was time to escape this morbid loop of lies and mistrust I was stuck in and did not make any real or tangible progress in life. I know that I do not have to jazz my life up for display purposes only because many things cannot be captured in a post for an invisible audience while desperately waiting for “views” or “likes”. It is important to realize that decorating our masks will not improve how we look underneath.

We all have been hurt by someone we care(d) about. The pain of what they did is one thing but this feeling of betrayal is another. Letting down my guard was a mistake but a valuable learning experience and life lesson that I apply for the future. People who hurt us also teach us. I rather focus my energy on people who deserve it. I know I won’t receive an apology at this point because certain individuals may not even think they did something wrong. Apparently, everyone always has the best intentions. It all does not matter anymore. What is important is that I am able to move forward in my life without dragging the past along with me.

With this being said, I wish all my readers a Happy, Healthy New Year. Let’s all start it in style. Thank you for reading my blog and purchasing my book. 

Stay tuned for a bunch of projects and changes on the blog in 2019.