12.10.17

Day 90-ish Update

Many people have been asking me questions regarding how I'm doing and what my plan is. I'm here now to answer you all at the same time.

Not too long ago, I was frantically trying to get my paperwork together before my 90-day deadline of October 13th. Things to send that needed to be sent back once approved, contracts and verifications, applications for this and that. Not to mention gathering information on how to do certain steps. It was all taking so long that I was considering a short trip to London to buy me time, or even returning to SLO for a few months while I waited. The possibility felt so real, I actually started to accept it as a viable option and was looking at all of the positives, even getting a little stoked to go home for a bit.

And then one day I went into the Welcome Center, and I left in less of a hurry. I could get something called a Fiktionsbescheinigung, a provisional residence document. I had enough papers for anybody to believe I was planning to stay here legally (though not yet all I need for a student visa). I went to the Foreign Registration Office and inquired, still unsure how long it would take to actually receive the paperwork or if I did, in fact, have to make an appointment in order to get this document. Mind you, I would've had to put in a request months in advance to get an appointment with the Foreign Registration Office in the near future. I was still in a tiny bit of a panic, drafting a pleading letter in case I did have to beg for a sooner appointment.

I walked in like I had twice before, to ask questions. The lady who helped me said I could get the document right then if the machine weren't broken. Totally calm, no problem at all.  She informed me that with this document I'm not allowed to leave the country (not even to other EU countries), and that I'm still not allowed to work. But I can stay another 90 days to get my paperwork together, and the appointment for my visa will be scheduled as soon as I let them know I have everything, within the 90 days by default. I had a few extra weeks until my first 90 were up, and she asked if I wanted to take a trip before she issued me the document. I'd had enough of long bus rides and train stations and worrying about whether I'd be able to stay, so I declined the offer. The next morning, I got an email saying I could pick up my Fiktionsbescheinigung. The machine was working again, and so were my lungs. It was a deep breath of fresh air, a washing away of the stress and hurry.

One of the papers I had already was one that states that I took the TestDaf, the Big German Language Test that will confirm I have enough of a grip on the language to study at a university in German. When I went to take the test, I walked into a room of foreigners. I'm not sure what I was expecting, actually, but what I noticed the most was the identification document that sat on my desk throughout the whole process: my U.S. passport.

Many of the people present for the test came from Middle Eastern countries. When the proctor went to call people back from breaks, she would look at the name marker (last name, first initial) and sometimes it started with a mumbled, "Oh, boy.." But I was self-conscious of my passport. After I got my documents later on, I thought back to the test day and wondered just how much more stressful the whole situation could get. I mean, my passport will get me just about anywhere. Border check on the bus? The officer doesn't even look twice at my passport before handing it back to me. Meanwhile there's a kid in front of me getting a full pat-down and his bags thoroughly searched by multiple officers. What's the difference between him and me, really? Why does he get the short end of the stick?

Once I got my Fiktionsbescheinigung, I had to wonder if I hadn't been psyching myself out about how hard all the paperwork is and how short 3 months have turned out to be. But it's a living, breathing, Douglas-Adams-was-probably-making-fun-of-it bureaucracy. It's not fun for anyone. However, it's very empowering to be doing everything myself. And having been on Bylaws Committee back at Cuesta, I can better understand where some of the extra requirements and layers and things might come from.

So now that I know I'm good until Christmas day (December 25th is when my Fiktionsbescheinigung runs out), I can get my documents together without the rush. I have proof of insurance, proof of registration, proof of having taken the TestDaF (results come out at the end of this month), the contract for my internship in January, open bank accounts, and papers in the mail so they can finally tell me "your educational background is verified and enough to study here in Baden-Württemberg" (most of which translate to a single word in German, by the way). And once I have that paper in my hands, it will probably be time for me to apply to university. And the proof of application will help in getting that visa.

The university is my plan for the next few years. Hochschule für Technik Stuttgart -- HFT Stuttgart, for short. I'll be studying KlimaEngineering, which is not the most intuitive word found in the German language. I describe it as a mixture of architecture and engineering, with a forte in sustainability and environmental implications. It's a niche role, and a new-ish study program. Even I don't know how I found it, but it was exactly what I was hoping to find. I can apply between November 2nd and January 15th. I'll find out if I got the spot sometime in January, most likely. The internship is required to get into the program, so that makes it easier on everyone. Minimum 4 weeks of some kind of related experience to give me an idea of what I'll be doing after I graduate.

I'm left with a lot of free time between now and January. Not allowed to earn money, not allowed to leave. What am I doing with all of that time, you ask?

The short answer is, "I'm still figuring it out, ask again later."

The fact is that every day continues to go by, and the time is used somehow. So here's what I've done so far:

  • I went to this event on a whim, having seen it in a pamphlet. I discovered a master's program I might want to pursue in the future, and got to shake hands with the main speaker, Klaus Töpfer. He spoke of a group of people called Generalists -- people with knowledge of many fields and their vocabularies, but little in-depth work or research in most of them. Very important for communication and understanding, which the world needs, now and always.
  • I've been exploring the city a lot on foot. I could use public transportation, but I don't. I could use the exercise and fresh air, plus I get to see more and save $$. Or €€. Though I do sometimes walk through a station to skip some crosswalks and read some world news.
  • I'm keeping my eyes peeled to see what's going on around the city, ie collecting pamphlets, flyers, handouts, and anything else that lists one-off events and ongoing opportunities. That's how I found out about the Sustainable Cities event (mentioned above). And there's a German-American Center, so that's basically calling my name.
  • I've been to two improv shows already, and I'll probably go to another on Saturday night. My favorite scene so far was one between a hitman and his boss, played out in hell, and then replayed, same scene, but Bollywood style. It's not something easily reenacted.
  • I've been reaching out to all sorts of communities, both on- and offline. I've been looking for a choir to join, but haven't made it to any rehearsals yet. I've been to one Engineers Without Borders meeting, back in August. I'm planning to get hands-on involved now that I'm more oriented. I met someone on the internet and then in real life, and we hang out pretty often now. We went to a board game meetup where we met even more people. I've been surprisingly active on iFixit.com, for the fact that I don't actually work there anymore. This is my favorite response I've gotten to give so far, and this is my profile, which I finally wrote today.
  • I'm trying out a polyphasic sleep cycle. The one I'm trying to implement involves napping for about 20 minutes every 4 hours. I'm working on it, but also making some clear progress. It leaves me with so much more time in a day that I intentionally don't multitask, and it's been helpful for my focus and my willingness to do things that take awhile as soon as I get the chance. I also get to stop and think about things 6 times a day when I'm trying to fall asleep. 
  • One of the side effects of having extra hours is that I read a lot more. I've been reading like a dehydrated person drinks water, and I've finally reached the end of some things. In the blog I linked on the sleep cycle, there are many lengthy posts that go into detail about Steve's experience and his thoughts on it, among other things. I read it all in around a day. It's easy to take in when you have good reason to remember the details.
  • As a result, I've also been writing a lot. Yes, you have a "lack of sleep" (as some see it) to thank for this extra-long update. Really, it gives me the chance to breathe and consider my next step and gather the good ideas, sometimes even filter them, before I go to write them down.
  • I've also been journaling a lot. And yes, I consider journaling and writing to be two very different things. I'm directly introspective and retrospective in my journal, and I'd hate to bore most people with the memories that shaped me and realizations that have nothing to do with anyone but myself. I've tried it, and it doesn't normally end well.
  • I used wine to paint one night. I'm actually happy with how some of the sketches turned out once they dried. Maybe I will use those watercoloring materials my mom left me once in awhile.
  • I've also been writing and clarifying and mapping out what I'm doing and where I'm going on paper so as to have a clearer picture and a better idea of how to get there. Not to mention some items on my to-do list when I'm up all the time!
I hope this is as satisfying of an update for you as it is for me. It's neat when wrapped up in a bow like this, if I do say so myself.

A sidenote about how I answer so many questions:
I've decided to call my method "improvisational research." I take in the question, put it into Google-sized pieces, and usually pop out a decent answer with advice on what to do. In other words, I'm pretty good at Googling things.
The thing is, it works. And for me, all of the approved answers are more confidence that I can find my way if I need to. Google just makes it easier. Persistence and being able to scan for what you're looking for are the keys.
I know, I know. "Dear diary, ..."

I'll let you go now. Maybe my next post will have some pictures in it...

TL;DR (Stands for "too long; didn't read", and it's a term the kids use nowadays): I'm doing fine and I'll continue to be fine unless for some reason I'm not. Life is exciting. I've been writing a lot lately.

That's all for now!

9.10.17

Yet Another Rant...about the education system.

Yes, you read the title correctly. I'd lead with "I'm sorry", but that would be the American response. Actually, I take it back. The American response would be to not talk about it at all. By the end of this post, I hope you'll understand why. It's the main reason for me writing this, after all.

Firstly, in America, I get the feeling that problems are to be fought rather than fixed. Not just international or internal conflicts, but have you ever hit your DVD player in the hopes that it would stop skipping? I have enough material for a whole separate rant on violence in our language, but I think the reason "hit it" and "play that funky music" mean the same thing comes from a similar scenario. I have no links to back up that claim, but I also haven't found anything to say otherwise.

When I was here in Germany on exchange, I was in an eleventh grade class. I didn't understand hardly any German at first, but the first day was all explanations, introductions, and emergency procedures anyway. As the year went on, I realized that the students were actually expected to participate in the class. Not just by paying attention, but by speaking. And it's usually a class discussion: looking into the meaning of a political comic and what it says about that era in history, or describing and analyzing a graph and what it's trying to convey. They're usually very open-ended questions, with no one right answer. As it turns out, the questions asked as part of the lessons aren't rhetorical here. You're expected to respond aloud. A few times during the year, I think some of the teachers wanted to shake me like, "Say something, dammit!" But again, to expect such a reaction is an American thing, fighting the problem when it needs solved. Not that I've ever been shaken by an American teacher, either.

Once, our Government and Politics teacher was trying really hard to get me to talk, so he directed the question specifically at me. Spoke when spoken to, I guess. Problem solved. The answer that came out was unpolished, to say the least, but it was the truth to the best of my knowledge.
The question was about our college system and how it is here.
One reason I hesitated to answer the question is because I hadn't actually had a college experience and therefore didn't feel like I was a credible source. The other reason is that I didn't have anything nice to say about it. I had an outside perspective of college life, and it's similar to that song "I Love College"(NSFW), but my major problems with the whole thing are exactly what I answered with: "You pay a [heck] of a lot of money and *maybe* you get a job afterward." That's still somewhat of my perspective about the whole higher education deal, though I have more faith in the job prospects afterward. But alas, I'm going to finish college here anyway. That's not to say that it doesn't need fixed, but it's not something I'm personally concerned about at the moment.

The other thing I learned in school (in the States) is not only that the questions are either rhetorical or only have one right answer, but even worse, I learned not to listen as deeply as I did as a child. A question is asked, and you're not supposed to say anything, and the teacher moves on immediately. You don't even have time to think of a good answer. But that's ok, you don't have to have one. At some point, a question is just a statement with a different grammatical structure.

That brings up another topic: homework. In the States, I always saw homework as busywork. You do it, you turn it in, you get points. You don't do it, you don't get the points, but life goes on. Here, however, if the teacher assigns homework, it's going to have something to do with the following lesson. There's more reason to do it, because if you don't, you'll be out of the loop and probably have nothing to do the next day you have that class. You build on everything here. Things are more related, coordinated. There's a dependency between what you've done and what you're doing and what you're going to do. I don't see the same in the education system I went through, and the only reason I can think for it to be that way is laziness and lack of communication.

Looking back again at the difference in expectations as to whether you talk in class or not led me back to one of my fundamental bricks of language learning: Disney songs. (Click the links to see the videos I'm referencing).

In The Lion King, during the "Be Prepared" scene, Scar drops the line: "Just listen to teacher." At least, in the English version.
In the German version, there's no mention of a classroom setting. Ok, sure, the wording just didn't fit. Easy to write off.
The French version basically says, "Shut up and listen." Much more directly dismissive.
And, however comedic, the Google Translate version simply says, "The religious educator."

I'm not going to shove any conclusions down your throat. You already know how I feel about it.  But what are your experiences with any or all of this?

15.7.17

Pennsylvania Maple Farm



I've been at this beautiful lake out near Scranton for the past two weeks.The whole are a is beautiful here. This has been a rainy summer, and everything is so green. They told me there were no ripe blueberries just yet, but I figured out pretty quick that the low bush blueberries are definitely in season. (I've learned that the low bush blueberries are technically called huckleberries. Whatever you call them, they're delicious!)


There are nice houses all over and little ponds. Lots of empty warehouses though. As it turns out, any improvement a person makes to their property around here results in a huge tax increase. I'm not sure if that'd be enough to stop my dad from the constant "projects" around the house, if we had that in California.

Connor's mom has lots of family out here, and one of her sisters is married to a guy who makes maple syrup. This is what the operation looks like:


If you look between the trees there, you'll see blue tubes running between the trees and down to the main lines (black).

Apparently squirrels are a big problem, since they like to chew through just about anything. The other day, one chewed through the internet wire and put lots of people at the lake offline. He didn't survive the shock as well as a squirrel might do against a tube full of maple sap, but even I got a taste of what a nuisance squirrels can be.


Once it comes down from the trees, the sap is pumped into holding tanks such as these (above).


From there, it goes through the tube on the bottom left for reverse osmosis (above). The concentrated sap is then pumped up to the tank where the ladder leads to and is gravity-fed the rest of the way. The water goes into the white reservoir from the previous picture, to be used later in cleaning the reverse osmosis system.


This is the machine that actually turns the condensed sap into syrup. It cycles around in there for awhile making its way through different heating pipes, before being filtered off of the top somewhere on the right side of the machine. If you look closely, you can see the thin wires that run from the top of the contraption to the ceiling. These are so that the top can be easily lifted off. Luckily, there's a cleaning system in place such that the top never needs to be lifted off. It's basically like an inside-out dishwasher that gets placed inside the machine and cycles for a few hours.





And here we see the finished products! Lots and lots of bottles full of sweet maple syrup... 

Below is the man himself (Roger) standing with the final product and his dog (Hunter), who he's trained to go after those pesky squirrels.


As much work as it all is, and as unpredictable as the winters have been, Roger seems happy with what he does. He's extremely knowledgeable about every part of the operation. He even assembled the syrup machine when it got delivered!


Thanks again to Marianne and Roger for having me up to see the place. It's a spiffy operation, and I'm honored to have had the opportunity to check it out!

Their website is here if you'd like to know more and/or see more pictures. There's a bit more to the process (and more technical terminology) than what I've included above, but that's the basic overview. Hope you enjoyed the ride!

14.7.17

Lightning in a Bottle (May 26-29, 2017)

In May, I went to my first music festival: Lightning in a Bottle (LiB).


Step one: wait in line


Artwork along the side of the road


The Mad Lads, trying to walk up to the gate


There were people patrolling the line in vehicles like the one on the left. One of them shut down the Mad Lads. Apparently you can't just walk in on foot.


Setting up camp


Little bug (a baby grasshopper I think)


Dragonfly!


The view from the top of Meditation Hill at night


Daytime was all about napping


Too hot to do anything


This is one of the artists (and his friends) who we got to see: StéLouse.
Connor and I are somewhere in the crowd there.


What's that across the lake??


Why, it looks like some sort of a gathering by the ships...


A WEDDING!



Cameron, with his famous Booty totem


Some of the gang, applying temporary tattoos to Cameron



And now for something completely different:


One thing I got to thinking about at LiB was endings. As a writer, among other things, I've always had problems with endings. I came to the conclusion that a graceful ending is simply a goal, not a requirement and certainly not a realistic expectation in most cases. Back when I was running Improv Club, I'd try to make the meetings go for the full hour. I'd fumble for another activity to fill the last few minutes, always reaching for a good note to end on.
The thing is, I had no control over the endings. Scenes could drone on for minutes on end without a "good punchline" to bring it to a close. Which was fine, because we were all learning. But to stress myself out about how the meeting ended just made no sense.
I've been in relationships, even just friendships, that would drone on with no reason to continue but habit and lack of a good ending point. We'd pretend to want to hang out once in awhile, but why?
When I came back from a year abroad, I'd spent enough time away that I could pick and choose who I reconnected with. One person in particular, I suggested we hang out on a few separate occasions and she always had a reason not to. I thought, "Fine, what did we ever do together anyway?" Sure we had fun, we got along. But she hasn't since asked me about getting together, an why should I care? I let that ship sail about 3 years ago.
When Mara was first living with us, she started to say "BYEE," the way young folks did back then. It probably came from the internet. At the time, I was wary of the word. I make friends with everyone I meet, and have had trouble with goodbyes since early childhood. Nowadays, I realize that most every relationship has a cost, be it time or energy, and a person has to choose how to spend that wisely. Me, I've spent most of my energy these past two years on work. Between my job and school, I hardly had time for superfluous friendships. It's a good excuse to stop talking to people who are probably not going to notice me falling off the face of the earth. "BYEE," has become a regular thought that crosses my mind when something (or someone) becomes tedious. From there, I decide whether or not to continue. The thought is an important first step away from denial.
Denial and I used to be best friends. It comes in handy when you've got energy leaking out of you from all sides and "don't play favorites," AKA don't prioritize the people or goals in your life. But in Fall 2015, I got involve with the student government at my community college. I took a leadership class. It didn't feel like serious coursework, but it was introspective. Who am I? What do I believe in? What does it mean to be part of a team? What do I contribute to my team? And I started to explore myself in a realistic sense. I'm much more aware of my strengths and shortcomings because of it, plus the community involvement gave me the motivation I needed to complete my degree pattern. If it hadn't been for David, who I only knew because of Improv Club, I never would've known that I was so close to graduating as soon as I did. I'm aware of my pride and how it gets in the way of asking for help or expressing gratitude. Recognizing the issue allows me to say thanks anyway, or to admit when I need a hand.
Something I learned in Germany is that it's normal to ask, "Am I crazy?" People do it here in the States, but I always shrugged it off like "Yes, you're the crazy one." Being in a new environment allowed me to listen and absorb, especially in the few months when expressing myself wasn't on the list of things I was good at just yet. Being the outsider, I may well have come across as crazy more often than I otherwise would have. Oh well, can't change it now. All I can do is move forward.
In the past 3 years since I got back from the original "Deutsche Erfahrung," I've spent some good time digesting all of the experiences, both there and when I got back. Every day since I left that summer after high school, I've felt more awake, more aware of my surroundings. I used to bury my head in the sand, as far as politics go. I didn't want anything to do with the stress and horrible things out there in the world, or whatever. In my economics and politics class in Germany, they asked me what things were like over in the states. I told them, we pay lots of money for a "good education," and it's a toss-up as to whether we get a job at the end of it. Meanwhile lots of folks are buried in student debt with no realistic way to pay it off anytime soon. I could go for days about what's wrong with America, and the list has only gotten longer lately. But I get to let it go, since I'm headed out of the country again...right?
I've established where I go to for news, and I give it a read. I talk to people about it, and together we come up with what we think happened. I'm willing to talk about it now, because I inform myself better. I have things to say because I know what's going on. As nicely as the sand fit around my head, it wasn't helping any. My head got plenty of sand blown around it at LiB, and I wanted nothing more than to blow it back out my nose.
Today, I'm more aware of myself, my relationships, my place in the community, how I spend my time, and what's happening in the world. I'm by no means an expert, but I keep my ears open and listen to what people say to me, even if I don't show it at the time. It's the things I deny the hardest at first that I know I should listen to the most. So I guess you could say denial is still a good friend of mine, but as a stepping stone rather than a defense mechanism.
I'm running out of steam this late at night. The only reason this might pass for a good ending point is because it circles back to good endings being elusive things. Maybe it doesn't feel complete. Deal with it!


Whatever it is you're doing in life, listen to the guy from the wedding party. Follow your dreams!

8.7.17

I've been looking for these!

Fairly close to the beginning of the year (late 2013), some friends and I had a little barbecue on the beach. Here are some pictures from it.

Me and Isa

Me and Isa being dorks

Lonne, Rike, Anna (left to right)


Anna and her best friend (beer)

Lonne and Rike again

I have a feeling there's another post about this barbecue somewhere on here, but oh well.
It was windy and sandy, much different sunset to what I was used to at home. But the people were nice, and you can grill and drink on the beach. I didn't have time to compare it much back then, I was too busy enjoying the experience.

Till next time!

Stuttgart Zoo (October 13, 2013)

I found this post in my drafts and decided to finish it and finally post it. Enjoy the time capsule:





I went to the zoo on a Sunday with Mara and Ila.
This is Tigger the Fish...

(Tigger was my cat's name. Everyone used to tell me he should be called Garfield)

...and all his neighborhood "buddies" (as Dad used to say).

Someone's toupee (probably)

Little monkey sitting in a tree

Birds




*SQUAWK!* Pretty bird!



Sloth

Leopard


Cheetahs



Judging everybody with a selfie stick...
(They weren't really a thing in 2013. A moment of silence for the good old days.)


It's like my silks studio in there.
(www.suspendedmotion.net)

Sky bed

Informative article on the intelligence of gorillas (long before the Harambe incident happened)

If you ask Koko the gorilla who she is, this is what she says.
Translation: "Koko. Gorilla. Good."

Panther

Leopard again

Mara and Ila 2013

Crocodile imitating Ila (probably)


Maybe it's just a really long burp...



Butterflies! (This was a walk through area, really serene.)


That's all for Throwback Friday. With any luck, I'll be churning these things out again soon.