Quick recap. We moved to Munich for Shane’s position. The original plan was to be in Munich for about three months, then the lab project would take us to Tena, Ecuador, for about two years. Like most, coronavirus put us in a state of limbo, but not anymore, folks!
The lab got travel approval, and September 13th Shane, Lucie, Meatball, and I are moving to South America!
As such, it’s time for The Shwits Make the Most of Munich: Summer 2021 Edition!
Munich is living it’s best low-infection-rate-50%-vaccinated life, and they’ve finally allowed certain tourist attractions to open again after more than a year. One of those is the tower at the top of the Neues Rathaus, or the New Town Hall.
Fun fact. The New Town Hall is actually pretty new, despite its look. It was built in 1905, but the neo-gothic architecture style was apparently very popular at the time. It’s the centerpiece of the Marienplatz, the main square, and the glockenspiel is worth a watch if you’re there at the right time.
I’m a sucker for a good view. Shane usually approaches these adventures with a little bit of dread because I make him take the stairs, but he lucked out this time. You could only take the elevator. After all of our trips to the Marienplatz, it’s nice to finally get a view from above!
How to get there: Take literally any S-bahn, U-bahn, Tram towards the Marienplatz. They all go there.
Cost: €6. Tickets can be purchased online (which is required right now, as part of the COVID-19 restrictions).
Opening Times: 10:00 to 19:00 daily (until 17:00 on Sundays).
Rating: ✅ Highly Recommended!
If you’re coming to Munich, you’ll definitely go to the Marienplatz. So, go up the tower! It’s worth it.
In honor of our one-year Deutsch-aversary, I wanted to do a little reflecting.
What do we really think about living* in Germany?
* 6 months of which were in a hard lockdown in a 30 sq meter basement apartment with one window**.
** a window that looks at a retaining wall.
German efficiency is a myth.
Honestly, I don’t know how this idea started – well, Ok, I kind of do. It stems from so-called “Prussian values,” and by the 1930s, the German reputation was built on Ordnung (order), which were mostly just rules and directness being interpreted as efficiency. If you’re interested, this article gives a lovely history lesson. For everyone else, all you need to know is that efficiency is a trait valued by Germans. However, “efficiency” is generally mistaken for a propensity for rules.
I suppose, theoretically, rules should make things more efficient since you should know exactly what to do. But what happens if things DON’T go according to plan?
like… oh, in the case of a global pandemic?
Don’t know what to do about it? Well then, don’t do anything at all! Or, plan a meeting to meet about what to do. Either is acceptable.
We’ve had our fair share of inefficient interactions this year – from Shane’s contract to our residence permits to my freelance tax ID number, which I EMAILED about and received a reply by POST. Over a month later. Telling me I already had a tax ID number since it had been issued in the meantime. 🤦♀️
Germany also handcuffed itself during the coronavirus vaccine rollout. In America, there were stories of people getting spare vaccines from missed appointments. In Germany, people vying for those missed-appointment-vaccines were turned away because they weren’t in the proper priority group. Flexibility (in other words, a more efficient vaccination program) wasn’t an option.
I will give some credit, though. Once Germany gets it going – whatever “it” is – then it goes OK. Once there was clear guidance on how to handle new residency permits, our process was smooth. After some vaccine-rollout adjustments, the country is making progress.
The long and short? Take efficiency out of you vocabulary and you’ll have much more realistic expectations.
Currently, we can get by. Dutch has been very helpful with that since the sentence structure is the same and a lot of the words sound similar, so you can piece together meanings. Plus, we have mostly closed interactions – like at the grocery store or with the receptionist at the doctor’s office. You know what to expect out of those interactions, which makes them easier and manageable. And, similar to Dutch, we can both understand more than we can speak.
So why is German easier than Dutch? Because a German speaker doesn’t automatically switch to English.
Now don’t get me wrong, most people, particularly in a city like Munich, can and will speak English with you but you have to ask for it. And if they say no? Well, then you’re along for the ride, but that’s how you learn! I’ve found that I am much less self-conscious about my speaking capabilities when I know that English is off the table. German is in my brain somewhere. I just have to force it out!
I also notice that I am much less immersed in the language here than in the Netherlands. I’m working from home, we’ve had essentially no social outings to practice those basic skills thanks to lockdown, and we don’t have a boom box anymore. Yes, our old apartment had a legit boom box, so we listened to the radio all the time. It’s amazing the things you unknowingly pick up. We also haven’t been watching regular TV because (go figure) it’s all in German. In the Netherlands, most shows were in English with Dutch subtitles, so we would watch TV in English but hear commercials in Dutch. Before you know it, you’re singing along Kruidvat! Steeds verrassend, altijd voordelig! and wondering what in the heck you’re saying.
Kruidvat! Always exciting, always inexpensive!… in case you were wondering.
So, one year later, I still sound like an ausländerin.
Taxes are high, but it seems worth it.
Ah, taxes. Everyone’s favorite topic.
There’s really not so much to say about this. Taxes in Germany are pretty high. Shane loses about 35% of his paycheck each month, but that’s also paying for his health insurance (and mine, before I started freelancing), pension, and unemployment if he needs it.
Overall, it’s pretty similar to the situation in the Netherlands. The main difference is health insurance. Here, it’s included in the tax where we paid for insurance separately in the Netherlands. And about that health insurance, so far – no complaints! We’ve been to the doctor now for a couple of new vaccines and some health checkups and haven’t paid a dime (I mean… a 10 euro cent?). So, it feels like you’re at least getting something out of it.
Bavaria does not equal Germany.
A poll for the Americans:
When you think of Germany, what comes to mind?
Lederhosen & dirndls, pretzels, big beers, cute wooden alpine balconies?
While yes, all these things are German, they are typically Bavarian.
This seems like an obvious statement, but Germany is a big country! It takes about 7 hours to drive from Hamburg (the largest city in the north of the country) to Munich. So – ok, it takes longer for me to drive the length of my home state, North Carolina, but we’re talking Europe big.
There are also 16 states (Bundesland) in Germany, each with its own unique characteristics. For example, Bremen (a state and a city) was very close to us in the Netherlands and certainly had more Dutch-like characteristics, and Düsseldorf (and the other cities on the Rhine) have a distinct feel to them.
Oh, and the important one. Don’t you dare confuse a Berliner with a Bavarian, which are about as, unsurprisingly, culturally opposite as you can get. While the Nazi party may have originated in Munich, WWII and the aftermath had a completely different impact on Berlin. Munich (and Bavaria) is also a conservative mostly Catholic state, where Berlin is more left-leaning.
Long story short, visit Germany but drop those expectations!
When you come to Bavaria, order that weiß bier & weißwurst for breakfast and wear your lederhosen (especially during the Oktoberfest months) but don’t expect that to be the norm elsewhere.
Oh, and quick tip. In Bavaria, servus is hello, and order a brezen instead of a pretzel. 😉
Not how Shane envisioned post-PhD life, but it’s been worth it!
Let’s be honest, I could try to summarize what Shane said about this, but I won’t get it right. So he’ll write this bit:
Finish a PhD, get a good postdoc position (or two), and then transition into running your own lab – that’s the plan, right? That’s the ‘normal’ academic trajectory. Yea right – Covid really threw a wrench into that plan (as I’m sure everyone can relate to). Whitney has previously talked about our long and frustrating process of moving to Germany and gaining residency, so I’ll avoid re-hashing that. Instead, I focus on the past ~8 months of actually putting my PhD to use. All-in-all, totally worth the wait and hassle!
For this position, I switched ‘systems’ (aka, the animals we use to study evolutionary processes), leaving behind the 10+ years of experience in fish and fish-related research. Now, I work with Heliconius butterflies and I could not be happier. Why? Because it’s different! If find that I thoroughly enjoy learning a new system, new techniques, and new ways of thinking about things. Has this been harder than if I would have stayed in aquatics & fish? Of course it has – but that’s the whole point! My hope is that this will make me a better ‘scientist’ (still weird to call myself that) and broaden my options for when I branch out and form my own lab (fingers crossed I make it that far!).
Oh, and I would remise if I did not also mention my new lab and working group. Much as I spoke about the ‘system’, I am equally happy with my working environment. My lab mates, colleagues, and the general vibe within department are fantastic! The past ~8 months have been a joy and I look forward to the next few years!
Overall, I don’t feel like an outsider, but I certainly don’t feel integrated. I’m partially attributing that to coronavirus, partially to our perpetual state of will-we-won’t-we-move-to-Ecuador, and partially to my lack of trying.
Presuming we stay in Munich, my year-two goal is to try a little harder!
I’m not quite sure how to do that, but that’s part of the challenge of living abroad, I suppose. Tips are appreciated. 😉
I know, I know. You’re probably thinking “what-the-damn-hell!?” ’cause we got out of the city, baby!!
This past Sunday was G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S and our first true summer-feeling day. When we met up with our friend, Theresa, back in March we talked about going for a hike when the weather finally turned. So, when a beautiful sunny day presented itself, we jumped at the opportunity to get to the mountains.
Do you know what’s really crazy? We haven’t been outside of Munich since September when we went hiking for our anniversary, and we haven’t been outside of Bavaria since we moved here nearly a year ago. I know a lot of people haven’t been traveling, but it still feels surreal.
Anyway, we met up with Theresa and our friend Giulia (who we also met in the Netherlands) for some *covid-protocol approved* outdoor fun!
The Tegernsee (see means lake) is one of the ~10 easily accessible Bavarian lakes about an hour south of the city. Our hike started in Tegernsee (the city) and looped towards Riederstein mountain for a spectacular view of the lake, the alps, and the towns below. Ironically, you can’t actually see Tegernsee city. This view is of the neighboring town, Rottach-Egern.
I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my favorite parts of hiking in Bavaria (and Austria) is the beer huts! There’s nothing like a mid-hike beer to power you through the rest. Outdoor dining hasn’t been open in Bavaria since November. So, naturally, we assumed that the beer hut on the route would be closed. You can imagine our excitement when we turned the corner, and it was OPEN (and serving Tegernseer bier, naturlich)! …for take-away only, but that was ok. There was a sunny field waiting for us.
The Riederstein hike ends at the top of this peak – do you notice the small church? That’s where you’ll find those amazing views. It’s 20 to 30 minutes of straight uphill to get to the final destination, but the views are worth it, and you can always have a refreshment when you come back down. 😜
Distance from Munich: ~1 hour by car and 1 h 15 min by train.
Hike Direction: Starting at the Tegernsee Prinzenweg im Alpbachtal parking lot, follow the signs for Riederstein or Galaun (the beer hut). On the way back, be sure to head to the correct Tegernsee (there are multiple options!) – look for the Prinzenweg route.
Difficulty: Medium. There were some steep parts, particularly at the end, but the paths are easy to navigate.
Time: ~4 hours, not including time to relax.
Tip: Per usual, bring cash! For more details, check out this link (in German).
Rating: 🧡If there’s time
If you’re looking for a nice day trip from Munich with an easily accessible hike, this is for you. The town is also very typically Bavarian and very charming, with lots of options for food and other lake activities (in normal times).
The coronavirus numbers are slowly dropping here in Munich, and the beer gardens (and all outdoor dining) can open starting today! Maybe this won’t be a terrible summer after all…
You might have but most likely did not notice that I skipped my February joy report. I mean, sure, stuff happened in February, but mostly it was a same-shit-different-day kinda month. Towards the end of February and the beginning of March, we stupidly got hopeful. The number of new cases was stable or declining, and they allowed up to five people in two households to gather. The rules even allowed non-essential shops to open for “click and collect,” so if you’ve ever wanted your own personalized shopping experience, then here’s your chance! Essentially, you have to make an appointment online to visit non-essential stores. Since a lot of these shops are smaller, you’ll have some one-on-one customer service!
But that didn’t last long. Over 70% of new cases in Germany are the British variant, which means that the case numbers are going up again. Hello, third wave! Once there are more than 100 cases per 100,000 people, it’s bye-bye click and collect a semblance of social interaction and hello evening curfew. Munich’s been hovering in the high 90s lately, so it’s only a matter of time. On top of it, the vaccine rollout here has been dismal. I think one headline last month said something like “Germany: Gloomy with a Chance of Hope,” but I think that was even being kind.
Anyway, I think it’s safe to say in the past month or so, #lockdownlife has caught up to me!
HOWEVER, we’re back on summer time (yay daylight!), spring is in the air, I’m getting back on the joy-wagon!
Vaccines bring me to my first joy.
A lot of our friends and family are vaccinated!
America has got-it-goin-on with this vaccine rollout! Honestly, for most of the pandemic, I’ve just shaken my head at the good ‘ole US of A’s response, but I am thrilled for how well it seems to be going. All of our parents and almost all other family members are vaccinated as well as several friends. I have so many emotions! First and foremost, I’m THRILLED that the people we love the most are protected and can start to venture back to normal life. I’m also incredibly jealous (’cause I want a vaccine!), and I’m excited because that means less quarantine time and more fun when we can finally come home!
We had social interaction!
As I mentioned earlier, two households are allowed to meet (up to 5 people). So, we took advantage of the spring weather and met up with our friend, Theresa, in the Olympic Park. I mean this with love (and I think he would agree), but it was nice to talk to someone in person other than Shane. I don’t count the grocery store cashier (mit karte bitte?) or the vet.
And speaking of the vet…
No more fish breath for Meatball!
Ha. Ok, so this is a weird one, I know, and actually, Meatball hasn’t really been a happy cat this month. Meatball’s breath was dis.gus.ting. TMI? Whatever. So we took her to the vet, who *highly* recommended that she have her teeth cleaned. BUT FIRST, kitty had to see a kitty cardiologist because they thought she had a heart murmur (she doesn’t, she’s just vet-certified dramatic), THEN poor little kitty cat had her teeth cleaned but left the vet’s office with two fewer teeth (go figure, rotting teeth = fish breath), and FINALLY, she managed to give herself double conjunctivitis from messing with her face afterward. Fun fact? Conjunctivitis in a cat can present as cold symptoms – so, miss watery-eyed sneezing Meatball has had a rough month.
Where’s the joy in this? Well, she doesn’t run us off the couch with her fish breath anymore, and we know she should pass her health check if we ever get to move to Ecuador. 😑
I’m a workin’ woman again!
As of March 1st, I’m a legal lady – I’ve even got my own tax ID and health insurance (and whew, that was a bureaucratic journey)! I’m doing freelance medical manuscript editing – research articles, case reports, things like that. Honestly, the pay is pretty crap (compared to what I was making before), but it pays enough to support our wanderlust. I can also work from home in Munich or anywhere in the world, for that matter. Assuming we can go to Ecuador, this is exactly what I had hoped for. If we don’t go, then, hopefully, this experience will help me transition into a more permanent medical writing or editing position.
With that, happy April, and send good thoughts for looser restrictions!
January always feels like a long month. Do you agree?
Oddly, January 2021 has flown by! Perhaps it’s the monotony of lockdown life. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
A quick update on life here in Munich.
We’ve been in partial lockdown since the beginning of November and a total lockdown since December (i.e., only the essentials are open), but it does seem to be working. The numbers in Germany are decreasing – they are still high, but decreasing nonetheless. Back in December, Munich was considered a hotspot (200+ cases per 100,000 people), but as of yesterday, we were down to only 63 cases per 100,000. The most recent change is the FFP2 (N95) mask requirement. Now, shops and public transportation require an FFP2 mask, or you’ll be issued a fine. The hope is that FFP2 mask use will continue to drive down the numbers, which could allow non-essential shops to reopen. For now, we’re in lockdown until Feb 14, but with the new variants and a slower than hoped for vaccination pace, I expect it will go longer. The goal is to have the country down to 50 cases per 100,000 people before lockdowns are eased. So… we wait!
Oh, and Munich has a friendly reminder…
Anyway, on to January joys!
Shane made cupcakes (with glitter!) and bought me a Soda Stream so I can drink “fluffy” water to my heart’s content!
Sparkling water is called sprudelwasser in German, which is really fun to say and has made its way into our day-to-day Deutsch-lish (ya know, a German/English mix).
“Can you sprudel me some water please!?” and “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts, sprudely doodely…”
…lockdown life. 🤷♀️
New apartment stuff.
The apartment we rented is furnished, and we never intended to be in Munich this long. So, we never bothered to spend any money to personalize it. I mean, we brought some stuff with us from the Netherlands, but it was a hodgepodge of things, and we were hesitant to buy stuff just to put into storage later. However, the longer we’re here, the more we felt the need to make it feel a little more… adult. Like, perhaps we should have a matching set of sheets.
To add to it, we’ve not been able to go to the gym since November. We’ve been getting by, but it was getting boring.
So, we bought some new fancy LED lamps and some fake plants to brighten up the basement, some new sheets and pillows to minimize the ‘college dorm’ aesthetic, and a pull-up bar and some dumbbells to add to our studio home gym.
We should have done this sooner.
SO. MUCH. SNOW!
I would say we’ve easily gotten two feet of snow this month.
All this snow has its pluses and minuses. Plus, it’s gorgeous! Minus, we can’t go snowboarding (and it’s the “best winter in Germany in years” 😐). Plus, we’re the weirdos who like shoveling snow. Minus, Shane still has to bike to work.
We haven’t seen this much snow (outside of snowboarding trips) since we lived in Pittsburgh. The seasons in Groningen were pretty indistinguishable (cold wet winter, slightly warmer and dryer summer). It’s been really nice to have a “true” winter season!
Much to Meatball’s chagrin, we have won over our landlady’s dog, Chillie. It’s becoming a morning routine. Chillie is sent outside to pee but instead comes straight downstairs and barks at the door for some love. I can’t say I hate it.
Meatball though – she hates it. 😂 Chillie is small enough and so full of energy that Meatball isn’t quite sure what to do with her. One day, Chillie ran smack into Meatball and started licking her face (unfortunately, I was out for a walk when this happened). Shane said that Meatball sat in shock for a moment before it occurred to her “wait, I don’t like this!” and started hissing.
But how can she resist this face? I think the more Chillie comes to visit, the more Meatball will like her. Probably not, but we’ll let her come visit anyway.
That’s all I have to report for January. In all honesty, the lockdown hasn’t felt so bad, but I am getting really tired of walking the same neighborhood loops, and I am ITCHING for some travel. Anywhere. Just to see something new. But for now, we wait.
Fingers crossed for some relaxed restrictions in March! 🤞
Happy Birthday to me! Happy birthday to me! I drank too much last night….that’s the end of this post! 🤦♀️😆
Jussssttt kidddinnnggg…about it being the end of this post. Happy New Year!
Anyway, I’m rounding out 2020’s joy reports with a double-joy-whammy! First up are a few things that made me happy in December, but I also felt like there were a few things I wanted to acknowledge about 2020. We can all probably list a million reasons why 2020 was the worst (seen the match.com commercial?), but, for us, there were a few GOOD things that came out of 2020, despite all the de-railed plans. First up, though…
The first snow in Munich.
It was only a few centimeters, but it was enough to cover the ground. Shane was at work (this was before the hard lockdown that started mid-December), and I was high on that fresh-snow-Christmas spirit! I popped in my headphones with my favorite Christmas music (December by George Winston), and off I went a walking in winter wonderland! Naturally, Blutenburg Castle seemed like a fun snowy destination. I was cold and wet by the time I got home, but it was just grand!
Flu shots – in German!
Yeah – ok, flu shots feel like a weird brag, but it’s less about the flu shot and more about the German! While I was excited for Shane to get a flu shot (he didn’t last year and got the flu twice), I was more excited that we broke the German-speaking barrier!…that obviously only exists in my head. We had been warned that we would most likely need to speak German when going to the doctor, but I found a doctor online who advertised that they spoke English. Great!
I was only semi-surprised when I called to schedule an appointment, asked if we could speak in English, to which the receptionist replied
It threw me for a slight loop, but I had Googled the word for ‘flu shot’ (grippeimpfung), the receptionist was very friendly and spoke slowly, and I managed to hang up the phone with instructions to show up at “elf uhr, morgen“. I spent the next 24 hours walking around the house practicing “I have an appointment at 11” (ich habe einen termin um elf uhr) and “I would like a flu shot, please!” (Ich möchte eine grippeimpfung, bitte!), and morgen um elf uhr I successfully told the receptionist I had an appointment! Turns out, they have English patient forms and the doctor spoke perfect English, but the receptionist did not.
It seems so trivial, but it was very empowering! The receptionist was also the nurse who gave me the shot, and I managed to understand her description of the vaccine symptoms, tell her I wanted my vaccine in the rechts shoulder, and made a small joke about how schnell the whole thing was.
Unlike the Netherlands, I don’t feel scared to try German. Dutchies are SO GOOD at English that they automatically switch if you try and speak Dutch or (even worse) you’ll get a little giggle at your attempt. I genuinely don’t think it’s on purpose or with bad intentions, but it’s certainly not encouraging. Here, if you’re trying, then that seems to be all that matters.
Unfortunately, the lockdown has really limited our interactions with native speakers, but I definitely feel like we’ve improved our language capacity.
Shane’s first advent calendar.
And, to be fair, I think this was also my first chocolate-filled advent calendar. We both remember having ‘countdowns to Christmas’ as kids, but not like this. The bad thing? Now I want an advent calendar for the entire year…
My Christmas leggings.
I don’t think I need to elaborate. Best 9 euros I ever spent.
Could we go home? No. Could we do anything? No. Could we see other households? Technically, yes, but we didn’t.
But ya know what? We made the best of it.
Did we FaceTime with my brother-in-law so he could read us Twas The Night Before Christmas? Yep!
Did we get a little cheerful and walk around the neighborhood taking pictures with other peoples’ Christmas decorations? Sure did!
Did we see other households? If you count the lady walking her dogs who caught us 3 times taking pictures – then why yes, we did!
It wasn’t the Christmas we expected, but we had a great time working with what we had!
…which we made sure included cinnamon rolls, a stollen, and pretzels from a gluten-free bakery I found (that took us an hour and a half round trip to bike to…oops), eierpunch (German eggnog), glühwein, curryworst, dipped cookies, and potato pankakes with applemusse! 🤪
Ya know what Pandemics are good for? Reflecting. Let’s just say we took a lot of neighborhood walks where we did a lot of complaining, but we also realized there were a few surprisingly good things.
2020 Joys Despite Covid-19
We’ve had more time in Munich.
It’s been this circular argument – if there were no Covid-19, we would be in Ecuador right now. But if we were in Ecuador already, then we would have missed Oktoberfest. But if there was Oktoberfest, then there would be no Covid and we would be in Ecuador. But if we were in Ecuador, then we wouldn’t have an opportunity to go snowboarding this year. But with Covid-19, probably we can’t go snowboarding this year…you see my point.
Despite Covid-19, we’ve been lucky to have extra time in Munich and we were especially lucky to have a relatively covid-free summer. We were able to have a *modified* beer garden experience, swim in the Isar, go on some hikes, and visit Olympia Park. No, we haven’t been able to experience the city in it’s full glory, but we know the Innenstadt well enough to navigate without maps, and I call that a win.
We CAN live in a tiny home!
We’ve watched A LOT of tiny house shows, and to be honest, really thought that we could live in a tiny house one day. Or, at least in a small house with tiny house principles. Well, once we moved to Munich we were forced to see if we could actually do it on account of 30 sq. m (~300 sq ft) is a mid-range tiny home. The kicker? Ours isn’t as efficiently built.
Good news, folks! We haven’t killed each other!
We’ve had to get creative – with furniture arrangements, workout spaces (since the gyms are closed), and sharing sit-space with the cat – but it’s all been ok. Our biggest complaint? The lack of light (our only window leads to a retaining wall). Even our one sink in the bathroom and hot plate are do-able. Not preferable, mind you, but do-able.
Pro-tip? Noise cancelling earbuds. 🤣
Shane’s got a new project.
As you know, we only intended to be in Munich long enough for Shane’s lab to make a plan and gather supplies, then we were headed to Ecuador for two years. You might have guessed – they needed to be in Ecuador for a reason. That’s where the butterflies are. The pandemic forced some reassessment, which means that Shane ended up with a new project – for now! It’s one that can be completed here in Munich. Put simply, he’s dissecting butterfly eyes (collected on other field trips) and looking at species-specific differences in eye morphology.
I hate to admit it, but our kitty katz is a grandma.
She turned 15 (ish) this year, but we were still surprised when we took her to the vet for a rabies vaccination and found out that she had lost almost half her body weight. Turns out, she had an overactive thyroid. Good news – it’s easily treated with medication, which she enjoys taking in a squishy treat. Bad news – she *loudly* lets us know when she’s ready for her squishy treat. Determining the proper dosage took some trial and error and SEVERAL follow-up vet visits, so our delayed move to Ecuador was to Meatball’s benefit. Well…maybe not if you ask her.
And that sums up 2020!
I don’t know about you, but I’m really enjoying these joy reports, so expect to see them in 2021. Especially since it might be all the blog content I have. 😂
Congrats on surviving 2020, and cheers to a healthy and more adventurous 2021…and access to that Covid vaccine!
Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s the right thing to do, and if I’m being honest, we’re pretty boring people on a day-to-day. I do miss the gym, though. We’re pretty creative in our 30 sq meters (300 sq feet) but it not quite the same as a bouldering gym. 😜
In other news, it looks like we’ve marched straight into winter, and there’s even a chance of snow! I thought for sure we were going to have to buy new winter coats after I spent an hour unpacking and repacking all of our stuff stored under the bed and found nothing. Turns out, I put them in an *easily accessible* place, which was truly easily accessible had I just remembered I’d put them there.
Like I said, it’s been pretty boring.
Regardless, here are a few things that made us happy this month!
If you read my October Joy Report, then you’ll remember I lost my cousin in October. Shane lost his grandparents roughly a year and a half ago and had been wanting a tattoo to honor them. I had just been wanting a new tattoo, period. After Tony’s death, it felt like it was the right time for us to do it. Shane could remember his grandparents and I could remember Tony. The universe was in our favor. The day before the partial lockdown started, they worked us in.
Shane went first, and ended up with more than he ever really imagined – in a good way! His grandparent’s owned a leather shop, and the bull in the tattoo is from the leather shop logo. The mountains and scenery are representative of the mountains where his family is from.
I got a galaxy cat. I’d been wanting something colorful and cat-like anyway, and when my mom and cousin said they were getting galaxy-cat Tony tattoos, I was definitely on board. It’s a fun and beautiful way to remember my fun and beautifully spirited cousin – and he just really liked galaxy cats.
Shane’s 35th Birthday
My honey bunches turned 35! I literally never call him that so I’m not sure what possessed me to do that now, but I’m going with it. Do you know how hard it is to plan a surprise for someone when they are working from home and you are literally always in the same room?
I was able to sneak out under the pretense of forgetting cheese (which I actually did forget) and buy supplies to make a cake and somehow successfully hid all the cold ingredients behind carefully placed butter and yogurt. He only figured it out when the smell of cake started wafting during his Zoom meeting. So, that’s a win! I had original hopes for a night on the town, but we got take-out and ate ourselves sick on cupcakes. All in all, I think he would say it was a good birthday.
Speaking of eating ourselves sick…
We had a true Thanksgiving this year!
The last time we celebrated Thanksgiving was our first year in the Netherlands. We payed close to 100 euros for a special-ordered turkey that was entirely too big for any of our appliances (we only have a toaster oven and a crockpot), and Shane ended up trying to cut it apart with a bread knife (our only serrated knife). It was a mess. I also payed way too much to import canned pumpkin, marshmallows, and crispy onions for green bean casserole. It was a lot of work, and we celebrated late since it’s not a holiday in Europe (go figure). To top it off, I couldn’t find a live-stream of the Macy’s parade. It was a nice meal (with some good friends), but after that year, we just kind of gave up.
Shane found a turkey in the grocery store and everything changed. I had to swap the pumpkin pie for apple, but those crispy onions? GOT ‘EM!
Shane took the day off work, and we cooked, drank festive cocktails, talked to family, and I even found a live stream of the (modified) parade! Honestly, it was a really great day.
aka the endless staircase.
Turns out, this art installation is not too far from our climbing gym and the ‘nicer, fancy’ grocery store. So, when I was on the hunt for those crispy onions, I decided to make a pit-stop! It was fun to find a little hidden gem and see a new part of town.
I mean – look at that paw placement. She kills me with cuteness.
And with that, we’re on to December! Conveniently, der letzte monat des jahres was part of my Duolingo lesson recently. I’m planning on going hunting for to-go Glühwein stands… I’ll report back.
Honestly, with the job and residency drama behind us, we’ve just chugging along this month. Getting into our new routine, appreciating the mundane daily life, enjoying the fall weather and colors. And then the unexpected happened. My trivial October joys were greatly overshadowed by one event – the loss of my cousin, Tony, who took his own life on October 17th. And while that is in no way a joyous occasion, my cousin, despite his decision, was a joyful kind of guy – at least that’s how I knew him.
So, with that in mind, my first October joy.
I’m not entirely sure where to begin. I suppose a short family history – Tony is one of four Milani children, who are cousins on my mom’s side of the family. My mom’s dad was in the US Air Force, and the family moved a lot. So, it was normal that our extended family ended up all over the US and sometimes the globe. My sister and I are the youngest of the 8-cousin bunch, so we looked up to our older cousins, especially since we only got to see them every now and then. As life goes, you grow up and you grow apart, but in 2009, at a long-overdue family reunion, we all reconnected. After that, with the help of Facebook (and Snapchat and any other cat-meme sharing social media platform), our cousin crew was back-in-action and this time for good.
Now to Tony. I swear, he’s the funniest of the crew, and this was no small task. Joey, his brother, smashed cake in his own face when we were kids, which made him the funniest in my book for a long time. I think that Tony’s ‘funny’ came from his complete authentic self. When we were together, he always seemed to be unapologetically who HE was – caring, empathetic, genuine, loving. SO SO loving. Which also might have been a detriment – he was the kind of person that would give so much of himself to others, he could forget to give back to himself.
One vivid example – when Shane and I went home to celebrate our wedding in North Carolina, I remember showing Tony the montage of our Croatia wedding photos and being surprised to look over and find him teary-eyed. Granted, the photographers picked Ed Sheeran’s ‘Thinking Out Loud’ and someone was “cutting onions” nearby – so it wasn’t totally his fault (😜), but it was totally Tony. He was so happy for us and so happy for our family to be together.
Tony is married to Cassandra, and they are both in the US Air Force and constantly on the move. One thing I never told him (them) – they were our family ‘goals’. They’re adventurous, open-minded, and made the best of their situations. Mostly, for us as two travel-loving, abroad-living people who might have kids one day, they showed us that you CAN still do it. With four boys in tow, they didn’t stop traveling and exploring, and we’re grateful for their example.
Oh, and Tony was fluent in at least 3 languages. So… cool cool cool, cousin. I’m only a lot bit jealous of his language skills.
You hear this a lot, but life’s too short to hold grudges. Life’s too short to not reach out to that person you’ve been missing. Life’s too short to not be who you truly are, do what makes you happy, and take way too many pictures! Obviously, there’s more to Tony’s story than what meets the eye. So, I’d like to end this piece by saying please – if you’re struggling, reach out to someone. Honesty is hard, but life is worth living even if it may not feel like it at the moment. I wish that Tony’s story hadn’t ended, but all I can do now is learn from it and honor him by remembering all his wonderful qualities.
Tony was a vet. If you’re American and know someone who might benefit from the National Veterans Foundation ‘Stop Veteran Suicides’ crisis line then please, pass on this information, or you can make a donation.
Covid cases have been rising in Germany. So much so that we are heading into a month long lockdown starting today (2 Nov). We haven’t been DOING too much since the weather turned colder and rainier. Beer gardens and outdoor spaces at restaurants have been mainly closed for the winter and we’re not to keen on indoor activities at the moment. So, while Shane’s at work, I’ve been taking a lot of walks! We both agreed that the fall colors in Munich have been much more dramatic than in the Netherlands. Obviously, there are different types of trees here (lots of chestnuts), but they just POP!
Honor system potatoes and squash
Do you remember how I said there were honor system pick-your-own flowers back in the summer? Well, this has transformed into grab-your-own-squash-and-potatoes! I’m excited to see if there is a winter pick-your-own variety.
We got our real residence permits!
It took about 4 months to get an application appointment, and less than 4 weeks to receive our official cards in the mail. No more worries until 2022!
I have no words for it. I don’t know how to describe it. Why is a realistic looking mannequin holding a dragonfly displayed in a glass case on Shane’s campus? The world may never know. Literally. There’s no description plaque. If anyone out there knows why this man is on LMU’s Biocampus, please explain!
A dreamlike-unreal effect caused by lighting and appropriate decoration, which the stalls create at a Christmas fair.
That’s a mighty specific translation!
The Christmas markets in Munich are officially cancelled, so I guess I’ll have to make my own budenzauber this year. In the meantime, I hope everyone is able to find their own little slice of joy, and if you can – share it! You never know who might need a boost. ❤️ Tony.