Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Astute Observations…

June 4, 2011

…from a four-year-old:

“Sometimes boys are just bad and do things girls don’t like.”

Amen, sweetie.

Advertisements

Bibliomania

June 2, 2011

I has it.  It is defined as an “excessive fondness for acquiring and possessing books.”  I’ve had this condition since childhood.  I suppose it started with book orders.  Remember those?  The onion-skin paper booklets elementary school teachers pass out?  I pored over them and pointed out anything I was remotely interested in to mom, who, bless her soul, always indulged me since it was all for my edification (with the possible exception of a few R.L. Stein books).  The teachers loved it, because the more we ordered, the more credit they got to order.  Before I moved on to 6th grade, my 5th grade teacher actually told me wistfully that I could come back and order from her if I wanted.  But by then I was moving on from The Boxcar Children and Ramona to The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, and the Little House books, which weren’t to be found on the pages of the 5th grade book orders.  6th grade was also the year I discovered the Harper Hall trilogy, launching my lifelong love of the Dragonriders of Pern series.

So to sum up, I read.  A lot.  And I buy books.  Waaaaay too many books.  After counting the books on the top shelf of my largest bookcase and doing some quick arithmetic, taking into account the big shelf, the small shelf, the bookcase bed and the bottom of the nightstand (some of which are packed and stacked two deep), plus the three sizeable cardboard boxes at the foot of my bed, I would estimate (conservatively) that I have about 500 books, about 400-450 of which have been read.  I know, I know.  I should get a Kindle.  But I was dragged kicking and screaming into the age of cell phones, iPods and digital cameras.  I eventually gave in to all those technologies, but I’m not ready to give up my books yet.

So Half Price Books is one of my favorite places to wander.  I always find a good deal on something that interests me, and walk away $20-$30 poorer with a sack of books in my hand.  I don’t think I’ve ever left that store without buying.  So it’s a good thing that the nearest location is 1.5 hours away from me.  Otherwise I’d go broke.

But tomorrow I’m meeting a friend in Indy.  We needed to choose a central meeting place close to our ultimate destination, and we finally settled on, you guessed it, Half Price Books.  Because I have a coupon.  I thought about how much I buy there, and then it occurred to me that one can also sell books there.  I don’t think I’ve ever sold a book in my life.  Most of them are precious to me, even if it’s likely I’ll never read them again.  But I got to thinking about how much I spend, and wondering if I could offset this by selling some books.

So I started taking a serious look at my shelves, and I wound up with 32 books I believe I can live without.  Most of them (I’m ashamed to admit) are pre-teen fiction in the form of the Full House series, and a thick stack of Garfield comic collections (though I’m keeping Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side).  I also included three novels I never want to see again, a couple of duplicates which I bought accidentally  (that’s how out of control this habit is), and a very pedantic textbook IUK wouldn’t buy back called The Spectrum of Responsibility.  As cheaply as Half Price Books sells, I doubt they’ll pay much for them, but even if I only got $.50-$1.00 for each of them, that still might be enough to break even.  So I’m going to be brave and get rid of some books.  I may cry!

Update:  Selling books is sooooo not worth it.  It was heartbreaking.  I probably had upwards of $150 invested in those 32 books.  Know what they offered me for them all?  $13.  I ended up selling 31 of them for $12.  I just couldn’t bear to see a beautifully illustrated hardcover edition of Anne of Avonlea go for $1.  I know they’re a dime a dozen; I checked it out on Abebooks last night.  But I couldn’t stand it.  I’m pretty sure it was a gift.  I’d scrawled my name in it at some point in my childhood.  So I pulled that one from the fire.  But I sold the rest.  The lady justified it by saying the Full House books would go directly to clearance or be donated.  But there were at least 10 Garfield collections in that stack, and they were going for $3 in the same store.  There was also a brand-new hardcover novel.  They sell books like that for $7-$10.  Seems like they could’ve done a little better than that.  They must be making a killing.  They’re certainly getting their money’s worth out of me.  I wound up with about $35 worth of merchandise, so I spent just over $20.  Didn’t even come close to breaking even.  Life is so disillusioning.  *sigh*

Becoming My Mother

December 21, 2009

Mommy, I finally understand what you’ve always meant by “managing your kitchen,” albeit on a smaller scale.  It hit me last night when I was taking a break from doing the dishes.  I was hungry, and normally when I’m hungry I think to myself, “What sounds good?”  Last night I looked in the fridge and instead thought, “What do I need to eat before it expires?”

Notes from Nürnberg

December 21, 2009

American exportation is everywhere.  It’s inescapable.  Every radio I hear blares American pop music.  Every train station I arrive at has a McDonald’s, a Burger King, or both.  The central train station in Munich has two Burger Kings.  Seriously.  They are literally within two minutes’ walking distance of each other.  Subway, Pizza Hut, KFC, Starbucks, they’re all here too.  It surprised me a little at first.  I knew these chains existed in other countries, of course; I just didn’t realize they operated on such a large scale.  Many of the Europeans I’ve spoken with say they abhor all these American chains, but someone must like them, because they’re booming.  So I’ve gradually gotten used to seeing the logos of American enterprises tucked in between the cozy Bavarian pubs, restaurants, and bakeries.  Then, just when I thought I couldn’t be surprised by my own country anymore, I went to Nürnberg last Saturday and saw the very last American chain I ever expected to see:  a Sally’s Beauty Supply.  I stared at it as I walked by, thinking to myself, “What’s that doing here?”  I was a business major for Pete’s sake!  I took D 301 (International Business Environment).  It should come as no surprise to me that multi-national companies are so successful, but somehow it still does.  Guess I should have taken D 302 after all.  My professor is probably chortling somewhere.

At any rate, someone else can have the burgers.  I’m too busy enjoying all the excellent German food.  I had a fantastic dish at a restaurant not far from the Sally’s Beauty Supply.  It was seared turkey pieces cooked in a sherry-mushroom cream sauce and served with spätzle.  It was so delectable it would have been sinful if I hadn’t spent the whole day walking off the calories.  The flavor of the sauce reminded me of another dish I love.  My Peruvian readers may remember Grant Street Bar & Grill, which has sadly been closed for a few years now.  They had a seared fillet of beef in a brandy-mushroom cream sauce on their menu.  It was delicious.  So tender and flavorful.  Okay, I’ve got to switch topics now.  I’m making myself hungry.

As I’m sure you’ve all noticed, angst over swine flu is everywhere.  Upon arrival, I received not one, but two tip sheets from the school about how to avoid it, and what to do if I thought I might have it (See a doctor and don’t come to school.  Logical, no?).  Many restrooms now have pages of instructions on how to avoid it tacked on the wall, all with the same basic theme:  wash your hands.  One hopes people do that anyway, but maybe that’s being overly optimistic.  Anyway, not to be left out of this furor, the shopkeepers in Nürnberg are also taking appropriate precautionary measures.  See below:

A Fortnight and a Half of Miscellanea

December 13, 2009

Sorry for being MIA so long; it’s been a stressful week on several fronts, but I’m ready to get caught up now.  Over the years, I’ve gotten in the obsessively frequent habit of writing long notes and lists for myself to remind me of things I don’t wish to forget.  This can be a blessing and a curse.  I’ve been keeping a detailed list of things to blog, and it’s starting to get long, so now I’m going to plunge in and purge it all at once.  Here goes.

A Concert

A little over three weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a classical concert.  The music was by Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Bartók, and was performed by Die Münchner Philharmoniker, with piano solos by Alice Sara Ott.  It was unbelievable.  I’d had a rough day, and was feeling down on myself because I wasn’t picking up German as fast as I would’ve liked.  All things school-related have always come relatively easy to me with minimum effort, and learning German has proved to be something of an educational ego bruiser at times (which is probably a good thing).  At any rate, I felt much better after the concert.  The music was so powerful and uplifting, and the piano soloist was unbelievable.  She was only 21, and she played everything from memory with perfect precision.  There wasn’t a single key on that piano that she didn’t use.  She extracted every note, every sound possible from the instrument.  It was incredible.

A Castle, A Tangle, and a Pastry

The following weekend, I visited Schloss Neuschwanstein with a group from school.  I’d already seen it once in 2007 and, having forgotten how strenuous the walk up to the castle is, I decided to go back.  I was under the weather that day, having just come down with a sinus condition of some sort, and the mountain climbing required to reach the castle just about did me in.  I decided early on that my second tour of Neuschwanstein would very likely be my last.  But that aside, it is quite amazing once you get there, and I do recommend seeing it if you’re ever in Deutschland.  The train trip was two hours each way, but we had plenty to keep us occupied.  One of the students from Finland often knits socks during our train trips.  She had acquired a giant pink ball of discount yarn somewhere, and it had quickly morphed itself into one big knot.  I offered to help her with it, and three of us spent the entire trip down and back untangling it and rolling it into balls for her.  I told her afterward that she owed us all a pair of socks.  🙂  I don’t know why yarn and thread skeins are always like that, but whenever I do needlework, I seem to spend as much time untangling as I do stitching.  I was interested to learn that needlework is often taught in European schools.  Perhaps if I’d studied here, I wouldn’t have been considered such a nerd.  Oh well.  Speaking of balls, I also tried a new sweet that day, a specialty from Rothenburg ob der Tauber called a Schneeball (snowball).  It was basically a wad of pie crust about the size of a baseball with various flavored glazes.  I chose coconut.  It was interesting.  It tasted good, but as desserts go, it was a little on the dry side.  And messy.  I left a Hänsel-type trail of crumbs through Füssen.

Boys…

…will be boys.  Case in point, a recent outing in Augsburg, where the men of BWS enjoyed the latest marketing strategy from Vodafone.

A Random Act of Kindness

Late one evening I was standing in front of a ticket machine in the subway station, trying to figure out which ticket I needed to get me home.  You can purchase multiple types of public transportation tickets for various time frames and areas.  Normally I buy a weekly ticket for central Munich, and then I’m covered, but that week I hadn’t for some reason.  Anyway, a woman who was leaving the station asked me if I needed a ticket, and then gave me hers.  She’d bought one that morning which was good for a whole day of travel within Munich and outlying areas, and was apparently finished with it, so I got to ride home for free that night.  It was such a thoughtful thing to do.  I really appreciated her kindness.

Random Acts of Unkindness

With the notable exception of the waiters in Hofbräuhaus (who I think have spent too much time with drunk tourists; they all need vacations from the service industry), most everyone I’ve met in Germany has been infinitely congenial and good-natured.  Whether they be teachers, retail personnel, or random people on the street they are, as a rule, friendly, cordial and helpful.  Of course, there are exceptions.  The Monday after I arrived, my first day of school, I was standing in Sendlinger-Tor-Platz with my sheaf of Google directions, trying in vain to locate Hauptfeuerwache.  A young blonde twerp dressed “punk” style, perhaps 13 or so, walked by with another boy.  He ran his fingertips over my elbow and said “dicke,” and he and his friend walked away laughing.  Mind you, I didn’t understand much German at that point, but I knew what “dicke” meant.  Fat.  Not cool.  I was reminded of that incident on the night of the great gelatin debate.  As we were walking to the grocery store, we met two large, boisterous Italian men who were playing with a dog.  One stepped sideways to allow us to pass, then yelled something after us in Italian (which, as I later learned, begins with “b” and ends with “itches” when translated to English).  Fabiana threw some irate-sounding Italian back over her shoulder at him, then explained what had happened.  I have no idea what we did to irritate the man, but seeing as he’d just exited a pub, I imagine he was three sheets to the wind.  Or maybe he was just a jerk.  It happens.  But looking on the positive side, I’ve been in a foreign country for 7 weeks now and had only two unpleasant encounters, which are more than balanced out by dozens of pleasant ones.  Mercifully, the scales tip heavily to the favorable side.  I love it here.

Yet Another Grocery Rumination

I’m sure you’re all getting tired of reading about the novelty of grocery shopping in a foreign country (what is this, the fifth time?).  If so, feel free to skip this section, because I’ve found this subject to be a deep well of curiosities, wonderment and cultural contrast.  The typical American supermarket is a massive complex with infinite variety.  The choices for every product are endless (perhaps sometimes excessive).  Most of our grocery stores cannot be called “minimalist” in any sense of the word.  Even the biggest, most diverse grocery stores here carry only a fraction of the choices the average American could expect to find as a matter of course.  Products that have entire aisles all to themselves in the states (breakfast cereals, chips and baking products, for example) have only a moderate rack or a few shelves dedicated to them here.  Instead of fifty choices, you’ll have five or ten.  Or one or two.  But in contrast, there are also areas here which offer much more variety (and sometimes more quality).  Meats and cheeses, for example.  At home, we combine the two with a few inedible noodle salads and prepared foods and call it “the deli.”  In larger supermarkets here, meats and cheeses have separate counters, and they are massive.  Instead of two kinds of salami, there are a dozen or so.  My favorite example of quality and variety here is the chocolate.  Galeria Kaufhof has a section the size of Rhode Island dedicated to chocolate.  I reveled in this the Monday before last when I went shopping for an advent calendar.  There were dozens to choose from, and they weren’t the cheap, flimsy affairs with small lumps of milk chocolate one finds in the states.  Well, some were, but most weren’t.  Most were gourmet chocolates from well-known candy makers such as Lindt.  One calendar could cost up to 30 Euros.  I went with a middling one for 15.  Perhaps it was a little steep for what is, essentially, a glorified 24-piece box of chocolates, but I haven’t been disappointed.  Every new day reveals a little piece of sweet, chocolaty bliss.  Merry Christmas to me!  I may be “dicke,” but at least I’m jolly!

St. Nikolaus Cometh

Speaking of jolly, we must have been good students, because St. Nikolaus and his… umm… “unique” angelic assistant paid BWS a visit last Friday, and we all got some goodies.

 

I’m so cool, too bad I’m a loser…

November 30, 2009

That’s the first line of the Barenaked Ladies song, “Falling for the First Time.”  I’m normally not into popular music.  My iPod is filled with what Harvey Reid calls un-pop:  a mixture of classical, folk and musical soundtracks, with a few other oddities thrown in here and there.  But while working at Bath & Body Works and being forced to listen to the same annoying CD on a repeating loop every day until the next one arrived, I fell in love with “Falling for the First Time.”  The lyrics of that particular song just really struck a chord (har!) with me.  After hearing it maybe half a dozen times, I had the whole thing memorized and had worked out a harmony part for myself.  Every time it came on, I sang along, provided there were no customers in the store (which in the Logansport Mall was usually the case).  I eventually wound up buying the CD.  I just love the lyrics; they’re a perfect metaphor for how I’ve felt most of my life, which is to say out of place, out of touch, and utterly misunderstood within the realm of my peer group.  It’s a wistful song of contradictions and confusion:  of sometimes feeling helplessly out of control.  But in some strange way that’s difficult to pinpoint, it’s also a little hopeful.  Just like me.

We learned a charming little concept in 7th grade science:  “Diversity is normal.”  It’s a nice thought, and when asked, anyone would tell you they agree.  Das stimmt.  But in reality, I fear most people rarely think on such terms.  They believe they do, but they don’t.  Everyone, to some degree, has personal biases and opinions that they define as “normal.”  If you don’t conform, you’re weird.  Crazy.  Abnormal.

I bring all this up because these thoughts and feelings I’ve always mulled over to myself were prominent in my mind this past weekend.  Fabiana took a long weekend and went home.  She invited me to go, but I would’ve had to miss school for a couple of days, so I decided to wait and visit her over Christmas break.  I was so desperate for companionship after my lonely Thanksgiving that I wound up spending both Friday and Saturday night with large groups of other students.  I tried to like the smoky bars.  I tried to like the music so loud you couldn’t hear yourself think, let alone converse with anyone.  I really did try, but I just couldn’t.  The other students may well think I’m nuts (or anti-social), but I simply can’t enjoy myself in that kind of environment.  Everyone is so kind; they always make every effort to include me.  I genuinely  appreciate their thoughtfulness, but I just can’t get into it.  Every time someone invites me somewhere along those lines, I think, “How bad could it be?”  And every time, I wind up sitting quietly and miserably with my own thoughts, which are usually along the lines of “I’d so much rather be in bed with a good book right now.”  I’m just going to have to stick to quieter activities; that’s all there is to it.  Or maybe I should have my head examined.  Think any of Freud’s descendents are still practicing?