Tiny Ring Adventures: Paris, part 1

EiffelTower_tra
Eiffel Tower

I am currently in Paris and visiting as many sights as I can in the 3.5 days I have here. If you’re on my Tumblr or Instagram, you may have noticed a new (and probably a little strange) photo series popping up, so I thought I would take a chance to explain it a bit while I’m taking a short break in the middle of my day.

Seine
Seine

#tinyringadventures was inspired by this ring that the little girl I au pair for gave me. Whenever you watch children, you find tiny reminders of them absolutely everywhere. I discovered this ring in a pocket of my bag when I was unpacking in my room my first night in Paris. Tiny Girl is obsessed with photos, and when I go anywhere without her, I constantly get questions about where I’m going. I thought this would be a fun way to catalog those adventures and maybe eventually create a small photo album for her.

Versailles
Versailles

As I’m starting to feel more and more like part of the family I work for, I fully intend on continuing this photo series even after my following year is completed as a way to stay in contact with them.

Hall of Mirrors in Versailles
Hall of Mirrors in Versailles

My Tumblr and Instagram just have the ring photos, but as I want to create memories of my travels, I’ll be including an in-focus photo of the location behind the ring in my blog posts. This makes the adventures fully about the sights and experiences of the traveling, which in my opinion is one of the most important parts of any trip

A Reflection

When I started this blog, I fully intended on writing at least twice a week. Once a week would have even been a decent goal. Writing one time twenty days ago does not really fit those intentions.

I’ve had the week off  thanks to the family I work for leaving on holiday. I treasure this quiet time more than I ever imagined I would. I get hours to spend skyping friends and family back home, all the time I can dream of to write, and a quiet house to myself. Just as an example, I typically wake up in between 6 and 6:30 for work, but I got to sleep in until 11 today. I had a lazy lunch complete with a bowl full of mango and pineapple left over from a late-night snack last night, played some music as loud as I wanted and actually sang along, and now I’m out on the second floor balcony watching the sun set while I drink a coffee and get more writing in. While I was cooking up an easy dinner (mozzarella and pesto grilled cheese- hooray simplicity!), it occurred to me that I have been living in Germany for exactly 6 months today.

When I first moved here, I didn’t know a single person. I knew the smallest handful of words, but nothing that would be helpful in communicating with any German speaker. Most importantly, I had never lived further than a day’s drive away from home and had no idea what living in another country would entail. Although I know many people probably saw this move as a way to escape from reality and the problems that had been haunting me for a few years back in the states, I truly believe it was the best decision I could have ever made for a multitude of reasons, including these:

  1. I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone
    • When you move to another country, you leave your old life and habits behind. I’ve always been an extremely picky eater, as any of my family members can attest to. While I realize trying new foods may not be a big issue, it’s a huge one for me. I eat more vegetables on a daily basis now than I did in several months back in the states (but no mom, I still cannot stand broccoli). I’ve also had to learn to put myself out there in terms of getting to know people. As a textbook introvert, small talk and making the first move when trying to meet people are two of the most uncomfortable things I can imagine doing. However, not knowing anybody meant that I needed to put myself out there and make friends. I’m just happy the people I met felt inclined to invite me along when they went out.
  2. I’ve become more financially responsible
    • I’ve said this before, but an au pair makes a very very small paycheck. The job is more about experiencing life in another country than building wealth, which I was aware of getting into it, but what I wasn’t aware of was how expensive it is to live in one of the biggest cities in the country. I typically spend at least two days or nights a week doing something in the city, so I’ve had to really learn to budget my money to allow for all of the dinners and drinks spent out with friends.
  3. I’ve expanded my world view
    • When you move out of your country for the first time, especially one as present in the media as the United States, you get a lot of different responses when you tell people where you are from. You get all sorts of questions about your opinions on every topic imaginable, and it can come as a bit of a culture shock when you have to explain certain beliefs or practices that are commonly welcomed in the states. As just a singular example, when the American spy discovered in the German parliament scandal broke, I really had to put myself into the German mindset to understand how they must be feeling. Perhaps it can be attributed to our history in the Cold War or the overwhelming obsession that Hollywood seems to have with espionage, but while discovering spies in a government-type environment was a bit shocking, it didn’t seem like a huge deal overall. However, the German experience with spy networks was very different than the American one because of the division of the country after the second world war, but it wasn’t something I had ever really thought of until living here and seeing how private most of the German lifestyle is.
  4. I’m learning to be more independent
    • While I’m still not very proficient in the German language, I can understand enough to survive at a grocery store, restaurant, or wandering around town. I’ve learned how to navigate public transport better than I had imagined seeing as I had never lived with public transportation prior to six months ago. I can figure out solutions to my problems easier than I knew possible, and traveling by myself is an incredibly exhilarating experience. shameless plug- make sure you’re following my instagram in the next few weeks as I get to visit Paris, Lugano, and Alaska!
  5. I’m happy
    • I haven’t written much about this on this blog, but until late last year, I had been struggling with severe depression for several years. It caused me a myriad of problems, including extreme weight gain, terrible body image, staying in unhealthy relationships, and just a general dismal outlook on every aspect of my life. While moving halfway across the world isn’t the only positive change I’ve made in my life since last year, it’s certainly one of the biggest. I’m still working through some of those issues, but I believe completely removing myself from that atmosphere was a huge help. Even though being an au pair definitely isn’t in my future for several years, I am appreciative of the lessons I’m learning through all of this hard work, and I know that the discipline I’m learning will pay off for the rest of my life. I’m growing up, and I’m happy in the direction that growth is taking me.
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A cloudy day in the old Frankfurt city center

listening to: Ed Sheeran

This Land is My Land

I’ve never really experienced homesickness before. Granted, I’ve never lived out of the country for over five months, but I also don’t have much for me back in the states. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have anything at home for me, because there are a few people I wish I could see on a regular basis more than anything, but for the most part, I’m overjoyed to be living in another country. However, the holiday that is approaching tomorrow is making me wish I could just be back in the states for one day.

Funny enough, this is my second Independence Day spent in Germany. It was nine years ago, and I was over here for three weeks with a church youth group. On this day, the hosts that we were staying with organized a small “American” party for us complete with popcorn and National Treasure (because nothing is more American than a little Nick Cage). I think the difference is that nine years ago, I was with a large group of friends I had known for years and we were all in the same boat. This time, I’m not the lone American, but there aren’t as many of us, and I’ve been here for a lot longer than my previous trip.

When it boils down to it, I think it’s more of the feeling I get around this time of year that I miss more than my actual home country. I miss the patriotism, the sense of pride, the flags absolutely everywhere. I miss everyone grilling out, wearing red, white, and blue, and just being surrounded by friends or family. Most of all, I miss the fireworks.  I know it’s probably a silly thing to miss out of all the possible things to miss, but I’ve always loved the 4th of July fireworks and what they symbolize. The lyrics of our national anthem were written during a battle in the early days of America and were inspired by a flag that continued to fly throughout the gunfire and bombings that took place overnight. The fireworks are a symbol of that consistency and strength, which I just rather beautiful.

Homesickness is something that I may figure out better words for at a later date. I’ve been avoiding blogging lately because I just can’t seem to find the voice I want through a computer anymore, but I know that just writing something is better than nothing. Thankfully, there aren’t too many readers yet, so hopefully you’ll be nice and stick with me through this little slow patch while I get my typing voice back.

If you need me tomorrow, find the biggest fireworks display in the area and you’ll find me on the grass with my camera, gazing up at the sky in wonder.

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listening to: Paul Sammons

What do you do?

When I started telling people I was moving to Germany to work as an au pair for a year, the most common response was a blank look. It turns out, the term “au pair” isn’t one that many people in the states are familiar with. In simple terms, it’s basically just someone who provides childcare. In a bit more detail, an au pair is someone who helps out around the house and acts as a older sibling figure in the family they work for. Au pairs are most commonly found in Europe, where the job originated. Every country has different restrictions and regulations, so it’s hard to give a ton of specifics. I can, however, give a breakdown of what an au pair position can look like in Germany

  1. It is part-time: German regulations stipulate that an au pair can only work for 30 hours a week and get at least one day off per week (at least once a month, that day should be a Sunday). This means that I only work 5 hours a day during a normal work week, or 6 hours if I happen to get the full weekend off. In all reality, I probably work closer to 40 hours a week, but those hours are pretty difficult to regulate when you’re right in the middle of the week. I also get 4 weeks of paid vacation time for the year, but that’s something to expect for any job in Germany.
  2. The work is not just child care: On top of watching two children under the age of 4, I also take care of laundry for the family and keep the kitchen relatively clean. I don’t have to do any heavy-duty cleaning since the family I work for employs a housekeeper on Fridays, but cleaning dishes after every meal is something that usually falls under my duties. I also occasionally do the grocery shopping and do some photography/computer work for the family.
  3. While the pay is low, the benefits are nice: Au pairs easily make less than minimum wage if you just look at the spending money you receive per month- €260 in Germany, which roughly translates to $355 in the US at time of publication (that’s about $2.95 per hour). However, that money is just spending money. Families are required by law to provide full health care/insurance, and free room and board. My family also pays for my monthly train pass, half of my language class, and makes sure to buy me some special food at the grocery store they wouldn’t normally purchase (we’re talking peanut butter, top quality cheddar cheese, and the most delicious greek yogurt I’ve ever encountered, people!). Overall, a €260 allowance isn’t too shabby if you learn to budget your money properly.
  4. It’s also a cultural exchange program: As I noted in my last point, the family I work for paid for half of my first language class. Part of moving to another country is to be submerged in the culture of that country. This means learning the language, eating the food, practicing the customs (which obviously means beer-tasting in Germany if that’s something you’re into), and meeting locals. This is something my host family has been great about- they’re constantly encouraging me to go out and explore and are always willing to let me take time off to see the friends I’ve made in the city.

There’s no denying that working as an au pair can be very challenging, but I think the pros outweigh the cons any day. I was incredibly lucky to find the family I did, which has been the main reason why this job has been so enjoyable so far, so if you ever consider becoming an au pair, make sure to be pretty selective when it comes to picking a family.

Part of my daily duties is to walk with the baby in the mornings. I never turn down a walk along the river
Part of my daily duties is to walk with the baby in the mornings. I never turn down a walk along the river.

listening to: The Neighbourhood

Always Writing

Given my blogging history the past several months, it may not look like it, but writing has almost become a compulsion for me. Back in December, I was on the phone with a close friend of mine, explaining what had been going on in my life and why I was making so many monumental changes. He listened to me share my disappointments, frustrations, hopes, and future plans and then he said, “make sure to keep all of your adventures written down. I may want to write a film script for it one day.” While I have no doubt that he’ll eventually make the big leagues in terms of theater and the performing arts (this guy can sing and dance and act like nobody’s business), a movie about my life obviously sounds way too far fetched. Nevertheless, I got some journals and started writing.

My first entry was on the plane ride over to Germany. I had had an emotional month in Texas before moving and I felt like I had poured a bit of my soul out onto the 10 pages or so I wrote. I’ve always been one of those girls that writes in a journal once and then forgets about it, so it’ll come as no surprise when I say that I didn’t write again for over a month. I did carry it with me in hopes that inspiration would strike again, but I just never felt like writing.

It must be something about plane rides, because on the flight from Israel back to Germany, I pulled out a pen and my journal and started writing again. I was listening to Ani DiFranco’s 32 Flavors and if you’ve ever listened to her, you know her lyrics can move you in ways that many artists fall short of

“I am 32 flavors and then some. And I’m beyond your peripheral vision so you might want to turn your head cause someday you’re gonna get hungry and eat most of the words you just said”

It got me thinking about how everyone has multiple facets to their personality and we don’t truly know someone just by getting to know the basics. You have to invest time and energy into getting to know someone if you want to understand them. Obviously, I’m now running off on a topic that’s better saved for another time, but as you can imagine, I wrote most of the flight back.

After that, I began writing at least once a day. It’s become one of those things where I almost feel unsettled if I don’t get my thoughts out on paper for the day. I had a friend tell me recently that if you do something every day for 30 days, it becomes a habit. The way I see it, writing isn’t too terrible of a habit to have. In fact, it’s been a wonderful way to see what has become a priority in my everyday life. I can look back at what I’ve written for the past couple of months and find the common themes and patterns, which is helpful in any sort of emotional healing process. With almost 200 pages written in the past two months, there’s a lot I’ve been able to learn about myself.

One thing I always do when I write is listen to music. Music has always been an important part of my life and my thoughts seem to flow freer when I’ve got something on in the background. If you’ve read my past couple of posts, you may have noticed some italicized words at the bottom. That’s the music I listened to as I wrote my post. My writing style tends to change with the type of music I’m listening too, and I find it fascinating to notice patterns like that. I do the same thing in my journals; music leads my thoughts in different directions and some lyrics inspire new ideas, so it’s been an interesting experience to be able to follow all of that through the music.

I suppose the reason for posting this is to say yes, I am writing. No, it might not all be made public, but I’m hoping to transfer some of my journaled thoughts to blog posts eventually. I find that I write much more openly and easier with a pen and paper than typing words out on a keyboard, but I think that some of the ideas floating around in my brain are worth sharing, so I’m going to do my best to share a few of them when I get the chance.

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A lot of my writing happens looking out on this river from my patio. If that doesn’t inspire a person, I don’t know what will

listening to: john butler trio