Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I am going to lose this game.

It's not a question of "if", but a question of "when" I'm going to lose the minimalism game. My brother texts me to say things like, "I had a few minutes yesterday, so I got rid of a hundred things." My mother is disposing of so many things that she matches them up with the day: 23 books get listed on the 23 day, and 16 charges get listed on the 16 day. I'm still managing to cull my possessions, but I have so much less than them to begin with. On the other hand, as I say to everyone, if I lose, I still win. My family is getting rid of possessions!
It's almost spring here. The leaves are budding, and if we get a couple of warm days, the trees will green up. I'm so excited to be in the garden that I've run out of things to do. I've planted the cold weather crops, cleanup the leaf cover, hauled two car-loads of compost from the city compost center to my garden, and planted tomatoes indoors. I've also seen my first mosquito, another (less-welcome) sign of spring.
The vegetable larder is starting to get empty, and I'm actually quite grateful. I was thrilled to eat from my garden so late into the year, but I'm also a bit weary of frozen vegetables. I've still got enough green peppers and tomatoes to carry me into June, but I can start buying things from the store with a clean conscience. Last week I was so excited to buy fresh things that I went a bit overboard, so it'll be salads every day for me this week.
My parents will be visiting in three weeks, just in time for my father to help me deal with a long list of repair projects. My bike has been rattling for weeks, and can't figure out how to install my new bike lights. I also had a slight (slow and not dangerous) encounter with a concrete post, resulting in some scratches on my car. It's nothing too serious, except that a panel near the driver's door was slightly bent and it would be better if I didn't open the driver's side door until it's fixed. So, for the next there weeks, I'll be crawling in on the passenger's side.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Let the game begin

     I've arrived back home just in time to start playing the Minimalism Game. In the end, most of my family was willing to play along. My brother announced, "The competition has begun" and made this handy spreadsheet, so anyone can watch. (Although, now that I think about it, watching a spreadsheet has got to be like watching the most boring cricket game ever. There's only one play per person per day, and very few ways to foul someone.)
     I'm definitely the dark horse in this race. My parents and brother and sister-in-law both live in bigger houses, and have attics, storage sheds, and/or basements. On top of that, my brother has an uncanny ability to win games. As a kid, I quit playing Monopoly because it's no fun if there's not even a chance that you'll win. At the very least, though, I can help spur the rest of them on to success.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Language skills

     I have been alternately delighted with my ability to read and understand spoken German and horrified by my inability to speak. I can't remember noun genders or a lot of vocabulary, and I have a strong accent. If I had a few more weeks, I'm sure I could improve, but for now I'm muddling through. I've been able to watch TV, listen to German audio tours, and generally make my way through day- to-day life.
     When I first arrived, my apartment was very cold. I turned on the radiators, but after six hours, they still weren't warm. I sent an email to the landlady, and early the next morning, I was awoken by the heating repairman. An hour later he was done. He explained what he fixed, and told me to turn the thermostat up higher. Happy with the heat, I thanked the landlady. It turns out, though, that she didn't send him and she didn't think that the heater was broken, just that I didn't know how to use the thermostat.
     I think that if my German were a bit better, I would now know who this guy was, what exactly he fixed, and how he ended up in my apartment. In this case, it's likely to remain a mystery.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Costly repairs

     I crammed a lot of museum trips into the start of the week so I'd be able to visit a nearby national park today. This park is so close that you can take the tram to it, and it's filled with stunning rock formations. Alas, we had what the Germans call "Scheißwetter" today. I was  willing to brave some cold weather for good scenery, but when they predicted sleet it sounded a while lot less fun.
     Instead, I walked around the city, ate even more torte, and went to a movie. That's the first time I've been inside a movie theater in the past two years; it's just not something I think to do very often. But the movie, based on an Asterix and Obelix comic, is not one that I'm likely to see in America, and I was pretty delighted to have something warm to do that wasn't a museum.
     Waking around Dresden, I'm continually awed by how much money must have been poured into this city. The Old City was mostly destroyed in 1945, and although a few mammoth Soviet-style bunker-like buildings went up, a lot of the rubble just stayed put. After Reunification, the city, like much of the former East, was a huge construction zone. They rebuilt castles, churches, and other public buildings using the original materials in the original style. The baroque Frauenkirche cost close to €200 million alone.If I stop to think about it, most city skyscapes represent billions of dollars. Its just that, in Dresden, all that money was spent in two decades.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dresden history

     Before I left, my friend T asked what I was planning to do in Dresden. In fact, his question was, "I don't quite know how to say this, but what is Dresden known for, besides being bombed?" Well, a fair bit actually. Dresden was the capital of Saxony and a leading European city, but it gained importance in the late 1600s,  when its ruler, Augustus the Strong, also became the King of Poland. Augustus followed the lead of the Sun King, and made Dresden a cultural capital, building vast baroque palaces, buying art, and supporting the sciences.
     Augustus' heirs followed his lead, and the museums here are excellent. I have visited three art museums and two treasure vaults. I've been looking at paintings from Vermeer, Raphael, Rubens and Dürer until I'm dreaming of Old Masters. The treasure vaults are collections of royal jewels, solid gold tea services, and pretty much any object that you could make completely unusable by encrusting it with precious metals, jewels, and crystal. It was amazing. Want to see a cherry pit carved with a 150 faces? They've got one, and only a king could afford it.
     My favorite museum, though, has been the Mathematics and Physics Salon. It's a collection of time pieces, measuring devices, and globes that were cutting age technology, back when they were made in the sixteen through eighteenth centuries. I'm pretty sure that I was the only person who spent three hours in those three rooms, but, hey, that's what happens when a physicist wanders into a physics museum.
     One quirky historical fact about Dresden (and the state if Saxony overall) is that was historically Protestant, being very close to where Martin Luther lived. Good old King Augustus (and his heirs) were Catholic, though, which was required so that they could rule Poland. Catholics, as a rule, had no rights in the entire state, except that the king was one. I don't know anywhere else where something like that happened.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Rediscovering Germany

     Except for a short visit in 2010, I haven't been in Germany for almost 20 years. Much of it is still familiar - the stone streets, the very thorough recycling system, even the unusual external window shutters that you roll up each morning.
     But there's also a lot that I didn't remember, and I'm enjoying discovering the country again.
* They really believe in fresh air here. It was 12C (54F) and people sat outside cafes with their coffee and kuchen. In fact, I saw an entire preschool class eating their lunch outside in the 50-degree weather, presumably so the kids would get extra "fresh air".
* It is not clear to me how the Germans drink enough water. I don't see people carrying water bottle, there are no drinking fountains, and water is not routinely served at restaurants. (You can order water, of course, but then it's your beverage, like a soda, not something that everyone automatically needs, like a napkin.)
*I have never eaten a bad piece of bread in Germany. Wait, I take that back- occasionally, there is this "Toastbrot", modeled on Wonder bread, that shows up. But left to their own devices, and not borrowing bad ideas from the Americans, German bread is excellent. It is a shame that it is not as well-appreciated as French loaves, because then maybe I could find it more often in the U.S.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

I'm off

     I have a blogging cousin who never announces when she's on vacation, for fear of alerting nefarious types that her apartment will be unattended (a totally valid concern, A!). I have less fear about that, because when I travel I leave behind a noisy dog and a bunch of neighbors with keys who all come by to check in the animals. In fact, it's possible that my house is more populated when I'm on vacation than otherwise.
     It was almost precisely five years ago that Andrew and I went to Germany. This time will be quite different, of course, since I'm alone. I expect to have a wonderful time, but I also know that there will be times when I miss him much more than usual, since it's my first non-family vacation without him.
     I'm also wondering if I'll come back with any ideas about my life. Frequently, vacations are a time when I can step back from my daily life and think about the bigger picture. Twice I have returned from a vacation or extended trip and broken up with my boyfriend at the time. Other times I've thought more carefully about what direction I'd like my career to take, or where I'd like to live. Maybe I'll come back with big ideas about what I should do next. Or maybe I'll simply come back exhausted from binge-watching dubbed reruns of Columbo*...

*I don't know if it's still the case, but the Germans loved Columbo when I was there. I know his German dubbed voice better than I know his real vice.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Snow days

DC hasn't had it nearly as bad as Boston, but the weather has been pretty wintery lately. The last two days were work-at-home days, which is what my organization does when it's too treacherous to ask people to commute. I get to work cozily at home, with the animals napping besides me. In the evenings, I head out for a long walk. On snow days, I can usually convince a friend or two to come along because they're tired of being housebound as well.
Ada dearly loves snow. Heck, she even likes sleet. As long as she can be outside, she's happy.
Photo credits to my friend J.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The minimalism game

     I live in an 800-square-foot* one-bedroom apartment . If you live in suburban Ohio, that seems pretty small, and if you live in New York City, that seems freakishly large for a single person. I tend more towards the latter opinion, because my previous apartment was half the size and had twice as many humans. I do revel in having so much space - my walls are not lined with furniture and I never feel like I'm bumping into things. But I also wonder if I really need to possess so many possessions.
     It's not always apparent, but I see that my belongings take my time. It takes time to clean and organize. It takes time to repair. It takes time to decide which ones I'll clear out so I can buy some new ones. I really prize my free time, and keeping an eye on my stuff is a way of keeping on eye on my free time. Having fewer things also means that I appreciate the things I do own, and the fact that stuff is so easily obtained in today's world. (For a fascinating read, check out The $3500 Shirt. I have been looking at my clothing in a new way since coming across it.)
     I called up my parents and asked if they want to join me in playing the minimalism game. You find a partner and compete to give up more stuff. My mother told me she was "rolling on the floor" at the idea that I have extra possessions to part with, and I couldn't convince either of them to join me. Does anyone else want to play with me? Everybody's a winner in this game - unless you throw out your spouse's prized childhood collectible. Then you're on your own.

*For my non-US friends: 240 square meters.75 square meters. (Corrected thanks to observant metric friends.)