Friday, August 30, 2013

Coming Home

I have noticed that I use the word "home" quite a lot, and a casual listener might be rather confused since I have several different places I refer to as "home".  So I've been thinking often about what home is, what it means, and where it is.

A funny incident happened at the Stuttgart airport a few weeks ago as the Sheboygan and Esslingen students were checking in at the Delta counter for our flight to Wisconsin, which illustrates how the term "home" can lead to confusion. The six Sheboygan students and their chaperone had just finished their three weeks in Esslingen, and the six Esslingen students and I were joining them on the flight back to spend three weeks in Wisconsin. During those silly security questions one is asked before flying into the U.S., one of the Sheboygan students was asked where he packed his suitcase. He said, "At home."  The interrogator asked if he was from Germany, and the lad said, "No, from America."  "Then what do you mean you packed your suitcase 'at home'?" inquired the confused woman.   "Oh," the lad said, "I meant at my German home."  I thought that was precious - after only three weeks, this American boy was already referring to his host family's home as "home".

In my 44 years of life I have lived in thirteen places, including an Air Force base apartment, several houses, a host family's home, a college dorm, a duplex, and a condo.  Martin, in contrast, has lived in four. Although he is just one example, Germans do tend to move around less frequently than Americans. We are both fairly certain that the count stops here, because our next planned move is to a grassy plot in the churchyard several blocks away.

Since I've moved here, I have referred to returning to Wisconsin as "going home" several times. That doesn't feel right, because my home is here now. As soon as I arrive in Wisconsin, "home" is Bildechingen.  Sometimes, though, "home" is my parents' house, where I stay while in Wisconsin.  I might be running errands with my mom when she asks, "Do you want to stop at Kohl's?"  "No," I say, "Let's just go home and get dinner started."  My parents live in a house that was never my home because I never lived there (they moved out of my childhood home about 13 years ago), and yet one definition of "home" for me is where my parents live.

I'd say my hometown is Sheboygan, Wisconsin, because I grew up there. I spent seventeen of my adult years in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, but now that I have left, I do not feel that town is "home".

So what is "home"?

  "Home is where the heart is."
      Yeah, ok. Too sappy for me. My heart is occasionally buried deep in the Zwiebelrostbraten I'm eating, which is too delicious for description.

  "Home is the nicest word there is." ~Laura Ingalls Wilder
      For many people, maybe. Not so for many, many others.

  "Home is a place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." ~Robert Frost, "The Death of the Hired Man"
      There's great truth in that one, though again, I don't think it fits as a universal definition.

Perhaps it is just not that easy to define. Some say that home is the people we love. In her novel, What Happened to Goodbye, Sarah Dessen wrote, "“Home wasn't a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.” "  I've never read that or any other book by Dessen, but the definition seems appropriate to an extent. However, my parents have a cottage in northern Wisconsin where the immediate and extended family has gathered many times and we've made lots of memories, but I've never called it "home".

In the end, I'd have to say that "home" for me is where I feel I belong. Where I am most comfortable, where the coffee tastes just right, where the bed is the most comfortable, and where love and gratitude thrive.  That, for me, is here in Bildechingen. I appreciate the time I get to spend with family and friends in Wisconsin, the coffee is fine, the bed is comfortable enough, and there is definitely gratitude and love.  But after several trips this year - even day trips to Esslingen - I know that this is my home. I love the view I have of Horb as the train pulls into the station (it's the background image of my blog), and I can't help but grin at the warm fuzzy feeling every time I return. This is our house, our garden, our street, and our town.  And our home.

August Pause/Break

I should have posted this earlier, but for anyone who has been wondering if I have given up on my blog, I have not. I was in Wisconsin for three weeks as a chaperone to six fabulous middle-school students from Esslingen, who took part in the People to People Sheboygan(-Esslingen) Chapter short-stay exchange program.  I was busy with activities with this group, catching up with friends, spending time with family, and doing a little bit of shopping.  I didn't really have time to write, though I gathered a lot of material for future posts.

Right now I am working on recovering from jet lag and trying to fight the strong urge to lie down and nap (so far in two days I have failed four times at that), but soon I'll have another post. It shouldn't be more than a few days.

Friday, August 2, 2013


Today is projected to be the hottest day of the summer in Germany, at least so far. It will get up to 36° (98.6° F) with high humidity. Many are heading to a beach, river, lake, Schwimmbad, or local fountain to cool off, some are filling blow-up pools in their yards, and others toughing it out and going about their regular business.

Central air in public places (including stores, restaurants, and movie theaters) and in homes is not common here, so going shopping on a beastly hot day can be a rather miserable experience for someone like me who hates shopping even when it's a comfortable temperature. So today, I'm pulling a Hemingway and staying home, inside, in the dark, alone.

In our former house in Wisconsin, a day like this would be awful inside without the central air running. The heat permeated through every window and wall of the house. But our house here is made mainly of concrete, and the temperature inside takes longer to change. Granted, it does get very stuffy when the windows are closed, which is why even in the chilliest part of winter we need to turn off the heat and open all the windows for 10 minutes or so to move the air around every few days.

But this blog post is about Rolladen.

If not for the Rolladen, the sun would be heating the bedroom like a sauna

These things are amazing. Judging from the movie "The Holiday," rich people in California have these on their windows, but I never knew anyone in Wisconsin who had them.  "Rolladen" translates to simply "shutters," but they are so much more than the shutters I knew of in Wisconsin, which were decorative rather than functional.  These puppies roll down from a hidden pocket in the wall above the window and close out as much light as I want to. If I want to leave room for some air to get in, I close it most of the way, leaving an inch or so of space at the bottom, which also leaves cracks open between the slats. If I need to sleep in the middle of the day, I can close the Rolladen all the way and make the bedroom dark as a catacomb.

In the living room a little air can get through, but there's not much moving today anyway.

All of our windows have these, so on a day like today, I have closed all of them on the east, west, and south sides of the house, and every room is - at least for the moment - a very comfortable temperature. It's not too warm, and not at all too cold. I swear, the heat and humidity in Wisconsin feels even worse than it is because so many places are chilled like an ice box with air conditioning. I can't go anywhere on the hottest day in Sheboygan without bringing a sweatshirt along, because I feel like a bag of shock-frozen peas when I step through the front doors of a store, restaurant, or friend's house.

I think the body deals better with consistency than extreme and sudden changes. The Germans are convinced of this. Many, many times I have heard Germans say that they frequently get sick in the States in the hot summer, which they attribute to constantly going out into the heat, back into an icebox...out into the heat, back into an icebox.  Just today on the morning news show, people were being interviewed and asked how they will deal with the heat. One woman said it's best to drink warm liquids like tea and coffee because it's less of a shock to the body, and drinking cold beverages makes one sweat more in the heat. I don't know if that's true, but that may very well be why American tourists often say that the beer (and soda)  in Germany is served warm. It's not warm - it's just not chilled to the degree that it is in the U.S..

So anyway, I'll stay inside and relax today (I cleaned the house yesterday, so I don't even have any chores to do except for garden work, which doesn't sound tempting at the moment). I'm keeping the lights off, too, because they produce enough heat to defeat the purpose of keeping the Rolladen down.  I might watch a movie if I can figure out how to turn on the darn system, which has 6 components and 12 remotes...

I'd read, but it's too dark.