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September 24, 2016

German Swag 101: Das Stadtbad

I had no idea a swimming pool could become my entire life.

I didn't even feel like I still needed a vacation after great experiences from April through July.

And yet, I ended up at the city swimming pool (das stadtbad) for hours on end nearly every single day for an entire month.

My friends would ask me what I had done all day.

"I went to the pool!" quickly became understood as code for, "I have been sleeping in the sun for over six hours!"

The stadtbad is literally the entire reason I was completely MIA from blogging since August.

It might be better comprehended when I explain that the last time I invested time in any sort of a tan line was in 2006. Last spring I was given the gift (or curse?) of a season pass to the city swimming pool.

I was not in Germany during May or July. But June, August, and the first two weeks of September were unlike any summer I have had in years.

I only had free time. If I actually had something to do, it only ever took about twenty minutes (washing dishes, doing laundry, whatever). Other things (like this blog and keeping in touch with people) totally fell by the wayside.

My priority was the pool, and the pool became my life.

I didn't think much of it in June. Marc and I would go and sometimes see some other people from our sporty jobs. But it was the off-season and most of our friends had returned to their homelands.

August started off slowly. Two of the days, I maybe saw ten total people the entire day. Then the vacations started ending, and the Germans were returning to Vilsbiburg, and back to the pool.

It was only when my foreign friends came back to Vilsbiburg (and the pool, of course), that I began to realize that everyone else at the pool came everyday, too.

The elderly couple that always set up their corner camp, swam their laps, and changed outfits at least three times.

The gymnasts who jumped off the high dives time after time, always wowing us with their crazy twists and flips, but always landing on their feet.

The older man clad in colorful speedo who clearly had been a professional diver at some point in his lifetime.

The ever-evolving group of young teenagers, and, by the end of the summer, it was obvious who was cool and who wasn't. This group also had two bleached blond-haired boys, one of whom always ran across our towels, and the other who was evidently the prince of the pool.

The group of a few excessively obese men smoking cigarettes.

The middle-aged man who diligently did the most loud and splashing butterfly stroke every morning.

The weird guy in Batman underwear briefs who always seemed to sit just close enough to listen to and laugh at my friends' conversations...but he never spoke to any of us.

The flirtatious twelve-year-old boy who made it his ambition to cannon ball right next to my friends and me when we were sitting on the edge of the pool.

The leathery blonde woman who always took up residency on the bench across the pool from us, and I wondered how many years it took her at that spot to look the way she does now.

And then...that group of lazy foreigners, always shouting strange words in English, Swedish, or accented German. They had their spot in front of the diving pool, where they cheered on the impressive jumps or made fun of the hilarious falls. Some of them even braved the high dives, and have the bruises and witnesses to prove it.

By the end of it all, we had gotten sucked into the vortex of life at the pool. I had to take a day off here and there just to remember that I had other clothes besides my bathing suit, and other people had real jobs inside of buildings.

Now the stadtbad is closed for the season, signalling the end of summer and lazy, long lounging days. My once-a-decade tan is already fading, and I am remembering what it's like to [sort of] have a job.

What's there to look forward to now that my pool life is in hibernation?

Finding the pool people in real life and pretending to be friends.

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September 20, 2016

Goodbye, Holland

Living in a foreign country means your life is constantly in flux. This can make everyday very exciting, but it can also mean that changes can pop up when least expected.

I had become very comfortable with my annual trip to the Netherlands for a week each August to coach the volleyball camp at the American school. After all, this was my fifth summer in a row, and I was now a coach who had been around since the high school players were all in middle school.

The volleyball coach at the school, Cat, is the reason I have been invited year after year to help with her camp. We became friends at a volleyball tournament in Paris and connected with our American volleyball perspectives. Of course, Cat was an expat, too, and now her family is moving back to the USA.

If I'm extremely fortunate, whoever the new coach may be next fall will still want to run a camp and will contact me. However, in the likelihood that will not happen, I am happy to say that my fifth - and, perhaps final - summer week in Holland was one for the books!

After many failed attempts in previous years to get any of my volleyball friends to come to the camp to coach with me, this summer, I was finally able to convince not one, but two of my best friends to spend the week in Wassenaar with me!

Having both Kia and Regi on their first trip to the Netherlands proved to be much more motivating to me to get out and do stuff. Kia and I spent Thursday in Gouda at the cheese market before Regi arrived. On Friday, we took a long walk around Wassenaar to many of the old places I discovered on my first trip there in 2012.

Saturday night we ventured into Amsterdam to wander the twilight streets and canals. Sunday through Tuesday found us at the miraculously sunny North Sea beach, and enjoying our meals lakeside at the Brasserie Buitenhuis.

And, yes, we did twenty hours of awesome volleyball coaching in between all of the fun outings.

I also brushed up on my European driving skills (albeit in a junky old automatic car), earned more tanning points at the beach, got to eat at the best Dutch pancake place at De Schulpwei, walked across shores made entirely of seashells, finally found the I Amsterdam sign, embraced Rotterdam for the first time, and had my favorite bagels at Bagels & Beans.

I am totally positive that this will not be my very last time in Holland. But I am realistic enough to understand that it was probably my last annual trip there that I could really count on and plan. Now I will just have to think much more in advance about any Dutch adventures I may want to embark upon.

It's more of a "goodbye for now," and a hope to be back in the Netherlands again someday soon.

MummyTravelswanderful wednesday
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September 13, 2016

Visit Gouda Cheese Market

If you're in Holland, and you like cheese, then Gouda is the perfect day trip from anywhere in the Netherlands!

The famous Gouda cheese market itself only happens on Thursdays during the summer months between the second week of April and the end of August. Last year, I lazed away on my free Thursday, thinking I could hop on over to Gouda any day of the week for a grand cheese experience - and then I was too late.

The market runs from 10:00am - 12:30pm, but I really recommend arriving early to get a good viewpoint - especially if it's pouring rain like it was the day my friend and I were able to go,

It is fun to watch the cheese people in action, but the best part of the market is the stalls selling cheese to normal people like us all around the main square. And by "selling" cheese, I also mean that they give out free samples of every kind of Gouda cheese ever.

We tried Goudas flavored with pesto, cumin, garlic, tomato, and walnut. Every taste was interesting and new, and we did a full round of taste-testing before settling on our purchases.

We decided to go with wedges of Gouda cumin and pesto because they were the craziest flavors of the day! My friend also got one of the colored rounds of regular Gouda and I added a few bites of other cheeses to the mix. We had a lot of great picnics that week!

Gouda doesn't need too much of your time, but it makes for a wonderful morning and early afternoon outing. The cheese market is one of the most unique experiences I have been a part of, and it's definitely worth going to if you like cheese! 

If you're on Instagram, you can connect with the new @ScooterSquatter handle! I hope you can hashtag #ScooterSquatter with us to be featured soon!

Linking up with Tin Box Traveller and Travel Loving Family on #MondayEscapes, Mummy Travels and Wander Mum on #CityTripping, and all the cool gals (Lauren, Van, Marcella, and Isabel) on #WanderfulWednesday!

MummyTravelswanderful wednesday
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September 6, 2016

Expat Issues: Where Are You From?

Oh, the dreaded question. 

"Hi, my name is <insert any name>. I'm from <insert anywhere>."

"Nice to meet you! I'm Christy, but please just call me Swags."

"Haha, okay! Where are you from?"

"Ummm..." I cringe and laugh, "California?"

My expression every single time.

Why does it always come out as a question?!
Please change the subject and don't ask...

"Oh cool! Whereabouts?"

It's not their fault they don't know how complicated this follow-up question is. Be nice.

Do I go simple and claim L.A. from my college years? Do I hope they've heard of any of the Northern California cities from my childhood between Auburn, Chico, and Redding? Will they appreciate my birthplace of Ohio, the quick six months in Washington state, or my one-year stint in Northern San Diego? Do my parents' recent addresses with all my stuff in storage count in Bakersfield and Visalia?

I turn to my usual answer, "Kind of all over."

At this point, the conversation glides seamlessly to where my interrogator has been in California, and I can almost always relate to wherever their holidays have taken them.

In June, I told my French students that I was from planet Earth. When pressed, I then replied, "America," and finally gave in to their need for specifics with, "California."

But it is beginning to feel like a false claim.

I haven't lived in California in over five and a half years. It's looking like I may never live there again.

There are certain things about me that are most definitively Californian. The way I talk (some call it an accent, I call it a style), my casual dress code, and my earnest expectation that it will be sunny everyday from April through October.

My European friends think I have other "Californian" qualities as well: high energy, extreme happiness and optimism (this might be their way of saying I think it will be sunny all the time), and my blue-eyed blonde look.

There are other stereotypical Californianisms that I am definitely not: I don't know anybody famous, I didn't grow up walking to the beach, I'm not tan, my hair isn't that blonde, and I'm not a liberal Democrat.

The most Californian picture of myself I could find, circa 2007.

But what makes us from anywhere?

I may not be the perfect person to answer this question.

It was already a long story to answer "Where are you from?" before I moved overseas in 2011. This year my American friends and family said I was "from" Germany, but that sounds weird because I lived in France four times as long as my one year in Germany. Maybe someday, "from Germany" will be more accurate, but I should really learn to have a full conversation in German first.

However, I am a firm believer with Nora Ephron that everyone should "be the heroine of your life, not the victim."

If there is anything I have learned from not having one hometown and living as an expat, it's two things.

1. "Home is not where the heart is; 

home is where my stuff is."

This may sound super materialistic, but let's be real: living out of a suitcase always feels a little bit lost. No matter where Marc and I have lived, our meager chunk of Euro life supplies (our stash fits into one medium-sized vehicle) has always come with us.

Our clothes have been in cabinets, closets, drawers, and are currently stacked in bookshelves. Our tablecloth covers whatever table we have and our adopted-from-the-dumpster chairs always fit. No matter where we have lived (in our combined thirty plus moves), our "things" have supplied us with the sense of familiarity and home.

2. "I'd rather have a life about where I am 

in the present and where I'm going

 in the future than a life about 

where I'm from in the past."

The places I have lived and been have all played a part in the person I have become. But these places are part of a story that has already been written. I revisit them from time to time, but mostly to reflect on the memories. It is very much like reading through my teenage journals and going through childhood memento boxes: it's good to remember and it's good to reconnect.

But the past is not a place to live. Yesterday's choices have already been made and have already shaped our today. Today is always running away from us, and we have to make the most of it. Tomorrow will bring new decisions, new growth, and probably a few more new places.

"It is in what direction we are moving. We must sail sometimes with the wind, sometimes against it - but sail we must, and not drift, nor lie at anchor." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

Sometimes the path is straight up a wall.

I don't know how many more times I will move in my life. Maybe we'll stay in Vilsbiburg, Germany, forever. We could end up in any European country, and uncontrollable circumstances could always take us back to the USA. I don't know if other continents will be in the picture, but I think we can safely exclude Antarctica from consideration.

I will keep claiming California as one giant collective hometown. I will keep getting confused reactions from strangers as to why I cannot choose just one city. And I will keep trying to memorize the new addresses in my life while trying to forget the twenty-or-so other ones.

I have stopped only asking people where they are from. It doesn't tell the story that is currently unfolding.

I want to know where you live, how you got there, and where you are going. Now, we have a genuine conversation.

How do you normally handle the "where are you from" question? Do you feel like you do or do not have a hometown? 

wanderful wednesday
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