What is Home and Other Moving Musings

What is home? Is it a place? Is it where you are physically? Is it a house? Is it a person? A community? The people whom you surround yourself with? Is it having your schedule in place? A routine that you can follow day to day? 

What is home? This is a question I’ve found myself learning and exploring the answer to over the years. I think it is a question that we all try to answer through the beginning of our adulthood. Learning what it is to each of us to feel “at home”. I’ve found that, obviously, this varies from person to person and it’s one of my favorite things to learn about people.

So, before we go much further, leave me a comment (yes, right now mid read of this post) and tell me, what is home to you?

So, home. Now, I don’t talk about my husband’s job or career for many different reasons, but if you’ve followed for any period of time, you’ve probably figured out that at this time he is in the military. This means that in the almost 10 years we’ve been together we’ve now moved 4 times. There have been several benefits for this. We get to experience different places (even just within the US there is a wide variety to the way of life) and travel different chunks of the States. We got to experience living in Europe and seeing how life operates outside of our “US Bubble”. Those are big things, but even just the simple thing of figuring out what we like/want/hate/don’t want in a home, so that when we do settle we are positive what we want. The fact that every 3 years (at most, we’ve now had two two-year stations), we are forced to declutter, to re organize, to figure out what we actually want to keep and use and what we can pass along has been great in teaching us value and quality of quantity. 

There are also negatives to moving so frequently. The fact that we are in a place just long enough to create a home, a community, friendships, and then we have to “leave” it all behind is hard. As nice as it can be to unclutter and get rid of stuff regularly, it’s also tough to constantly feel like we are packing or unpacking, never truly able to settle. 

All of this has made me realize, what home actually means to me. For me, home is a combination of things. It’s hearing the pitter patter of feet running across the floor (after they’ve been repeatedly told “No running in the house”). It’s the pacing and chatting of my husband as I am trying to do something in the kitchen. It’s the feeling of waking up in the morning, going to the kitchen to steep up a pot of tea or brew a cup of coffee and while the house is still quietly waking. It’s seeing books aimlessly stacked in various rooms, because even a home library stretches its arms to other places. It’s opening a window on a pretty spring or fall day, heading to our local park to run off some energy (because remember…”No running in the house”). It’s finding a local walking route that gives us just the right number of endorphins (and can also be used as a running route…just maybe?). It’s all of these things that make up “Home”. 

***You’ll notice I haven’t made mention of a community yet. Here’s the thing, as an introvert I don’t “thrive” on community. I like having a social aspect to our lives and you’ll find me out and about, doing all the community things quite a bit, but I find that rather than needing a whole community, I tend to find maybe one or two friends that I spend time with on a much deeper level, than having a whole community at my hands. 

This is what home is for me. 

Let’s Talk About – Judaism and Being Jewish

Something that shifted for me, almost ironically so, in 2020 was my faith. I found myself coming back to who I was, in terms of faith, and unearthing a part of me that had been silent for a long while. I’ve talked a little bit about this HERE, but this really started a bit before our move to Germany and then really solidified while we were here, with a trip to the Old Synagogue of Rome (HERE) reminding me of the very things I liked and missed.

Something important to note about Judaism (that I’ve noted before, but it’s important) is that a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. It doesn’t matter if they are practicing the religion, they are a Jew. It doesn’t matter if they have converted, they are a Jew. Being Jewish is so much more than just practicing the religion. It’s unique in that it’s an ethno-religion, which simply means it’s an ethnicity, as well as a religion (not a race- an ethnicity). Basically, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. It’s something that is both used against and for Jews. 

Let’s kick things off at the very beginning. I was raised “in the faith” we will say, but in a reform manner (don’t worry- I’ll break it down in a minute). My mom is Jewish, as was her mom, and so in and so forth. In Houston, where I grew up, we had a sizeable Jewish community. My neighbors were Jewish, close family friends, and we celebrated all the holidays together. We had a beautiful synagogue where I was an active participant both in the services and schooling, but also in the choir. My faith was an important part of my early childhood. 

And then we moved. There was a lot that went into the decision to move, there was a lot that went into the actual move, and a lot of things that came out of that move (both good and bad), but something that we lost that I had never truly realized was our Jewish Community. I didn’t truly recognize how much this move wrecked my faith until much later on (when I was like 20 something) and we went back to Houston for a birthday party and visited our old Synagogue and community. It really struck me then how far I strayed away from practicing the faith. 

I want to clarify something as we are going to get into some nitty gritty here…

I have always considered myself Jewish. ALWAYS. That has never changed. Being Jewish is just as much of part of who I am as my long brown hair, brown eyes, and so forth. I have a kinship with “my people” that extends beyond whether I practice or not because, again like I’ve mentioned, Judaism is an ethno religion. There is a connection with all of the Jews, one that I feel keenly quite often (more than I even talk about). Whether I actively practiced or not, I still had faith in the lord, and the core principles of Judaism guiding me. I had to navigate some pretty tricky waters and I reached out to other religions to learn and understand. I traveled quite the…”journey” and I’m at where I’m at now because of it. 

ANYWAYS, I’ve majorly digressed here. 

So, we moved and while we found a synagogue and a small community, it wasn’t the same as I had had. For the first time I was the “oddball” of my area and I struggled. I struggled with being different (I had this large southern accent and was not the…”status quo” in my school) and while I wouldn’t say I hid my religion; I definitely didn’t talk about it as much. This was the time where everyone is entering adolescence and so things are already awkward and different, and here I was this strange new girl. I was different all around when all I wanted was to fit in. I think we all know those feelings as they go beyond faith. 

Once I became Bat Mitzvahed we definitely dialed back on the religious front. We would still go to synagogue for High Holidays, and we kept relatively kosher, but it there was a definite difference pre and post. Again, I think a lot of this was in relation to not having that community. To not really loving our synagogue. To not connecting in a new area. It was kind of the perfect combination of all the wrong things. 

Things slowly started to continue to fade away until finally they just went dormant. I don’t know that I would say that I didn’t keep kosher (as I actually still did- dietary things always stuck with me), but I definitely didn’t practice in any noticeable way. I met my now husband, who comes from a large (compared to mine) Catholic family. Neither of us really practiced religion in any secular way (in that we didn’t go to church or synagogue, nor did we practice any important holidays from our respective religions). The only holiday we ever participated in was Christmas, when we would go to his family’s home and I got that magical big family Christmas that I always dreamed of.  We got married in a small ceremony in a small church in Kentucky and that was perfect for us (I would NEVER change our wedding for anything- it was easily one of the most incredible days of my life). 

Fast Forward to now. When we went to the Old Synagogue of Rome and we walked through the museum where they talked about all the Jewish rituals, the importance of those rituals, the various stories and histories, I felt a panging in my heart. A longing for that feeling that my faith had always given me. I felt at home in this area, talking about all the things that I had participated in, all the things that I had missed from those rituals, it felt good and heartbreaking to walk through. I had felt this before, these little inklings over the years, but standing here, in this moment it clicked in my heart, soul, and mind. I wanted that back. 

It’s been strange, living here in Germany and being Jewish (even without being a practicing Jew). A place that is a source of so much pain, and seeing sites that cause that pain, hearing about the anti Semitism that started almost “innocently” that then led to a mass murder. To, once again, feeling like I had to hide a part of me- that may be a bad way of phrasing, but I don’t advertise that I’m “Jewish” here in Bavaria. It’s not because I feel like Jews are being openly attacked or anything, just more so a personal security, don’t paint a target kind of feeling, which is a sign of something that I’ve hinted at this entire post. There is a part of me that doesn’t want to “other” myself and there is enough anti-Semitism that still OPENLY exists in our world that it makes me hesitate to be so open about this part of my identity. 

But, if I’ve learned something over the past two years, and throughout this entire journey, it’s that trying to hide that doesn’t do anything. I had someone this year question my faith. Question this part of my life. Belittle my Jewishness and make it something that was nonexistent. And when I tell you it fired me up, it fired me up. I’m not a person that gets riled by other opinions of myself, but this one, to be blunt, pissed me off. It also made me realize just how real ignorance (and stupidity) still very much exist in this world. Hatred still exists in our world. People still try to find others to blame for problems. And me celebrating my faith and religion isn’t going to change that fact. 

So, what does being Jewish look like to me now? Well, not much has changed. We aren’t a big “go to church/synagogue” family and that isn’t something that I foresee changing in the near future. We are interfaith, this past year celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas, and I have started integrating little things into my everyday celebrations of faith. I celebrated Rosh Hashanah this year, fasted on Yom Kippur, semi abstained during Passover, I make Challah, when we move I plan on lighting the candles on Friday Nights. I’ve been wearing more of my Jewish jewelry, recently having received my “אִמָא” (Imma-Mom in Hebrew) necklace. I’ve also picked up a couple other pieces here and there on our travels. I’m looking forward to what this next phase in my faith will look like.  

Germany and America: Differences, Similarities, Comparisons

We’ve been back in the states now for almost 6 weeks and I think that, while not completely back in the swing of things (we’ve only just recently gotten to our final destination and our new home), I think we’ve managed to settle back into the US. At least enough so that I feel like I can share what that adjustment was like and how keenly I noted the difference between the two countries. 

First and foremost, I feel like I should note that I don’t necessarily think that either country is better than the other, though I do want to say that if we had the choice to go back to Europe I would in less than a single heartbeat. I think that there are benefits and losses to each, and it’s ok to acknowledge that of both countries. With that being said, I can say with fairly good certainty, that at its heart, there is really just one fundamental difference of life that every other difference can be attributed to: Way of Life. 

In the United States, we place a lot of emphasis on THINGS and APPEARENCES. There isn’t anything wrong with this- well maybe there is, but that’s a topic for a whole other conversation- it’s simply how it is in our country. Think about it, a lot of our standard activities, a lot of our social media, revolves around some form of store or shopping. We often will just “stop over at the store” or do a “quick Target run”. 

Everything is “bigger and better”, and we are constantly in a battle to have the newest, shiniest thing. Again, this is just how our society operates. Along with that, we have a rapidly rising sense of instant gratification. An “I need this, and I need it now” attitude that is then catered to by a late-night closing or even 24-hour shopping society (and this isn’t even stepping into Amazon or overnight delivery). You want to get the newest game? You can buy it at 12:01AM at your local super store on release day (pre Covid of course). We never have any concern of running out of something because well…we can just go out and get it, no matter day/time. 

Finally, in the US, we are a country of “go, go, go”, getting in and out as fast as we can, on to the next thing before we have fully finished the first. It’s a never-ending cycle that permeates every second of our life. Our day runs through before we’ve even realized that the end of the day has come, and there are times when we can’t even recall what we’ve actually done. Think about your day…we go, go, go get everyone up in the morning to get to school/work. At work we go, go, go to get an endless list of tasks done. Often times we would take lunch at our desk, quickly nudging a bite or two of food in our mouth before we have to get back to it. Or maybe your lunch consists of a quick trip to the shops to pick up some things or to peruse the shelves. Then, the workday and school day ends and it’s go, go, go to various activities for the kids OR home to quickly whip up some food. Maybe your too busy for even that, grabbing a drive through or quick meal in between activities. If you go out to dinner, it’s go, go, go through dinner with barely enough time to enjoy your family/friends’ company before the bill arrives and it’s time to go. Go back to the house, maybe now you take a little bit of time for yourself or family, with a show or a book or something of that nature. By that point, we are all so exhausted that…well the day is over, and we are left wondering…what happened. 

All of these little things tie into our basic way of life in the US. I’m not saying this is wrong, in fact there are some benefits to it, the ability to just run to the grocery store whenever, not have to worry about stores closing or anything like that, it’s just a different way of life to Europe. 

This is not the case in Germany. 

In Germany the number one emphasis is quality of life. The quality of your social experience. What you are doing, rather than what you have. The value is placed on who you are, how you spend your time, where you go, rather than anything else. It’s a society that thrives on the connection with people, everything from dining out to traveling to pumping gas is all about person-to-person connection. It’s not infrequent to go out to eat dinner and be at your table for 2-3 hours, for the wait staff to not bother you or you having to flag them down when you need something. There is no such thing as pay at the pump, you take a ticket into the gas station where you are greeted with fresh baked goodies (like a full bakery) and a wide variety of snacks and magazines to choose from before paying for gas. Every interaction comes with a smile and a conversation, rather than a brush off and rush out. 

In the smaller towns/communities, you’ll find smaller neighborhood style grocery stores that stock fresh, in season, regionally produced fruit and veggies. When you are looking at meat departments, it’s all fresh (seriously fresh), locally sourced, and the common ground meat is a cow/pig combination. It’s so fresh, that often times in malls you can walk right to a butcher shop in the mall and select your cow meat that’s hanging in the back, clear glass view, cold area. It’s an experience for sure, but a great one to have. Basically, you can always expect to have locally sourced, fresh food options. Even the frozen sections tend to be somewhat local and fresh, rather than the processed options we are all used to in The States. 

Another thing that is different is often times, German’s will buy less, but better quality. Sure, you have big box stores in every city, but you’ll often find many more boutiques with better offerings and more unique/cooler designs. This is because the Germans tend to value quality of quantity. They don’t need the next greatest thing because what they bought previous has lasted quite a long time already. Consumerism isn’t as much of a “thing” over there as it is here in The States. 

Another difference is that life is largely lived outdoors. In Germany there is no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothes (seriously- this is very much a thing). On any given day, in any given weather, you will see people outside. They’ll be hiking, riding bikes, rowing, enjoying what the earth and nature has to offer. I don’t think that there has been a time where I haven’t seen people outside and being active. There are parks for kids everywhere, and these are sturdy, use in any weather jungle gyms. And when the weather turns even the slightest bit sunny, EVERYONE heads outside, from the youngest babies to the oldest citizens, you’ll find them soaking up that sunshine. 

Finally, in Germany their work/life balance is vastly different. Maternity leave is much more a thing in Europe already than it is in The United States, but in Germany you have much more vacation time, longer lunches, and an overall healthier boundary between work and life. I feel like there are some things in this area in particular that The States can learn from. There aren’t nearly as many “workaholic” types of situations and there is annual paid vacation time and such. Much more than what is offered in The States. 

More than anything else, I miss that the value is placed on your quality of life, rather than the quantity of your life. 

A couple fun little differences for you to end this post on a happier note; there is no central air in the majority of the houses. That means no AC. Heat is by radiator system and throughout the year you have to open the windows several times a day for certain lengths of time to air out the house. I’ve already said it, but pay at the pump is not a thing there, you take a ticket (or remember your pump number) and head into the station to pay. Most places are cash heavy and do not take card (including those fun markets), so don’t leave the house without it! Most stores close by dinnertime (unless you’re in a bigger city) and, everything, short of churches and some restaurants, closes on Sunday. You have to plan to have everything you need before Saturday or you’ll be waiting till Monday. Since restaurants may in fact open on Sundays, they are typically closed on Monday or Monday and Tuesday. In terms of eating out at restaurants, Water costs money (there is no such thing as “tap” or “table” water, you will buy bottles if you ask for Wasser at a restaurant) and most of the water is actually sparkling- you have to be specific if you want flat water. In addition to water, more often than not, ordering alcohol will be the cheapest drink option.

Obviously the history of Germany (and of Europe) is much older and more vast than America, so you are able to see castles and towns that pre date the beginnings of our own country. Travel is also…different than it is stateside. Obviously you can country hop all throughout Europe (in a non Covid world), but there also different modes of getting to places (you can choose car, train, or plane).

I think that basically covers most of the differences I noted between Germany and America. Truth be told, it just boils down to way of life and if you’re open to how they live, then you can adjust really fast. If you have any questions, or anything to add, just let me know!

Linderhof Palace

We went to Linderhof Palace as part of our weekend in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen region (HERE) and it has to be close to one of my favorite castles. Ornate, ostentatious, and only meant to be used for personal residence, this palace was nowhere near what I expected and yet exactly what I expected. 

A quick note- photography was not allowed inside the castle itself (as with many of the castles in our region). I will do my best to describe the rooms in detail, but you are also able to look at the Linderhof Palace website HERE and see for yourself. 

Linderhof Palace was commissioned by Ludwig II, who seemed to want to rebuild everything he could and commission as many monuments as he could during his short reign. Ludwig II was crowned in 1864, and started his first plans for Linderhof in 1868 (after already redesigning his Munich Residence AND laying the foundation stone for Neuschwanstein). Linderhof was originally a forester’s house used by Maximilian II (Ludwig’s father) as a hunting lodge. In 1874 it was completely torn down and moved about 200 meters for its final spot. The final building was completed in 1886, with a final phase of rebuilding his bedroom (which we will get into in a minute). Linderhof is the smallest of the three palaces he commissioned, but the only one he saw completed in his lifetime. 

Ludwig II was a bit obsessed with the French Monarchy and the ideals presented. He loved what he saw of Versailles and tried to channel a lot of both Versailles, and the French monarchies rooms within Linderhof. You can see these influences in the gold adornments covering the walls, and the tapestries and paintings throughout the interior. There are also paintings of various members of the French Monarchy, such as Louis CV, Marie Antoinette, and others.

There are a total of 4 rooms within the palace (again- it was intended as a private residence), each more over the top than the previous. The ones that stood out to me the most were the Hall of Mirrors, which was used as a living room of sorts. It is said that Ludwig II would sleep during the day and be up at night, and the mirrors combined with candles would create an illusion of a never-ending room. The Bedchamber was another that stood out to me, mostly because of it’s incredibly over the top nature. Ludwig II pulled on his inspiration and admiration of Louis XIV when designing this room. He was fascinated by how the French King would hold morning audiences in his bedchamber as he got ready for the day. While this was a private residence, and there would not be much business or visitors at Linderhof, Ludwig II still wanted to create this grand appearance. The bed itself is massive and a beautiful blue coloring, but is positioned in a way that idolizes Ludwig II (had you happen to see him there in his life). The entire room boasts of glass, porcelain, and gold. 

Though it appeared that most rooms were coated in gold, there actually was not a lot of gold used. If you had melted down all of the gold in the palace, it would have only yielded under 10kg of gold. It was more so for the sake of appearing wealthy than of actually being wealthy (although the cost of the palace was still a hefty 8 million marks). 

The grounds of Linderhof are equally stunning. Set almost right into the Bavarian Alps, you can’t help but feel as if you are in a secret oasis, with only the mountains around you. In front of the entrance to the Palace is a large pool with a 25-meter-high fountain. Continuing on there are three terrace gardens that lead up to a temple. Behind the palace is a cascading water display topped by a small music pavilion. There are also several other features to see, including a grotto, the Morocco House, and the Hunding’s Hut. 

The combination of the grounds and the palace give a very overwhelming effect. Here lived a king. And he did. He found himself staying at Linderhof for a couple weeks a month.  Overall, this is a must see spot, especially if you like secluded mountain oasis spots. 

Adjusting to America

We’ve been back in America for about 6 weeks and I can firmly say that we’ve adjusted about as much as we are going to. We’ve had a couple of moments of culture shock, but by and large it seems like just stepping back into a life that we could only just barely remember. I wanted this post to kind of serve as just a highlight of some of the things that we’ve noticed or dealt with since moving back from Germany. Some of it is personal observations, some of it is going to be Covid-19 related (as that’s what we are currently in the middle of), some of it is going to be random. 

I will say, I do have a whole separate post in the works about some of the big differences between the two countries, so drop by for that one when it comes out in a few weeks. 

One of the biggest things to adjust to in coming back to the US is just the convenience of it all. You don’t have to worry about hitting the stores before they close, or reaching out to friends/neighbors on that inevitable time that you run out of something and the stores are closed. There is NOTHING wrong with this (in some ways I like how it fosters a community), but it is nice to just be able to get what you need exactly when you need it. 

Another aspect of convenience is in terms of big box stores. It’s nice when you are able to do all of your shopping in one store, rather than making lots of little purchases at a variety of different stores. That is actually something I missed in some ways (although I didn’t miss picking up random things that were not needed simply because I walked past them thinking “oh well we will need that at some point” or “oh that’s cute”). 

In strict relationship to Covid-19, it’s been really nice not to have to schedule an appointment or worry if a store is open due to restrictions, we can just run over to whatever store and do what we need to. Of course, masks are required, not much of a difference there, but the fact that stores are even open is a new thing. Not commenting on the merit of that, just on what we experienced. 

In terms of reverse culture shock, I once again experienced culture shock in going to the grocery store. For some reason going to Walmart or Target didn’t bother me (there are big box stores in Germany that we did go to), but the grocery store was massive in comparison to my little neighborhood grocery. I walked up and down the aisles in shock trying to figure out what we needed and where to find it. It was an experience to say the least. 

One other thing, that is partly just being in a new place (in terms of NY specifically, it wasn’t so bad in KY where we’ve been before), but also partly different is just driving and getting gas. First up, getting gas in Germany involves going in to the station market to pay. It’s not a pay at the pump situation and often times, some gas stations will have their own cards that you can use to pay. Also, the speeds and driving rules are different enough in Germany that, coming back here and driving has been a little strange (and no- I’m not just talking about the Autobahn, just in a general sense). I didn’t feel it as much going over to Germany, but definitely did coming back. 

Otherwise, we’ve gotten to a point where I feel like we are feeling “normal”. I feel like there are benefits and drawbacks to each country, BUT, in all honesty, I would go back to Europe in not even a single heartbeat. 

Leaving Germany

January 17- I don’t really know how this post is going to go. I have no idea how to even begin, when to begin, how to process my feelings and then write them out, no ideas. So, I think I am going to treat it a bit like a diary of sorts. A dated registry of my feelings every so often (I’m thinking maybe two or three of these dated bits) as things happen or what not. I hope that this turns out ok and that it ends up being a good representation of this move. It could also end up being totally bad…if it is, then I’m sorry. My goal is to have a bit of a “part 1 on the road home-leaving” followed by a “part 2 on the road home-adjusting” that will be up in March. And if you’re reading this, then I’ve succeeded. Maybe. 

So, we are about a couple weeks out from our flight back to the US. Our home has been packed up, crated, and is slowly making its way to the shipping facility to be shipped back. It’s been a tense time between trying to corral two very curious, very active little boys, track what the movers are doing, handle schoolwork, and just keep sane. Getting your entire house packed up and emptied out slowly (this was done over two days) makes a move even more real. The second day we were all cooped up in our Master Bedroom and walking out to things being wrapped and then later to a completely empty living room was…a bit heartbreaking. 

I’ve spoken before about how much of a home and life we’ve made here in Germany. This is one of the first places in our moves that has felt…so much like home. We’ve made a little community for ourselves here and while we’ve known this move was coming since summer, this moving day kind of…came all too fast and all too final. Germany has taught us and given us so much. We’ve learned how to live a slower, less complicated life; how to be a bit more “go with the flow” (ok, ok, 2020 and Covid really taught us that); how to actual live life, rather than plod through it. We’ve seen history in ways we couldn’t imagine, been to places we’ve dreamed about, and we’ve been able to learn and grow as a family. We’ve made some incredible friends, a best friend who will forever be in my heart. I’ve found some new facets of myself and a little piece of our family’s heart will always remain here. 

And now, as we are about to start cleaning our house, making the last of our meals, and getting everything together for the last shipment of stuff consolidated, and really look at leaving, I’m getting that antsy anxious feeling. That feeling that says, “C’mon let’s just get on with it already”. The whole, just rip the Band-Aid off, feeling…except just break my heart instead. 

January 29 – Today was our move out day. Out of all the days that we have had to prepare and adjust to this move, today was the day that it decidedly felt real. We loaded the massive van we rented, did a final walk through ourselves (due to Covid) and then drove away. I had a tear or two (or a sob fest) as we drove the route towards base one final time. There was a finality to this. Previously, we could almost fool our brains into thinking that this wasn’t coming, wasn’t happening, that we were just doing things (don’t ask me to explain the psychology of it because I can’t). But driving away that final time, knowing we were done in that house, that we were properly leaving was hard. 

February 4 – Well, the road hasn’t been easy the past 48ish hours, but we are finally on a plane heading back to the USA. We were supposed to be on a plane 2 days ago, but due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, the planes were not coming or going, and we ended up in a hotel without our luggage for that period of time with all of our fellow travelers. Thankfully everyone’s spirits were high, the hotel did an exceptional job housing us all at the last minute (and feeding us, keeping us informed as the changes kept coming, etc.), and on the last day we had a bit of free time between our arrival at the terminal and our security time, so we could go purchase some clothes or anything else we might have needed at that point (we did have a grocery a short walk away, so simple things were able to be purchased on the first day). 

Needless to say, having this experience of leaving, changed my reaction to finally boarding the plane and now, writing this while in flight. I thought that I would have some tears, some sadness at leaving a place that had come so close to home for me, but instead I was filled with excitement at the thought of actually boarding the plane and heading home. I had said my farewells to everything and everyone in preparation for our Tuesday flight, and now, after all the delays, I just wanted to go. 

So, not the way I had thought I would end this post, but here we are. I think that this was a way for me to be “ok” with leaving Germany. Maybe “Germany”/A Higher Being/The Universe/Whatever you want to call it thought I needed a little push to leave and this was how that happened. I’m still feeling a bit emotional at leaving, but mostly what I feel is relief to be leaving this limbo that we’ve been in.

Auf Wiedersehen für jetzt Deutschland.  Wir werden dich vermissen und die Erinnerungen und Freundschaften schätzen, die wir geschlossen haben.  Bis zum nächsten Mal.

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – january & February 2021

Ah, the start of a new year. A fresh reading year full of new, endless possibilities. I’m combining two months into one as our January was manic and I wasn’t able to get the post up before we flew out of Germany, so instead of trying to put up a subpar post, I just decided to consolidate two months into one. I didn’t do as much reading as I intended, so ultimately it probably doesn’t matter much. 

Also, hi! It’s been a month since my last post and I am going to take a second to give a little hello. I took the month of February off, as it seems to be a good annual time to take a step back and just evaluate everything. This happened to also coincide with our move back to the USA. More to come on that experience, but this post is my way of getting back into my weekly blog posts. 

***I apologize for the lack of purchase links, March’s wrap up will be fully back to normal.***

So, let’s get into it. 

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton 4 Stars Well, I just started off on a strange (for me) foot for 2021. I’m not a Sci-Fi girl, but I had heard that this book was great if you wanted a little bit more in depth than the movie and I can confirm that it is. The only part I didn’t enjoy was the portions devoted to Chaos Theory, but that’s mostly my own issue. Overall, if you liked the movie and want more, then give the book a shot. 

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers 4 Stars I LOVED this. This was so far out of my standard genre’s (seriously, the last time I picked up a space sci-fi was a few years ago now) and I’m so glad I read it. In this book we follow a rag tag crew of a spaceship as they are creating a “tunnel” to one of the farthest, most volatile planets. It is incredibly character driven, but not so much so that the story doesn’t move forward. There is an element of science and space exploration, but it’s not overpowering, you aren’t focusing constantly on the logistics of it all. Highly recommend this one as well. 

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker 5 Stars I LOVED this book. Wecker has a way of spinning a story similar to Carlos Ruiz Zafon or Madeline Miller. There is something about her words and her descriptors that just really spins this beautiful web for you to get stuck in. This was incredible, and not just because there was so much Jewish and Arabic/Middle Eastern mythology that I could see a lot of my own views in. 

A Close and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers 4 Stars Ah, I really enjoyed this second, companion novel to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. In this companion novel we are following to side characters from the first book as they navigate some pretty big changes. It serves as a way of expanding this massive universe, learning about some more of the politics around different creatures. I don’t know if I loved this one AS MUCH as the first, but I really enjoyed expanding the world and learning about some of the other characters and their struggles. 

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi translated by Geoffrey Trousselot 4 Stars I feel conflicted about this read. On the one hand I enjoyed the concept and some of the stories really pulled at my heart, BUT I also felt like at times it was a bit slow to read. In this collection we are following a small coffee shop that, within rules, can transport its’ patrons back in time. 

Whiteout by Ken Follett 4 Stars A pandemic related thriller set in Scotland during a snow storm? Yes please! I actually really loved this one, but I do think that short, plot driven stories are not Ken Follett’s forte. Having read his Pillars trilogy, reading something short and more plot, rather than character, driven felt like putting on a pair of pants two sizes too small and the wrong cut. As much as I enjoyed it (and would recommend), it felt like he could have really taken these characters and ran with them.

Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica translated by Sarah Moses  3 Stars This takes the spot of “most disturbing book” I’ve ever read. In Tender is the Flesh humans are living in a period after all animal consumption has been banned due to a disease pandemic. Animals are not able to be consumed, so humans have turned to their own for protein. It is not only disturbing in content (serious content warnings here), but also just in the fact of what humans are capable of when pushed. 

A Vow So Bold and Deadly by Brigid Kemmerer 4 Stars I enjoyed this concluding novel to the trilogy and felt like we had FINALLY reached some turning points that we were anxiously awaiting in the second book. On the whole, I really enjoyed the trilogy and would recommend it for a good in between the serious books trilogy to read. 

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson 3 Stars I have absolutely nothing to say about this book. Honestly, I’m trying to think of anything that stood out to me, but there’s nothing. It’s just a standard “high school girl goes missing, but is she really dead” story. I feel like there was some good commentary on civil issues, but overall, it wasn’t memorable. Obviously.

The Lost Shtetl by Max Gross 3 Stars This one was a tough one for me to read as I really wanted to love it. There aren’t a lot of “Jewish” stories out there that are not Holocaust related and this one just sounded so great. We are following a small Jewish town (called a Shtetl) in the heart of the Polish forest as they discover, through a series of small events, that the world has entered a modern era. In parts I loved this story and could picture a lot of what was happening (Eastern European Jew over here), but there was also a feeling of nothing truly happening. At least not in the manner that you would expect from a novel. This is very much a…town coming of age novel and while I enjoyed it, I also felt a bit let down in the same way. 

Tomie by Junj Ito translated by Naomi Kokubo NR In a massive shift from my normal, I decided to pick up a horror manga. I knew nothing about this going in, and overall enjoyed the entirety of this collection. The artwork was incredible and the storyline truly horrifying at times. 

The Deep by Alma Katsu 4 Stars I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this book from Alma Katsu. I think the Titanic is always a hard one to cover, but she did it in a way that brought a new touch. In The Deep we are following a group of characters that are traveling on the Titanic, but all have some form of connection to each other and to one major event. In a dual timeline, we are also following two Titanic survivors as they are once again reunited on the sister ship the Britannic. This was beautifully written, hauntingly enchanting, and a true feat. What I missed in her other novel, The Hunger, was brought to life in this novel to perfection. There were still some slower moments, but I just really loved the overall novel as a whole. 

I did DNF (Did Not Finish) a book in January, A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. I don’t know if this was just when I read it or something different, but the 80 pages or so that I read were quite juvenile, jarringly written, and I found myself not caring. This would have been my third by her and while I enjoyed the other two (Uprooted and Spinning Silver) this was just not my cuppa. I also DNF’d The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon in February. I had such high hopes for this book and this series, but something about it just did not connect with me. 

And that’s it! All the books I’ve read in the first couple months of the year. Any stand outs? What about your reading?

Planning in 2021

What is planning? What is this year going to look like and how do we plan for it? Or do we? Late in 2020 I switched from the standard planner that I had been using back into a bullet journal and it ended up working out really well. With everything being so up in the air I found that I didn’t really need to block out hours or see what my day looked like, I needed somewhere that I could have a floating to-do list. Bullet journaling has always been that for me. 

The nice thing about bullet journaling is that it can be whatever whenever. You are in complete control of how in depth, how simple, you need it. And, in such an uncertain time when I just want to feel a little bit in control, that I simply need to cross things off a list. I spent the last few months of 2020 experimenting with a couple of different options and I think I’ve found something that will allow me both to block out hours if I need to, but also have that rotating to do list. 

So, my 2021 Bullet Journal. First off we have the long-term planning, marking out all the holidays, important dates, and such. Then I’ve got a spot to write down books that are on my long list of purchasing and/or reading and another section devoted to blog posts and tracking where they are at in the process (this is something new I’m trying out for 2021). 

Each month has a simply monthly view, a reading section, a daily gratitude section, and then two-page weekly spreads. I have kind of pre penned in some of the months and weeks as we are going to be moving and I don’t know when I will have all the supplies I would like and our new home, but this worked out well as I was able to adjust the layout for February when we won’t be doing much more than visiting family. I’ve done all of this in a Leuchtturm 1917 notebook that’s a beautiful shade of blue.

One final note- I do plan on trying to journal quite a bit more in the New Year and I think that I have figured out my “preferred journal”. It is another dotted notebook, but softcover which allows me to bend and write a bit easier. This particular one is black and fits right into the carrying cover for my planner. 

So, that’s what my planning system looks like at this point for 2021. Do I know what the year holds? Nope. So I don’t know how this will all shake out, but I’m trying to plan for all the changes as best as I can.  

COCHEM IMPERIAL CASTLE

We went to Cochem Imperial Castle as part of our time in Cochem on our Summer Holiday (COCHEM). This was the first place we went when we arrived in Cochem and while it may not be one of the top castles, it was so cool to explore its courtyards and rooms and hear its extensive history. 

The first written mention of Reichsburg Cochem is in 1051, however it is assumed that the castle was built around 1000. Built by Palatinate Count Ezzo, the castle was given to count Henry I in 1051 ( by Richeza, former Queen of Poland). In the 12th century King Konrad III took control of the region and castle, turning it into an imperial fiefdom. The castle then became an imperial castle. It was pawned to Austria to pay for a coronation (King Adolf of Nassau), but the debt was never able to be collected. During the Nine Years War, Louis XIV invaded Cochem and the Imperial Castle before destroying it by fire (and then an explosion which almost took out the entire town of Cochem). The ruined castle wasn’t touched again until it was purchased in 1868 by Louis Frederic Jacques Ravene  who rebuilt the castle into the Neo Gothic style you see today. The castle was transferred to Cochem’s ownership in 1978 and is now able to be toured by the general public. 

The best part of this castle is, hands down, the view. Situated high above the Moselle River, you are able to see Cochem, the river, the wineries, and much more. It is a stunning view from almost anywhere within the castle. The courtyard is incredible too, with a well in the center as it would have been in early times to collect rainwater. You are also able to see the round tower, which somehow survived the destruction by Louis XIV. It was a guard tower during the castle’s time and if you follow it around, you are able to see a large mosaic of St. Christopher. 

I know this wasn’t as long as my normal Castle Post, but this is a pretty straightforward castle. It is definitely one I recommend touring if you are in Cochem as it is really interesting to see how they would have lived in the castle, as well as all of the defensive measures that were set up. 

A Cuppa Cosy Reads – Best/Worst of 2020

Man for everything that 2020 was, reading was somewhere that I really excelled. I read around a total of 110 books (plus or minus one or two as I am writing this before the year is technically over…) and gave an average rating of almost 4 stars! That’s a personal record for me on both accounts and I’m just very pleased with how the year went…in reading terms at least. Today I am going to talk about the best, worst, disappointing, and surprising reads. I’m covering all 4 because I find that a book might be disappointing, but not the worst I read, and I really want to make the distinction between the two (as it affects whether others will pick up the book). I want to say, when you’ve read over 100 books, it gets really hard to cherry pick what goes where and when you’ve read so many highly rated books, it gets even harder. This was not easy to do, so please note that. You can find a full list of the books I read on Goodreads (username is ACuppaCosy). 

One more note before we get into this…this is highly based on enjoyment and memory. What I do when I compile these lists is I mark out all of the books that I’ve read in the year and then highlight those that stood out for one reason or another. There may be 2-star books that didn’t make it to this listing at all, similarly for 5-star books. There isn’t really any massive rhyme or reason, but I will try and give a brief explanation of why each book ended up where it did. 

I’ll start with Worst and make my way up to the Best books of my reading year…

Worst Books of the Year

Verity by Colleen Hoover (2 Stars) I mean…this book was a dumpster fire of garbage from start to finish. I spent the entire time reading it in absolute anger and disgust. Would not recommend, and it is no longer a part of my collection. I feel like it should also be noted, this is the only Colleen Hoover I’ve read, and I picked it up for the “thriller” aspect, and that was overshadowed by the disgust and anger at the rest of the book. 

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher (3 Stars) This book had me until the last section, where it went in a completely unnecessary and wholly detrimental direction. I won’t spoil it, but I don’t really recommend this book and it is no longer part of my collection either. 

Disappointing Books of the Year

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (3 Stars) I had very high expectations for this book and I feel like it just…had too much going on for the book to be a true success. The author was trying to do too much, so there was a lot that felt disjointed and incomplete. 

Misery by Stephen King (2 Stars) This was just…not it for me. I don’t even know what it was, it just wasn’t what I wanted out of a Stephen King novel? It felt like a movie script…and to be honest, I loved the movie. 

Sex & Vanity by Kevin Kwan (3 Stars) This book is the epitome of disappointment for me in 2020. I had such HIGH hopes and expectations and in the end…it seemed very rushed, not fleshed out, and only a skeleton of what it could have been. I know that you can’t compare one work to another, but after the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy (which was top of my list the year I read it), this was massively…not good. 

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson (3 Stars) This one almost didn’t make the list, but I felt like I needed to include it as it was…disappointing. A literary mystery involving some of the great literary mysteries and out came one of the most predictable flat stories I think I’ve read in recent years. 

Surprising Books of the Year

American Royals by Katherine McGee (4 Stars) Ok, this book surprised me as it was the first time that I had read what is basically royal fan fiction. I’m a massive royal fan (borderline obsessed), but I had never really dipped my toe into this sphere of books. This set me off on a course of royal books that I hadn’t expected, and I loved every minute of it. 

The One by John Marr (5 Stars) I don’t know what I really expected from this book. I picked it up on a whim recommendation and thought it was going to be ok. It had choppy short chapters from a wide cast, but that ended up working out so well in this books favor. It kept propelling the story forward, kicking the stakes up, and made for an un-put-down-able story. 

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (3 Stars) I thought this was going to be a sure-fire success of a book, a woman wants to open a bookstore in a town that has…other ideas. And while I enjoyed the commentary and spitfire nature our protagonist displayed; I found this book to be depressing as hell at points. So, there’s that. 

Anxious People by Frederik Backman (4 Stars) This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and it was…not what I was expecting? Or rather it was, but it wasn’t. Frederik Backman really lays it all bare, the full nature of humans when pushed to their limits, and how closely we are all tied together. Surprising, Depressing, Beautiful. It’s in most surprising as I was surprised just how depressed it made me, which is also why it isn’t in the best book category. 

Best Books of the Year

The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M Graff (NR) This book is an absolute masterpiece. I listened to the audio book and not only does that illicit a certain type of reaction, but I actually learned quite a bit of things from 9/11 that I hadn’t known, or hadn’t truly understood. 

Circe by Madeline Miller (5 Stars) This was easily one of the most beautiful stories I’ve read since maybe The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It was just beautifully written, epically told, and emotional. 

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (4 Stars) The book that got me back on my way into fantasy reading, this story was one I was eyeing since its release. Finally, when it was purchased for me as a gift and I was given a chance to buddy read it with someone else, I fell head over heels and I’m still thinking about it. 

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (4 Stars) This might as well just include all of the Brandon Sanderson books I’ve read this year. He is a master at his craft, and I am in awe at what he has done. I put off reading his books for so long and while I’m bummed that I did that, it also means that I am reading the books as they are being released (as of now) or binge reading them rather than waiting on end for the next book. 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (4 Stars) This was an odd book to pick up during a pandemic…considering it’s about what happens when the world is attacked by a virus, but I did it and I’m glad that I did. I really enjoyed how Mandel wove the hitting of the pandemic, Shakespeare and theatre troupes, and the dystopian era of the world. It was incredibly realistic, so maybe don’t read it at the height of a global pandemic. 

Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (NR) I don’t like including nonfiction memoir books (for the same reason I don’t rate them- it feels like placing value on a life), but I’ve included two this time because of the writing and storytelling. Coates is an incredible writer, and he writes in an accessible manner. 

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (NR) I mean, I’m a massive Trevor Noah fan as it is, and I feel like he really hits it out of the park in this memoir. We get an understanding of what life was like for him, how he learned reality, and how he tried to better that reality. It also really made me value and appreciate what he says even more, as I feel like he has actually seen the things that we only have a secondhand knowledge of. 

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing (4 Stars) I debated on this one as I don’t know that it is truly one of the best books (especially when compared to some of the others on my list), but man I really LOVED this book. Talk about intriguing premise, but the writing, the unfolding of the story, and the final twists that just don’t seem to stop made it a perfect quick thriller. 

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole (4 Stars) This was a book that was described as a thriller, but offers up so much more than a mystery to solve. It tackles some of the very real issues in our society today and for that reason, I found this book to be so well done. It has a little bit of everything, a little bit social justice, a little bit romance, and the slightest hint of mystery. 

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (5 Stars) This book had me in a sobbing blubbery mess. A Coming-of-age novel for the modern era of technology, this book is incredible. Anyone of any age can take something away from the story and gain insight into the “modern teenager”. I don’t have much more to say than, read it. 

The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (5 Stars) Again, like Sanderson you might as well just include this entire Daevabad trilogy, which I binge read in 3 weeks. I’m obsessed and after finishing the third had a gaping hole in my heart that stopped me from reading entirely for a couple of weeks. Incredible. 

Some Random Honorable Mentions (because I can’t help myself apparently)

A Heart So Fierce & Broken by Brigid Kemmerer (5 Stars) This second novel was excellent, and I am very much anticipating the third in the first part of 2021.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (4 Stars) Another excellent short story collection. I have enjoyed every book by Chimamanda that I’ve read so far, and I’ve definitely got a couple on my 2021 reading plans.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (4 Stars) This was easily the weirdest, yet fun book I think I read in 2020. It was similar to Catherine House, but better (I read them both in the same time frame) and if you want something questionable, strange, and just a thinking story, this is for you.

Mobituaries by Mo Rocca (NR) Finally, a fun one to finish off, Mo Rocca talks through all of the “deaths” of various lesser-known trends, people, vehicles, and so forth. It is hilarious but interesting to learn all of these facts. 

And there we have it! A full breakdown of the various books that I have wanted to talk about in depth all year. If you’ve made it this far, kudos to you, I hope you enjoyed and maybe got a recommendation or two out of it!