Get your English back to where it was…easy peasy!

Uncle B.K. and Brother Michael blowing out the latter’s 2nd birthday candle

If you’re a grandparent and one of your children has married outside of your culture, whatever that might mean, you’ve got some work cut out for you. Your daughter or son might not realise, or likely doesn’t care, that you’ve been gifted more than just grandchildren.

No, now you’ve got an intercultural dilemma in the making.

How are you going to be a decent grandparent to these kids who might not have any clue where you come from and how it was when you were their age? Luckily, you’ve already figured your life out, right? So you can impart a little wisdom.

Like my Nana did. She’s featured in the photo above and she was a piece of work, my maternal grandmother. An enigma when I was small, Nana was always chainsmoking and funnier for us, she swore like a sailor. She made zero attempts to suffer fools gladly.

It simply wasn’t her way.

Not even us grandkids.

Especially not us.

Born in the 1920s, Frances was part of what’s referred to in the United States as the ‘Greatest Generation‘, which nearly always makes me smile nostalgically. She’s here in the photo, with my mom and my brother and I there, as well. She’d married a Methodist minister, my grandfather who we called ‘Dan Dan’, during the war, and they started having children in 1946. Right at the start of the first wave of the Baby Boom.

Since they were the greatest, they couldn’t understand why their kids couldn’t more appreciate all they’d left for them. This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but my grandparents generation felt like they’d saved the world from fascism only to be handed a society now run by dirty hippies and drug addicts.

How does this relate to you learning enough English so you can communicate with your own little carpet munchers? Maybe you already understand and even speak English when you travel, and you’d just like to practise a bit.

Well, that’s what I do. I help some of my clients get acclimated to their new culture, even if they’re still living comfortably at home. You don’t necessarily have to learn how to navigate a new culture. If this is you we’re talking about, my solution is easy. I’ll be writing more about my ideas here on my blog in the coming months.

You needn’t become perfect in English, okay? Just good enough to talk to your own progeny. Your grandkids will give you a lot of latitude.

Promise.

Reach out to me via email (lahikmajoe@gmail.com) or make a comment on this blogpost if you’ve got any questions or want me to focus on some aspect of these issues.

We’ll get your English back to where it used to be. Easy peasy!

Ostern in Germany with a little family

Opa couldn’t make it, so it was just the four of us for a five-day weekend – Easter, or Ostern as the Germans call it. You heard that right. Five whole days with my family, and? No-one has any scars, we didn’t have to go to the emergency room. We’re well fed and generally happy, but here’s just one thing: my dad used to say he couldn’t wait for Monday morning when he could go back to the office and relax. Do I feel that these days. Onward and upward, yeah? Onward and upward.

Tell me another story about baseball…oh, the humanity

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Everytime I go to a conference, storytelling is a forum people are attracted to. It’s a human condition. Our brains shut off if you feed me too much theory, but if you tell me a story? I’m all ears.

Both in our private lives & in business, storytelling is a powerful tool. We know this.

Teaching about baseball in a Cultural Studies class

When I had one of my first Cultural Studies courses, which focused on presenting Anglo-American culture to German students, I decided to try to give them a taste of my America by talking about my love for the Chicago Cubs.

Few Europeans can get into this weird antiquated game that such a small segment of society understands, or even wants to. How to present it to them, when they have little or no context?

My approach was to tell them about my relationship with my nana, who instilled her values in me while we were watching our nightly Cubs game.

The students, who neither cared about the rules or the history of this curious game, could find a connection with the relationship with my grandmother.

We all have grandparents, no matter how good or bad our relationship with them is. In many cases, our parents’ parents are the easier, more gentle family member compared to our own mothers or fathers.

Not always, but I think you get my point.

These students of mine were kids, or young adults, and they knew next to nothing about the rules of baseball, even after my brilliant presentation.

It was certainly to be expected. I’d not even bothered getting into the weeds of explaining something like a sacrifice fly or a suicide squeeze. It wasn’t as useful as talking about a relationship.

My nana was isolated out on her ranch, but she still had her Cubbies. They’d entertain her nearly nightly through the summer & early autumn. When they lose their last game, there’s always next year.

These are even baseball sayings that make me nostalgic for those times with my family, but particularly with my nana. Sometimes you lose, but how do you deal with it?

You get up off the grass, with stains on your uniform, shake off the dirt, and tell yourself there’s always tomorrow.

Like life.

When we were at my nana’s memorial, my niece Amelia and I watched a game in the hotel room. It wasn’t lost on me the parallels.

Now, when I’m here in Germany, I call my brother Michael and ask what his family’s up to. He tells me the family’s watching a playoff game.

My nana’s love of baseball has been passed on to my brother’s kids. It’s cultural. No matter how many people I hear tell me baseball is so slow and boring, I know better.

That’s how storytelling works, though. You needn’t know the particulars like the rules to get the point of the story.

My family carries on its traditions by how we spend our time together. Anyone can relate to that.

Right?

Shambolic indeed, but things are starting to settle down

Ella up in the mountains with her prominent tongue

shambolic: Word of the Day from Dictionary.com https://www.dictionary.com/e/word-of-the-day/shambolic-2020-06-05/

I’ve been meaning to get back to the blog, and now’s as good a time as any.

Miriam’s mom passed last summer right after we had a scare and thought our 14-year-old Ella would die while we were in Italy.

The old girl couldn’t make it up the stairs and out of our little flat where Miriam had lived when we met. It’s actually a curious place that you enter by way of really steep steps, so we’ve gone back and forth on perhaps finding something more suitable for a small child.

Although we’d planned to be down there for the month of August last year, the turmoil of losing Oma Margarete and helping Opa Günter get settled into his new life meant we had to decide where we needed to be.

Alas, it wasn’t in Liguria as we’d hoped. We stayed home in Bavaria and went back and forth to Franconia as often as we could manage. Timing our trips to avoid the Stau (traffic jams) on the Autobahn towards Nuremberg, we were there for Miriam’s papa and it gave the baby lots of time to be surrounded by her remaining maternal grandparent and assorted extended family up there.

Then in October, we ultimately lost the dog. She’d been by my side pretty much constantly, aside from travel where I couldn’t take her, along with her brother, and if you know anything about me, those dogs had been a central part of my life for many seasons.

I’ve had dogs my whole life, and I’m thrilled Ella could be the progeny’s first dog. She was just the right amount of tolerant with a small child. When she’d had enough, she’d simply move away and wait for the next baby intrusion, which was bound to happen.

So there we were without Miriam’s mom and that dog I’d loved so madly. It was a rough 2019, but we were happy to have gotten through it with as much dignity as we could muster.

Back to the word shambolic. The change of year didn’t stop the life altering events, because in February we lost my mom. It certainly wasn’t unexpected, but even when you know its coming?

You never know how something’s going to affect you, and this was no different. The shambolic nature of our life just seemed to shift into a higher gear. It was almost surreal.

Now with a bit of distance from those shocking events, we’re starting to settle down again. We talk about Oma Martha all the time, and how she and the progeny’s other grandmother would love to see how this child is growing and learning.

The deeper grief starts to work its way through our systems, though. Miriam going through her mother’s winter coats a few days ago. Me packing up as much of my mom’s stuff as I could manage. It’s all just too much crap, which makes me now want to accumulate fewer things.

We grabbed what we could back in Texas, crammed it in our overweight bags and got on the plane grateful that we were allowed to go back home to Germany.

What next? Hopefully this year gets less shambolic, but the world outside and the drama surrounding how people deal with this Covid19 virus seems to have other plans.

Perhaps because I’m my mother’s son, I’m always looking for the best in difficult situations. It has been nice to stay home, work online and reassess the things that matter.

Shambolic or not, I’m hoping we keep finding the silver lining in the dark clouds swirling round us and everybody.

Here’s a photo of the progeny and one of my mom’s best friends Kaye’s cat Fred:

Hope you’re all making the best of these weird times. I’ll certainly keep writing about our adventures here. Hope to see some of you along the way. Virtually or face-to-face, whichever the case may be.

You had a raincoat? and other obvious questions

our fair city on the banks of the River Isar

Good morning 2020 (written early New Year’s Day morning). What a wild ride it’s already been, and I’m still in my pyjamas.

My mother, who’s nickname when she was young was ‘Fafa’ so that’s what I call her here, and I have talked briefly, which because of the time difference between here and the States means it’s still yesterday there.

My sister-in-law and I also had a meaningful, end of the year conversation a little while ago in which we talked about her husband/my brother and what he was like as a child. That was something.

We also talked about me, which is unfortunately still one of my favourite subjects, and she had some insight about all of that, which I appreciated. All of that, you ask? All of what, exactly?

Well, this is the first time in almost twenty years that I haven’t had a dog to walk on New Year’s morning. You likely know of Ella and Louis, but before them there was a girldog named Lyle. She came with my first wife and me from the States, when wee moved here to Munich in 2001.

She was my only real responsibility as I was getting my bearings in this curious new land. German culture was weirdly unfathomable, which made no sense because I’d lived here as a small child. I’d learned to play German music and even sang in the godforsaken language before I understood what I was singing about. Nevertheless, I felt odd and like an outsider.

That first year, I drank too much Augustiner and Austrian Veltiner, I smoked my Gauloises, and I walked my dog. It was all pretty straightforward. Below is a photo of my friend Elaine’s dog, Poppet, and me in Tottenham. Well, it’s our shadows. When I’m without a dog, I greet every single one I see. Right now, I’m meeting a lot of dogs.

Poppet’s and my shadows…

Here’s the story I want to tell today, and I assure you that there’s a moral. I’ll be explicit, rather than make you guess what my motive is.

It’s about gratitude and perspective.

A woman told a few friends and me a disheartening story about her horrible childhood and how she always felt like an outsider. She could’ve been telling my story, but that’s beside the point. ‘It’s not always about you, Ken.’ Yes, I get it.

She told us about standing in the rain in her raincoat and looking up at the sky and somehow, in her childlike wonder, asking what on earth the reason for everything was. Asking God or the universe or whatever was out there why she was even here. Why did she even exist? What was even the point?

Aphrodite and the setting sun

After my friend told her story, we were all really quiet. It was so depressing that we were simply mute. Until one quiet voice meekly asked, ‘You had a raincoat?

The raincoat obviously wasn’t the point of the story, but clearly the woman who was almost afraid to ask her question must’ve had an even worse childhood. For her, the mere shelter from the rain was absolute and utter luxury.

I try to remember that everyone I encounter could be dealing with trauma that he or she doesn’t even want to think about. It’s a trick I use to be more compassionate. Sometimes it works.

Sometimes I forget. My New Year’s resolution this year is not to forget.

I should be more compassionate. Especially to those who’re in my inner circle. They very well might get my best, but they simultaneously get the worst of me, as well.

I resolve to give them more of my best. A lot more.

All of me

It’s been the best of holidays so far, but to badly mangle Tolstoy, it’s been the shittiest of holidays, as well.

We knew it’d be weird without those loved ones that we’ve lost since last Christmas. As prepared as we might’ve been emotionally, grief is a weird mistress. She doesn’t play fair.

Today, Miriam looked up to the sky & said, ‘Hör auf mit diesem Scheiß, mama!’

See, things are breaking and going missing and we’re doing our best to keep an even keel. However, sometimes the slings & arrows of life are just a bit too much.

Opa has handled having us at his place just swimmingly. He insists that he savours the time with his granddaughter, but having her parents taking up space and whatnot must be annoying sometimes.

Today, he just snapped, yet he had a good reason. Somehow, apparently out of nowhere, his bedroom door had slammed shut. There were accusations & recriminations, but the simple fact was that the door was closed & none of us could open it.

We called a friend, Harry, who was here in moments. In the meantime we had to ‘abwarten & Tee trinken’, which continues to be one of my very favourite German sayings. It means ‘wait (patiently) & drink tea’.

You know how much I like tea, so I’ve always assumed it was a Redewendung created especially for impatient folks of my type.

I’m not the easiest sort to get along with, but I’ve noticed something about myself. If everyone else is freaking out and losing their cool, I can sometimes just be rather calm in comparison.

It’s actually a conflict resolution technique I learned when I was a teenager. If someone across from you is melting down, you’ve got two obvious responses available: match their energy by freaking out in a similar manner…

or…

The opposite.

Someone starts yelling, like me when I don’t get the lollipop I wanted, and across from me there’s Miriam just stating calm, cool, and collected.

So, here’s a video (above) of me playing an Elvis-like character singing the old standard ‘All of me’:

All of me
Why not take all of me
Can’t you see
I’m no good without you

Take my lips
I want to lose them
Take my arms
I’ll never use them

Your goodbye
Left me with eyes that cry
How can I
Get along without you

You took the part
That once was my heart
So why not, why not
Take all of me

All of me
Come on get all of me
Can’t you see
I’m just a mess without you

Take my lips
I want to lose them
Get a piece of these arms
I’ll never use them

Your goodbye
Left me with eyes that cry
How can I
Ever make it without you

You know you got the part
That used to be my heart
So why not, why not
Take all of me

To be continued…

The progeny & the local team (Greuther Fürth) where Oma & Opa lived last year at this time

Well, we didn’t make it to Mahag by Monday morning, as it’d been planned. I suppose Miriam called them, but at this point in such a ridiculous story? I just don’t know.

Long story short, you’re begging of me? Other than that we didn’t make it to our appointment? You mean: what happened up until that point? And why on God’s green earth would you make such a plan & then not actually show up?

No idea how to answer any of that. Short story but just a bit of backstory? Ok, I can manage that.

Oma (Miriam’s mama) passed on this year, and quite honestly, we weren’t sure how Opa (der Günter) would deal with such an elemental change in his life.

To be fair, he’s managed the whole thing mostly magnificently. For fifty years, he was married to die Margarete, so he’s never had to wash his own clothes or manage normal, mundane household tasks. He’s always had a wife to do all of that.

However, now that she’s been gone several months, der Günter has managed his newfound bachelor life that of an old pro.

Why didn’t we make it to our appointment with Mahag in Trudering? Because we needed to go get Opa, so he wouldn’t be alone for his first Xmas without his lovely bride.

Thats why.

To be continued…

Another chapter in the book of Fafa

 

Fafa in Strasbourg on the River Ill
 
The last week has been filled with adventures while my mother was in Germany. She made her annual European trip, which included a week in France, and then she and I met up in Strasbourg before our return to Munich

She loves Munich – as I’ve often mentioned here, we lived here in the early 70s – and at the end of her trip, I asked again if she’d seen enough of the Bavarian capital. Would she want to venture out & see more of the rest of Germany. Although she’s already seen so much of my adopted country and especially of this beautiful city, she insisted that there was plenty more she wants to experience. Not only other cities & regions she’s until now only read about but most importantly shed like to continue to venture out from Munich as a starting point. 

We both agreed that it’s not always easy living so far apart, but her regular travel thisaway makes it a bit more tolerable. Like so many other familes living on separate continents, technology also allows us to regularly communicate in real time. Unquestionably, it’s a second rate substitute, but it at least provides some alternative. 

So what exactly have we been up to? Well, the photo above is on a boat tour of Strasbourg. That’s the River Ill, so we were quite literally ‘illing’. We ate a lot of Bavarian food; it’s possible we even are the equivalent of our body weight in Schnitzel. 

I’ve written about her here: Happy Birthday Fafa, which also explains that’s a nickname she’s gone by since she was a child. 

Because she’s so regularly here, my mom has befriended quite a few people hereabouts. This means she arrives with a bit of an agenda to see and be seen. And because she’s so gregarious, there’s often a new crowd of admirers asking when she’ll be back. 

 

Ella and Louis pondering her return
 

be peaceful, make peace, and stay true to yourself but not at the expense of other people or their level of comfort

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My mom and little Benjamin. At this point, he was the newest addition to the family, and he continues to amaze all of us and ours.

He has his dad’s ability to remember minutiae and he’s not shy about you knowing he knows it. He’s a storage container of vast amounts of trivia. Vast.

We’re all processing our grief differently, but BK Michael seems to do it most under the radar. Stealth like.

He grieves.

Don’t get me wrong.

He just does it with more assurance. Hell tell you it’s been hard since our mother has passed, but he won’t go on and on about it.

But Fafa’s brother, our Uncle David has been on our minds. As has our dad, Bill Auvenshine. I’m sure Michael will tell you of his vivid dreams, if you ask him.

It’s not my place to divulge such a thing.

I know I hear her voice, though. It’s soft but still in my ear.

Quietly, softly guiding me.

Be peaceful, I hear her say. Or so I think at first.

After listening more carefully, I hear, Make peace.

Then I listened further and more carefully, and I heard only after a long wait:

Stay true to yourself but not at the expense of other people or their level of comfort.