Small Town (Not) America

My home for the week. 🙂

When you’re doing research for your dissertation, you go to where the sources are. Sometimes, that takes you to major European capitals, like Berlin. Other times, you travel to smaller but still prominent cities like Hannover or Koblenz. But occasionally, you find yourself researching smack dab in the middle of nowhere.

And, as you probably guessed, this week happens to be one of those times.

Although my dissertation frustration is still ongoing, I had a breakthrough shortly after posting my last blog entry. Thanks to some intensive Googling, the German white pages, and some old-school snail mail, I tracked down an archive with some really important sources. And that’s how I ended up in Gross Särchen, a tiny town in the German middle of nowhere roughly halfway Dresden and the Polish border.

Here I should point out that, though I hail from suburbia, I’ve been to my fair share of small towns. One doesn’t grow up in Kansas and go to school in Oklahoma without experiencing a few places that barely qualify for their dot on the map. Plus, during my semester in Austria, I’d visited several tiny European towns. And so through my experiences at home and abroad, I’d come to the conclusion that most small towns share a few common features. For American towns, this usually includes a gas station/convenience store (often with a Casey’s Pizza), a grocery store, and maybe, just maybe a stoplight. For European towns, the list would feature public transit and/or railway access, a church, and a small town square with maybe a restaurant or two and certainly an ATM.

… Or so I thought.

My first clue should have come while I was planning my trip. In response to my query on the Deutsche Bahn website, I received a message that “no routes were found” between Gross Särchen and Berlin. A similar search on Google Maps revealed that, while I could get here via public transit, I would need to take a bus. No train station = Clue #1.

My second clue should have been the housing situation. After I’d confirmed the dates with Herr Ness (who has the archive in his apartment), he offered to check with a nearby inn to see if they had rooms available. Upon hearing that they were booked up, he gave me the contact info for another bed and breakfast in the next town over. No second hotel option = Clue #2

My third would-be clue was closely tied to the first and second. For while I now had a way to get to my research location and a place to stay in the neighboring town (the hotel there luckily wasn’t full), I had no way of getting between the two. Another quick check on Google Maps showed that there were no connecting bus routes. Fortunately, Herr Ness offered to drive me each day. No bus routes = Clue #3.

Despite all of these very obvious clues, I was still fairly clueless about just how small this town would be. That is, until the bus dropped me off in a cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere. Thinking that the bus driver must have been confused—after all, two different town names were listed on my ticket; maybe he had dropped me off at the wrong one—I pulled out my trusty Google Maps app and put in the hotel address. But to my surprise, I was in the right place, and that cul-de-sac was the closest thing to a town square this little dot on the map had. Three minutes and an abandoned-barn sighting later, I found myself at the front door of the Gasthof (Bed & Breakfast) where I’d be staying for the week.

If the preceding events could be considered hints or clues, then what happened next was a dead giveaway. And as I stepped inside the Gasthof’s restaurant/reception area, all conversation ceased and everyone turned in unison to stare at me. If it wasn’t clear before, it was painfully obvious now: I was in a very, very, very small town.

This in itself shouldn’t have been a problem. As an awkward person myself, I have (almost) no trouble with odd social dynamics. And I’ve traveled enough that I’ve grown rather accustomed to sticking out like a sore thumb. Besides, at least I was in Germany, where I could speak the language. No, my problem would be one of a much more tangible—or you might say “liquid”—nature: I didn’t have any money. That’s right, I’d managed to leave Berlin without making it to the ATM. Which meant that I’d showed up in the German version of Mayberry with a whopping 10 Euros and 73 cents in my wallet. And somehow those funds needed to last me for the week. Oops.

Here I should stop to clarify that, although my situation was looking rough, it could have been worse. My room came with breakfast and, since the restaurant was connected to the hotel (as I learned during my oh-so-awkward entrance), I could my meals “on my tab” to pay with my room at the end of the week. This meant that I needed to find a way to stretch my accidental 10-Euro budget across four lunches. With a pre-rumbling stomach, I stopped my mental calculating and called it night, hoping that I’d find a way to make it work. Otherwise, this was going to be a very long and hungry week.

At exactly 12:29 the next day, Herr Ness kicked me out for “Mittagspause”, and I began scouring the streets street in search of food. The first two restaurants I found were closed; that’s okay, one glance at the menu posted outside told me I couldn’t afford them anyway. Walking further along, I came upon a shop advertising schnitzel “to go”. But unsure whether that meant ready-to-eat schnitzel or the take-and-bake kind, I decided to keep walking, with my rumbling stomach and jangling Euro coins providing an unfortunate soundtrack to my day.

That’s when I saw it. Eureka! The capital “S” design that is a universal European sign for a savings bank! Against all odds, in this itty bitty town I had found a bank! Hustling across the street, I ran to the sign, only to have my hopes dashed. Though the “S” sign was indeed for a bank, it was for a “Fahrbar Filiale” or a mobile branch. So yes, there technically was a bank, but it only parked in this spot from 2:30 to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays and 11-12 p.m. on Fridays. Just my luck.

So close and yet so far…

Annoyed, frustrated, and increasingly hangry, I headed back down the street. Before long, I came upon a bakery, and these words on the window caught my eye: “Hotdogs 1,55”. I didn’t need to be a math whiz to know that this price was in my budget (and I didn’t have to be a genius to realize that I wasn’t going to find any other food), so I went inside and ordered a hotdog. I must have sounded especially pathetic because she gave me some cookies to go with it.

And so, for the last four lunches, I have eaten a hotdog, mustard, and cookies at the bakery. No, it’s certainly not the most filling, tasty, or nutritious meal of my life, but it’s already become one of the most memorable… and not simply because of the difficulty I had in finding it. I hope I always remember this meal for a completely different reason:

It reminded me to be thankful.

You see, God has been unbelievably good to me, showering me with His blessings and more than providing for all my needs. I have a wonderful family, incredible friends, and the chance to do work that I (most of the time) love. And yet, although I have countless reasons to be thankful, I very rarely take the time to express my gratitude. If I like it when other people appreciate me or tell me “thanks” when I do small and very temporary things, how much more should I take the time to thank my Heavenly Father for caring for me? Every day, day and in and day out, He showers me with His blessings, and yet I take most of them for granted. I accept the gifts without even stopping to recognize, let alone thank, the Giver.

Monday afternoon and then every day during lunch this week I have been reminded to pause and thank God. For His kindness, for His goodness, and for hotdogs. And even though it’s just a small thing, and I still have such a long way to go in cultivating a heart of gratitude, I can’t help but think that this small-town week brought me a few more steps in the right direction.

Alright, that’s enough writing for one day. Now I need to look up bus schedules. I should probably make sure there is one back to Berlin tomorrow… 😉

The one place where I’ve ever had a “usual.” 🙂

The Five (Million) Second Rule

Life has a lot of rules. Some of them are written down, like the Ten Commandments or the “No Diving” sign at the pool. Others, though, fall into the common knowledge category. Here are some examples:

When in a crowded elevator, look straight forward with gaze slightly above eye-level. Keep your elbows in. And don’t you dare pass gas.

Look both ways before crossing the street. And if you’re vacationing in the UK, look again just to be safe. (Hint: Oncoming traffic will be coming from the right. Winston Churchill made this mistake; you could too.)

If it’s stuck to the bottom of a park bench, don’t eat it. The gum’s pretty color doesn’t change its “ABC” status. In case you missed kindergarten,  that stands for “Already Been Chewed.” Sick nasty.

Finally, there’s the Five-Second Rule. This one really needs no explanation because we all know it and most of us follow it. Although this rule comes with a few possible variations, such as the Three-Second Rule, the Eight-Second Rule, and, in extreme cases, the No-Second Rule. In short, if a piece of food has been on the ground or other unwanted surface for more than __X___ number of seconds, it’s no longer fit for consumption. Or put simply, DO NOT EAT IT. The length of time may vary based on the nature of the food, its level of stickiness, the cleanliness of the environment, the location (i.e., at home or in a public restroom), and other similar factors. But the one underlying principle doesn’t change: Food can become too contaminated for us to eat. Unless maybe you’re from Louisiana….

As the daughter of an anti-pathogen activist (also known as a germaphobe), I observe the Five-Second Rule with strict adherence, oftentimes leaning more toward the No-Second variety. However, occasionally, against my better anti-bacterial judgment, I make an exception. To be eaten by me after contamination, the food must be incredible, irreplaceable, and scrumdidilyumptious. Such an event is noteworthy and rare, like what happened to me a few weeks ago.

I was in Norman, Oklahoma (another rare event, especially for an OSU alum). It was early, and I was leaving the home of my dear friend and former co-counselor Lydia. And I was hungry. Fortunately, though, I had anticipated this moment a few days before while in Stillwater, where I purchased an extra cinnamon roll from Spudnuts.  Since most of the world hasn’t been lucky enough to eat a Spudnut, let me enlighten you about these heavenly pastries. Made from a secret recipe from elves from Germany using potato flour, these donuts don’t just melt in your mouth; they melt your mouth. And to top it all off, they are basically gluten free. Which means that I LOVE them. Unfortunately, though, Stillwater is my closest source for Spudnuts and since I don’t make the I-35 trek very often anymore, my Spudnut encounters are few and far between. However, in a moment of brilliant foresight, I bought an extra cinnamon roll to eat in Lydia’s driveway. And that’s when things got a little “Spud-nutty.”

If I had to wager, I’d bet that 99% of the cinnamon-roll-eating population eats them the same way: From the outside in. I’m no exception to this; I like to eat the outer layers before savoring the ooey, gooey, cinnamon-y center. That morning, I followed this usual pattern with my Spudnut,. I was just about to eat the middle when—BAM!—gravity suddenly cut in.

As if in slow motion, the center of the Spudnut slipped off the remaining outer shell and fell from my hand. Desperately, I reached out to save it, but in my frantic state, I only managed to redirect its fall (and get icing on my arm). Heartbroken, I looked down, expecting to see the ooey, gooey object of my longing covered with countless nasty things from the floorboard. But then I found it! Instead of falling to the land of the No-Second Rule, the Spudnut rested in the space between my seat and the door, miraculously not touching anything disgusting. After close examination, I declared it worthy of consumption, and I enjoyed the last bite of my Spudnut cinnamon roll. Mmmm, delicious. Then a thought interrupted my moment of glucose-induced bliss:

God has no Five-Second Rule.

At first glance, that may seem condemning. “Of course,” you might think, “God is judgmental and angry, like a dad I can never please. I’ve messed up so many times; there’s no way He would ever want me.” But that’s not the point at all. No, quite on the contrary. God doesn’t have a Five-Second Rule; He has a Five-MILLION Second Rule!!!

You see, God loves you. Even though you’ve messed up. In fact, the Bible says that God proves His love by sending Christ to die for us while we were sinners. He doesn’t look for people who are perfect; He’s not interested in the trophies in your case or the zeroes at the end of your paycheck; He wants you.  Exactly as you are. No matter what you’ve done. No matter where you’ve been. If you have Jesus Christ as your Savior, nothing, I repeat nothing, can separate you from His love. It’s too unwavering, too unconditional, too unconventional and too unrelenting. You may feel like squished pea on the floor; even if you weren’t stuck to the ground, no one would want you anyway. But that’s not how your Heavenly Father sees you. To Him, you’re the center of the cinnamon roll, the most important thing on His plate, so to speak. He cares about you more than you can even imagine, and He isn’t going to let you go. So quit running away, quit making excuses, and quit buying into the enemy’s lies and run. Run to Him. Cry out to Him. Ask Him to pick you up again.

And when you do, you’ll see something amazing: He’s been holding you all along. 🙂

(Not So) Yummy in My Tummy

Things aren’t always as they seem.

Take for instance the family gathering at my aunt’s house several years ago. For some reason, the main dish was deli sandwiches accompanied by various types of potato chips and Jell-o salads. Next to one of these salads was a tasty-looking bowl of what I could have sworn was vanilla pudding. It was practically oozing with vanilla-flavored goodness. So naturally, I scooped myself a sizeable dollop, prepared a heaping spoonful, and delivered it to my open mouth as my taste buds were giddy with anticipation… only to discover that—BLECK!!! SICK NASTY! GAG ME!!!—it was actually mayonnaise. But did I projectile spit it across the room? Did I vomit it through my nose? No. Quietly, with dignity, I swallowed it. And proceeded to have a stomach ache for the rest of the day. Ewwww. 😦

Or then there was the time I brought a roast beef sandwich for lunch. I must first preface this by saying that I am a peanut butter and jelly sort of gal. Every day for my freshman year of high school, I ate the same exact lunch: PB&J (made with natural peanut butter), an apple (to be dipped in natural peanut butter), carrot sticks (don’t worry; I didn’t dip them in peanut butter), and some sort of salty snack like pretzels or tortilla chips (occasionally dipped in peanut butter. Just kidding.) Sometimes I would branch out and bring a peanut butter and honey sandwich instead of jelly, but for the most part I stuck to my same, goober-rich diet. (George Washington Carver would be proud). But then one day, I decided to change things up, and I brought a roast beef sandwich with a slice of provolone cheese. Yum. However, from the moment I bit into my sandwich, I knew something was awry; however, I couldn’t put my finger on it. So, of course, I continued eating, even though the texture of the meat seemed tougher and chewier than normal. Upon reaching the halfway mark, I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I opened up my sandwich to see what was wrong. Instantly, I saw the culprit: Wax paper. Apparently, the cheese had been packaged with wax paper to separate the slices. And apparently, a piece of that wax paper made it onto my sandwich—and into my stomach—without me realizing it. Let’s just say that I’m still keeping the peanut butter company in business….

I guess I learned the hard way that appearances can be deceiving. But as Nietzsche once noted, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you (and your stomach) stronger. Luckily, these examples, though exceedingly unpleasant at the time, had rather short-lived effects. Unfortunately, however, this isn’t always the case.

You see, sometimes we humans fail to recognize lies for what they are. We fail to notice the figurative open mayonnaise jars and protruding corners of wax paper, and fall into traps without even realizing it. And once we do realize it, it’s usually too late.

Yes, appearances can be deceiving. And oftentimes, the source of this deception is Satan himself. It’s no coincidence that the Bible calls him the “Father of Lies.” So what are these lies? And how does he deceive us? Well, the specific lies depend on the person, but the end goal is always the same: to take us away from the Truth, i.e. Jesus. For me, these lies have come in many shapes and sizes, but they tend to follow the same pattern. “You’re not good enough; you’ll never be good enough.” “Nobody likes you.” “All you do is annoy people.” “You’re just a worthless failure.” The list goes on and on and on. Maybe your lies have to do with your athletic ability or perceived lack thereof; maybe they pertain to your weight and body type. The possibilities are endless; the variations completely unique. But they all have one thing in common: THEY ARE LIES.

The problem is, though, that if you listen to lies long enough, they start to sound like the truth. Like, if I had eaten enough mayonnaise or wax-paper sandwiches, they might have eventually tasted fine. But would they ever become vanilla pudding and normal roast beef? No! And would they have ever been good for my body? No! In the same way, no matter how many lies we tell ourselves, or how many times we repeat the same lies, they still remain unchangingly, without variation, infinitely and for all eternity LIES.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not believe lies. But how do I overcome them? And more importantly, how do I find the truth?

The answer is simple. The answer is Jesus.

Yes, I know it sounds cliché, like just another rote Sunday school answer, but hear me out. After years of battling the lies bombarding my own mind, I have found that victory lies in Jesus. He Himself says that He is “the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life” (John 14:6). Only by getting close to Him can we banish the lies far from us. He can help you recognize the lies, and He can help you replace them with the truth. He can set you free. All you have to do is ask. Trust me; you won’t regret it. I promise.

Having said all that, I’m hungry. Could you pass me the vanilla pudding please? 😉