… He’s My Daddy :)

To those who know my dad through his work, he is a professional, talented, and all-around classy estate planning attorney. The business he started more than 20 years ago has grown into a successful and renowned law firm. And as a result, attorneys across the country seek out his advice, he gets interviewed in national magazines, and clients travel from around the Midwest (and sometimes even from further away than that) to meet with him. He’s apparently very good at what he does.

As his daughter, however, I was fairly clueless about my dad’s law success until relatively recently. And when I would meet clients or colleagues who would rave about my father’s professionalism, attention to detail, and general attorney-esque skills, I would silently wonder if they had mistaken him for someone else. Because when I think of my dad, I don’t picture a suit and tie, a fancy website, or a law degree. No, I come up with an entirely different set of associations.

To start, despite all his apparent professionalism, my dad (or Papa, as we call him) is one of the funniest people—if not, the funniest person—I know.

chiclets bop

… I rest my case.

Although that’s a recent picture, my dad’s silliness dates back really far—and even has a competitive streak. This became especially apparent whenever my sisters and I convinced him to play “Pretty, Pretty Princess” with us. In case you’re not familiar with classic children’s board games of the 90s, the goal is to amass the most matching-colored plastic jewelry (minus the evil black ring) and wear the fancy plastic crown. My dad succeeded on a regular basis, becoming the prettiest princess of us all:

chiclets papa

My dad also has a bad habit of making up words… or entire languages. “Krullspeak”, as we’ve come to call it, is an odd conglomeration of grammatically incorrect German, words spoken backwards, and entirely made-up vocabulary. When we joke about creating an unofficial dictionary to help translate for potential spouses or future posterity, we’re actually kind of serious. (For instance, when a friend looked at my family’s group text message thread, she needed my help to decipher it.) The German aspect can be especially dangerous. Poor Rascal, unaware that my dad’s version of German couldn’t be trusted, completely confused (and earned the pity of) her friends in Hamburg while visiting during high school. Apparently, “Flieg” doesn’t really translate to “waffle.”

And as if his linguistic and “pretty, pretty princess” skills aren’t enough, my dad is also incredibly clever. As a kid, I experienced this in many positive—and occasionally less-than-positive—ways. Our rhyming competitions were among the more rewarding. Most days, my dad would drive my sisters and me to school on his way to work. And oftentimes during that twenty-plus minute commute, we would have unofficial rhyming battles to come up with the most rhyming sentences in a row. My quick wit (and terribly cheesy poetry) comes from him.

That said, his cleverness wasn’t always beneficial. For example, when we were younger, my sisters and I were obsessed with 101 Dalmatians (I think I dressed up as Penny for 4 Halloweens in a row). And so we often begged my dad to play with us by pretending to be Cruella DeVille. After he had chased us, shrieking, up the stairs and we had taken refuge in a closet, he would then disappear. We stayed in hiding, waiting for him to find us…. but he never did. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, I snuck downstairs and peeked around the corner, only to see my dad in front of the TV enjoying a beer. Now that’s some clever babysitting.

But more than all his silliness, cleverness, and his “pretty, pretty princess” skills, I appreciate the fact that my dad is, simply put, a wonderful dad. He not only does the fun “dad things”, like teaching us to fish and drive stick shift, but he has taken such wonderful care of us behind the scenes, working long hours, sacrificing his own desires, and putting our needs before his own. A servant-leader in every sense, he has gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure my sisters and I have education, opportunities, and everything we could need. For instance, although we didn’t have much money when I was a kid and he was busy with work, my dad still made the time to take us each out on “dates”, even if it was only to the grocery store to get a free cookie and to ride the mechanical horse at the entrance. My dad has taught me how to work hard, to treat all people with dignity, and to always give my all. I’m the person I am today because of my Papa, and I love him more than he could ever know.

Which reminds me, today is his birthday. I should probably get him a gift. Hmmm… maybe he’d like a new plastic crown? 😉

date night

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Kodak Moments

It’s safe to say that I have a picture-taking problem.

It started way back in 7th grade, when I got my first digital camera for Christmas. Complete with a super cool translucent purple case and approximately 1 MB (if that) of memory, this little camera helped me discover my love for amateur photography… and the importance of proper lighting. (If there wasn’t enough light, the camera wouldn’t take a picture.) Poor quality aside, this camera acted as the gateway drug to my picture-taking obsession. I was hooked.

For Christmas my sophomore year of high school, my parents upgraded me to a Kodak EasyShare, so I could capture the (mis)adventures my dad and I would have during our upcoming ten-day trip to Germany. The camera did its job well, although unfortunately I looked terrible in most of the pictures. (Growing out your hair for “locks of love” without owning a blow dryer or straightener can have that effect). But despite my *cough* less-than-stellar appearance, the pictures of Germany turned out great.

... case in point.
… case in point.

Although my formative photographic experiences came from these first two cameras, my picture-taking obsession reached all-new heights during my junior year of college. Before I left for a semester in Austria, my parents presented me with a brand new Canon Digital ELPH camera and a massive memory card. During the next six months, this little camera experienced about six-years’ worth of wear, so that by the end of the semester, the case was scratched, the front cover was held on by a strategically placed purple rubber band, and I had taken more than 20,000 pictures. This led many of my friends to refer to me as the unofficial photographer of Erasmus and to say that “if Steffi didn’t take a picture of it, then it didn’t happen.” Which, honestly, wasn’t far off the mark.

Mirek and I became the unofficial photographers of Erasmus. :)
Mirek and I became the unofficial photographers of Erasmus. 🙂

My picture-taking tendencies have oscillated in the last few years, with peaks, such as during my time at the Kanakuk Institute, and lows, such as when school is in session. And yet while I’ve become slightly less anal about photographing (literally) everything, I still love to capture my experiences… even if I’m terrible about uploading them to Facebook, haha. But although this photography obsession has often come in handy, such as when I was responsible for “Social Media” at Kamp or for my mom’s annual Christmas card, this compulsive need to photograph things actually points to a deeper, more complicated problem: I want to hold onto the present forever, and I really, really, really don’t like change.

And as fate would have it, I am about to experience a whole bunch of changes all at once: I am leaving Atlanta for 14 months and moving to Berlin for my dissertation research. When I came to graduate school, the year of research in Germany seemed like the best part of the program. After all, ever since I’d returned from Austria, I’d been looking for ways to go back to Europe. That’s why I’d applied for the Fulbright, and that’s one of the reasons I chose to study European history. And although I realize that this next year in Berlin will be full of wonderful new adventures with incredible new people, I can’t help but look at my already wonderful life and my all-too incredible friends and want to enjoy this leg of the journey for a little while longer. In the last three years, I have come to love Atlanta, with its many quirks, its terrible humidity and pollen season, and its abysmal traffic. Despite its many idiosyncrasies, this city has become my new home.

But though I dread it—and I hate to think about it—the reality is that I am leaving. In just a few days, I’ll head up I-75 with my parents and say goodbye to Atlanta for more than a year. Ready or not, the transition is coming, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

I know that everything will be okay, that I’ll keep in touch with my friends, and my life will be waiting for me when I get back. But it doesn’t change the fact that my heart hurts, and I am very, very sad. And in the midst of this sadness–and anticipation of sadness, which is almost worse–I keep coming back to this Switchfoot song, which I think at least partially captures how I feel:

Here’s to the twilight
here’s to the memories
these are my souvenirs
my mental pictures of everything
Here’s to the late nights
here’s to the firelight
these are my souvenirs
my souvenirs

[…]

I close my eyes and go back in time
I can see you smiling, you’re so alive
I close my eyes and go back in time
you were wide-eyed, you were wide-eyed
we were so young, we had no fear
we were so young, we had just begun
a song we knew, but we never sang
it burned like fire inside our lungs
and life was just happening (and nothing lasts, nothing lasts forever)
and life was just happening (and nothing lasts, nothing lasts forever)
I wouldn’t trade it for anything
my souvenirs

The pictures I take—and the memories they symbolize—are souvenirs of my life in Atlanta, visible reminders of the people and city I have come to love. And even though I know that, during this next year, I will inevitably look at them and feel sad, I hope that God will help me see these pictures and be grateful. Because my pain, though unpleasant, proves that these people and this place mean something to me. No one grieves the loss, even temporary, of something insignificant. And so while it stinks to say goodbye, I’m grateful that I have so many people to miss. And I look forward to that day 14 months from now, when I’ll be reunited with them and this quirky city we call home. In the meantime, I will look at my photos, I’ll pray for these friends, and I’ll keep in touch with them as best as the 6-hour time difference will allow.

And while I’m in Germany, I’ll also take a lot of pictures. After all, I have a reputation to maintain. 😉

camera and me

(78) Days of Summer

You meet the coolest people at foreign language programs, and these friends prove it. :)
You meet the coolest people at foreign language programs, and these friends prove it!

Das Leben ist ein Abenteuer. Życie jest przygoda. Life is an adventure. And for me, so was this summer.

This particular adventure began last October. My advisor was in town for a few weeks, taking a break from her sabbatical in Germany. She invited me to lunch and over a dish of gluten-free pasta asked me the question that every first-year graduate student dreads: “What exactly do you want to study?” I was about to reply that I wasn’t sure, that I was still trying to figure it out, and that I needed a little more time when out of my pasta-filled mouth popped, “I think I’m interested in Eastern Europe.” To which she immediately replied, “Well, I guess you need to learn a Slavic language. How about Polish?” So after lunch, I got on the Internet and ran a search for Polish language programs in the US. I found two that looked promising: a ten-week program in Pittsburgh with an abroad component in Krakow and an eight-week one in Indiana. So I decided to apply to both. If I got in and got funding for one of them, great. If not, then I’d find something else to do. Simple, right?

All winter long, though, I found myself worrying. What if this was just another dumb Steffi idea that sounded promising but then turned out to be a waste of everyone’s time and money? After all, if I didn’t get some kind of scholarship, there was no way I could afford it; foreign language classes are expensive. And even if I did get in and receive some funding, what if I didn’t learn enough Polish to actually use it? This felt like a fool’s errand, and the confused reactions (“Huh?”) I received from most people who asked about my summer plans seemed to confirm my fears. After I submitted my application, I shared these concerns with my mom, and (as usual) she gave me great advice.  She explained that in the Old Testament, Gideon was unsure, and he asked God for a sign. Gideon laid a fleece or a piece of sheep wool outside overnight, and told God that in the morning if the fleece were wet and the ground dry, then he would believe. Sure enough, God did just that. Still unconvinced, Gideon asked God to do it again, but this time make the ground wet and the fleece dry. Again, God answered, and Gideon believed. Along these lines, my mom suggested that I also pray for affirmation about my decision to learn Polish:  If God would provide for me financially, then I’d know I should learn Polish and this wasn’t just another Steffi-style pipe dream. So with this in mind, I waited to hear back from the programs and prayed for clarity with my $8,000 “fleece.”

And then the craziest thing happened: God answered! On Good Friday, I got an email from the Pittsburgh program with my acceptance letter and scholarship information. But though they offered a substantial amount of money, it still wasn’t enough to make the class affordable. The following Monday, I called the program director that Monday to see if I could transfer into the cheaper program without the month in Kraków. To my astonishment, she offered me a different package, one that would cover almost the entire program cost. My figurative fleece had dripping wet—and I was going to Poland!

And as if that weren’t enough, God continued to provide, over and over and over again. When I was looking for a place to live in Pittsburgh (where I knew absolutely no one), He gave my mom the idea to contact the local Lutheran church. And then He prompted a family at that church to connect me with their friends who needed a house-sitter for the summer. It could not have worked out more perfectly. And the Cookes (the family that stayed behind) became my unofficial “host family,” picking me up from the airport, welcoming me into their home, feeding me absolutely delicious food (their last name is very fitting!), and even driving me to campus when I accidentally overslept and missed the bus.

And if I could see God’s faithfulness in Pittsburgh, it was written in neon flashing signs everywhere in Poland (… in English, so I could read it, haha.) Looking back on my four weeks there, I can’t help but be overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by all the incredible people at the Prolog language school, by my wonderful classmates from all over the world, by all the thought-provoking and meaningful conversations we had, by all the unforgettable places we visited and things we saw, and by all the memories I’ll carry with me forever. Oh yeah, and by all the Polish I attempted to learn. 😉

This summer was undoubtedly one of the best and most rewarding of my life thus far. Not only did I make so many new friends (Shout-out here to Lenna. Thanks for being my Kraków buddy… and for putting up with my terrible sense of direction!), but I also reconnected with old ones (Thanks for coming to visit me in Kraków, Mirek! And for letting me hang out with you in Paris, Anne-So!). And as if that weren’t enough, I even got to spend 3 days in the neighborhood in Germany where I was born (Danke schön to the Mauntz family and to all the neighbors, especially the Timpes and the Bergens! Y’all are awesome!)

As I write this, I am sitting in seat 21A on Lufthansa flight 444 back to Atlanta. When I boarded a smaller plane to Pittsburgh 78 days ago, I had no idea what was in store for me. But God knew. Even before that afternoon last October, He knew. He always knows, and He always has everything under His perfect and sovereign control. Yes, life is an adventure. And I’m so thankful to be along for the ride. 🙂

Some of the kindest people (and the best cooks!) I've ever met. Thanks for being such a blessing to me!
Some of the kindest people (and the best cooks!) I’ve ever met. Thanks for being such a blessing to me!
Before we finished our study abroad semester in Graz, Mirek and I pinky-promised that we would see each other sometime in the next 5 years. So of course we had to do the same thing again this time. :)
Before we finished our study abroad semester in Graz, Mirek and I pinky-promised that we would see each other sometime in the next 5 years. So of course we had to do the same thing again this time… and take a picture of it.
Lenna deserves an award for being one of the best travel buddies ever. And for being a great friend. Kocham ciebie! :)
Lenna deserves an award for being one of the best travel buddies ever. And for being a great friend. Kocham ciebie!
Much love to my favorite Parisian Anne-Sophie. Thanks for spending your vacation days with me! :)
Much love to my favorite Parisian Anne-Sophie. Thanks for spending your vacation days with me!
Dinner with the neighbors in Niederhoechstadt. Such a wunderschoene evening and one I will never forget. Thanks for making me feel so special and loved!
Dinner with the neighbors in Niederhoechstadt. Such a wunderschoene evening and one I will never forget. Thanks for making me feel so special and loved! A perfect end to a fabulous summer.