Mental Souvenirs

Mental Souvenirs:
Stuff I learned from
Cait and Jeremy

Wow! I have been incredibly lucky with my first stop, Boston, and my first two and a half hosts, Cait, Jeremy and their beautiful dog, Baylee.

First, I have to admit: I would not have picked Boston as a destination, especially not at this time of the year – it was just never a city I was particularly curious about. (Find out how I got here anyways…)

Boston in March… Great…

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my stay here immensely. I will write more about what I loved about Boston, the city. But for now, I want to go into what I loved about staying with Cait and Jeremy – you know, on top of the fact that I had a beautiful room, a comfy bed, and steaming hot coffee every morning…

Whenever I travel I take something home with me – it can be as big as an epiphany about the nature of mankind or something as small as a sentence that sticks with me or a new dish that I’ll prepare at home. And this obviously goes for the way I’m traveling now: Living with friends and relatives of my friends I have the immense privilege of seeing other people’s everyday lives up close. Learning how they organize, cook, communicate. And I love seeing it. So here are some little insights about support, dog people, souvenirs and burrito bowls, that I hope to take away from staying with Cait and Jeremy:

1. Being supportive opens people up – big time

Cait and Jeremy are two of the most affirmative people I ever met: It does not matter whether one of them fixed something on the HBO screen, did the dishes, or took the dog for a walk – the other one will see it, appreciate it and communicate that. On a daily basis. This is amazing. And it really opens you up – because what could possibly go wrong when you have two people who are so kind and willing to cheer each other and their friends on?

They made me feel so secure that I actually rapped “Just lose it” by Eminem. Please, trust me, I am painfully aware of the ridicule that image immediately provokes: the German woman rapping in English with an accent whilst doing dishes. In addition to that, I also have a particular weak spot when it comes to everything Karaoke-related. I do not have a good singing voice and I am not blessed with natural rhythm and I know it. But while I give that white wine some credit for this particular incident I am also quite certain that I would not have done this around many other people. The way Cait and Jeremy treated each other and me those last few days made that possible.

They would not mock me – at least not mercilessly. They would not talk about that horrible moment behind my back. They would let me do my thing, take into account that English is not my native language and be as kind as to people can possibly be. Thank you so much for that one, guys!

2. There is such a thing as a dog person – and you can learn it!

I have never lived with a dog. Some of our neighbors and friends had dogs that I liked to walk and play with as a kid, but they were never my responsibility. Jeremy and Cait own a beautiful playful German Shepherd named Baylee. Jeremy and Cait like to joke about the fact that owning her is more work than having a kid. And though they are obviously not serious, spending all that time with the three of them got me thinking: Owning a dog does something to you, even in comparison to other pets, it strengthens some traits of your personality:

You have to be reliable. You have to be consistent. You have to set boundaries constantly – and feel fine about it. In the beginning, it felt weird to me to give orders to Baylee. You know, to say stuff like NO Baylee, Down! with that serious voice reserved for dogs, kids on a sugar high and especially challenging call center agents. I guess I did not know whether it was my place. And also I had not used that voice in years – if ever.  But of course Baylee was not going to react to underlying sarcasm or playful girlish “Stop it” followed by giggles. That is just not how this way of communicating works. So I learned using the commanding voice a little better. And for me, it was an interesting experience. To own a dog teaches you to make very clear what you want and how you want it. And I am not suggesting that anybody should start using this voice on other people. But learning to set clear boundaries and accepting that this might be the best way for everyone involved because there is just no confusion as to what you want might be a really cool ability to learn from owning a dog – or, you know, visiting one….

3. Bringing everyday souvenirs

I usually don’t bring stuff from the places I traveled. I don’t like dragging it around. I will not know where to put it in my apartment. I don’t like too much stuff anyways. And classic souvenirs often feel weird to me, especially since I can’t get over the suspicion that, no matter where you are, half of them were produced in china.

Cait and Jeremy have also traveled a lot. They taught English in South Korea, volunteered in Cambodia, stayed in Chile. But their apartment is not stuffed with odds and ends from those places. Instead, Cait will all of a sudden, whilst preparing dinner, ask “Remember where we got that bowl, love?”. And both of them will just reminisce for a split second. They bring stuff home and use it instead of treating it like art on display.

What a nice way to commemorate your travels!

4. The deconstructed Burrito Bowl

I am constantly on the hunt for easy, healthy things to cook when I come home from work and things have to happen fast (Do you know that shirt saying “I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry”? The designer must have met me at a particularly bad moment…) So I loved this thing Cait and Jeremy do: Cook some rice, red beans and spicy fried grained meat separately. Put them in a bowl. Add lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado. Top off with salsa sauces, lime juice, and sour cream. Done. The beauty: Basically everything that needs to be cooked in this dish can be prepared whenever you got the time and then reheated whenever you need it. Amazingly handy, easy going and healthy – I am definitely taking this one home with me!

5. Home away from home

So, as you can see, staying with Cait, Jeremy and Baylee has made me richer in many ways. But maybe one of the most important things I learned here, in their apartment, is that you can feel completely at home with strangers. And that despite our different backgrounds, despite the fact that we were raised in different countries by different parents to believe different things, people can turn out to have surprisingly similar attitudes towards the world. There are, of course, people whose experiences have a lot less in common than a white German woman and a white American woman. And people who share friends tend to share even more common ground. But it still is a little miracle to me. And it makes me wonder about all the other people on earth that I share a similar link with. If I connected this easily with all of them, well, the world would be home.  What a weird thing to think.