Basic Spaces

Our flat in the villa is anything but a basic space. It really is quite lovely, and it is set up to make you feel like you are NOT in a hotel, living from a suitcase. I think when our students arrive, they will find features that remind them of their dorms (bunkbeds), and quite a few things that don’t (increased elbow room!). Back to our space, in addition to the living/dining space, the front part of our flat includes the entry, kitchen, and bath. I will hit those today (at least the kitchen and bath), and save the rest of the flat for the next post.

The kitchen is probably one of the spaces at home Laura enjoys the most. Cooking is a skill she enjoys practicing, an art she likes to play with in terms of trying new recipes and interesting ingredients, and one of the ways that she feels engaged with family making things we like. Plus, it’s the site of her coffee-making, without which mornings would be rough in the Carroll household. Thank heaven–and Susan Lewis–there is a milk frother and Nespresso in the Leipzig kitchen. Though the oven sets for Celsius and we haven’t determine all of the presets on the microwave, yet, the kitchen is open with natural light and has nearly everything one would need to keep it a pleasant space, even for someone who values that space like Laura does.

There are plenty of windows and skylights throughout the flat, which means lots of natural light. The tall pole hiding out behind the hutch is one used to open the skylight windows–something that may be pleasant in a couple of months.
From left to right, you have the pantry, the oven, the facade of the dishwasher, and the washer/dryer combo below the microwave.

One part I glossed over (really so that I could come back and give it a section of its own) are the recycling bins in the house. It’s silly, but I get all warm and fuzzy about recycling, and the Germans are hard-core recyclers.

Our colorfully cheery recycling bins!

So, for things like coke bottles and other frequently used plastics, the Germans have a pfand (deposit) system. You pay extra on the front end for the beverage, and you return the empty bottles to pfand machines to get your money back. Thus, if you don’t return the bottles, they already have the money in place to deal with the processing of what hasn’t been recycled. Last time we were in Germany, I noticed many public space trash containers had pfand bottles sitting right next to them. Talking to people on that visit, I discovered that oftentimes people will choose not to recycle them, but also won’t throw them away so that poorer people can collect them, and thus the deposit, without having to root through garbage. I haven’t seen that this time around, but it’s also winter, so it may be more common when weather is better.

As for our containers, the green one contains compostable waste–egg shells, food that remains on plates after a meal, paper napkins that have food ick on them, and the like. The yellow one contains plastics (strangely enough foil packaging for foods–like those that seal plastic yogurt containers–count as a plastic as do things like boxed milk or juice containers. If it is plastic, it can pretty much be recycled. Blue is for paper and cardboard. And orange is for things that can’t be recycled (actually, black is, but we don’t have a black bin lid!). Glass is a different category, and you have to take it to a recycling location–they don’t pick it up at the house. Once a bin fills, we use the bag it is in to take it to the coordinating large bin outside the house–and those bins are collected every other week. The one exception is paper/cardboard, it is dumped into the blue bin rather than kept in the bag it is in when it heads out. This may not be surprising to many of you, but I already had a similar system at home, but far fewer things can be recycled in Abilene than can be in Germany, and I have to do all of the transporting.

The next room on the tour is the bathroom. I won’t pretend it’s terribly exciting, but it has a couple of features that we would love to import home.

Here’s the tub, complete with the large picture window over it. So far no one has had any inclination to raise the shade.

Feature 1 that every American home ought to have that is pretty common in Europe–the steam heaters in the bathroom also double as towel racks, so your towel is always dry and always warm. In cold weather, that’s spectacular, but I think it would be pretty welcome even in Texas.

Toilet and shower. My ad revenue for this post just went dow . . . nevermind.

Feature 2 every American home ought to have. I know it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but these types of toilets seem to be standard in Europe. I don’t know how they work, but despite being low flow, and not a goose neck to be found, I don’t think they ever clog. That gets rid of the frequent use of the plunger necessitated by the standard design in the US combined with low-flow legislation. I don’t know why the shower stall has both a rainfall showerhead and the smaller adjustable one, but, hey, both work well and have hot water, so all the Carrolls are happy and clean.

The villa is amazing, and we’ve only been here since Monday, but we are abroad and everybody wants to get out and explore to some degree.

Oh, the places you’ll go . . .

I think Laura was the most ready to get out of the house, but Molly was clearly showing signs of getting stir-crazy as well. If you have not been to Germany, there are castles everywhere. Based on a recommendation from Susan Lewis, we decided to explore Konigstein (here is where I discover I don’t know how to use umlauts on my PC) and its castle built on and into a hill. You can get a regional train ticket in Germany that pretty cheaply gives you and up to four of your friends twenty-four hour train access (except for ICEs, or the fastest trains) to an entire region. So, we got a Sachsen pass, hopped on the Regional train to Dresden (90 minutes), and then switched to another Regional train to Konigstein (30 minutes). Laura had read that the bus from the city up to the fortress was not running, so when we arrived in Konigstein, we headed up the mountain on the Maierweg, a short 1.6 km, but uphill, hike.

A happy hiker!

The city of Konigstein is along the Elbe river, and most buildings are clustered rights at the river, so within a few blocks we were already on the trail. As you first leave the city, the trail is pretty narrow between stone wall and hedge row.

The Carrolls! And the yellow, small palace of Christian I on the grounds of Konigstein in the distance.

Once past the city, the trail opens up, and being winter that meant snow. Even once we entered woods, the snow kept getting thicker (although it was never deeper than four or five inches). The going was slow, but I think that allowed us to be taken in by the sheer size of the fortress (which dates back to the 1200s–though it was not nearly as large then).

The walls of Konigstein are a blend of the rock of the hill and brick masonry that is impressively massive. At their highest, the vertical walls are 150 feet. Without an aerial view, it’s hard to offer a true sense of scope, but it is daunting. The fortress commanded passage of the Elbe below and had strategic value in controlling the area and passage on the river. As impressive as it was, it was never part of a major military conflict in part because there really was no point in attacking it. Despite this, it housed soldiers for centuries. Once long artillery was developed in the 19th century, it became irrelevant militarily, but, even so, in their museum collection they have the bomber jacket of a WWII US Army Airman who was downed and imprisoned as a POW in the castle, and they also found a Nazi officer military uniform in the old church on the grounds in 1994.

This is the entry to Konigstein, once you have made it through the wall gate. The large building is the main “castle” on the grounds.

Today, the fortress is mainly a tourist destination. The museum on property is housed in the main building in the fortress, and it documents the history of construction, the change in military equipment of those stationed there through the centuries, the prison of the fortress, and the lifestyle of the nobility who spent time at the property. The museum has multiple interactive exhibits–Molly particularly enjoyed the one that explained the physics of a trebuchet as it had you try to damage a computer rendering of the fortress with one. It also hosts meals similar to what you might find at a medieval times restaurant (which seems really kitschy until you realize the effectiveness of the location), seasonal fairs, and a popular Christmas market. We also met a Lutheran missionary while we were there who is a Hoosier whose most recent home in the States was in Virginia, but now feels like Dresden is home. Laura and I tried to get our minds around American Lutheran missionaries in Germany, but he was particularly friendly, and I had a pleasant chat with him. Here are some of the displays from the museum and the fortress at large:

Arms and armor from the old armory or found on the site.
More recent arms, kept in immaculate condition.
The dining hall in Christian I’s Palace (which was the yellow building in an earlier picture).

We decided to leave before dark (dusk is around 4:30) as we didn’t want to try to negotiate the snowy/icy path in the dark. Just after we made it to the parking lot, we saw the shuttle to the town leaving (so much for the internet schedule accuracy saying it was closed!) and decided to walk down rather than wait for the next one. We made it to Dresden earlier than we planned, as we had thought of eating there, so headed directly back to Leipzig (warm pretzels may have been involved at this point). Without food plans, we were pretty hungry at the hauptbonhof (train station) when we arrived. Leipzig’s hauptbonhof is also a huge mall, with two groceries stores, likely twenty-five restaurants, and plenty of stores. We were fascinated by Frittz–a restaurant focused on fries blended with entries. Molly, not our most adventurous eater, ate garlic fries with ketchup. Laura and I shared Chef Frittz–fries with grilled onions, bacon, scallions, and cheddar cheese. Jane Anne decided on Vegi Frittz–fries with tomatos, sour cream and “avocado cream” (not to be mistaken for guacamole–or you’ll be sorely disappointed). I was kind of shocked at how much we all enjoyed it. We could have had Chili-Cheese Frittz–a blend of fries, nachos, ground beef, jalapenos, and cheesesauce–or Vanilla Frittz–sweet-potato fries with vanilla sauce. There are so many ways this concept can go wrong, but, as I said, we all enjoyed it. Plus, we all made it to bed in time to get plenty of rest for our first church service in Germany (spoiler alert– we planned to head to an English-speaking church).




Nearly every day, we pass by Lutherkirche-Zentrum West (construction started 1883) as we pass through Johannapark on the way to city center. Today, some local children were constructing a family of snowmen, there.

On January 7th of this year, the Carrolls arrived in Leipzig. We have showered, found and consumed food, and slept. These were all good things, even if we negotiated some better than others. We have also walked about town some and been to the Thomaskirche’s vespers service on a night that featured their renowned boys’ choir. Thomaskirche is where Bach spent the last years of his life (1723-50) as music director, and he is buried at the church.

Laura documents life through other media these days, so the infrequent updates that you find here will be coming from me (Bill), and some family has been gently nudging that they would like updates. I will point out that Jane Anne is documenting our time via Instagram @letsgocarrolling while we are here.

For those who don’t know, we will be spending a semester here with a group of our students from ACU. They will be learning German at a local institution (and I will be taking German with them!), online Bible classes from ACU, a Global Studies course focused on German history and culture from Laura, a sophomore literature course focused on Grimm’s fairy tales (as well as their origins and adaptations) from me, an upper-division English course with the same topic from me, and some will join me for an Honors course on German gaming and sports culture.

Our girls will be learning from online courses, a blend of homeschooling and college courses from us, and some of their teachers who are using google classroom and other technology to teach them. The girls have not been happy to start their classes before the ACU students even arrive! It doesn’t seem to matter to them that their peers have also gone back to class.

Having never blogged, I intend to start slowly. I have been asked for more pictures of our residence, and I will try to work through it before the students arrive. It really is a glorious space. It is one of the older villas that managed to survive WWII and the changes that came with being part of East Germany. Before ACU acquired it, it had been a music school for some time, and was cared for lovingly. ACU has since updated it to fit its needs as a base for long semester and summer student experiences. We will be in the faculty flat.

Based on a quick Facebook post, people noticed the abundant windows of the living room. Here are there views:

The view to the Southwest shows our neighbors, The English School, where private tutoring offers all levels of learning of English (but as the Queen speaks it).

The view to the northwest looks over the canal running behind the house. The villa has two kayaks students can take out on the canal and the river it hits to the left–the river runs by Red Bull arena where the local Bundesliga soccer team plays.
The view to the northeast is of our neighboring property that seems to have run out of renovation funding. Raccoons of unusual size have taken over the place, and we have been warned to avoid taking out garbage at night unless you are bold enough to go against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

These images remind me that the average temperature since we have arrived has been about 34. While our girls don’t love it, they do love the snow we have had.

The inside of our flat is nice and cozy, though. Here is the open living/dining space:

Laura has made a house rule that any evening we are at home, we spend time together in this space. It’s quite inviting, so I have no complaints with that rule!
Here’s the other angle, which serves two purposes. One, I wanted to get an actual living breathing Carroll in one of the photos to prove we are here. Two, I wanted to point out the large picture window in the upper-left corner. It fascinates me because it opens on the bathroom; there is a lot I need to learn about German culture, apparently.

So, that’s one room of the villa. We head to Konigstein tomorrow, so I will try to review that and offer a new room on Sunday. Hopefully, as I write more blog posts, I get better at entertaining folks, but this will have to do for my first. Tschuss!

Oh, and here’s proof that I’m here. I love street food. I love wurst. It’s going to be a good semester!

Well that was quite a year…

2016 certainly didn’t happen like we’d planned — our worlds were upended on March 21 with a breast cancer diagnosis — but as Bill and I reflected back on the year recently, we realized that though it was definitely a HARD year, 2016 was not a BAD year.

When I called my friend Mandy — someone who knows too much about cancer — to tell her my news, she told me that there would be joy in times that I couldn’t imagine there being joy. She’s been right: over and over again, joy pops up, just in time. Maybe at some point, I’ll be ready to write about the experiences of this year, but right now, they’re still too raw. I have a bit of a pit in my stomach, even as I type right now.

For now, though, a few highlights of 2016:


Me, Mandy and the Patti Pie — one of those joy-filled moments

  1. I felt so supported and loved by countless people. I can’t even begin to list all the cards, gifts, food, prayers, and ways that people reminded our family that we were not alone. Friendships were deepened and new friendships created in ways that only happens in the midst of struggle.


My girls celebrating my birthday in Lubbock.

2. My awesome kids kept being awesome. Both girls were all sorts of brave in 2016: JA competed in high jump, performed with her choir at the Texas Music Educators Association convention, attended Maker Academy at ACU, participated in a church mission trip, moved up to pointe in ballet, and was appointed to leadership team at her school.

Molly read 9 million words, went to overnight camp at ACU, ran for mayor of her elementary school, joined the handbell choir, and learned to sew.



3. We had an amazing vacation in Western Colorado. Our original summer plans had included a month-long vacation to Canada, but chemo postponed that trip until 2017. We were able, however, to take a two-week vacation to Colorado, spending a few days in Mesa Verde National Park and 11-days in Ouray. We hiked, and hiked, and hiked (one of our family’s favorite pastimes), explored new places, worked puzzles, played games, and enjoyed being together.


We’d been in the car a while at this point…


Hiking to the cliff dwellings


IN the cliff dwellings


Skipping rocks at Blue Lake

4. I’m still me. That may sound weird, but one of my fears this year would be that cancer — and all the accompanying treatments — would change me, and, of course, there are ways it has. At my core, though, I’m still the same. I’ve worked, exercised, taught my classes, been a mom, traveled, laughed, gotten angry and thrown fits (one on the top of a mountain in Colorado), and been my goofy self day in and day out. (Even as my hair grows back, my same cowlicks are still there — something I was surprisingly relieved to discover.)


During a weekend with Susie in October, doing what we do best — talk, walk, and drink chai.


Thanksgiving shenanigans

5. We’re ready for a new year. Cancer is SO 2016. I finished radiation in December, and now we learn to live in a post-cancer world. We figure out how to keep the anxiety and fears at bay, live in the present, and continue to seek joy.

The girls are back at school this week, and Bill and I are prepping for a new semester. Before we settle too far into the rhythms of a new year, we do have a little celebrating to do. Stay tuned…


On our last day with the Paunans before we headed further north, we spend the day in Milwaukee reminiscing about the two years we spent there.


Bill and I both did graduate degrees at Marquette University, moving up there when we’d only been married a few months. I don’t think either of us were prepared for the cold, or the loneliness, or how hard it would be.  We also weren’t prepared for how incredibly beautiful it was, what amazing friends we would make, or how it would strengthen our marriage.

After two years in Milwaukee, we were very ready to move to the warmer climes of College Station. I wouldn’t miss the bitterly cold 8-block walk from our apartment to campus or the awful grey snow that lingers into April, but we would miss our long hikes at one of the many Wisconsin state parks, our strolls along the lakefront on long summer nights, our sweet little church that nurtured and fed us, and the new adventure that we had braved.

I hadn’t been back to Milwaukee since Bill defended his dissertation in 2005, and we were excited to show parts of the city and campus to the girls.

We started outside our apartment on Wisconsin Avenue; it had cleaned up a bit — no bars on the windows!


We walked down to campus after that, noticing how many things were the same and how much had changed.  The flower shop that reminded me I was almost home was just a grassy lot, but when we cut through the Engineering Building (for a bathroom break this time. I used to cut through to have a few moments out of the cold) it looked very much as it did when I taught my very first college classes there.

Campus was stunning as always. We visited St. Joan of Arc Chapel (the pic at the top of this post), which had always been our favorite place on campus, the new library, and the student union, where JA scored a new sweatshirt.


After lunch we headed to the lakefront, and the girls played in the (cold!) water and collected rocks.  It was fun to start our Great Lakes part of our trip at a place that holds so many fond memories for us. I loved getting to share this day with the Paunans, too, because this is where our dear, dear friendship began.

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After a few other really fun new places (The Urban Ecology Center to see Susie’s sister and The Waxwing for some local artist shopping), we headed to get some frozen custard and — the worst part — to say goodbye. I hate this part. So thankful for good memories and good friends. (And that Susie and I have our next adventure planned…)


Our July Adventure Part 1


After we wrapped up our June responsibilities, it was time to hit the road for a few weeks.  I love a long road trip because it affords a chance to slow down, see new things, and have all my people trapped in the car with me.  We packed snacks and books and movies and headed north bright and early on July 3rd.

Our first stop was lunch with my long-time best friend, Alyssa, and her family.  It’s hard to believe we’ve known each other for 25 years!  We ate pizza, chatted, and watched the kids play before hitting the road again towards Chicago.


Day two of our trip we arrived at the Paunans’ house, ready to spend the week with John, Susie, Sydney and Addy.  We visit Chicago every other summer, and during the other summers they’re lucky enough to come to Abilene! The fours girls played — lots of imagining Harry Potter world — and read and shared secrets, and the adults stayed up way too late each night playing our log-running game of canasta.  (It was a banner year for Susie and me! I think the tide is turning!)

Susie had planned several fun outings for us, the first of which was the Morton Arboretum.  We hiked, picnicked and climbed all over this lovely spot.

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On a particularly hot day, we drove downtown to the Museum of Science and Industry. It’s a fun, hands-on place and the girls all had a great time learning about avalanches, planes, tornadoes, and many other cool scientific phenomenon.  I think we could have stayed all day if the hanger hadn’t set in.  We found a sandwich shop for lunch and watched it pour out the window as the cool front moved in.

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The one Chicago activity that the girls requested was to volunteer at Feed My Starving Children again. The loved this service project in 2013 and were excited to fill food packs again.


I think my favorite outing was the Northshore Sculpture Park. Susie printed activity guides for the girls and we strolled along learning about the art, discussing what it meant, and taking silly pictures. The day was cool and sunny and we followed up our walk with some yummy burgers. Perfect.

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It’s so fun to have friends who live in such fun places — we love getting to hang out in Chicago every other year — but we’d really like it better if the Paunans lived a lot closer.

Um, August? (A June Recap)

It’s hard to believe that today is August 1st and our summer is winding down. June and July have absolutely flown by.

We started the summer of at full speed.  I started my in my new position as Director of Faculty Development in the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning on June 1.  While this new role doesn’t require a lot of work in the summer, I was on campus more than usual trying to get my feet under me and learn the ins and outs of my responsibilities.  Right now I’m working on planning the New Faculty Orientation and a mini-conference for faculty before school starts.  I’m looking forward to getting to work with faculty all across campus.

The girls started off June with activities as well.  In addition to preparing for their recital, Jane Anne attended ACU’s Maker Academy, where her team built and raced a go cart! She loved all the hands-on projects and getting to experience ACU’s Maker Lab.  Meanwhile, Molly was across campus at ACU’s soccer camp.

The first Sunday in June was the girls’ recital. I say this every year, but I love watching them do something they love.  And each year I’m amazed at how much they’ve developed as  dancers.  They each had two ballet classes, Molly had jazz, and JA had lyrical.

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And my niece and sister-in-law got to come to the recital as well! Izzy is definitely one of the the girls’ biggest fans!


My brother’s family stayed in Abilene for about a week, and we got to hangout with them.  The cousins had a great time playing together and one of the highlights of the week was a fun (if hot) trip to the Abilene Zoo.


After they left, Molly and I took a night away to Fort Worth while Bill and JA stayed home to play games and watch the Avengers. We went to the art activity at the Kimbell, relaxed at the hotel, had a dinner date, wandered Sundance Square, and explored the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.  It was great to go at Molly’s pace (which isn’t very fast) and get to do EXACTLY what she wanted.

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A few days later, I headed to Chicago.  (Phew — I’m beginning to see why it feels like summer flew by!) Bill had gotten Mumford and Sons tickets for my friend Susie and me.  We had such a relaxing girls week — taking walks, sipping chai, shopping, and just chatting — and Mumford was a blast!  A great concert. (And, yes, we’re wearing sweatshirts. In June. Glorious.)


It was easy to say goodbye to Susie, knowing we’d be back in a couple weeks on our family vacation.

The last couple weeks of June were a bit calmer: some work, some lazy days, time with friends.  We spent much of July traveling, so more about that in a couple of days!


5 months later

We’ve now been back home almost as long as we were gone.  Our days have been filled with quotidian rhythms: school, work, dance, soccer, choir. It’s been blissfully ordinary. In some ways, it’s been hard, too.  We miss walking everywhere and spending lots of time together as a family.  Some days I really long for the slow pace that Oxford afforded.


On the other hand, we love being back with friends, in our house, and having some semblance of a schedule.  (Not that I minded a schedule that involved training to London for the day; it’s just not sustainable.)

Over the past five months, we’ve settled into the new house and actually hung things on the walls.  We’ve watched our flower gardens explode with color and sat under the twinkling lights on our back patio. We’ve driven Texas backroads and drunk in the expanse of sky. We’ve cheered JA’s first choir concert and Molly’s first games.  We’ve celebrated a 12 year old and a 9 year old.  We’ve shared meals with dear friends.  We’ve eaten gallons of salsa.  And we’ve planned future adventures.

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But today was the girls last day of school! (We were dragging ourselves to the finish line — I’m not sure Molly was on time to school one day this week!) So we’re back to a little slower pace.  The girls have some activities this summer and I’ve got plans for our summer learning schedule. For today, though, we’ll swim, sleep in, read, and enjoy the slower pace.  (And I’ll make a promise to blog more regularly than every 5 months.)