Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Holidays

Hi All,

When Tamara called me on Wednesday afternoon while I was at work and asked whether we would celebrate Thanksgiving, i.e., the American Thanksgiving, the next day (Thursday, 22nd of November), I was taken aback. This was only a day before the holiday and I had totally forgotten that the next day was the Thanksgiving Thursday. I still had it pegged as being a week later. Without the days off to remind me, I had simply forgotten.

The last few months have been filled with holidays and the associated emotions that come with them. The emotions of the holidays struck me a bit differently this year as we were away from home and experienced new holidays in our "new" country and some of the traditional American holidays as well. I thought describing some of those experiences would give some insights into our lives as expatriates in Germany.

It all started on the 30th of September with Thanksgiving, of all holidays. The German word is Erntedankfest and literally means harvest thanksgiving festival. It is on a Sunday and many choirs sing in their churches. People get together, but not in the major event type of way like the American Thanksgiving. It's also not a two day holiday, so it's just smaller. Our congregation held a potluck dinner after worship services and sacrament meeting on Sunday. It was very nice, but I can't wait for Ian to be able to feed himself. My parents were also visiting at that time and so it was a nice relaxing day. We took the kids on a nice walk in the woods near our house.

During the last week of September and the 1st week in October our children had the harvest holidays for school. I only experienced this in Idaho while attending Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho). The high schools and (I assume some of the grade and middle schools) in the area had from 5 days to 10 days off of school for potato harvest. For the our kids this was a great time. Grandma and Grandpa were there and dad was home most of the time. It was a good time to renew our family ties and get the kids recharged for school.

October 3 is the Day of German Reunification, marking the day when East and West Germany were officially reunited in 1990. According to one of my college German professors, the 3rd of October was chosen in part because it is the day on which a famous German statesman and Nobel Peace prize winner, Gustav Stresemann, died. The day of reunification is a lesser known holiday in the U.S. as I would say most associate the reunification with the day when the Berlin Wall came down - November 9th 1989.

For Tamara and I it was also a day of reunification as we got to get away for a night without the kids - thanks to grandma and grandpa. We attended the LDS Temple in Frankfurt on the Day of German Reunification, October 3rd as the temple was open for services that day. Tamara and I were sealed in the Salt Lake City Temple, lo these many years ago, and now to be in a temple in Germany together where we first met, was special. We stayed on the temple grounds in a family hostel and it was a wonderful overnighter together. It was very peaceful and helped us to renew our commitment to one another and our family. It also helped us realize that we can go to the temple more often. We can take our children and stay overnight at the family hostel and take turns going to the temple for worship services. We are planning a trip at Christmas time.

Then came Halloween on the 31st of October. This is also Reformation Day (Reformationstag) in some of the more Lutheran parts of Germany and marks the day in 1517 when Martin Luther placed his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Here it is not an official holiday, but people I work with reminded me of its significance. For Halloween, we got dressed up and went to the International School for Trunk-or-Treating. I dressed up as a hockey player and the kids were Darther Vader, a Witch, a Pumpkin, and a Green Bay Packers football player (Spencer had a slumber party and missed some of the Halloween fun).

Halloween was a lot of fun, but really made me miss America. I found it weird that Halloween, a mostly non-sentimental holiday, got me so choked up, but it did. Maybe it was my own memories of Halloween. Maybe it was the excitement of getting dressed up and trick-or-treating with my sisters as a kid. Maybe it was the tooth brushes my dad, a dentist, handed out at Halloween each year. By the way, although it sounds like an odd tradition, our neighbors lived by this tradition. I heard from several neighbors that they waited an extra month or so with an older toothbrush sometimes just for Halloween and the Wheeler toothbrush. Maybe it was the American celebration in Germany, which reminded me that I am a foreigner here in this "new" land. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I was definitely homesick.

On November 1st, All Saints Day, an official holiday in our area of Germany, we celebrated American Thanksgiving. That means that Tamara cooked a traditional thanksgiving dinner. And I have to say, Tamara has not lost her touch one bit, despite the year off. In the states she cooked thanksgiving dinners at least 3 times a year and this was the 1st thanksgiving dinner she has cooked since being in Germany. Me and my friend even watched football. Sure it was last year's rivalry game between BYU and Utah, but the Cougars won in miraculous, last play of the game fashion, and it made for a good time. Not to mention educating my German friend on the finer points of American football. And, in typical thanksgiving day fashion, Tamara kept asking if the game was over, and how much longer, and was generally tired of football even though we fast forwarded about 3/4 of the game not to mention all of the commercials.

Then, on the 12th of November came a great German holiday. Saint Martin's Day and the St. Martin's Day parade (Laterne Laufen). It is a bit hard to express how awestruck I am by this holiday and tradition. For me there is an impressive power that comes with this holiday that I truly cherish each year. Some here compare it to Halloween, because children gather candy by going door-to-door, but it is different than Halloween. The kids don't dress up usually, they just have their lantern to give them light as the walk around.

Here are some of things the kids do for St. Martin's, who was a soldier who took the time to help the poor. Kids walk about 6 km just following St. Martin on his horse. This is called Laterne Laufen, or a lantern/candle light march. Kids sing songs about caring for the poor while walking (Two bands played the music as we marched - one in front of the parade and one in the back). Once the march is over, the kids sing songs and act out a play about helping the poor on the school playground. When going door to door for candy after the festivities, kids sing the songs again before getting the candy. The next day in school, the kids give 1/2 to 3/4 of their candy away to those in need (there is a collection point in the school). For me, the holiday celebration in Düsseldorf last year was even more impressive. There were 6-8 horses instead of just one horse as it was in our village this year, at least two grade schools were involved, and entire city blocks, including street cars and buses, were shut down while we walked through the streets (Laterne Laufen) singing the songs. It was moving.

I really enjoy this German holiday tradition, walking through the streets and hearing the songs and music, and then hearing Hannah sing the songs for days afterward makes me very grateful to have been able to come over and live in Germany for a time. I feel that it is something we could not have experienced otherwise and it made me very grateful for the opportunity to be here.

I hope you all enjoy your Thanksgiving Day and have a great Christmas and New Year.

With Love,
The Wheelers

P.S. Tamara called me on Thanksgiving Day at about 5 p.m. (I was at work) and asked if I was coming home for Thanksgiving dinner. I said, that's not what we talked about. She said, but what if I wanted to surprise you? I was like, Oh phooey. I have to stay late at work and and Tamara cooked a turkey. Gratefully, she said she was kidding and just wanted to check in towards the end of the day.

Friday, October 12, 2007

One Year in Germany

Hi All,

well I thought I would try and get out our 1 year update before our 2 year anniversary comes around. We have been Germany for 1 year as of September 22nd. It is a good feeling to have made it to the one year mark. It's funny that such a milestone means so much, but it for us right now it does mean a lot.

It has been a blessed year for us. Our family has learned lessons that I think would have taken years for our family to learn in the states. It is hard to summarize the many ups and downs and joys and sorrows we have experienced since moving here a year ago. And our experiences it is not different from the lives we all lead. Our family is just leading a normal everyday life in a country that is not our original country. I don't know if there is anything extraordinary about living overseas away from your original home, but here are some of the noteworthy items from our lives this the last year.

Just last week my parents came to visit us and we had a very enjoyable time. The kids were so thrilled to have them here. Even Emma, who is only 2 and almost a half, fell back in love with grandpa and grandma instantly and there was a constant background noise of "grandpa/ma Wheeler, play . . ." . She played hours and hours of games with them, Shantal and Hannah put on shows for them and went shopping, and Spencer went running almost everyday with grandpa. Spencer also had an exciting adventure with grandpa at the dentist (you'll have to read the blog entry for that one, but it was a great story). Ian also was happy to have them around, although it took him a while to warm up to the idea.

Seeing my parents again after what seemed like such a long time, and seeing my children thrive with them here made me want to move in down the street from them. I didn't realize how much I loved them and missed them. I didn't realize how much I needed them prior to being so far away. The feeling of longing for sisters and brothers is also very strong. And, I have noticed that when tough times have come around, that I become particularly attune to such feelings.

On the other hand, we have been able to see people here in Germany we might not have otherwise seen in our lifetime, or who we may have seen many years later. We were able to visit with a former missionary companion and his family as well as our two former exchange students and our former aupair. Those visits were extremely rewarding and valuable. To see them again and to meet two of their families was awesome. It was a huge blessing to be able to see them.

Working in international business has been extremely rewarding for me. I can't put my finger on what is different from the states --> me, the business environment, or both. All I know is I am very happy at work. I am able to speak my mind and my opinion is valued. The work is challenging and interesting. The team that I lead is a lot of fun to work with. An interesting note here is that I am doing the exact same work I did in Denver, CO 6-7 years ago --> unbundling of the local loop for Telecom operators. This time the internet is faster (they are using VoIP technology (like Vonage), which was just a pipe dream 7 years ago) and I am working for the competitor rather than for one of the Baby Bells (Deutsche Telekom in Germany). The work, however, is very similar. It's fun to do it in German this and with Swedish business partners as well (the parent company is in Sweden and so I often work with the central project members in Sweden on the phone and in Stockholm - a very beautiful city).

We have been able to get to know the members of our church here more intimately. I loved the members of the LDS congregations when I was here as a missionary. As I have seen them live their lives and their faith over this last year I have been even more impressed and more filled with love for this great people. They are people of conviction and integrity who do great things and I admire them greatly for their faith. I also understand better some of the challenges they face and have had many questions answered that were still open from my missionary service here in Germany. I obviously understand their challenges better in part because I am older and also have a family now, but also because I have been able to live among them and experience their culture and traditions first hand and unique challenges that they face in Europe that we don't face in the Mid-western U.S. That has been a wonderful blessing.

We have made many friends here as well. The parents of other children in the kids school, and some colleagues at work have been an amazing help to us here. Our neighbors and landlord are also wonderful. The neighbors all built their houses about 30 years ago as younger married couples and have long since sent their own children out into the world. I think that has provided a bit of security for our children and for us. Additionally, the neighbors are constantly giving us gifts for the kids and helping us with various house and garden jobs. Some gifts we have spontaneously receive include: plums, colored pencils, raspberries, pumpkins, sea shells, chocolate and sweets, baloons, sidewalk chalk, to name a few.

I have also grown to love my wife much more than I thought possible. It has been very refreshing to renew our love for one another as we have returned to the country where we first met. I see my children in a new light as well. I admire and respect them more than I did before. They have been through so much and done so well. They do so much around the house and with the babies to keep are family functioning. I also can't begin to count the hours and pains my wife has experienced over this last year, but I know that she is an amazing woman who does much good and has faith to move mountains. I know this, for I have seen her move many mountains this last year.

As I stated above, these are the blessing and challenges that most are seeking for in life: love of family, love of friends, and an anchor or a faith to fill the soul. We appreciate our family and friends, especially those in Wisconsin, who helped us make this leap over the pond last year to a new life and adventure in Germany. We wish you all the best.

INFO: I am trying to gauge the interest in such an email update. Please let me know if you would definitely like to receive a periodic email update. Or, if you definitely do not want to receive a periodic email update. Tamara and I update a blog with details of our day to day lives on a regular basis and have recorded Podcasts to chronicle some of our experiences as well, but I would gladly write, or not write (depending on your preference) the periodic emails as well.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

6 Months eMail from Gardner

Hi All,

I must first apologize for not writing sooner. I was planning on writing a note at about 6 months . But we have already been here Germany for almost one year now! How do I know that? I know because Ian's birthday is in two weeks, and Ian was three weeks old when we arrived in Germany at the end of September last year.

Well, here is the 6 months update, and a my excuse for not writing at six months.

Our time here in Germany has been wonderful. It has been awesome to be back where Tamara and I first met 16 years ago. I can now relate much better to couples who go out to eat, for example, at an out of the way pizza joint at the far side of town, because that was where they had their first date. It has been wonderful to get to know Tamara again here in Germany. It has been like getting to know her all over again.

Here's the short list of "new" things she's had to do since being here: how to be a mom to German school children, how to cook with new and exciting ingredients (I'll tell you one funny story about cooking below), how to relate to German teachers, neighbors, church members, etc. And she does a fabulous job. And it has been enjoyable to see her grow and succeed.

One funny example of the of the changes in cooking is the oven we have in our house. I remember when Tamara first went to bake something nine months ago. She pulled out our trusty American baking pans. They were pretty standard from what I remember as I saw them at several friends houses back home. She put the goodies on the pan and then put the pan into the oven, and was ready to go, except for one minor problem - the door would not close. So she turned the pan the other way. No luck, the pan wouldn't even go into the oven in that direction. She came up with a clever solution though, she uses 9 1/2" x 11" cake pan lids as pans. Those fit and we have used them for about 9 months now.

Now to my excuse for not writing at six months, and another reason why my love for Tamara has grown since returning to Germany.

Tamara suffers from Anemia, which is a shortage of iron, B12, and folic acid in the blood. The doctors told her about this while she was pregnant with Ian and she thought that the problem would improve or go away after the pregnancy. This is why she stopped taking her vitamin tablets after the pregnancy. But the problem did not go away and the lack of vitamins and minerals in her blood led to Tamara getting very tired, easily frustrated, and not being able to function at a normal level. This downward cycle hit really hard in late winter and early spring.

As you can imagine, this would be difficult and challenging for anyone (always tired, frustrated, and worn down, and not seeing the connection as to why it is happening). But for a mom, with five children, in a foreign country, whose husband was in Sweden every 2nd or 3rd week, and hardly at home due to late hours the other weeks, whose children were struggling mightily with the adjustment to the new culture of German schools, whose two babies still wanted to eat and have clean diapers, among other things, this time was extremely difficult.

I remember being quite lonely and that we struggled mightily as family during this time. I didn't know why it was so hard. I remember thinking if we can just make it six months, then we will be alright, but the seconds just couldn't move fast enough to get to that mark. We probably would have had some of these same feelings no matter what our challenges, but the longing and struggle were magnified for us by not having Tamara's full abilities, spirit, and enthusiasm.

In springtime we finally came up with the brilliant idea to have Tamara go to the doctor. This came after we prayed and fasted for Tamara as a family. After praying for that weekend, Tamara felt she should look up some of her symptoms on the internet. Based on her research, she thought it was Anemia and decided to go to the doctor. The doctor determined that the source was, in fact, Anemia and was able to get Tamara the proper Vitamin and minerals combinations. She is doing much better these days, for which we are very grateful.

In short, I am very grateful for my wife, which I re-learned through this wonderful and challenging time. I am very grateful to be with her and our children in this wonderful country of Germany.

We think of you often and hope you are doing well.

With Love,

Friday, July 6, 2007

Thoughts on Driving in Germany

>>>>to a friend who calculated our drive time to a certain location

I've never gotten to 120 m.p.h.. We have hit 100 m.p.h., maybe 105 m.p.h. It is extremely cool to drive 75 - 80 m.p.h with no concerns about cops. It seems so normal. I love Deutschland.


Sunday, April 8, 2007

Some thoughts at 6 Months

>>>>some thoughts at 6 months. I never sent this out as a letter to friends. Not sure why.

Well, the end of March has just passed and that means our family has reached a milestone. We've lived in Germany for six months. This is a tremendous feeling. Why this is such a good feeling is what I will try and explain in this entry.

First of all it is quite natural to set goals in life and hope to attain them. The funny thing about this time line goal is that just surviving, just being alive at the end of the six months in this new and foreign land seemed to have been the goal.

How did we know that this would be such an important goal. Why did we have the feeling that if we make it to six months we might just make it. I can't really explain that. The only thing I can explain is what has happened to us during the six months. We've have some of the sweetest experiences and some of the most difficult experiences of our lives. My wife has documented many of these experiences very well in her Living in Germany blog. I will attempt to discuss of few experiences here.

I remember seeing my wife in a whole new light when we visited a sacrament meeting one Sunday in Mönchengladbach, Tamara's last city on her mission. That was cool. The Luchs family remembered Tamara and had invited her over for dinner that Sunday afternoon. When we arrived in church, brother Schuh, the current bishop of the congregation was so excited to see her, he started talking about the times when she was there and what happened to certain families in the time since she was last here. Then when he introduced the speakers for the day, he spoke with such conviction about the great spirit that Tamara had brought into the ward. I was filled with so much love and admiration for my wife on that day, it was great.

I next remember the Sunday morning in early January when Tamara and I drove to church in Düsseldorf when we both realized that it was 16 years earlier that Tamara and I had first met and that this was the spot on which we first met - in the church parking lot in Düsseldorf. That brief meeting in Januarary of 1991 came as Tamara was first arriving in Germany and then going to work in Dortmund with her first companion and I was leaving the mission office in Düsseldorf to work with a new companion in Duisburg. It was an awesome day, to reflect on our first meeting and feel so grateful that the Lord had brought us together.

On that day I truly felt that we were meant for each other. That Tamara was the perfect match for me. I thought back over the years together and about our first meetings here in Germany. Maybe other couples have the opportunity to return to the place of the first date or the first meeting and reflect on those first moments together and how they led to the rest of the enjoyable times together. For us, this opportunity was a bit more out of the way than your normal restaurant, but it was well worth the trip.

Working with the team that I work with has been great. I was asked to be the leader of a five person software testing team. All of the testers are inexperienced testers. One has training in business and a little bit of information technology background and is from Würzburg in southern Germany. The other four worked in a call center previously and are from the new German states (the former East Germany). The person who helped get me placed on the team is another American, Keith. He is the manager of testing and production support and I am his deputy manager of testing and quality assurance, so to say. Keith's wife is German and he enjoys living in Germany. We enjoy talking about life in Germany from an American point of view quite a bit and it was a huge help for my transition. Our team also works with Sweden and this has been enjoyable to work with the teams up there. The client manager is also very nice to work with. It's uncanny how well I fit in there. I hope that it will continue.

The challenging side shows up in the usual obvious struggles associated with moves, all of which were more difficult than expected, even for what we expected for our international move. These things include finding a house, shipping of household goods, establishing the kids in school, financing the trip, finding a car, working so many hours at a new job, and the obvious struggles my wife and children have faced finding their way in the new neighborhood, school, shopping styles, house, etc.. But, the things that made the transition most difficult are now seemingly so small.

I remember driving in the first week being incredibly difficult. I couldn't follow the street signs and instructions from traffic lights at the normal traffic speeds in a VW minivan and was constantly making wrong turns, because I was constantly trying to figure out what that sign two intersections ago, or two off ramps ago was trying to tell me. Well it was trying to tell me to turn left, but I missed that obvious point, and now I was stuck heading towards the Dutch border, not sure I would ever find my way back to my desired destination.

All of the fun of driving was topped off by attempting to fill up the VW rental with diesel in the first week. This relatively simple task required at least 20 minutes before I actually started putting diesel into to the tank.

First problem was the gas tank location. I'm not sure what genius in Volkswagen engineering came up with the idea to hide the gas cap, but whoever it was did a fine job of it. It took me roughly 10 minutes to find the gas cap. This consisted of 9 minutes of reading the manual (with no success) followed by 1 minute of asking a friendly gentleman at the pump. The gentleman just laughed as he recalled his first experiences with such a car, and helped me find the gas cap.

So what happened in the other 10 minutes before I started actually filling the tank with diesel? Well that was caused by the genius of the gas dispensing system in Germany. What I didn't realize is that there are three different types of diesel and hence three different types of pumps and nozzles. This prevents novices like me from putting the wrong type of diesel into one's car. The nice gentleman was still pumping his gas when I realized that the nozzle at the pump would never in a million years fit into the VW's gas tank. The gentleman explained the system and pointed out where the correct diesel pump was. I was at the medium sized truck diesel pump and needed to be at the car diesel pump (the normal one). I had to back up and wait to get into a spot at this car diesel pump. All told another 10 minutes had passed and then I was able to pump gas.

There were hundreds of similar experiences over the course of the first six months. All were similarly frustrating because I felt like I was missing something that everyone else knew already. These include, getting a cell phone, signing up for health, renters insurance, finding phone service for the house, applying for services, gas water, buying oil to heat the house, getting a monthly bus pass, opening a bank account, getting a loan for a car, getting the kids into school and into the correct grade, signing up for pre-school, finding bikes for the kids and Tamara, going to the doctor, finding a parking place for a minivan. All of these experiences have a story similar to the one above with the gas tank.

My wife would tell you the same thing I believe. For me it simply seemed like my judgment was constantly being clouded. I wasn't open to new ideas when I should have been. I relied on my own genius, when I should have asked for help. I asked for help, when I should have trusted my own judgment. And so things were just hard, like wading through water when you wanted so badly to be walking on water. For us the fact that we have made it thus far is very fulfilling.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

From Tamara at 6 Months

>>>from Tamara

Well, it’s hard to know where to start since I don’t know who knows what about me and my family. I have a blog that I keep up regularly and don’t know who reads it and who does not. So if you read something you already know, I apologize.

So, we have been in Germany for 6 months now. Time has gone fast, or so it seems. The kids are all in the German Schools. I wish I could say they each enjoy it. But they don’t. I think Hannah is the one that likes it the most. Which, if you knew Hannah and school last year, it is kind of shocking to hear. She really has come a long way in these past 4 months that she has been in the school here. Shantal ended up being moved from the 3rd grade into the 2nd grade due to differences in the American School System. Too many things in America that we learn in the 3rd grade where Shantal had not learned them yet where they learn them here in the 1st or 2nd grades. Plus, she struggles more with German than the others. Spencer, who used to love school, really dreads going everyday. I don’t blame him at all. He gets beat up on more occasions than not at school. My heart brakes for him. The teachers have come up with a plan to help with this situation during the recess times, as that is when it tends to happen the most. And then I have resulted in dropping him off at school and picking up him as well. Too bad as we don’t live that far away and walking was such a great option. We all just keep praying that things will go better and these boys at the school will stop picking on him.

Gardner ’s work is going great. He really enjoys what he does. He has recently been working in Sweden during the weeks. He just told me the other night that he might also end up going to Poland . I just hope that at some point while we are living here, I can go with him on some of his business trips. He can work while I see some sites.

Emma is real vocal and active. She has learned sign language. She is starting to actually speak words as well. She is speaking both German and English words. It is fun to listen to her. The funny thing is, we understand her words just clear as can be. But anyone else who hears her wonders why she is trying to say. It is one of those things of being around her all the time I guess.

Ian is also changing a lot. He is crawling, pulling himself up on the couch and just today, climbed up 2 stairs. I can not believe he is old enough to do that already. He is always hungry and just last week we started him on real food versus baby food. He had had bread, bananas, mashed potatoes, cheerios and crackers. He does not sleep through the night yet, as I wish he would. He still gets up once or twice a night to eat. I am still breastfeeding him. I have tried to change him over to formula recently, but he would have none of it. He refused to eat it. So it looks like I will be his main source of eating still for awhile. I don’t mind. Just liked the flexibility with the other with all my running around I have on a daily basis. We also just moved Ian’s crib out of my room and into Spencer’s room. He has slept pretty good the last 3 nights he has been in there. I am happy about that. And Spencer is happy to have a roommate!

The weather here is crappy to say the least. Seems like it one continual rain fall. We did get some sunshine yesterday and I hope it sticks around awhile. The kids all have roller blades so we spent the day on roller blades and playing at the park. It is sure nice to get outside again.

I have not kept up my scrapbooking as much as I would have liked. Seems like I have lost the desire to actually sit down and accomplish some pages. I did make some thank you cards this last month. Fifteen of them. So I am using my scrap supplies. Just have not scrapped any pages. I think that part of my problem is that everything is up on the 3rd floor. And by the time I get up there, it is so late. But then again, if it were some place else, I would find another excuse as to why I am not scrapping. I just need a weekend to go and scrap. That always works for me.

We are planning to do a little traveling over Easter break. We are going to Hannover to visit Sibylle, our Au Pair from a few years ago. Then we will be going up to Hamburg to visit an old missionary companion of Gardner ’s. I’m looking forward to seeing some sites, including some castles!

Well, you can always get updates from our family and see pictures of the kids on my Living in Germany blog.

Email from family and friends are always nice - especially for the kids.

Hope everything is going good for you and your family. I’d love to hear from you when you have time!


Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Risers are Gone

I will long remember the day that I found out the Risers were leaving. We had been in Germany for a few months and I was at the Riser's house yet again, this time to pick up a bed and dresser. It was a cold day in late November or early December. Spencer was with me. While loading the items in our car with Wade Riser, the dad, he informed me that his family would be returning to the States in early 2007, maybe even as early as January 2007.

As I got in the car and we were driving away I told Spencer the news. I cried for several minutes as did Spencer.

The Risers are an American Family that have lived in Germany for the past three years. The father works for Siemens as an engineer. Eva, the mother has generally about one or two extra kids at her house and is always doing nice things for other people. They have two boys (15 and 17 I think) who have lived in the States since the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year. They have three younger children, Sarah 12, Nathan 9, and Sandra 6 who live in Germany still.

Our kids love the Riser's kids. On our first Sunday when I saw Spencer playing soccer in the gymnasium with Nathan after church I thought Nathan was a German boy, because he spoke generally in German (Spencer did fine because you don't really need to speak any German to play soccer, although I've heard it helps). They have since become fast friends and Spencer loves being with another boy his age.

Hannah and Shantal play on a rotating basis with Sarah and Sandra. Just when one set is getting tired of playing together (say Sarah and Hannah), then the other set is ready for a break and they just naturally switch. Sarah is older, but enjoys being a big sister to our two girls (dress-up, make-up, arts and crafts, etc.).

All the kids play with Emma (our 18 month old daughter) or let her roam around their play areas and so she doesn't feel as left out at the Riser's either.

They have a great spirit about them and were a tremendous help to us when we first arrived. Their were so many people who did so much for us when we arrived and moved into our house, Sister Doris Klein, the Andre, Kraft, Crapo, Harzheim, and Grueneveld families among others helped make Christmas for our kids possible, cleaned our house when we were moving in, and did many amazing things for us. The Risers were among those who helped us, but since our two sets of children fit together so well, we ended up spending lots of time with them.

They spoke in church at the end of February 2007 and then there was a dinner held in their honor. It was such a strange feeling to see them go. They not only symbolically represented all of the help and support we have received since arriving, but were very literally the hands of God that reached down to us and made our transition into life here in Germany possible, especially for our kids.

The questions that kept going through my mind was how can we live without this same level of support that we had at the beginning of our journey? How will our children survive? Naturally had the Risers stayed we would not have seen them as much and our paths would have crossed less frequently and we would have mapped out our own lives here in Germany, but them leaving seemed to draw such a firm line and indicate so strongly that the time had come to move on from the "move to Germany" to everyday life in Germany.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Beauty in the Craziness

Based some emails I received I must have been in a pretty sour mood when I wrote that last update. There were lots of tough times just after our arrival and within our move, but a lot of joy as well. Of course Ian who has helped all of us out like I mentioned last time, but also many other wonderful things happened. Here are a few of the joyous moments I remember.

For the real story, you must of course consult


In the craziness there was much beauty. By craziness I mean the last two months of our lives. As you've probably read on Tamara's blog in addition to the general fun of moving, crazy work schedules, getting kids adjusted to new school, finding doctors, registering for a visa, etc. we've had head lice twice, Tamara broke her toe, and did I mention the work schedule?

This last week's weather would actually sum up the craziness in our lives and the range of emotions that come with such hectic.

Thursday (18 Jan) Hurricane "Kyrill", which pounded Europe killing I believe upwards of 50 people and knocking down 40 million trees in Germany with 25 million in North Rhine-Westphalia where we live. This knocked out the train I normally take to work for the entire week.

Tuesday (23 Jan) winter arrives. Up til now we have had very warm weather compared to averages. An extended Autumn so to say. Well anyway, I had to break out a 2nd coat so that I could stand at the bus stops (I was standing at a lot of bus stops for longer than usual due to that train not running all week).

Friday (26 Jan) the first snow came. In the afternoon, the kids played in the snow. The kids love the snow and so even though there was only a dusting they made the most of it. They made snowmen that were about 6 inches tall (15.24 cm - I'm in Europe now). By nightime it had snowed about an inch at our house.

Saturday (27 Jan) spring came again, or that extended Autumn I mentioned. Most of the snow had melted, kids were playing at the parks and many people were outside and life was back to "normal" again.

As I said in the beginning there was much beauty in all of the craziness of the last two or three months. Here is a quick list of a few of them:
- The kids prayers have been heartfelt. It is amazing to listen to and very moving.
- The kids speak German. For three years I have spoken to them in German and they have spoken English to me and so to hear them respond in German now is pretty cool.
- my parents visited us here in Germany. This was amazing, since my parents and I have shared a "Germany" connection all of our lives, but it was very enjoyable to share it with them here in this country. My parents first met in Germany and often told stories of their experiences here. They were both missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often referred to as the mormons) in the early 1960's.
- We got to visit the Christmas Market in Düsseldorf. Always a treat, and not just because of the great food.
- Ian was blessed - This will likely be our last child and so it was a special experience. Tamara has changed her mind before, which is why we have Ian by the way.
- Tamara and I celebrated a special anniversary together. We first met in Düsseldorf in January 1991. It was very cool to think about our lives together and to think about how great she has been for me over the years. She is a doll.
- By the way - our second meeting was in Hagen in December 1991. Our third meeting was at the alter (O.K., just kidding about that, but I don't want to bore you with the details, although they are quite interesting to me)
- Spencer was baptized. This was very cool. After I confirmed Spencer a member of the church he turned to me for what I expected would be a traditional handshake. Instead he jumped into my arms. That was cool.
- Me and the kids watched the Star Wars trilogies together and played like 100 hours of Lego Star Wars for ps2 over the Christmas holidays. That was a lot of fun.
- Spencer went to Toys R Us with grandma and bought a toy with a significant percentage of his Christmas/Birthday/allowance money - A plastic "hockey table" (like a Foosball table [Kicker in German] except the table is designed for hockey instead of soccer). The one he bought sits on top of a kitchen table to help you an imagine it's size. He bought it because he wanted to spend more time with me and knew how much I like hockey (did I mention the crazy work schedule). Despite the hockey table's size it is a lot of fun to play and very moving to see your son do something so touching.
- A very special Christmas.
- The congregation here helped us have a wonderful Christmas. They bought a significant gift for each child and gave us several small gifts for the children as well. And on Christmas Eve the Bishop of the congregation came up to me and handed me a "special delivery" from an anonymous donor. The Card contained 250 Euros - the cost of the Visas for Tamara and the kids (I had already payed for mine just after our arrival in September, but we hadn't gotten to everybody else's yet), and we had to pay for them just after Christmas.
- We were short on money and time and so our Christmas was going to be extra small. The gifts were of tremendous value to us and especially to our kids.
- The kids first Nikolaus. That is December 6th when kids receive a gift in their shoes. In Homberg the shoes were dropped off at local businesses a few days in advance and picked up on the 6th. It was very fun for the kids.
- Hannah's Christmas party was very nice. The greatest part was that the person playing Nikolaus was caught in traffic. So the teachers improvised and told this story about how Nikolaus hit traffic and a fallen tree in the road and gave updates during the evening about the status (even Nikolaus has a cell). It was so funny that when the person arrived I thought they had planned it to be that way. They said no. The person was really lost or caught in traffic or both. I told them they should do it that way every year.
- Hearing German Christmas Carols again was very nice.
- Hearing my dad bear his testimony in German. He spoke twice, once at Spencer's baptism and once in Sacrament meeting after Ian's blessing. The Presiding authority invited my Dad on an impromptu basis to share his testimony with the audience. It made the day complete for me.

Our next challenge may very well be determining how to live normal everyday lives again. Wish us luck.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Crazy Two Months

These last two months have been insane. All things seemed to converge at once. Just as one thing was starting to settle such as the paperwork for our new house (coordinating deposits, payments to the Rental Agent Company, getting registered with the city, etc.), the paperwork and documents for our new car ramped up it's intensity. As these storm began to ebb slightly a three week ordeal with port authorities in the Netherlands began, which is an entire story unto itself. I will only mention here that authorities searched our goods for about 7 hours and only by the grace of God did they stop searching and release our goods with no duties and in time for our move-in date. The authorities found some new clothes for Ian and some boxes of "unopened" cereal at about 4 hours in and decided to continue the search on another day.

This hectic time was naturally followed by moving in. Moving in is always a bit insane and after the third or fourth day of way too many boxes you always want to pull your hair out. For us, this normal mess was further complicated by three items: 1) the long time between packing our goods (May, June) and our move in date --> November 30th, 2) my work schedule which went from about 9 hours away from home to about 11 or 12 hours away from home just after our move-in, and 3) Christmas.

Christmas deserves an explanation. I love Christmas, but with the other two items, having three different Christmas parties for the kids on three different days, a congregation Christmas party on a fourth day, along with all of the usual preparations around the house, I felt like a bit of a scrooge. All events were amazing, but since I generally just wanted to fall over and even missed two of the kids Christmas parties due to work, it seemed only to add to the stress for me.

This brings me to my main point of this entry. I don't think we would have made it as a family if it weren't for our little Ian. You might think that a baby would add so much stress to the move that it would have been unbearable, but just the opposite was the case with Ian. When everything else was falling apart there was Ian needing some cereal in a bottle or needing to feed from mom. Those quiet moments brought a peace that we couldn't find all around us and brought us back to the core of why we are here on earth at all - to care for each other.

On top of that blessing, Ian is an amazingly happy child. He is always glad to see people. The nice moms and Grandmothers in our congregation who naturally say Hi to babies including Ian each Sunday, always stay and talk to Ian because he is so friendly. He lights up and smiles almost every time someone talks to him. He has done the same for our other children and for us. Everyone enjoys taking care of Ian. It is relaxing and enjoyable to be around him. Naturally he cries when he is hungry or uncomfortable, and the nursing is very hard on Tamara, but on the whole he has been a huge blessing during this move.

I will keep this short and wish all a happy new year. Thank you for your support and prayers.

For more details regarding the day to day events of our lives here in Germany, i.e., the real story, please check out Tamara's Blog. She has some great stuff, including photos, posted at this site: