Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Nikolaus

As a young child I remember hearing from teachers about the tradition of St. Nikolaus day occurring in foreign countries. Children would place their shoes or boots outside of the door and St. Nikolaus would come along and place a small present and some food in the shoe.

Now, we live in a foreign country and we are participating in the tradition. It is a nice tradition. And generally I would say Christmas is much more toned down in Germany. Our children have become accustomed to fewer gifts, without complaining for instance. Here's a pic from Tamara for Nikolaus - which we celebrated on December 6th - St. Nikolaus day.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Winter is Here - Winter Tires coming Monday

Friday and Saturday were great days for weather. Not for our health, but I'll get to in a future post.

Friday night late it started snowing - really snowing. It stuck to the ground and everything. I love the smell in the air when it is snowing. With the shift in weather came quite a bit of wind. With this came damage to the electrical wires that power the trains. This resulted in delays. So at 9:30 p.m., when my train was 15 minutes late, it meant I would miss the 9:50 bus and have to wait until the 10:50 bus or have Tamara pick me up. I called Tamara and told I might need here. I would call her back after the train started moving.

Then a miracle occurred. A neighbor (the dad of Hannah's best friend) was also in the train and he had a car at the trainstation in our city. He offered to take me home. Wow, that was great. I called Tamara and told her to stay at home.

On the wy home the neighbor said he hoped we would make it home as he still has his summer tires on his car. In Germany there is law regarding tires. In winter you must have winter weather tires (or all weather tires) otherwise in an accident, the fault will be yours.

We did make it home, but I remembered that we also still have our summer tires on our vehicle. Saturday morning I made an appointment - for Monday, and hoped it wouldn't snow too much.

The next morning there were a few snow flurries, but nothing really stuck. I was grateful for that because of the summer tires. Hannah, Ian and I ran some errands in Ratingen while Tamara, Shantal, and Spencer went to visit schools. Starting with the fifth grade (next fall), there are four type of schools students can attend - weiterfürhende Schulen is what the Germans usually say. I'll have to post about that later as well.

Anyway, walking around with Hannah and Emma was also great. The weather stayed cold, but it was sunny by that point. That is nice weather. There is a crispness in the air that makes me feel alive.

In the afternoon, the weather held - sunny and cold. This meant I could drive to our friends house and help them move. I took the seats out of the mini-van, vacummed (it was a bad one this time around) and was off. We met the missionaries there who helped carry the bigger stuff. The boyfried of my friend was not in great condition and I also can't lift too much. So it was nice to have the missionaries there. It was great to be out helping someone and working on such a great day. We got everything moved in two trips and had a nice dinner with my friend. Unfortunately, by that point my stomach was not too happy with me (later post) and I couldn't eat too much.

That is the weather that I miss the most - sunny.

So Persuasive

For a little guy, Ian is very persuasive. He is able to get what he wants, express himself, get excited, etc. The amazing part is that he does this all with no words.

He has said words (mama, emma for instance) a few times, but mostly he just sticks to his favorite word - uhuh! He then uses intonation and pointing to help everyone else understand what he wants. But it is quite amazing how far he gets with just that one word expressed in different tones, with emphasis on different syllables, etc.

We are wondering when he'll start expressing himself with words. Maybe when he goes to Kindergarten (pre-school in english). Tamara got some good news recently. Ian will go to Kindergarten for a trial visit or visits (I can't remember if it's only one) in January. If the visit works out well, then Ian can go once or twice a week. Next fall he'll be able to go full time.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Spencer On Another Bus Adventure

Well Spencer, young and very brave Spencer went on a journey today. A journey to the Orthodontist - all by himself. Here are the cold hard facts >

By Car
23,9 km (14 miles)
----------------------
20 Minuten (approximately)
1 gallon of gas (approximately)
4.50 EURO - (round trip) price of one gallon of gas in Germany


By Public Transportation --> Spencer's mode of transportation
By One Bus, One Train, and some walking
5 minute walk
12 minute bus ride
wait for train (10-20 minutes)
26 minute commuter train ride
8 minute walk
-----------------
51 minutes total

1.30 EURO - Child bus/train fare (round trip)
1.00 EURO - french fries* near the orthodontist

*this was planned, not sure if Spencer stopped for the fries. But they are very yummy and less expensive then elsewhere.


Tamara can tell you more, but it sounds like he got their early - because with the train it was either early or late, not right on time. The Orthodontist saw him early and he was able to get home early.

Last Saturday I showed him the aforementioned route and had him lead the way from the train station to the Orthodontist's office. He did just fine (and it was night time). We noted some of the markers along the way, e.g., gas station on the right, turn at this sign. And we gave Spencer a cell phone for the trip in case anything happened.

Total Savings
-----------------
3.20 EURO
Spencer Happy b/c he did something hard on his own
Sisters Happy b/c they didn't have to babysit
Mom happy b/c she didn't have stress from Spencer while at the Orthodontists office
Orthodontist happy b/c she has a nervous respectful child rather than one who is waiting for mom to save him

It was a big step for Spencer and I'm excited for him.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Braces - ouch

Well it has happened. Shantal needs braces. It looks like the payment plan is pretty good for the basic service. The Orthodontist would, however, like us to purchase the advanced service plan, which includes items such as: more frequent x-rays and cleanings, sealants on the teeth, a permanent retainer afterwards (lower teeth), fancier self healing bands, and something else I'm not remembering now.

550 € over 3 years for the basic plan - paid in all cases (with or without the fancy plan and apparently reimbursed after successful completion of the treatment).
30 €/month for 4 years for the fancy plan (total 1,440 €) - not reimbursed.

And, we've got 2 more kids coming.

Oh, and we still have to talk Shantal into the whole affair. Who knows how that will turn out. I showed Shantal and Spencer how to ride the train down to the Orthodontists office on Saturday.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Shantal speaks with an American Accent

Shantal has had a much different experience with the German language when compared to the other children. She knew English really well and loved English before we moved to Germany. She had just started the 3rd grade in America when we left in 2006.

At any rate, she now speaks German flawlessly I would say. She speaks German with a very nice German accent and does well in the German school system.

The other day she was speaking German with an American accent for fun, to make fun of the typical American accent. I'm not even sure how she learned to do this - I'm guessing that she learned it listening to new missionaries in our congregation speak German, or mom and dad speak German - our accents are still noticeably English. She did it quite well, which caught me off guard - because thought I only adults would be able to do such a thing. Very impressive.

Anyway, I found it quite amusing and I recalled sitting in church one Sunday when a new missionary introduced himself. Shantal and I just chuckled a bit as we listened to his strong American accent come through in his German.

Monday, November 10, 2008

That's right, or?

Emma has picked up a habit in her English that comes straight out of the German language.

German: Das stimmt, oder?
Emma's English: That's right, or?
Real American English (as I recall it being spoken): That's right, isn't it?

That is one of Emma's cute little habits in her speech. I hardly notice them anymore.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Ouch

I just read some articles on KSL related to the passage of proposition 8 in California. There have been some very strong reactions from the gay community to the Latter-day Saints (LDS) support of this proposition. It's times like these when I wonder what the future holds.

It reminds me of my mother singing in a LDS women's group trying to rally people to vote against the equal rights amendment. I was young at the time and didn't know why she was doing what she did, but I remember being impressed that she was so involved.

Bishop Wester expresses solidarity with LDS Church over Prop. 8 is one article that struck me. It is nice to see churches rallying together to support such a cause.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Great Family Home Evening

For family home evening last night I read to our children from the autobiography of Margaret McNeil Ballard, a mormon pioneer, and my great, great maternal grandmother. I read this after looking for an article in the Friend magazine and finding an article about Margaret Mceil. I thought to myself, I know that name and I have the full autobiography, why not just read from that. The kids were still and calm as I read. It was awe inspiring to to read the story of "mormon" life from 150 years ago, especially as a family trying to live a latter-day saint life today. Here is one excerpt.

The first ten years of my childhood was spent in Tranent but because of being a "Mormon" I was not permitted to attend the schools and so was entirely deprived of schooling while in the old country. During pioneering there was little opportunity of education. During those ten years our family enjoyed the association of the Elders and Saints. My father was President of the Edinburgh Conference for a number of years and we were always glad to receive them. Many times I went to bed hungry in order to give my meal to the visiting Elders.
On April 17th, 1856 we left Liverpool for America.


We feed the elders in our home frequently, but do not have to go hungry because of this service. But, the children probably have fewer toys because of our service in the church.

Later while crossing the plains as a 13 year old Margaret was soley in charge of the family cow - milking, feeding and driving across the plains. Despite being deprived of schooling in her youth she taught herself to read later in life.

When looking for further information for the kids today I found the following on-line at Heritage Gateways:


I also discovered that we are only 13 hours away (not counting ferry time) from her birth place in Scotland. I'd say it's definitely worth the trip and there is most definitely a youth hostel in the area somewhere.

View Larger Map

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Some Good news for Sunday's Activity

We got some good news for Sunday's baking activity. An older sister of one of Shantal's classmates would like to tag along. She asked us if she could come over to help her English. We naturally said yes. It's good to get to know the families here as best we can and that is why we are doing the american baking activity.

Climate Change is stoppable?

I just saw an add - in German - on Facebook.

Stopp den Klimawandel


In English this means: Stop Climate Change, essentially click here to stop the climate change.

I believe that this advertisment, like most marketing slogans, is just that - a marketing slogan. I don't think we can stop the climate change.

I thought of the following scripture from the Mormon cannon of scripture:

What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints. Doctrine & Covenants 121:33.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Something for the Girls

Well We've finally put something together for the girls in Shantal and Spencer's class. Shantal and hopefully 5-6 other girls (there are 8 other girls in the class) will be baking chocolate chip cookies one week from tomorrow.

Tamara will naturally be running the show, but I can babysit the other kids quite nicely, so I'll do my part. Below is the invitation (in German naturally).

Friday, October 24, 2008

Terminal Stop

The subway in Düsseldord recently added english translations of it's announcements. It goes like this:

Belsen Platz; Verbindungen zu; Connections to; . . .

This is rather entertaining in and of itself as the cuts from german to english and vice versa are so abrupt it's hard to get into the rhythm of the message. But the last stop on the line was the best of all. It went like this:

Am Seestern; Endstation; Terminal Stop;

This is a correct translation, but has somewhat ominous references. Like something terrible is about to happen at the next stop. In the U.S. we would say that someone has a terminal illness. And so I immediately associated Terminal Stop with terminal illness and assumed the worst. Gratefully, nothing happened and all the passengers were able to exit the train unharmed.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fungus Pizza

I went to a pizza lunch again today and a co-worker ordered what I affectionately refer to as a "fungus pizza." Why do I do this. Because apparently the Italian word for mushroom (German word is Pilz) is related to the english word fungus.



Very entertaining.

Football Pics

Hi all. Sorry for being so neglectful lately. I had big plans, honestly I did.

Anyhoo, here are some pics of our last football outing, thanks to grandpa. It was a great time.




It's a bit hard to recognize in the background, but the soccer goal in the far background indicates that we hijacked a soccer field in order to play football. In America this would be the other way around. Kids would be playing soccer on a traditional football field.




Now the action is getting started.


Now you can see the soccer goal much better. But more important - did you notice that awesome quarterback leading his team to victory. OK, there isn't much defense, and we really didn't keep score. But it is fun to play quarterback and teach the kids the game, how to call plays, go long, button hook (what was that in german again?), three step drop, etc. Great group of boys.


Giving one of the boys the chance to quarterback the team. They do really well.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Touchdown!

I would say we scored a touchdown on Saturday with our football event. I should be able to post some pictures soon. My dad was there and snapped a few shots of the boys.

It is fun to see them learn this crazy American game - to learn a bit about what it means to score a touchdown, play as a team, throw a spiral, etc.

The Elder who will later play college ball for BYU had four BYU hats, a shirt, and two nerf footballs, some magnets, and stickers shipped over by his family. Now the problem was how to divide out the gifts or prizes evenly among the seven boys.

Elder P. and his companion Elder E. decided on a mini "training camp" for the boys. The training camp consisted of the following three competitions.

Running: Run from to the other end of the field, pick up the football, and run back.
prize: all participants got a fridge magnet

Throwing: who can throw the farthest.
prize: 4 best got a hat

Kicking: who can kick (field goal style) the farthest.
prize: ??? - a dilemma - ???

There were only three prizes left and the same four boys who won the hats in the throwing competition kicked the ball the furthest in the kicking competition.

So, Elders P. & E. decided to give the boy with the shortest kick the shirt and the two boys with the next shortest kicks the nerf footballs. It was a wise move.

I sat on the sidelines during most of the kicking competition while I tended to Hannah after her "kicking the ground instead of the ball" injury. As the boys came over to the sidelines after the competition one of the boys who threw 4th farthest in the throwing competition and kicked 3rd farthest in the kicking competition said. "If I had known that!" Implying he would have kicked much shorter if he knew the shortest kicks would get the prizes. It was funny. But at least everyone got a prize.

It was a fun day and we had perfect fall weather. Sunny, cool, the smell of fallen leaves in the air. Perfect fall weather. That was a huge blessing as it doesn't happen very often here in Düsseldorf.

We are planning an American baking evening for the girls in Spencer and Shantal's class in November. We'll probably do chocolate chip cookies. Grandpa and Grandma brought over some chocolate chips, so that should work out nicely.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Bilingual Trend

Lately I've noticed a trend with our older three children - they now commonly tell us things in German if they have just experienced it in German, even though they usually have the ability to translate the information.

For instance, talking about soccer practice (Spencer), or gymnastics training (Hannah), or theater class (Shantal) explanations are almost always started in German. They tell other stories in German as well, but the trend seems to be especially strong in the things where they have no or very little experience with the subject in English.

When they start in German I have to work hard to answer back in English. Sometimes this seems to flip a switch in their minds and they continue their explanation in English, and sometimes they continue in German.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Let One Rip!

"Let one rip!" is a common phrase I hear from Spencer lately. In German it sounds like this: "Papa, ich lass jetzt eins fahren!" - "Dad, I'm going to let one rip." After Spencer says this he passes gas (to use a more polite term). His action is the only thing that told me what in the world he was talking about.

Now, as a missionary serving in Germany for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this was a phrase I just never learned. As a college student with a major in German I also did not have the opportunity to learn such phrases.

But, as a dad raising children in Germany, I have now been blessed to expand my vocabulary to include such choice phrases. I can't wait for the next one.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Playin a Little Football

Well, I have to say. I have been busy these last four months - like crazy. Work is crazy. Home life is always crazy - lots of juggling. Church has kept me very busy. The occasional personal moments have been short and not long enough to write.

One positive note. I did get released from my calling as a primary teacher. I served as primary teacher to our two oldest children, but even so that was an extra burden - preparing a lesson every week and trying to motivate 8-11 year olds to be motivated to follow the Lord is a lot of work.

We've had some great days recently. By great I mean brisk, sunny, fall days, where it warms up in the afternoon. I love that type of fall weather. The last two years I missed football whenever the weather was like this. I told Tamara the other day that I like the weather even though there is no football.

Well, next weekend I hope to get a little bit of both. I hope the weather holds and is pleasant and that we'll have a big turnout for our football event. See the picture of our flier below (translation to follow):



Flag Football in our Town (for boys)
location and time are given

This time we have a player, who will play for the BYU cougars after his time in Germany.

*In flag football the defense stops the ball carrier by pulling a flag from his belt.

--Fathers should also feel free to attend. Come along and learn a little about the game. Fathers who attend, please bring something to eat. So we can spend a little bit of time after the game with the boys.

Definitely looking forward to playin' a little football.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Emma Talking Germany

While I was mowing the lawn and doing some yard work today Emma was playing with Ian. She kept switching into German. Very cute. I can hardly remember what she said. It seemed just so natural for her to switch. When she came over to speak with me she switched into English.

She seems to talk to Ian very often in German. Then when she sees me or Tamara she switches back into English.

Great Pic of the Kids

I took this picture recently of our children sans Ian. I saw it the other day on my screen saver and just had to share. Enjoy . . .



This is a flashback to our summer vacation in the Dresden area. I was watching the kids in Freiberg while Tamara attended an endowment session in the Freiberg temple (the temple built in the former East Germany while the iron curtain was still in place). While we were getting lunch I saw this small little street and cars driving into the street and just had to get a photo.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Help with a Scouting Activity

***sent to former fellow scouting leaders from Wisconsin

Hi All,

I am looking for some great advice - like I used to always get from you all when we worked together in the YM/Scouting program in Sun Prairie.

I am giving a presentation on scouting in america on Monday (yes in 5 days) to the local pack of cub scouts and a patrol of first year boy scouts here in our town. The presentations will all be on the same night. The effort is part of getting Spencer involved in the program here. I just found out last Monday that I will be do this, so time is short.

I am trying to think of an activity that goes along with learning the cub scout motto "Do your Best" and the boy scout motto "Be Prepared" or slogan "Do a Good Turn Daily". Or, anything else that might be fun for the kids.

If you have any ideas, please send them along.

Cheers,
Gardner

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Almost Two Years

Hi All,

From what I can tell I last wrote when Tamara was recovering from her surgery in February. And so, first of all I must thank so many of you for writing and wishing us well at that time, and keeping us in your prayers. We were truly blessed during that time.

I neglected sending an update for some time now. I feel like our lives are so normal. But, I have received a few requests to send out an update on our family. I will now attempt to do so. As always, if your email inbox is already too full, or you prefer to simply read updates on the blog, just let me know and I'll gladly stop including you on the updates.

It is a good time for an update since Ian's B-day is tomorrow. In Germany it is considered bad luck to talk about such an event before it happens, but since I am still an American and it's almost midnight now, I will break with the German tradition and take the risk. Ian will be 2 years old, which means, as you probably know - we have been in Germany for almost 2 years. Ian was three weeks old when we left the U.S. Ian's age helps us keep track of how long we have been here.

We will have a little barbecue and B-day celebration with some friends from our congregation tomorrow. The couple we invited have been great friends to our family since arriving in Germany. They are definitely like surrogate parents to us and grandparents to our children. The wife has taken care of Ian during church services for most Sundays for the past 18 months. When she prayed last week in church, Ian was totally excited to see her come down from the stand. Her taking Ian eases our burden during the church services immensely, especially since I serve about once a month as a translator for the English speaking members of the congregation during the service and am unable to sit with the family on those weeks.

Catching up on our family. I would like to start by mentioning that Tamara is doing fabulous. She is still taking iron tablets every day and B12 shots once a week, but has tremendous amounts of energy. It is wonderful to see her full of energy and able to do things. In fact, she was doing so well that after Emma started going to pre-school last May (called Kindergarten here in Germany), Tamara started walking Emma to pre-school almost every day. She combined this with a change in diet to lose some weight before her trip to America this summer. She did a great job and still gets compliments on her new look. Tamara was able to take Shantal with her to America for 2.5 weeks. They had a good time. Tamara came back refreshed and full of even more energy. It was great to see.

With Tamara away I took time off of work and was able to be a "full-time" dad for the 2.5 weeks. Wow, that was a great experience. I almost cried when I was back at work I missed the kids so much. It was hard, but tremendous to be with them. I realized that Tamara does a tremendous job with the kids, and was grateful for her return. Spencer was also profoundly grateful. After her arrival, Spencer thanked Tamara for cooked meals for about four days in a row. He never does this. I guess the joy at having nice meals again was just so overwhelming that the gratitude just couldn't be contained.

Now that Tamara is feeling better, I can start to be sick***. I have been seeing the doctor for some stomach/digestive track issues as I have trouble digesting milk products or too much meat. The problems could be related to the pancreas (in German the word for pancreas is very cool: die Bauchspeicheldrüse. It means- stomach spittle gland). It could also be the thyroid. I have started receiving vitamin shots, and the doctor is doing blood work to test more stuff. I recently felt quite aged when I ran out of my antacid medication (related to potential pancreas problems I take these) - I can't live without my prescription!

***By the way, it is totally normal to talk about one's health problems here in Germany. I seem to recall it being a bit taboo in the U.S. But, I like talking about health problems, b/c it detaches the problem from the person and makes the problem less personal, less hidden and scary. So, if you are grossed out, sorry - it was a German moment.


We seem to have a normal life now here in Germany. School is back in session. Hannah is back in gymnastics and has set a goal to be on the medal stand at the next meet in November and really enjoyed gymnastics during the Olympic Games. She was in the paper today for being in the gymnastics program last year.

Spencer has returned to playing soccer and is playing well. He was complimented by the coach twice this week on his play. He plans to join the Boy Scouts starting tomorrow and seems to have found peace in the school.

Shantal is struggling in school. She feels like all of the kids (especially the girls) are mean to her right now - some of course more than others. We are working on that one with the other parents (especially with the parents of the extra mean kids), but it is slow going. On a positive note, Shantal will be in a play on Saturday - she went to a theater day camp in the summer and we are excited for the performance this coming Saturday. She is very artistically skilled and seemed to have really enjoyed the theater camp.

A big decision is coming up for Shantal and Spencer this year - we must pick a new school for them for next year. This is the last year of grade school and they start secondary school next year. The teacher makes a recommendation regarding what type of school they should attend. This is where the teachers assign the kids to a school system that will lead down one of three career paths - essentially, blue collar, mixed, white collar. Having never done this before, we will be asking our friends a lot of questions and praying quite a bit.

Emma is very excited to be in pre-school. She even went to a B-day party all by herself a few weeks back. This was a very bid step for her. She used to cry when being dropped off at friend's houses. Now she is excited. Ian is growing up. He is doing everything a two year old does - except talking. The doctor is concerned and gave us some tips for helping him progress - mainly reading with him. The doctor will check in six months and see how it going. We are not too concerned - he comprehends wonderfully, and Hannah approached speaking in a similar manner.

One last note. I had a wonderful opportunity to see one of my former scouts a few weeks back (Micai). He was visiting Germany as part of a school exchange program. His family will host a young man from Germany later this fall for a few weeks. What a great experience to walk around the Ems river with him and my two boys and talk about life, how things have changed since we left, and what his plans for the future are. When we first started working together 5 years ago in Wisconsin, me as scoutmaster and Micai as a young teenage scout, who would have imagined such a moment.

We often think of friends back home and miss our associations with you. May the Lord's finest blessings flow into your lives.

Cheers,
Gardner

Mowing the Lawn

Ah, what a refreshing day I had today. I was able to mow the lawn. Normally I dread mowing the lawn (especially in rainy Düsseldorf - mowing wet grass is never fun). I've been mowing lawns for decades now. But this summer I had a break.

Tamara started mowing the lawn after returning from the U.S. and that has been awesome. It is especially helpful since I can only mow on Saturdays (nights are out since I get home so late, and Sundays are out for church) and about half of the Saturdays are rained out, so sometimes the lawn gets quite long before I can get to it. Enter my great wife. She has taking over mowing the lawn lately and it has been great.

Well today was a sunny Saturday and the grass was long, and I had time - so I jumped in to help Tamara out. When I was done I told my wife - that wasn't as dreadful as normal - thanks for the break honey.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Long Overdue Update

Hi All,

From what I can tell I last wrote when Tamara was recovering from her surgery in February. And so, first of all I must thank so many of you for writing and wishing us well at that time, and keeping us in your prayers. We were truly blessed during that time.

I neglected sending an update for some time now. I feel like our lives are so normal. But, I have received a few requests to send out an update on our family. I will now attempt to do so. As always, if your email inbox is already too full, or you prefer to simply read updates on the blog, just let me know and I'll gladly stop including you on the updates.

It is a good time for an update since Ian's B-day is tomorrow. In Germany it is considered bad luck to talk about such an event before it happens, but since I am still an American and it's almost midnight now, I will break with the German tradition and take the risk. Ian will be 2 years old, which means, as you probably know - we have been in Germany for almost 2 years. Ian was three weeks old when we left the U.S. Ian's age helps us keep track of how long we have been here.

We will have a little barbecue and B-day celebration with some friends from our congregation tomorrow. The couple we invited have been great friends to our family since arriving in Germany. They are definitely like surrogate parents to us and grandparents to our children. The wife has taken care of Ian during church services for most Sundays for the past 18 months. When she prayed last week in church, Ian was totally excited to see her come down from the stand. Her taking Ian eases our burden during the church services immensely, especially since I serve about once a month as a translator for the English speaking members of the congregation during the service and am unable to sit with the family on those weeks.

Catching up on our family. I would like to start by mentioning that Tamara is doing fabulous. She is still taking iron tablets every day and B12 shots once a week, but has tremendous amounts of energy. It is wonderful to see her full of energy and able to do things. In fact, she was doing so well that after Emma started going to pre-school last May (called Kindergarten here in Germany), Tamara started walking Emma to pre-school almost every day. She combined this with a change in diet to lose some weight before her trip to America this summer. She did a great job and still gets compliments on her new look. Tamara was able to take Shantal with her to America for 2.5 weeks. They had a good time. Tamara came back refreshed and full of even more energy. It was great to see.

With Tamara away I took time off of work and was able to be a "full-time" dad for the 2.5 weeks. Wow, that was a great experience. I almost cried when I was back at work I missed the kids so much. It was hard, but tremendous to be with them. I realized that Tamara does a tremendous job with the kids, and was grateful for her return. Spencer was also profoundly grateful. After her arrival, Spencer thanked Tamara for cooked meals for about four days in a row. He never does this. I guess the joy at having nice meals again was just so overwhelming that the gratitude just couldn't be contained.

Now that Tamara is feeling better, I can start to be sick***. I have been seeing the doctor for some stomach/digestive track issues as I have trouble digesting milk products or too much meat. The problems could be related to the pancreas (in German the word for pancreas is very cool: die Bauchspeicheldrüse. It means- stomach spittle gland). It could be the thyroid. I have started receiving vitamin shots, and the doctor is doing blood work to test more stuff. I recently felt quite aged when I ran out of my antacid medication (related to potential pancreas problems I take these) - I can't live without my prescription!
***By the way, it is totally normal to talk about one's health problems here in Germany. I seem to recall it being a bit taboo in the U.S. But, I like talking about health problems, b/c it detaches the problem from the person and makes the problem less personal, less hidden and scary. So, if you are grossed out, sorry - it was a German moment.

We seem to have a "normal" life now here in Germany. School is back in session. Hannah is back in gymnastics and has set a goal to be on the medal stand at the next meet in November and really enjoyed gymnastics during the Olympic Games. She was in the paper today for being in the gymnastics program last year. Spencer has returned to playing soccer and is playing well. He was complimented by the coach twice this week on his play. He plans to join the Boy Scouts starting tomorrow and seems to have found peace in the school. Shantal is struggling in school. She feels like all of the kids (especially the girls) are mean to her right now - some of course more than others. We are working on that one with the other parents (especially with the parents of the extra mean kids), but it is slow going. On a positive note, Shantal will be in a play on Saturday - she went to a theater day camp in the summer and we are excited for the performance this coming Saturday. She is very artistically skilled and seemed to have really enjoyed the theater camp.

A big decision is coming up for Shantal and Spencer this year - we must pick a new school for them for next year. This is the last year of grade school and they start secondary school next year. The teacher makes a recommendation regarding what type of school they should attend. This is where the teachers assign the kids to a school system that will lead down one of three career paths - essentially, blue collar, mixed, white collar. Having never done this before we will be asking our friends a lot of questions and praying quite a bit.

Emma is very excited to be in pre-school. She even went to a B-day party all by herself a few weeks back. This was a very bid step for her. She used to cry when being dropped off at friend's houses. Now she is excited. Ian is growing up. He is doing everything a two year old does - except talking. The doctor is concerned and gave us some tips for helping him progress - mainly reading with him. The doctor will check in six months and see how it it going. We are not too concerned - he comprehends wonderfully, and Hannah approached speaking in a similar manner.

One last note. I had a wonderful opportunity to see one of my former scouts a few weeks back. He was visiting Germany as part of a school exchange program. His family will host a young man from Germany later this fall for a few weeks. What a great experience to walk around the Ems river with him and my two boys and talk about life, how things have changed since we left, and what his plans for the future are. When we first started working together 5 years ago in Wisconsin, me as scoutmaster and the scout as a young teenager, who would have imagined such a moment.

We often think of friends back home and miss our associations with you. May the Lord's finest blessings flow into your lives.

Cheers,
Gardner

Ah, the Rhine

The Rhine is much smaller than the Mississippi as far as width goes. But there seems to be just as much activity on the Rhine as on there was on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers when I was a child.

Today while crossing the Rhine I noticed several barges in transit, some heading north, and some traveling south. What I didn't hear and missed a bit this morning was the horn of the barges. I don't often hear the horn when I am near the Rhine that I heard growing up near the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

The barge horn I remember growing up sounds just like a train horn. So when I hear a train horn, or a barge horn, I always think of the barges on the Mississippi.

Crossing the Rhine each day on the tram is a great pleasure.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Saying Hi in the Elevator

This still freaks me out every time it happens. I enter an elevator on the 1st floor (ground floor or floor 0 in Germany). Someone then enters the elevator on, let's say the 3rd floor, and they say hello to me.

My first reaction is almost always to think - "why is this person talking to me?"

Then I remember, ah yes, I am in Germany. This is normal. I then respond, still a bit startled, with a hello, or a good day.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Huge Crush on Someone

Totally in love!

Wow, the kids are getting older. Over dinner tonight our school age children were talking about who was in love with whom among their school friends.

The subject came up because a boy was invited to a girl's B-day party that Hannah attended. Apparently that meant that the boy has a huge crush on the girl throwing the party. Hannah said, rather matter of fact, that wasn't the case. She knew this because the boy has a huge crush on someone else.

Then she said something really cute: I don't know who I should be "verknallt" in, using the German word in the middle of her English sentence. I rubbed her arm and said that's not to worry.

The great thing was she was so serious about it. She had said - this thing everyone is talking about - to have a crush on someone (verknallt) - hasn't happened to me. So, she decides to think about who she should have a crush on. Very adorable. Hannah has always had a gift for taking the complex things in life and making them simple. It reminds me of the conversation we had this summer about who Hannah should marry.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

date mich up

This is a new German word. A verb, actually, that I heard in the hallway today. If you know German, you are already laughing. If you only know English, then replace the mich with me and you have
date me up

Since "date me up" doesn't make any sense in English I'll provide some more common English phrases include "update me"; "send me an update"; "get back to me with an update"; "provide me with the update"; "keep me up to date" or in slang "give me the latest [as soon as you have it]".

The English word update has already made it into the German language according to the online translation dictionary that I use at work, but only as a noun. The noun is used very commonly in business German, especially in Information Technology where I work. But I do not recall having heard the German verb form of update.

It struck me funny because of what happens in English if you directly translate the words.

Friday, August 15, 2008

We've all been there

A colleague of mine said this to another colleague when she said: "I sure am tired of washing our dishes in the shower."

I can think of a lot of responses to "I sure am tired of washing our dishes in the shower." But we've all been there, just wasn't on the list.

Responses such as "Say what!" "Did you just say, wash dishes in the shower?", and "Are you kidding me?" come to mind.

These responses came to mind because I grew up in a land where kitchens belong to the house and the phrase "They took everything but the kitchen sink" makes sense. Here in Germany the kitchen, with rare exception, does not belong to the house. In other words, when you move, you take everything INCLUDING the kitchen sink. This commonly results in living in a home without a kitchen for a few days, weeks, or even months, thus necessitating the washing of dishes in the nearest equivalent to a sink, i.e., the shower or bathtub.

I was reminded of this conversation today when I spoke with an English fellow who just moved to Düsseldorf and finished hunting for an apartment. He said he was extremely blessed to have found a place with a kitchen, and with lights (another item that does NOT belong to the house/apartment in Germany). We were equally blessed when we arrived and were grateful that they took everything but the kitchen.

Misstrauisch ohne Ende

This is a description of the Germans - by a German colleague of mine. It means:
Distrustful or Suspicious to no end

This was his response to the question: Why does Vodafone's website have an option for customers to Reject an "Online Goodie". The Online Goodies are discounts a customer receives for ordering their products online.

He said, of course you might want to reject the discount, because it could be tied to a contract extension, or a special rule that affects you adversely in the future.

It was funny.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I Love Crossing the Rhine

This morning I got to cross the Rhine riding on the U77. Every morning and every evening I get to the cross the Rhine. The frequency of this event does not diminish it's significance for me. I love crossing the Rhine.

I'll have to write more on this later. I Have to get back to work.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Why Germany?

A post back to a friend who asked about our chosen place of residence: Germany.

Thanks for such kind words. My family is truly great. They've changed my life forever. I recently took vacation from work while Tamara and our oldest, Shantal, went to the U.S. Boy, did I miss the kids when I went back to work.

Why Germany is a question I ask myself pretty much everyday. It still seems like such a crazy thing to have done, as we have made a complete transfer to this country (we're not "expats" with paid trips to the U.S. every year, international schools, etc.). We are planning on returning to the U.S., but the when, how, and where do we land in the U.S. are all very open questions. We would like to return in the summer of 2013.

My desire to live and work in Germany started while I served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (90-92). After returning to the U.S. the desire only intensified. The movie link at the end of the message captures pretty well the love one develops for the area where you serve.



The movie referred to is The Best Two Years, which captures a few months of one missionary's service and it's affect on his companion, himself, and those he taught.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

An Inspiring Article

Wow! I was impressed when I read the latest article from Thomas S. Monson.

I'm not sure what it was about the article exactly. It seemed to have application to so many aspects of my life. It also seemed like anyone would benefit from it's message, which is why I posted it here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Nice to speak English again

Wow! I was in a meeting today with two Irish project members. What a nice change. They were major contributors to the meeting and could understand me. I did not realize how much I miss that on this project.

German would not be too bad, but since 1/2 the project is English only. But trying to understand all the different varieties of continental English and not being understood just wear a man down. Naja, so ist das Leben (Oh well, that's life).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

In Search of the Perfect Hamburger Bun

So, we've been in Germany for a while, and when Tamara recently placed hamburgers on the menu (I take the veggie version due to my persnickety and often peeved pancreas) I was quite excited, until I started dealing with the bun.

Why does the bun matter. I can't explain it, it just does. And, so these two small complaints, though piddly have been getting me out of sorts the last few days as I ate the veggie burgers and the subsequent leftovers.

I looked at Kulturvergleiche's blog, but didn't find a comparison on this topic.

Here are my complaints.

Number one - huge buns (from one store). I have to cut almost half of the bun off in order to enjoy eating the hamburger (I circle cut the bun so it is simply smaller in diameter - going in half didn't really work).

Number two - unsliced buns (from all stores). the buns are unsliced. that means you have to cut the buns in half in order to make a hamburger bun. For me this results in uneven top and bottom slices of bread - for instance a concave bottom and an obtuse top.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

U.S. news is hilarious

Utah farmer fights back. That might have been my title to the article.

HOOPER, Utah - A farmer has erected a fence in his backyard made of three old cars sticking up in the air to send a message to new neighbors that he can do whatever he wants on his farm.


This little gem was on the main page on Yahoo.com. I am often amused by the fun articles that Yahoo places there. I should probably look elsewhere for good news, but Yahoo is where I check my email and it's convenient, and entertaining.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Back from Prague

To answer the question: Is Prague in the GPS? - Yes. Is the rest of the Czech Republic in the GPS? - Not so much. This made our trip down to Prague more entertaining than it already was - the kids were not happy to be back in the car again, and Tamara and I were pretty stressed out as it was.

What happened was that the main freeway running from Dresden to Usti Nad Labem (A17 in Germany) was not in the GPS. So the GPS kept telling us to exit the freeway and commonly showed us driving through lakes, and through the grass (green background instead of on a road). The A17 freeway looked new, but not that new. Once we got close to Prague and of course in Prague itself, the GPS performed beautifully.

The back-roading (according to the GPS) reminded me of my favorite parts of driving video games when I was a kid - going off the road when you are not supposed to. I used to see how long I could stay off road before the game died. I guess that was my first clue that I would someday go into software testing (my current role with my software consultancy). Unfortunately I'm testing telecom ordering systems and not video games, but . . . it's still testing.

Spencer & Hannah now Famous

Spencer and Hannah went on another outing together. A sort of summer day camp and they both made the paper together. They were both excited about the activities when they came home. They got to see Felix, the Spielmobil. A traveling library that goes to various locations in our city. Spencer still says he is not excited about being in the paper. I was excited and I still don't fully believe Spencer about not being excited.

Shantal is having fun at her Theater camp (except for one dog scare on Friday). She will be performing Max & Moritz, a famous children's story about little boys who get in trouble. The moral of the story is don't get in trouble, or the trouble will get you in the end.


The article/caption talks about a tour of the city that included a treasure hunt. This was followed by games and activities. They then visited the roving library and watched a movie together.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gas Price - Cheaper after 11:30 p.m.

Why is gas so much cheaper at night (usually 3-4 cents)? That is the 2nd question of the night. Gas was at an all time low tonight at 11:45 - at least an all time low for the last 6 weeks, 6 months, or let's say, as long as I can remember: 1.50 € per Liter.

This is a random phenomenon that I don't yet understand. Gasoline prices fluctuate wildly (up 3 cents, down 4 cents, etc.) throughout the day. But at night time the price generally tends to drop. Crazy, don't understand it, but tonight at 11:45 I took advantage of it.

By the way. Are you suffering in the good old US of A on gas prices? Well, check out the dollar cost of gasoline here in Germany (Holland was more expensive a week ago when I picked up Tamara from the Amsterdam airport).

Liters per Gallon = aprox. 4
1.50 € /liter * 4 = 6 €
6 € /gallon * 1.58 = $ 9.47

Ouch!

Recent prices have been at almost 1.60 € / liter (aprox. $10.10/gallon), so I was happy to see the 1.50 € per liter price

Is Prague in the GPS?

That is the question of the night. I printed out the Google directions just in case. We'll see tomorrow. The Czech Republic may belong to the Eastern Europe maps according to the navigation system and that means we'll hope that Google is good. It has been in the past.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Whirlwind Tour

We are off in a few days on a whirlwind tour. Leave for Dresden on Wednesday (youth hostel - can't forget ping pong paddles and balls), Prague (about an hour and a half from Dresden), Dresden (if you don't know about the bombing of Dresden, it's worth a bit of research - one of the low points of the war for the allies), Freiberg Temple for Tamara, Frieberg Temple for Me (am catching a bus at 6:10 from the Dresden main station to make the 8:00 session), Radebeul, Friends in Radebeul, Sunday we are traveling Home.

Hopefully the kids will do well. Ian is starting to do better in the car, but gets bored quickly. Emma is potty training - we are planning on pullups for the car. The big kids have Nintendo DS players now, so they should be fine. O.K., not sure about fine, but they should be quiet. Tamara found a DVD player for Emma and Ian - don't know how long the battery will hold out and we don't have a car charger.

It is always fun, we just have to relax and enjoy the ride.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

My Peeved Pancreas

Well the doctor says my Pancreas gets a bit riled up when I eat certain foods. In German the doctor said the following to me: "Der Pancreas ärgert sich, wenn Sie gewisse Sachen essen!" Next steps are to monitor what I eat to determine what causes the pain, or what ticks off my pancreas. I need to keep a dietary journal so to say.

The doctor detected this via a blood test. The Amylase values in my blood are too high, which points to the pancreas. I am just glad to have received a diagnoses that fits with the symptoms. I have had trouble with digestion for a while now and have been to the doctor for the past six months for stomach problems. But the stomach (acid reduction) medication only improved the situation, or made it bearable, it did not resolve the issues.

One thing that puzzled me at the doctor's office was how often he asked me if I drank alcohol. I'm like - but doc, I told you I am a Mormon. I don't drink alcohol. Two minutes later - so, how is the alcohol consumption? I think I'll bring in a flier next time. After reading Web MD I realized why he kept asking - it's the number one cause.

I fear my case may have been caused by poor dietary habits as a wrestler. I had two seasons where weight loss or weight management was a real issue for me. But, who knows. I have it and am now keeping track of what I eat and what causes me the pain in my pancreas.

Spencer's Famous

As I read the local free newspaper that contains information about our town's local events I ran across a pleasant surprise. Spencer's picture was in the paper.

Spencer wasn't too excited about the affair, but it was fun to see.



The article talks about the activities held that day, including a Boat trip from Kaiserswerth to Düsseldorf. A tour of a boot museum in Düsseldorf, and a trip up to the top of the TV Tower in Düsseldorf. All very fun items.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Switching Language Gears

We have made the switch to being an English family. An English speaking family. Why is this significant? Here's the reader's digest version.
  • Starting in late 2001 early 2002 in Colorado we began teaching our children (3 at the time) German. We did this at weekly German Afternoons (deutsche Stunde). We would read a german book (amazon.de) or sing a german song, or look at pictures and discuss them in German. Our oldest, Shantal, was 4 years old.
  • Starting in the fall of 2003 in Wisconsin (Shantal was turning 6) after attending a German playgroup for German speaking children (mostly with German parents) we chose to have me speak German to the children full time. We continued teaching the children songs and reading books with them and added movies (Die Monster AG) was the first movie we got. The kids were more interested in the Bo's Door game on the DVD than the movie, but it was a start.
  • In 2004 we hosted a German Nanny for 3 months (real live people from this strange country showed up at our house. Nothing strange about the country for us as we had already lived there. But for our children German and the German language was very foreign. Hosting a nanny and the exchange students really helped our kids.)
  • In the school year 2004-2005 we hosted a German exchange student
  • In the school year 2005-2006 we hosted our 2nd German exchange student
  • In 2005 our 4th child was born. I have always spoken German with her.
  • In 2006 our 5th child was born. I have always spoken German with him.
  • 3 weeks after the birth of our 5th child we moved to Germany. I continued speaking German with the little ones and went back and forth with the school aged children (sometimes German, sometimes English). I kept leaning towards German.
Fast forward to June, 2008 and we find that our children's German grade worsened from 2007 to 2008 (Shantal's worsened significantly). I wondered what to do.

In unrelated news we took Spencer to a speech therapist for a swallowing problem. She noticed that the children made some mistakes in their German. She asked what language we speak at home. I told her that I spoke German and my wife spoke English. She said it is best for foreigners to let their children learn German from the German school system and their natural surroundings. That way they don't inherit our mistakes.

Tamara and I decided to switch back to being an English family. Obviously when we are with friends, we will speak German. When we are touring the countryside we'll have to see what makes the most sense, depending upon the situation.

I believe this is a move in the right direction. It was a little tough for me and I'm sure Emma will have some adjustment issues, but overall I think it best.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Squeaky Duck

Emma's amazing German skills have blossomed since being in pre-school everyday. She switches back and forth now very nicely. Along the way she naturally makes some very entertaining mistakes in both languages. Here is one example.

Emma received a rubber ducky from America. Mom! You're the best! I spoke to her in German about the exciting new toy - quietsche Entchen! And, when she went to talk to mom about the duck today - she could only remember the German version, I believe, but since she was speaking English - she translated the original German quietsche Entchen into very fine English squeaky duck (I might have chose squeaking duck, but no matter). In that moment she was very good on her feet. In fact, I would say it was quite incredible - but I am the dad.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Glad to Have Mom Back!

Well, the kids (and all of us : -) are glad to have mom and Shantal back from the states. It's the little things that we notice. Somehow the house is cleaner. Emma is a bit calmer. And the biggest little thing of them all - Spencer keeps saying to Tamara "thank you for this nice meal!" after every meal time. Not that he complained about the hot dogs, pizza, cous cous, and potatoes while mom was gone, but his stomach seems to have especially missed mom.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Happy Kids - Happy Day

Here is an update from my Magic of Flowers post from yesterday.

Spencer and Hannah made it home by themselves on the bus and were still beaming. They were both happy to have been with each other throughout the day. I was very happy for the success and very happy for both of them. Hopefully we can find more ways to show each other appreciation for the many things we do for each other in our family.

They also did some very cool experiments while at the day camp. They did things such as magic tricks with forks and a 2 € coin, string and a match box, and straws and a styrofoam ball. It was fun to see them so excited. The want me to sign them up for the next day camp and said there were still places available. I need to call today.

Ian said Bus . . .

I was so hoping to tell Tamara this upon her arrival from the U.S. - that Ian had said bus. But alas Ian is still not ready to talk.

Although, one can not fully say that. Ian is talking up a storm in baby sign language, which counts according to the baby sign language promoters. His common or favorite signs are keys, car, shoes, more, eat, drink, baby, dog, bird. I sign with him a lot and he signs back, like I said, all the time. But no talking with the words from his mouth.

His one word is a grunt. Uh, Uh, Uh. He changes the intonation and level of sound to mean various things. For bus it is a short, emphatic grunt with a lot of excitement in his voice. We see a lot of buses here in Germany. So I have started responding with the following - Wie heißt es? Was ist das denn? (what is that called? what is that?) The other three kids answer - almost always in unison - Bus! Ian grunts further.

So much for high hopes?!?

Conversations on This Side of the Pond - Spencer

Here is the other real cool conversation I had while Tamara and Shantal were in the states. It is similar to Hannah's and the one Tamara had with Shantal back in the US.

On the way home from an errand with Ian in the car (Hannah and Emma were at Kindergarten) Spencer asked me how is it possible that Adam and Eve existed and that Dinosaurs existed. He said he was worried about it. A lot of people said that if there were dinosaurs, then there couldn't have been Adam and Eve because according to the Bible it took only 7 days to create the earth and Adam and Eve and that wouldn't have been enough time for both.

I flatly said I believe there were both dinosaurs and Adam and Eve. He countered with the 7 day argument. But it was only seven days.

For background, I am on the side of the Christian coin that believes that the seven days are symbolic for seven periods of time. For example: The first time God set his hand to the earth he made light and darkness. The second time God set his hand to the earth he separated the water from the land, and so on.

I answered that those who use this argument are taking the english or german word "Day" or "Tag" as used in the Bible too literally. One "day" should be read as one "time period". Spencer said maybe Adam and Eve were in the garden of eden and the dinosaurs were wondering around elsewhere? I said that could be.

It was a big question for a nine year old and I was glad he came to me. The Bible does not tell us how God created the earth, only that he created the earth. I believe that God created the heavens and the earth and all the living things on the earth. The magnificence of the earth strengthens my belief and I hope I was able to share that with my son.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Magic of Flowers

This morning Hannah and I pulled a fast one on Spencer. It was a lot of fun.

Background. A few months ago when we were planning summer activities Hannah wanted to go to a day camp - but not alone. Not in a million years alone. I asked Spencer to go along with her. He somewhat reluctantly said yes listening to his big brother instinct. They got signed up for the day camp and everything was ready to go.

About a week ago I talked to Hannah about Spencer going with her and how he was doing his duty as a big brother and that it was very nice of Spencer to go with her. I asked Hannah what we could do for Spencer to thank him for helping her? We decided on flowers (the Aldi 1.99 € flowers).

I didn't get to the flowers last night due to a trip into the city and so I had to do some fast thinking this morning. I offered to take Spencer and Hannah to the activity (instead of them riding the bus). That would put them their earlier I told Spencer. Hannah and I knew the other half of the plan - operation flowers.

So, we all got ready, got in the car. We read in the scriptures on the way to taking Emma to Kindergarten. We've done this a couple of times when we just didn't have time at home. Emma thought it was horrible that the other kids stayed in the car. The Kindergarten teacher swooped Emma away in her arms (despite Emma's terrifying screaming). Great lady. She told me in the afternoon that Emma was fine after a half an hour and then was fine the rest of the day. She said if I wait with Emma and try and calm her down for 15 minutes, then Emma will still cry when I leave. So, make it quick. Great lady.

Well back to the kids. Spencer kept reading in the scriptures and found a spot where some people and many families decided leave their own country to go into the north countries. I said that is like us Spencer - we also decided to leave our homeland. Why do you think the people did this? I asked Spencer. He said because it was too crowded, or they wanted a better life. I don't know what I said, but Spencer then said "but it was probably the parents who wanted to go and not the kids."

By then we had made it to Aldi. Hannah and I went inside and turned in some bottles for a deposit of 3 €. We then picked out the 1.99 flowers - yellow roses. Not a bad choice for a seven year old girl. We paid quickly and hid them behind the bad on the way to the car. Spencer opened the door and asked - "what did you buy?" - his tone indicated that he was a peeved that he had to stay with Ian and that Hannah got to go in and buy something.

Hannah pulled back the bag and revealed the flowers. He said what? We said for you. From Hannah for going to the day camp with her. He was touched from what I could tell. Not sure if he said thank you, but his demeanor changed to one of excitement.

From there I had to stop off at home for a bathroom break (and to put the flowers in water as I was running errands in the morning). While I was inside the house Hannah and Spencer played wonderfully together. I came back and they were totally happy together.

I then dropped the kids off at the activity center. And they were early, which Spencer really wanted. I hope the day went well. It was an outdoor event and it rained quite a bit today. Off and on, but I still thought about the kids a lot. They did have a great start to the day thanks to the magic of flowers.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Conversations on This Side of the Pond - Hannah

Like Tamara, I've also had some interesting conversations with the kids during the past week and a half.

Hannah. This has been an ongoing discussion over several days. Most have occurred in the car.
Hannah asked me why her last name is Wheeler and not Johnson. I said that is the tradition in our culture.

A car trip or two later she said she doesn't like the name Wheeler because she is always last in school. I know the feeling, and was always glad someone named wilson, young, zelinski, williams, wolf, white, or a wright. Occasionally I wasn't last. She said she wished she had mom's original last name (i.e., maiden name).

On a subsequent trip Hannah asked me who she would marry. And, if she would have to take the man's name to be her own. I said that is the tradition in our culture. She asked if she could marry Spencer? I said that is not possible. She said then it would be easy because she would keep her last name - Wheeler and not have to have a new last name.

Round 4. Hannah asked me how she would know who to marry. I didn't have a chance to go to answer this one due to some emergency (two little kids causes that to happen). I think I said someone who you like, who understands you, who you can play well together with. She said - like Spencer? I said yes. For now I told her just to find boys who are fun to play with and not to worry too much about the bigger question of a future husband for now. Just learn to play with boys a bit.

Next trip around Hannah said she had now figured out how finding a husband works and proceeded to explain to me how it works. She said - in grade school you are just friends, or classmates. Once you are a teenager, you start to like boys, maybe even having a boyfriend. Then after school you start to get serious and have a boyfriend. Then after college you decide to get married and settle down (or, something similar to that - the explanation went really fast).

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Little Victories and Joys

In no particular order:

I got the night off tonight. Spencer and Hannah are overnighting at friends' houses. Emma and Ian were excited to be with dad. I was excited to be with them. It was a good time together.

Kept Ian and Emma busy while I cooked dinner. That is the worst time of the day - whenever I'm cooking - Ian and Emma go bonkers. In the kitchen, out of the kitchen, screaming, fighting, yelling, etc. I gave them two bowls and two rubber scrapers and told them to cook something - a miracle occurred. They did. I kept giving Ian pieces of hot dog to keep his stomach occupied as well, but it worked. I could cook unencumbered - a huge difference.

We found a missing house shoe (croc) for Ian and Emma. They also wear the shoes into the backyard. Ian and Emma share two pairs of house shoes (same color, but two different sizes) and we had 3 shoes, so one of the kiddos was always coming up short.

After coming home from Kindergarten on Thursday Emma stopped on the front porch and started taking off her shoes. I asked her what she was doing and why she wasn't going inside. She said - cause you told me to dump out the sand here on the porch before going into the house - remember dad?

Spencer is excited about reading a German book (comic books from the Daffy Duck and Scrooge McDuck gang), but it's German and it's reading, and I know I always learn some German when I read them. The series puts out a new book every month or so that fits with topics of interest (soccer, summer vacation, etc.).

Hannah is trying to learn how to play the piano. She plays a few simple songs (simple with the right hand) and found a chord for the left hand and now the simple songs sound very good. We are going through a book from Grandma that will hopefully help her to play for real.

No one fell into the Rhine on our boot tour today. And the boot ride was quite nice. Ian and Emma liked going up on deck and then down into the cabin. Up on deck and down into the cabin. Up on deck and down into the cabin. You get the idea. And we found ice cream in Düsseldorf for 0,60 € per scoop. This is 0,10 € cheaper than in most placed in town and me and Spencer were excited about the savings.

Emma wanted green ice cream. But when she got it she was not excited (Kiwi when expecting Pistaccio is tough on a little soul). She tried Spencer's and took it over completely. Spencer was happy to buy another cone. Ian actually ate most of the ice cream (I ate the cone for him and helped with drips).

Spencer's Day Out

Spencer went to a day camp today. He complained yesterday that he didn't want to go and that it was unfair, and I was making him go, etc. I tried the nice way (he'd have to pay the 8 Euros back to me that I paid for the day camp, and if he doesn't think he's old enough, then maybe he doesn't want to go). That got him thinking, but I didn't feel I had enough time to wait and see if it would work, so later I told him he had to go and I didn't want to discuss it anymore. This caused us to get into a fight. He came to me later and apologized, and we had a decent conversation about the event at that point and he seemed positive about going. I also told him that the school psychologist had suggested as many summer camps as possible for Spencer. He seemed to be like that the suggestion was not just from mom and dad. When he woke up this morning, he was all business and got ready.

His report at the end of the day was as follows: he met some mean people and some nice people - one leader who hates Americans and all things from America (including Spencer apparently - I would have loved to hear the conversation). Several kids who were punks. But Spencer was good at Soccer )made a sweet goal and played goalie pretty well and at the Foosball table (kicker) he scored a sweet goal. He road a boat from Kaiserswerth to Düsseldorf, went to the top of the Düsseldorf Rhine Tower, made a 5 cent coin into a picture of the tower (1 € and 5 cents is what it cost). He said the kids center (meeting point for the day camp) was very cool. He is going there next week with Hannah for another day camp (not so exotic - just a nature hike).

Anyway, Spencer said he did not have enough water, but had a good time. I was getting a little bit nervous about him at 7:15 p.m., when he still wasn't home. I was expecting him at about 7:10 p.m. and since he left at 8:00 a.m., it had been a long day.

He also had one funny experience - his ice cream melted in his backpack. Some questions come to mind a) Why would ice cream be in a back pack long enough to melt, b) Why would one put ice cream in a back pack in the first place, c) How much damage does a melted ice cream sandwich do to a back pack?

In reverse order. c) Not much. The inside was a bit water proof, i.e., plastic, and washed right out. b) The other kids told Spencer that he couldn't buy anything and so he hid the ice cream in his back pack. a) why the trash or asking the leader wasn't better than the back pack - only experience can teach Spencer that. Plus on the school outing, Spencer got in trouble for buying something due to a confusion on our part - school letter said - do not bring money in such a fancy, elaborate, eloquent way as to confuse my wife into thinking the kids could bring money. There are no bullet points in communications from the school - all paragraphs, all the time. So, when Spencer bought something (thinking this was normal acceptable behavior), he got in trouble.

Oh well, it was a good day for Spencer to be out on his own and among other kids.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Little Fireplug

So I wake up this morning at 6:20 or so and think - I'm doing pretty good. I'm ahead of the kids and ready for a great day.

And, what do I find - Emma. Wandering around the 2nd floor doing whatever it is that she does at 6:00 a.m. in the morning. As soon as she saw me she started telling me something about Ian and planning this or that. I couldn't keep up with the whole affair. We then did something in the bathroom - putting an electric toothbrush away I think - which made a lot of noise and woke up Ian. This was O.K., because Spencer had to get up early for a day camp (hiking, a boat ride, more hiking) offered by the city.

Well, anyway, from that moment on Emma goes full bore throughout the entire day. Racing from one activity to the next. She seems to be in constant motion. I get dizzy just watching her.

Before pre-school (Kindergarten) I passed by the living room and Emma asked if she could put two blankets on Ian. They were watching the Baby sign language video together.

I turned around and went back upstairs and she was eating already (with Hannah). Every time she sees Ian do something she jumps up and has to start doing that very thing and tries to finish before Ian has even started. If it looks like only one person can do whatever it is Ian is doing, then she'll gladly take over for Ian. This causes tension between the two, because Ian also wants to do stuff by himself, or in peace. They still get along great about 80% of the time. This is pretty good percentage wise. Ian likes Emma's pony tails.

Then I take Emma to Kindergarten and she is running again. It is amazing. I can hardly keep up. She runs here and runs there. Takes Hannah with her where ever she goes (Hannah was back in Kindergarten again today). When I come back to pick her up she is running back and forth and runs up to see me.

She runs throughout the afternoon. And gets in front of Ian. Can't have Ian doing anything that she is not doing, or better yet, has not already done.

Then she goes to bed - usually screaming something like - leave the door open, or I didn't fix my blanket, or I want my sippy cup, or this or that - and passes out 2 seconds after I leave the room. Dead tired.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Day in Irrland

No, not that Irland (or Ireland). Irrland is a small amusement park near the Dutch border in the city of Kevelaer, where Mother Theresea once visited and prayed, and where a live manger scene is played out each year at Christmas time (we went there last year). The park reminds me of Little Americka back in Wisconsin, which was also an amusement park that grew out of former farm land. Irrland is a great little place though. There are lots of attractions for kids, the prices were very reasonable, and for parents, the accommodations were fabulous, for example there are tons of covered picnic tables and benches where you can barbeque or just sit and eat, while the kids run around on the attractions in the vicinity (slides, water, maze, farm animals, more water, foot pedal driven go-cart tracks, to name a few things).

We went with some good friends today and had a great time. Ian was quite clingy, but warmed up to a few things over time. It was a relaxing day all in all. The good thing was we made plans for Hannah to play with their daughter for this week. Ian loved being with Hannah's friend's mom. They went and watched the bunnies three or four times in a row together and played with the donkey together and a little bit near the water. It is nice to spend time with that family, they give the kids a different sounding board (other than mom and dad) and I enjoy hanging out with them as well.

The husband is an American and speaks English to his daughter (wife is German). So, when we get together, we speak English (or try to speak English the majority of the time). When I speak to their daughter in English she generally tends to run in the other direction as fast as possible. She runs up to me really fast and says something (half of it before I know she is talking to me). I ask her, in English, what was that. She looks at me funny, and runs the other way. It's funny for me. Tough for the parent to stay the "English" (or foreign language) parent all the time. Anyway, it's good to get together.

Kau Boy (sounds like Cowboy)

This was an ad that I saw at the Subway sandwich outside my company's offices. The subway sandwich (Kau Boy) was dressed up like a Cowboy and all ready to be eaten or to eat something. It's hard to tell in the add.

The great thing about the ad is the play on the meaning of the German word (Kau) that "sounds like" an English word (Cow). Kauen means to chew. Obviously, boy is an English word. Stick them together and you get cow-boy. Or dig in, eat up, etc., like a good cowboy would after a hard day on the range.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Emma's Big Day

Wow! What a day for Emma - she went to the bathroom on the toilet for the first time. This is through no doing of my own. It was all through the Kindergarten (pre-school) she attends. The teacher suggested it would be better not to have such a wet diaper since she is staying until 2 p.m. and eating lunch at pre-school. What a great teacher.

I am glad Emma has a spot at this Kindergarten where the teachers already knows us. We actually saw the main teacher Frau G. while the kids were playing in the village fountain yesterday. We had a quick talk and it was very nice. When I told her about playing Mr. Mom and my apprehensions - she said - rubbish. Men run the household differently, but the kids enjoy it, and if a few things slip, that will be O.K.. Be happy, and don't sweat the small things. She also offered to let Emma stay until 2 p.m. and eat lunch at Kindergarten, and to have Hannah come to visit the Kindergarten, and gave me some names for people Emma could play with.

By the way, the 2 p.m. thing has been great because being a mom sure wears me out. I took naps both days.

Now, as if going tinkle on the toilet wasn't enough (aufs Töpfchen gehen) Emma's big sister Hannah also got to visit the Kindergarten (pre-school) today because she is on summer break. I'm sure Hannah helped Emma on the toilet. During their school holidays siblings can come and spend a day in Kindergarten. Hannah was glad to see Frau G again. I asked Hannah if she liked school or Kindergarten better? She said she would like to do school one day, then Kindergarten the next. I can relate to that.

And, if that wasn't the greatest day ever, then just imagine how Emma felt when, after the Kindergarten, she had a play date with a friend who lives about 5 houses up from the Kindergarten. We tried to have a play date yesterday, but Emma didn't understand the timing of the play date and when the other girl's mom went to get Emma out of the car, she started crying and refused to leave. We (the other mom & I) decided another time would be better. But, Emma thought we were going home, saying hi to Ian, and then going on the play date. She kept talking about the play date all throughout the afternoon. This continued this morning after waking up and of course after the Kindergarten she asked if she was going on the play date.

So, Hannah, Emma and I went and asked if the girl could play today. She and her cousin (who is in Hannah's class at school) were able to play. I came back at 5 p.m. and the kids were still have a grand old time. It was good that Hannah was there with Emma the first time for a play date. Then Emma doesn't worry as much. She was tired when I picked her up (I had to force her into the car seat) & she hungry when we got home - she ate several snack items and dinner too.

I think I'll arrange a play date with the girl's mom, so that I don't pick up Emma, but she just goes home with the friend. Then she won't have time to think about staying with dad.

I didn't even have time to celebrate with Emma because of all the other activities. I think I'm supposed to get her an Überraschungsei (according to Hannah), but Aldi doesn't have them in the summer. We'll see what I can do tomorrow.

Ah yes tomorrow. Tomorrow is another big day. We are going with friends to a water and amusement park near the Dutch border called Irrland. Hope I don't forget the swimsuits. And I hope Ian and Emma don't poop in the one swim diaper I have for each of them. Does Aldi have swim diapers? I doubt it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Why P.S.

Why the title Post Scriptum for a German blog? Why P.S. for a blog about living in Germany? Well, that is a good question? Or, at least a question.

It's mainly, because the real story of our lives in Germany can be found on Tamara's blog. I tell the rest of the story, like that guy, in America, who tells the "rest of the story", except perhaps that my post scriptum notes, a bit lest interesting.

By the way, how does one say P.S. in Germany - P.S., just like in English. The abbreviation is from a Latin word and German uses quite a bit of Latin in it's vocabulary.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Noboday's Business but the Turks

So, Germany and Turkey are in the semi-finals of the European Cup in 2008. This is old news. But, have you heard - there's a special at the local bar/restaurant (Kronenwirt) in our neighborhood - Currywurst for the German fans & Döner (Kebap) for the Turkish fans.



The German flag & the Turkish flag celebrating together.
On top of the German flag you see "Currywurst" (a bratwurst with curry ketchup or curry sauce, and usually french fries)
On top of the Turkish flag you see in "Döner" (as in Döner Kebap, which is the Turkish version of the Greek Gyro)

Very funny. We are still routing for Germany as are many in our neighborhood (see the flags beow), but there are 1.5 million Turks living in Germany. So, the bigger hope is a well played and fair match.



Cut Off

Yesterday a storm passed through Germany, knocking down trees, and causing a bit of mayhem. When I arrived at the train this morning there was a lot of commotion - hoards of people jumping in taxis, more people than usual shuffling around the bus portion of the station.

When I reached the platform an announcement came over the loudspeaker indicating that the there was a problem with the Oberleitung, or the electrical lines that are used by the trains just north of our station and that no trains were running up to Essen. Luckily the trains were running into Düsseldorf.

When this type of storm hits Germany (there have been a few since we arrived) I realize how fragile our existence is, and how heavily we rely on technological advancements to make our day to day lives possible. Then my mind jumps to the worst case scenario - if all transportation stops - there is no option for walking home. In this case I mean, home, home, i.e., the United States.

Natural disasters always lead one to ponder. I was stunned by the recent earthquake in China, typhoon in Myanmar, and flooding along the Mississippi. But when a storm hits Germany and disrupts daily life, I think of this worse case scenario - we would never make it home. I think this comes from the weight of responsibility I feel as a father who packed up his wife and children and scooted off to Germany, with no exit strategy. Whatever the cause, it is a an emotion that I didn't experience when devastating storms hit my town or surrounding towns back in America.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Fever Lives On

Germany's dream of a European Championship in 2008 lives on. The German team beat Austria 1-0 last night on a penalty kick from about 30 meters from the goal by Michael Ballack, the German team captain.

The great thing for me was that me and Spencer got to watch the game together and enjoy the goal together. Spencer was supposed to be in bed, but came down at halftime and said he couldn't sleep. He was just too uneasy. He usually sleeps just fine, so It must have been due to the Germany game.

I said he could stay up and we watched the 2nd half together. In the 49th minute Ballack scored the 1 and only goal of the night. It was a sweet blast to the right of the fence the Austrian players made and into the upper right hand corner of the net. The clocked the ball at 130 kilometers per hour (about 80 m.p.h.).

It was sweet and even sweeter since Spencer was there.