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.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

EM Fieber (Cup fever)

European Cup that is (Euromeistershaft or EURO 2008).

The fever has begun here in Germany. It is fun to see. There are flags every where. You see them on every 3rd or 4th car and in many houses, bars, restaurants, etc.

One interesting thing happened when the flags came out a week and a half ago was that I got homesick. I associate flag waving with America, where it is much more common. Here is occasional and unusual, and made me think of home.

Enough for homesickness. I hope Germany can win tonight. It's 0-0 at the half and the 2nd half is just starting. Germany is playing fairly well and the coach got sent off of the field (into the stands) where he exchanged a few words with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Hopefully that helps motivate the team for the 2nd half.

Playing some Half Court

Half Court Soccer that is.

Holy Cow! I thought I new the sport of soccer enough to play a little bit, at least against some nine and ten year olds. On the real soccer field I was doing alright today when Spencer's team held its end of the year party and the parents played against the boys.

But, when we played half court soccer (my term translated from half court basketball) I was totally lost. I've seen people playing soccer at one end of the field before, many times in fact. I always imagined this would be like playing half court basketball, which is the same as full court basketball with not as much running, only one goal, and the teams trade who is on offense. Wow, was I wrong. Half court soccer was much different than I expected. There was no take back line, I ending up guarding people on my team a couple of times (could have been the German), there were corner kicks and end line kicks from the goalie, but I couldn't tell when it should be a corner kick and when it should be a goalie kick, because I couldn't tell who was on offense and who was defense, or how you switched from defense to offense (no take back line from what I could tell).

That's a bit of rambling, but partially due to my level of confusion. At any rate it was fun to be out among the other parents and with the kids in the program, and of course with Spencer.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Wrangler Jeans in Germany

Wow, was I amazed when I saw this add - Wranglers for 49.99 €. I knew that Levi's were a hot item in Germany, but I did not know about Wranglers being in such high demand. In the U.S. I bought Wranglers for around $20 at Walmart. That was 2006 and it looks like they are even cheaper now. Here in Germany I guess the U.S. brand name holds a lot of value. Jeans without U.S. brands can be had for around 20 € in Germany.

Silly Chicken Nugget

When I am home with Emma and Ian I constantly hear Emma saying to Ian: "You're a silly chicken nugget." The rest of our family says - "silly chicken!" when the wee ones do something silly, or fun. Emma has expanded the phrase to include nuggets.

It's very cute.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Sad Day for the Boy Scouts

I just saw that a tornado hit a Boy Scout camp in wester Iowa. Early reports indicate that four people died in the tornado.

That is a sad day for a former scout master. I pray for the families and the boys. Scouting is such a great program for boys and young men.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Ian is Happy

Here is a quick Ian update. Ian is still happy. Ever since Emma started Kindergarten (pre-school) he has been a changed man. Not that he doesn't love Emma. His second word was Emma (after momma of course), but he is happy to have some time with mom each day without his big sister looking after him.

One very cute thing that Ian does is his sign language. He doesn't say many words with his mouth (only two words so far, and each one only once). But, he does do quite a lot of sign language. His favorite one is bird. He loves finding the birds outside in the backyard, or flying around the house. And he consistently used the sign for bird. It brings joy to my heart to see him so excited and talking.

Lowering Expectations

I have now realized that my expectations for a happy commute, understanding my colleagues, speaking good German are just way to high. Not to mention taking care of the kids, loving my wife, and succeeding in my new very large complex project, that is implementing a new methodology (Agile Software Development), and taking care of my callings at church. I think they usually say - let the game come to you, or don't try and force it.

With this in mind I noticed today that the Germans who I always thought spoke such great English actually make quite a few mistakes. The thing that they do better than me (when I speak German) is they keep going and don't bat an eye when they mess up. They stay confident despite their mistakes. I think I can do that, a little bit. Hopefully a small change in perspective will help. It seemed to today.

I also decided that walking a bit further to the first bus and taking some stuff out of my bad is probably better. Relaxing and enjoying the extra 10 minutes will do me some good and multiple fronts. We'll see how it goes, but it's definitely worth a shot.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Learning English

Wow, in addition to commuter frustration (three different modes of transportation is a challenge, bus, commuter train, light rail), I have had struggles this week learning English. Let me explain. Here are some of the varieties of English I've been introduced to this week.

English spoken by . . .
An Irishman (german father, but speaks just like the Irish I've seen in the movies. Pretty cool to listen too)
Germans (accustomed to this one, but each person has a few nuances you have to get used to - discussion versus argument)
Spaniards (wow! most of these guys are difficult to understand)
Poles (the two I've met were pretty good)
British (one woman lived in Britain for 9 years, but calls herself German. She speaks both extremely well, but the German has a hint of british accent)
New Zealand (with a Dutch background)
Australia (goes pretty smoothly)
American (worked with him for past 18 months, that is a nice break, but still a switch)

Those are the people I've met thus far. There are a few others from even further nationalities that I haven't even spoken with yet.

Wow, my brain is tired. And I noticed that my German has gone down the drain this week. Learning the new language of the project, and the project management approach (Agile Development) and all of the various forms of English has worn the little engine that could down to the little engine needs a nap. This would be fairly fun and challenging, but I am actually expected to understand what these people are telling me. Also challenging is that I have to upgrade my English and use more proper forms of certain words and phrases.

I did understand from the Spanish guys enough to find out that they are rooting for the LA Lakers in the NBA finals. Pal Gasol, their fellow countrymen, plays for LA. It will make for some good conversation over the next few weeks. I don't like LA. I'm rooting for the Celtics. This is naturally fairly unimportant when compared to the NHL playoffs, which just finished - go Detroit, and the European Cup - Go Germany.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Man oh!

Man oh! is what I heard Emma saying this evening every time something went wrong. She was riding her "Laufrad" (walking bicycle) tonight in the yard. She kept falling off of the the training bicycle. While trying to get herself and the training bike back up, she and it wouldn't quite work out she would say - "Man Oh!" This is a common phrase used with children.

3 hour commute

Bah, I hate the three hour daily round trip commute. That's, for those non-math majors, 1.5 hours each way. This evening it was almost two hours. I am at a new location and I don't have the bus/tram schedule memorized and I chose the wrong bus tonight. It cost me another 45 minutes. And I'm carrying my laptop back and forth to work almost every day. Along the other reading materials I take along, my bag is quite heavy. And I used to have a half hour train ride with no transfers necessary. Now I have 15 min. street car, 20 min. train. It's not as relaxing a commute. I'm sure I'll adjust to the new environment over time, but today was frustrating.

Then on top of it I was reading a document for work on the bus/tram and train that I could barely understand. Turns out I was reading the technical specifications prior to the business specifications. This is like reading a new language as half the words are module, table, or system name references. Weeding that out is tough at first when you aren't familiar with the modules, tables, and systems in the system landscape.

I realized towards the end of my journey that there is a business (read human) version of the specifications. It just starts half-way through the document. Seems a bit backwards. At any rate. Enough venting for one night.

Speaking of new languages I'll have some updates on international business English over the next few days and weeks.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Ian's miracle

Ian continues to be beaming at almost all times. He is talking up a storm in sign language (we saw a bird outside yesterday and he made the sign for bird). He also said Emma's name on Friday Night.

Ian's new-found happiness all started when Emma started going to Kindergarten (pre-school). For Ian this was obviously a miracle. He finally has his mother. He has missed his mother perhaps more than any of our other children. Tamara has had anemia ever since his birth, and we moved to Germany when he was just 3 weeks old. We have had very little time to care for the little guy ever since.

Emma is very excited about pre-school as well. She is a big kid now and more like her older brother and sisters. She is generally so tired though from her new schedule with no nap and the extra excitement each day at Kindergarten that I don't see the excitement myself.

Now, flashback to two weeks ago. The two little ones - former friends who almost always adored one another - were starting to fight like cats and dogs. They were always screaming at each other and Emma was also screaming at her older brother and sisters a lot.

And now, flashback to a week and a half ago. The big kids started praying in our family prayers that Emma and Ian would stop screaming so much. When I noticed that they were all praying for this I said, mom and dad should follow their great example and we should pray for this in all of our family prayers. The kids and mom agreed and we continued praying for this help.

Then, on Tuesday, one the Kindergartens called us - Hannah's former Kindergarten. The director had heard through the grapevine that we were still looking for a place and one had just become available.

I told the kids that it was a miracle and a direct answer to their prayers. Now we should be grateful in our prayers for this miracle for our little ones.

Check out some pictures of the Emma & Ian from this spring. A few weeks ago when the cat fighting started I was worried. They are now back to their their former selves again and playing together very nicely for a 3 and almost 2 year old. It is a huge blessing:


I started on a new project today. It was a great start, except for one thing - the heat. I was so tired from the heat I was struggling in meetings in the afternoon. And, I had to dress up for the first day. It looks like every day is a bit dressier than at my last company. That is not great news. I think I need to buy some short sleeve dress shirts.

One piece of coffee information. This company does not have a machine in every kitchen. Of course, there are several thousand employees in several buildings. Our company provides a water cooler and a coffee machine. I'm not sure if the coffee is provided by the company, or not. But I think so. Here is a picture of the machine. It makes one or two cups at a time and you put little "pads" of coffee in the top and water in the bottom.

Someone brought some cakes today and they were placed at the edge of my desk for everyone to share. That made for a good day as I was able to meet several people who I otherwise wouldn't have met.

The heat is good for the kids, but man, oh man is it hot at work. There is one room with air conditioning. We had one meeting there and were soooo happy.

The other funny thing is that I am working with three of the same people from my last project. There was a hint of dejavu in the air as we met and discussed the project, strategy, how to work, etc. It was nice. All of us are on different teams, but still in the same project.