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


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 ( 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.