Friday, November 6, 2009

Shantal Learning about English and Love

Shantal saw the post about Spencer learning English today and said. Hey, why didn't you write about my English test? I said I didn't write about it because you just got it back this week, silly!

She did well on her test, but the children still made fun of her for getting a B+. One translation was as follows:
Ich habe einen Hund.
I have got a dog.

I told her she could leave the "got" out of the sentence. She said, no I can't. The teacher said I must use got. She then said - it sounds a little funny to me, but that's what I have to do. I'm guessing it's British, but I don't no much about that version of English.

Oh, and Shantal told me she got a note from a boy today. It turned out to be her first love letter. A boy gave her a note with the words "I heart you" on it. She seemed impressed, but not like she wanted to return the affection. I was glad about that.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ian's speaking Dutch!

While Tamara was away I discovered why we can't understand Ian. He's speaking Dutch. Which actually makes sense. Ian hears English at home, German all around him and has mixed the two into his own language, which just happens to be Dutch. I made this conclusion when Ian recently said the Awpplebaum. This is a half English (apple tree) and half German (apfelbaum) word, which sounds very similar to the Dutch word for apple tree: appel boom.

Actually Ian is putting more and more words together and the fact that he put these two words together in a sort of Dutch way sounds like a move in the right direction. It will be interesting to watch him grow through this stage.

Now the disclaimer since I don't want an entire country mad at me. Yes the Dutch language has many commonalities with English and German and if you know both English and German you can understand some very simple Dutch conversations and read some Dutch signs on the highway. But of course Ian couldn't make up a language as complex as Dutch on his own! :-)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bill Cosby - Still Funny

The kids discovered two unused MP3 players yesterday and have now inherited them. We still need one more, but that should not be too problematic. This gave me the opportunity to introduce my two oldest (11 girl, and 10 boy) to Bill Cosby's sketch about Noah today. On my old MP3 player I had some of Cosby's sketches. The kids were laughing hysterically throughout the entire sketch and quoting it thereafter. I listened to it too and realized I still truly enjoy it.

Listening to the sketch today reminded me of something else. Hearing this sketch as a child was one of the earliest times someone brought the scriptures to life for me, or better stated, opened my eyes to the possibility of bringing the scriptures to life.

Bill Cosby paints beautifully a person's reaction to someone following the path of God - "Hey, your ark is blocking my drive way! I have to go to work!" He also eloquently captures the frustration one encounters when trying to fulfill God's commandments. When God tells Noah he has two male hippos (the last two animals to get on the ark), Noah responds: "I'm not bringing in a female! You change one of them!"

Speaking of Noah, and the Scriptures coming to life. For scripture study last week, we measured the length, width, and height of the Ark - if the ark were placed on our street. We realized that the Ark would have been quite a bit longer than our street. It would have been taller than the tallest house on our street (if you count the TV antenna on top of that house) and it would have been wider than the street (house door to house door roughly) - "what's a cubit?"

I found the following information about the ark online: The Ark's dimensions were at least 135 meters long (300 cubits), 22.5 meters wide (50 cubits), and 13.5 meters high (30 cubits). That's 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high!

Friday, September 11, 2009

An amazing discovery - Phrasal Verbs

On Monday Spencer received a D+ on an English quiz. He was heartbroken. I felt sorry for him and thought it's a good thing I don't have those problems. Little did I know.

On Wednesday I found I have some English problems of my own. I spoke to a colleague on the phone in English this week and asked him to do something. I asked: "Would you free up that document for me?" The colleague, a native German speaker basically said, what the heck are you talking about? I had to translate my shortened sentence into a full English sentence. Something like: "Would you close the document so I may open it for editing." As you probably know, even on a network only one person can edit a document at a time. He had the document open and I needed to open it and edit it.

I was a bit frustrated. Why can't the people here understand me? I thought.

I turned to the colleague sitting next to me and said, my English is often too complicated and people struggle to understand me. Why is that, I asked. He had overheard my phone conversation and said, matter of factly, "You're using phrasal verbs. That makes it difficult for a non-native speaker to understand the context of what you are saying."

I was astonished, partially because he knew instantly what the problem was, and partially because I had never even heard of phrasal verbs. I asked "what is a phrasal verb?" He explained it to me briefly and then I began scouring the internet for information about phrasal verbs. From English Page I found this definition: 1. A phrasal verb is a verb plus a preposition or adverb which creates a meaning different from the original verb.

That didn't help me to much because I couldn't remember what a preposition was. The examples I found helped considerably.

Phrasal Verb ==> actual meaning in real English
Fall behind ==> Make less progress than anticipated or planned

Discovering this has opened doors to better English and German. I found several websites which contain translations - phrasal verb into real English and then into German.

I realized that I was constantly using phrasal verbs and I was constantly thinking of them while trying to speak German. Whenever such a phrase comes to mind I would naturally try and translate my English sentences into German. But I would always struggle because "fall behind" is not truly what I want to say: make less progress than anticipated is what I want to say. I then realized it is much easier to translate the 2nd sentence.

It was truly quite a discovery for me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ian Misses Mom

Tamara was gone last night and so I put Ian to bed. He was not too happy about the whole affair and cried for a bit. I double checked on him and offered him some new books. He declined, and left again, thinking he would console himself.

After realizing that he would not console himself, I went back up. I recall our conversation going like this.
Me: Ian, would you like me to read you a book?
Ian: No.
Me: Ian, did you want me to leave you a book to read?
Ian: No.
Me (flabbergasted): Ian, what do you want bud?
Ian (still in tears): Mom!
Me: Mom will be back in a few days bud! Shall we go downstairs and read a book?
Ian: yea.

After a few books and playing with Hannah (his 8 year old sister) for a couple of minutes he was ready for bed.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Spencer's English Quiz

Poor Spencer took his first English quiz in his new secondary school on Monday and got 4 out of 10 wrong.

One word that he didn't know was Primary School (British English) = Grade School (in American English) = Grundschule (in German). Guessed Pre-School (in American English) and correctly translated that to Kindergarten (in German).

It can happen to the best of us. Hopefully he will take the lesson and use it to his advantage. He did say the other American (mother is American) also scored poorly on the quiz.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Ian's Works a Miracle

We're not sure what Ian's asks for in his prayers. We're just beginning to understand the Amen at the end. The rhythm changes slightly at the end of his prayers and then we know that the Amen will follow. Sometimes the prayers are short. Sometimes they are a bit longer. I guess it depends on what Ian has to say. I'm not sure if his prayers are answered, since I don't know the content of his prayers.

What I do know is that one of our prayers has been answered through Ian. The other children enjoy praying again. The routine of family prayers in our home has been changed entirely since Ian started to pray. The other children volunteer to pray after Ian is done with his prayer. We usually say a 2nd prayer to make sure some essentials are covered. Ian doesn't mind, and it is amazing to the see the children so happy to pray. They also pray with a bit more feeling behind their words, and a bit less routine.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Back to Work

My time on Kurzarbeit has come to an end. I successfully interviewed today and will be placed as a consultant focusing on testing at Santander Bank in Mönchengladbach. I start work tomorrow.

I'm very excited to be back working. Although I have to admit that when CGI mentioned possible placement last week I thought - oh I wish I had a few more weeks with the kids and Tamara. It was truly fun to be with them and experience their exuberance for life and participate with them in all of their activities.

One funny note. Spencer came to me a bit concerned tonight and asked. Dad, now that you are working in Mönchengladbach, does this mean that you will be a Gladbach fan?

For that we'll have to wait and see. Right now I am a bit of a Werder Bremen fan, but I mainly just like watching well played matches.

Ah, what the heck - Go Gladbach!!!!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Funny Tidbits

Tonight we found out that the Under-21 European Championships were being played. Somehow we had missed it earlier. Then we didn't know what channel it was on. Instead of turning on the TV an flipping through the stations Spencer ran outside, climbed up on the swing set and looked into our neighbor's patio where they have a TV. He walked into the house and said ZDF (one of the channels here in Germany). We flipped on the game and got to see the last goal. Germany won 4-0.

Another funny thing that I wanted to mention happened today in Kindergarten. I went with Ian. He was able to do a practice day in Kindergarten. While we were sitting in the opening time in a circle one of the boys (probably 3.5 years old) said to the boy next to him. "Your arms can fall off. And your nose . . . if you are digging around in it." That was hilarious.

Ian had a great day in Kindergarten (pre-school). I was there the whole time, but he did several things on his own. He drew a picture, sat in the circle with the other kids, ate breakfast and cleaned up his place. The kids put their plates and cups away, wipe the table, and get a new plates if necessary. Ian ate so slow he didn't there were no more kids coming after him, so he didn't need to get a new plate.

At breakfast I introduced Ian to a couple of people. When one of the boys looked a bit cockeyed at me. I explained the background of Ian's name - Scottish for John (in German Jan). One of the boys said - hey my name is Irish - Lennon. My dad is from Ireland. He thought we were from Scotland, we we are not. This worked out nicely because me and Lennon - we spoke some English to each other. And, Lennon looked after Ian in the sand box, showed him where the tools are, helped him dig in the sand, etc. It turned out to be a very nice day.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


What language will Ian speak first? Well Denglish, of course. Actually, most of his words thus far have been English words. Although he has no problem understanding instructions in German - from our children, our friends, or the childrens German friends. Nonetheless, English words dominate his limited vocabulary at this time.

But when it came time for one of the most important words in any childs vocabulary - the word "No", Ian opted for the German version - "Nein". He emphatically says "nein" to most everything, just like any other child - just that his no is in German.

He has one other word that could go either way. Ian's "more" sounds an awful lot like the German "mehr" - at least most of the time. "More" is also a critical word in a child's vocabulary, so I'm not sure if the fact that two key words were in German is a sign of things to come, or just a coincidence, but it's enjoyable to watch.

Monday, June 22, 2009

H all the way

Ian is at the stage of life where he is learning to talk. Yes, he's almost three, and yes most children can speak much earlier in life, but for Ian, the moment is now and it is enjoyable to watch.

Ian is now at the stage where he has one dominant sound. At least two of our other children did this as well. Shantal and Hannah both loved the sound "B". Ian loves the sound "H". Once you know this, it makes understanding the poor boy much easier.

Here are some examples:
"H"ian "H"out! He said this as I was taking him inside to change his diaper this evening and he wanted to stay outside.

"H"in house! Ian says this when we are nearing the front door of our house.

"H"auto! Ian says this whenever he sees a car. Auto is the German word for car and an acceptable English word.

Ian also loves words that begin with the letter "H". For example: Hannah, house, hat, hop, etc.

I've always enjoyed this phase when our children reach it. And it's just as fun with Ian right now.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Stockbrot means bread on a stick. This is something the kids commonly do at school activities. Today I made Stockbrot for the first time. In order to make Stockbrot You take dough and wrap it around the end of a stick, then you place the stick over a campfire and let the dough cook.

Cooking bread on a stick has the same relaxing feeling as roasting marshmellows around the campfire. Your stick is too short, or too long, or too flimsey, and the dough, in this case, falls into the fire, catches on fire, or turns suddenly dark shades of black. You fight against he smoke, try to get the right angle so as not to singe your hair, and to still cook the bread. But if your lucky, things work out and you have an nice little piece of bread to eat at the end.

The Library Lady

It has just been confirmed by an international study. Library Ladyies speak softly. I've been to the library 3 times this week and each time I am shocked by how quietly the library lady speaks. I thought - maybe it was me and I was just not hearing very well, but no - I was there again today and it is confirmed. She was speaking so softly I had to ask her to repeat herself several times because I just can't pick up on the German when it is that soft.

That aside, I was able to go to the Library with Emma. She rode her Laufrad (a starter bike with no pedals) and did really well. Much better than the last time I went with her and she took her "Laufrad". On the way she saw a friend from pre-school and stopped for a minute to play (pre-school is called Kindergarten here in Germany). At the Library she was able to pick out three kids books. The funny thing was that I tried to pick out a fourth one that looked pretty entertaining to me. She would have nothing to do with it. No, Dad, not that one, she kept saying.

She picked out two books from the author Eric Carle. I had picked out a DVD version of the very hungry catepillar ("Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt") earlier in the week. Quite well done.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Know where you stand

Well, after tonight it is clear where I stand. Spencer was trying to spend the night at a friend's house. It wasn't working out and so we said - Spencer since Shantal has a friend spending the night I thought we could play Playstation together. He said - Oh No!

We then finally thought of another solution - Spencer could invite a friend over to our house to sleep over and play Playstation. He said - Oh Yes!

Same activity: With dad, bad. With friend, good! At least I know where I stand.

I think it was some of the frustration of not getting what he wanted in that moment. Oh, well.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Emma's big plans

I had a fun experience with Emma today. She is just about to turn 4, but going on 14 at least. She strives for independence in all that she does. It is challenging for dad and daughter I believe.

Today I took Emma to Kindergarten (pre-school in English) and on the drive over there I missed the first turn off. We usually take the first turn off in order to avoid waiting at the the traffic light at the 2nd possible turn off point.

She exclaimed "Dad you forgot to turn!" I responded "I was thinking of something else. Thanks for telling me. I was about to take you all the way to work with me!" and smiled.

Emma then went to explain that she did not want to go to work with dad. She needed to be in Kindergarten. Johanna needed Emma so she had someone to play with and the Little Pia needs Emma in case the Little Pia cries (there are two girls named Pia who attend Emma's pre-school). "And besides, dad", she gently reminded me, "I've already been to your work. I need to be in Kindergarten."

What a wonderful experience.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ian's Big Day

OK, maybe it was dad's big day with Ian, but here goes.

I needed to run an errand today and decided driving would be too stressful, and decided to take the train. I then thought that would be fun for me and Ian together. And, I was right it was fun. We rode the train to the main station in Düsseldorf (Hbf) and then walked about 1500 meters to the computer store.

Ian was excited at two particular times: 1) When our trains tracks made the turn towards Düsseldorf and we were suddenly running parallel with several tracks, and 2) when we were walking in the big city. Both were related to the amount of public transportation we saw. Trains in the first instance and buses and street cars in the second instance. He doesn't say much, but pointed and grunted a lot.

When we got home he brought me some trains from our wonderful wooden train set that Spencer got as a gift from Grandma Wheeler and we played trains together. That was fun. We crashed the trains, let them ride down the little hills. It was a good time.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lichtenstein - World Cup Qualifier for Germany

On Saturday Germany played a World Cup qualifying game. Early in the game, with Germany leading 2-0, Mario Gomez, a star for the German team, missed a shot from close range. The commentator noted that Gomez hadn't scored in an international game for the German team in over a year. He then noted that the Lichtenstein team hadn't scored in an international game in over a year. The last goal Lichtenstein scored was in a 1-7 loss against Malta a year ago.

Needless to say, the German team had an easy time beating Lichtenstein 4-0. The led 2-0 in the 10th minute.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hannah's Surprise

On Saturday we planned a surprise for Hannah for her baptism. We did this with help from our former exchange student Adrian. Adrian called on the Monday before the baptism to say he could attend the baptism and suggested that maybe it could be a surprise. Tamara set it up so the other children new about the surprise and Hannah knew that dad, i.e., me, was picking up the surprise on Saturday morning before the baptism. The surprise was arriving at the train station at about 10a.m.

When I arrived back home with "the surprise" Hannah was glued to the TV as she and the kids were playing Playstation 2 (we just got a Playstation after being without one for over a year, so the kids were understandably excited). We called to Hannah. "Dad is here!" "With your surprise." "Turn off the TV!" "Time for Hannah's surprise." But the pull of the Playstation was too strong. By this time Adrian and I were right behind Hannah and the other kids in the living room. All of the other kids had looked, but were silent - very well done I must say.

Hannah, while still looking at the TV said, "Well, is it wrapped." We all burst out laughing and Hannah turned around. She saw Adrian, and just melted in joy. She ran to him and jumped up into his arms. It was one of the sweetest moments of Hannah's baptism day.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Don't forget the Flowers

I came home tonight to find our new eight year old daughter Hannah. She seemed very excited about the day. I noticed that her foot was feeling much better despite here recent trip to the emergency room.

In my rush to return home for her birthday, a bit later than planned of course, I felt like I was forgetting something.

When I walked into the family room the first question Hannah asked was - did you get the flowers? I usually try to buy Tamara & our children flowers on the kid's birthdays. Cause I can't think of the kids without thinking of how much I love Tamara and how much of Tamara's personality is in the children I buy flowers for both. Unfortunately I totally spaced that one today

I've got one more day. The B-day party is tomorrow.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Harvard Day of Faith - The Mormon

I found this interesting and thought I would share. The other discussions were also interesting.

Day of Faith: Personal Quests for a Purpose - 3. Rachel Esplin from Harvard Hillel on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


I love pears! I love them even more hear in Germany. In Germany, the pears are larger and have a more robust skin. This robust skin seems to allow the fruit to grow longer without being damaged, making the fruit and its sweetness exquisite.

Tamara found some at the store recently and they were phenomenal. I've also had some at work that are shaped like apples. They are equally delicious.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Ian's growing up

Despite not speaking, Ian is starting to be more and more of a little boy. Last night at our friends house we ate dinner with them. I sat next to Ian. When I sat down he was excited that he had a fork, a knife, and a spoon at his place.

I started eating and looked over at Ian. He was eating with a fork and a knife, with the knife in the right hand, and the fork in the left, as is typical here in Europe. I wondered - where did he learn that. That is the way I eat, at least when I am out to lunch at work. I wasn't sure if I eat like that while I am at home.

When I looked over at him again a few minutes later I noticed that despite using two utensils to eat, most of Ian's food was landing on the table and not in his mouth. This worried me a bit, but Ian was still totally happy and totally excited about his eating experience.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cool Ian

On the way from a friends house tonight all the kids were riled up and had had a good time and wanted some time to express themselves, and tell their stories. This results in a rather loud situation with all parties vying for floor time, where they speak and others listen. At one point Emma, our 3 year old, cried out - someone listen to me, I want to say something.

The whole time I was wondering - what is Ian thinking about? And I said to myself, tonight I'm glad he doesn't say much. He has a handful of words, including Emma, Mama, Hello, House, Papa, and Sponge Bob. But, as usual, he was calm, cool, collected, and quiet tonight and remained so during the entire ride home.

Tonight as I told my dad the story I also wondered if that is why Ian doesn't talk yet? Maybe he thinks, why? There is no chance to get a word in edgewise with this crowd anyway!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Here Comes the Sun

This morning was the second beautiful day in a row. The weather was peaceful, calm, and cool, and the sun was shining, which made for a beautiful sunrise.

As I rode the U-bahn (now above aground) over the Rhine, and saw the sun again, I thought - this must be a trick. By noon, it will be rainy and the sun will be gone.

Surprise, surprise, the sun shone all day. It was a nice day.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Beauty of Speech

Well Ian has started speaking a bit more. He has moved on from Mama, Papa, Emma, Hallo, Home, and Hi (not necessarily in that order - I believe Papa came last) to a brave new realm of speech.

Ian can now say Sponge Bob and Bubu, a dog in a children's book we read to him (in English the dog's name is Kipper). Those are words that truly bring tears to a father's eye. Well, maybe not. I'm just glad that he said Papa before Sponge Bob.

Hannah was also late in speaking like this, but then improved in leaps and bounds once she started. We'll see if that happens with Ian as well.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Winter Cup

Today Spencer got to go to a day of soccer in Düsseldorf. The Fortuna Düsseldorf Winter Cup between Duisburg, Cologne, Berlin, and Düsseldorf. From what Spencer said there were four games of 45 minutes each. Düsseldorf lost to Cologne in the final and so the boys I drove home from the train station said they now hated Cologne, because they beat Düsseldorf. Spencer said he had a good time and he was glad he got to go to a soccer game. There were a couple of games that went to penalty shots, which is always fun.

But the story he told Tamara was the best. He started with how you have to take your ticket with you in order to go to buy food, and go to the bathroom. He then told her how he bought three currywurst mit pommes (polish sausage with curry sauce and fries) and actually ate them all. He also drank a bottle of water, and soda. He then went on to explain that he had to throw up afterwards, surprise, surprise.

That kid has some hilarious stories.

Friday, January 23, 2009

I can understand German

I noticed recently that I understand German conversations I overhear, e.g., in the bus, standing in line, without trying to understand them. I was wondering when this might happen.

I wish I spoke more German at work, but I have two "English only" members in the team. C'est la vie.

Tamara is out at a Tupperware party tonight. This is her first since being in Germany. Hopefully not the last. The older kids are watching the Disney classic - Robin Hood. I'm playing around on the Internet.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A voice from the dust

I heard my grandmother's voice tonight for the first time. My mother sent over a recording on a USB stick. In which her mother spoke her autobiography. It was an eerie experience. I was not sure what to expect. Whose voice would I hear? Would I recognize my mother's voice in her mother's voice?

The quality of the recording - made prior to 1969 - the year of her death, was not great. Some moments were clearer than others. And, I could recognize my mother's voice and my aunts' voices in their mother's voice. She sounded very tired, so I am guessing it was near the end of her life.

Then the unexpected occurred - in the first story she told. I heard an amazing story about my grandmother's life that I did not remember, or had not heard.

She started at the beginning of her life on this earth, which occurred in the early 1900's.

She said she was born with the umbilical cord around her neck and did not scream directly after birth. The doctor was concerned and felt she would not live to see another day. Her parents named her and blessed her, while life was still in her, and presumably planned for the worse. But then, her grandmother, my great, great grandmother Ballard, began administering mouth to mouth, striving to save the young baby's life. It worked. Grandma Ballard heard a faint gasp for air and informed the doctor. The doctor began trying to help the child breath. It worked.

I was astonished and amazed at this beginning to my grandmother's life. I contemplated the events that take place to bring a person to their current situation in life. The fact that I was born to my father and mother at this time in the world at all is a miracle of epic proportions. I cannot name all the events that transpired to bring me to this place today, but I just discovered yet another amazing event that led to my life on earth.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Guten Morgen - A Glorious Greeting

I post, therefore I am! I'm a bit sad that I haven't posted in a while. I enjoy doing this, but have been crazy busy as of late. Work has been hectic.

While I was working all sorts of insane hours before Christmas the regular security guard at the front desk has vacation. In Germany one commonly greets the security guard each morning with a Guten Morgen. I noticed while greeting the back-up security guard each morning I was in a good mood.

In January while I continued to work all sorts of insane hours the regular security guard returned to his post and I started greeting him each morning. I noticed that when I greet him my mood goes just a bit sour.

With his absence and return I was able to put my finger on why my mood changes with his greeting.

The German morning, mid-day, and evening greetings have a rhythm, tone, and inflection to them. And this security guards strikes the wrong tone and inflects in the wrong direction.

Here is my assessment of the tones associated with each of the greetings North Rhine Westphalia.

The morning greeting Guten Morgen is a bit like a song and the tone in one's voice raises at the end of the Morgen. It is as if you are waking up, and having a great start to the day.

The daytime Guten Tag greeting is short, direct, firm, and serious. It is often shortened to Tag.

The evening greeting Guten Abend is similar to the morning greeting, except that the tone is a bit more subdued. The tone and inflection at the end of Abend goes down a bit and has a bit of a feeling of parting in its song-like tones, and a hint of sadness at departing.

Now, back to the regular security guard. His Guten Morgen is simply atrocious. I don't like greeting him. The tone goes flat and the inflection neither raises or lowers. For me it is simply like someone playing the wrong note at a critical point in a beautiful piece of music.

I remember dearly missing the morning greetings after returning home from my missionary service in Germany in 1992. Whilst a missionary I attended the local congregations each Sunday. And each Sunday each member of the congregation would greet every other member of the congregation in the entry way of the meeting house. You heard a lot of Guten Morgens. And almost every one had that quality of praising, embracing the day, singing out joy that one had risen and rejoicing with the other person that they had also risen, looking forward to a glorious new day.