29 October, 2006

We've had an eventful weekend!

S turned 7 on Friday. We celebrated at home with cake and presents and then went to the Fahrrad Kaiser on Saturday and bought him a new bike.

All of a sudden Saturday B decided he was ready to ride without training wheels. He hopped on S's old bike and took off and hasn't stopped since!
We took the plunge and bought a new caravan. :-) I'm including a picture now so that you can print it out and hang it up on your dart board.

Yes, as of next season we will officially rejoin the masses of anonymous Dutch families who clog up traffic with their campers ALL THE WAY DOWN TO THE PROVENCE. Mwahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaa!

27 October, 2006


There was a reading contest today for all second graders at S's school. They each received a text that they hadn't seen before and had to read it out loud and be judged on their performance by the teachers.

S came in fifth in his class. FIFTH! OUT OF 27 KIDS! I feel so vindicated-- and am so glad I kept fighting to get him into his rightful place in 2nd grade!

I'd like to dedicate a big fat rasberry to the principal and even his teacher who went out of their way to tell me that he didn't belong there...


Just in time for Halloween!

There is a piece of wood working its way out of B's face. It's bigger than a splinter but must have been pretty deep if I didn't see it when I was cleaning his wound last week...

26 October, 2006

My class is great! :-)

Started the other German class today and it's great!

The last one was full-- probably 25 people-- and a lot of them obviously didn't want to be there. There were three rowdy (and very hungover) Kazakhs and an extremely annoying American who was chewing gum and cracking jokes the whole time. And since everyone was being so childish the teacher treated us like children-- the atmosphere was terrible!

And this class is just the opposite. It's small: there are only about 10 people (but they represent at least 7 different nationalities!) They're very earnest and really seem to want to be there. And the teacher is calm and compassionate and seems very motivated. It's a world of difference!

Oh, and Christina, you were right, it does go further. Apparently there's a module 10 that starts in November as soon as this one ends. :-) Am very, very happy.

25 October, 2006

False start

Was supposed to start intensive German lessons this morning. But when I showed up and introduced myself the teacher decided that I didn't belong in this class and has shunted me up to Level 8/9 which is the last level offered.

I suppose I should be flattered, but mainly I'm just disappointed. My German is still far from where I would like it to be and I had really been hoping to follow a series of courses in order to give it a boost. (more, more, MORE!)

Anyway, at least I'll be able to attend this next class-- it should be interesting and every little bit helps!

23 October, 2006

Not the most effective parenting technique

This weekend my brother-in-law came in from Amsterdam with his wife and three-year-old son. We showed them around the area a bit, and the weather was fabulous so we spent an inordinate amount of time drinking coffee outside of a well-known art museum. (We never actually made it in to see the exhibits this time, but hey, if we aren't going to soak up some culture at least we can say we sat near it!)

The boys all get along really well, and they ran around and played until they dropped. So I was less than happy Sunday morning at 6:23am when I heard S and B talking and laughing-- they were so rowdy that they woke me up in our bedroom two floors down.

I could hardly see, I was so tired, and I staggered up the stairs and into their dark bedroom. Started shouting at them in a whisper-- mothers are really good at that!-- what are you thinking?! it's 6:30 in the morning and DON'T YOU DARE WAKE YOUR COUSIN UP OR THERE WILL BE HELL TO PAY! etc.

And for once there were no smart-alecky replies. They must have been impressed because they just stayed silent under their covers. Which was pretty satisfying. I told them to hang on until at least 7 and that they could then get up.

Started to head downstairs, happy that they had really listened to me. But then suddenly I heard them talking again and saw light coming out from under the playroom door down the hall and it dawned on my thick, foggy brain:

I had just lectured two empty beds.

20 October, 2006

Yeah, that would probably freak me out too...

I just walked in and caught the tail end of a discussion that S and B were having over lunch. They were swapping stories about gross things they've encountered (surprise, surprise!) when S trumped B by shouting:

No WAIT! Do you remember that time that we dug a hole in the backyard and found all of those larvae?! It looked like a bunch of penises crawling around in the dirt!

Mmmmkay. Have to admit that that would probably have grossed me out as well...

Can't wait to see how many hits I get from Google now that I've used the words "penises" and "dirt" in the same post.

Oh, and to the person who found my blog yesterday (from work!!!) by using the search terms "mother-in-law" and "panties"? Ewwww.

19 October, 2006

This is why

your mother always told you never to run with a sharp stick in your hand!

That's not a scratch, it's an honest-to-God puncture wound!

He's OK, but I shudder to think of what would have happened if he'd landed a little bit further to the right...

Blowing on it won't make it develop any faster!

When I was about eight my grandfather bought a Polaroid camera. I remember those moments of anticipation just after he'd taken a picture. My brother and I would gather around him eagerly willing the photo to develop. First we'd see a constellation of bluish shadows, then faint outlines and gradually the colors that seemed to magically emerge to reveal a crisp, clear image.

It struck me yesterday that life after a move closely resembles this process. Routines gradually develop, the picture becomes clearer and no amount of straining or jumping up and down can speed up a process that needs time and air and maybe even a little magic to complete itself.

I'm finally starting to see the outlines of our life-to-be. The kids are settling into school, our German is progressing and we're beginning to collect a wide circle of acquaintances that color our days and lend a richness to our experience.

Our neighborhood is wonderful-- S and B are spending more and more time outside with a large group of children. When they get home from school they speed through their routines towards that moment when they can race out the door toward freedom. Toward elaborate games of cops and robbers; toward the possibility to win that next scooter race; toward the exhilaration that comes from a burgeoning sense of independence and one's rightful place in the world.

We've still got a way to go before this place really feels like home, but I'm thankful for the elaborate picture that is starting to reveal itself. And the realization that our life in Germany is developing, albeit one step at a time.

18 October, 2006

I guess I'm the last one to know...

S and B were tearing around the neighborhood with a pack of boys yesterday, and they came up one weapon short. S returned home with a friend to pick up an extra squirt gun and rang the bell. I guess I wasn't fast enough getting upstairs so the friend said:

"Why are you waiting? Don't you know the secret about your front door?"

He pushed on it and voila, it opened.


There's no knob on the outside, so I always use a key to open it-- I've certainly never noticed that it pops open with the least amount of pressure.

And since this is apparently an open secret among the kids on our street I'm wondering who else knows. We don't have very many valuables but it still gives me the creeps that anyone could walk in at any time. I wonder what else they're not telling me?

16 October, 2006

Like herding a group of cats...

Whew! Just got back from a field trip with 27 energetic 2nd graders! (and their teacher. I guess it's time to retire the nasty nickname I gave her. I'm not normally nasty anyway and she's got a couple of kids in the class who are a real handful. I still think it's wrong for a teacher to scream at her pupils (or their parents!) but can imagine that a few of those boys would bring just about anyone to the end of their tether!)

We did a walking tour of the village-- visited a local schloss, a graveyard, a couple of fountains and a monument to those killed in World War I. It was a really nice way to get to know "downtown" better.

Fall has burst onto the scene and the parks and front yards are drenched in gold and crimson. The sun is shining and the sky is an unreal shade of blue. Had more than one moment when I wished I'd brought a camera!

The boys have gone down the street to watch a couple of big Caterpillar loaders prepare the earth for a house that will be built soon. I'm going to take advantage of these few quiet moments to sit in the sun and drink a coffee. Care to join me? :-)

15 October, 2006

How is it possible

that five years have passed so quickly?

13 October, 2006

A phone only a mother could love

I am my own paradox. Yesterday's post revealed my fascination with the explosive technological advances of the Internet. The more it evolves the more enamored I become.

This post belies another side of my personality. A dark curmudgeonly side that’s fundamentally anti-gadget. I hate the idea of having drawers full of battery-powered clutter. My kitchen accoutrements include little more than an old-fashioned side-by-side toaster and a sleek but otherwise unremarkable coffee maker. No milk frothers, no juicers, no salad shooters.

But it's not just my kitchen that's behind the times. We’ve had the same phone for many years now. It’s survived three international moves (barely) and has begun to exhibit age-related tremors and Alzheimer-like symptoms. And as much as I hate to struggle to understand conversations over a crackly line, I hate shopping at big electronics stores even more.

So let me just get this out in the open: For those of you who’ve had to prematurely end phone conversations with me because you couldn't hear what I was saying, don't blame lagging German telecom technology-- chalk it up to my own special form of electronic shopophobia.

Yesterday I had some time to kill and popped into a local junk antique store. I rarely buy anything there, but I love to browse through the detritus of the ages: turn-of-the-century class photos with their rows of solemn faces, a well-worn pocket bible that probably accompanied a loved-one to war, a stack of crisp love letters from 1935 meticulously bound by an elegant peach ribbon...

And then suddenly there it was, staring at me pleadingly from a dusty table. A telephone of absolute mythic ugliness. The metaphoric equivalent of a hairless chihuahua, but just not as nervous. How could one NOT be swayed to adopt it and give it a loving home?

The casing is actually made of marble and if I can believe the sticker on the bottom it is gold plated. And even with MY imagination I can't for the life of me picture who would have invited it into their homes back in the day. (Maybe someone like me who likes to have a little comic relief waiting in ambush at the top of the stairway...)

Cutting edge it's not, but it works great, and it's certainly a conversation piece. The boys are fascinated-- I'm thinking of pitting them against each other in a battle to see who will eventually get to inherit it...

12 October, 2006

Radio revolution

You hear that sound of maniacal laughter? Hands rubbing together in glee? That's me.

I've finally taken the plunge and opened Pandora's box. And I LOVE what's inside! I've been reading about the new wave of Internet radio for a while. Tried Last.fm and it just didn't click. Partly because of software problems, partly because I don't want to have to build a social network in order to find new music.

But yesterday I finally took the time to discover Pandora and it's FABULOUS! The whole concept really draws me anyway: a group of experts has mapped out the genome for music. Basically they came up with a way to analyse songs and catalog them according to different musical attributes. And now they've gone through and tagged more than 400,000 songs in a steadily growing catalog.

The user enters the name of a song or a group that they like and Pandora puts together a radio station with songs based on similar characteristics. And the really cool thing is that you can rate songs as they are played to further streamline your station.

And the best part? It's free! Pandora has some advertising up for non-subscribers, but it's not intrusive. They're obviously hoping that you'll like some of the songs enough that you'll buy them via iTunes. Other than that, no obligations. The interface is very transparent and it's even polite!

Check it out and let me know what you think!

11 October, 2006

Deutsch- und Integrationskurse

German seems to be going pretty well. Mistakes aside, I'm starting to notice that it's easier to communicate with people and get my point across without blanking out or bumbling too much. I've been working with a coursebook on days I feel inspired and have racked up a lot of time watching sappy made-for-tv movies with my dictionary on my lap.

I'd like to be functionally fluent by Christmas. Don't know how realistic this is, but am pretty determined, so we'll see. Have signed myself up for a month-long intensive language class which is offered by the government (at the Volkshochschule) to help foreigners integrate better into German society.

Went down yesterday for a placement test and they've put me in level 6!!! (out of 9!) I almost laughed out loud! I wanted to pull the woman aside and confess that I'd had a kid in my kitchen THAT VERY AFTERNOON who only seemed to understand about half of what I said! Granted I was tired and distracted, but still!

So classes start October 24th. If it turns out to be too difficult I can always scale back to level 5. But I like a good challenge, so it might be good to shake me out of my comfort zone.

In addition it seems like a good activity to keep me off of the streets and might be a good way to meet other (damn) foreigners who are in the same boat...

07 October, 2006

They're gunning for pole position

CH told me the other day that she thinks S and B look like German race car drivers with their long hair.

You should have seen their faces when I told them-- they were so pleased that a grown-up has finally understood their true mission in life!

So let's see: They are obsessed with speed and can quote statistics on the engines of every serious car whizzing past on the highway. (check)

They spent the summer practicing their (kiddie) champagne spraying skills. (check)

S spends his allotted Gameboy time every day racking up points on GTS Grand Prix. (check)

Schumacher is retiring this year. (double check)

I'm wondering if I should maybe modify my "look" to prepare for their budding careers? Maybe it's time to invest in some gold jewelry and a leather outfit. Thank God they're still young-- I'll probably need the next 10 years to learn to walk in stilettos to be ready for their first victory party...

06 October, 2006

Strange Dutch wedding traditions

Ellen's comment yesterday got me thinking about language gaffes. And seeing as how I'm struggling with working on my umpteenth foreign language I've had my fair share of them. But the funniest misunderstanding by far has to be one I had on my wedding day.

M and I got married on a hot summer afternoon in 1995. We were living in Moscow at the time, so I hadn't yet had a chance to get to know my mother-in-law well, but I already liked her a lot.

We went down to have our hair done together at her local salon. My hair was long, and I've got a LOT of it, so it took forever-- I have this vivid memory of her perched on a countertop chatting amiably with the hairdresser. My Dutch was still minimal so they switched over to English.

And at some point the conversation turned toward the weather and how unseasonably hot it was. Suddenly my mother-in-law turned to me and asked me rather loudly:

"I think it's too hot to wear panties today, don't you?"

Her friend the hairdresser nodded solemnly and said "Oh yes, definitely too hot for panties."

My mother-in-law turned back to me: "Will you be wearing any today, Betsy? Because I don't think I can handle it."

I know the American stereotype for the Dutch is that they're free and easy with their bodies, but is it common for 50 year old women to discuss their underwear status with a roomful of people?! Or was this some sort of gauntlet I had to run before I could officially marry her son?!

I decided to play it safe-- said I hadn't decided yet and would have to think about it. And secretly wished I'd brought a hip flask along. I was already nervous about the wedding and it was getting off to a pretty bizarre start.

It was only months later that I figured out that she was using the Dutch word panty's, which means pantyhose!

05 October, 2006

A ray of light

S came out of school smiling this afternoon! He'd apparently had a good day-- and had even finished his math worksheet so fast that it caught Gorilla Woman by surprise. She came over and started kvetching:

S! STOP DAYDREAMING AND... Oh! You're finished? Well, very good then.

I know we're not out of the woods yet, but it's nice that something positive has happened and has given his confidence a boost.

The sun is finally out again and I had some good luck this morning running errands. S is almost finished with his homework so we're going to go try out an English-language playgroup that meets in Stuttgart. I'm feeling optimistic and happy for the first time in a while! :-)

Have a nice afternoon, everyone!

From now death November...

My German is improving and I'm having to rely less often on my own patented brand of Dutchlish-- up until now if I didn't know a word I just used the first English or Dutch one that popped into my head and gave it a little bit of a German spin. You'd be surprised how often this works, but of course there are the inevitable moments that it backfires.

For some reason I keep forgetting the German word "bis". (which means until) It just does not stick, for some reason. I'll read it and remember it, and then at crucial moments I draw a blank. So more often than not in my haste I accidentally end up using the Dutch word "tot". Which unfortunately sounds a lot like the German word "Tod", or death.

That's made for some memorable conversations lately.

At least I crack myself up...

04 October, 2006

Keeping on keeping on...

Hi, I'm back. Weekend was fun. It was a relief to be in Holland where people laugh at things I say because they think I'm funny, and not because of grammar mistakes or cross-cultural miscommunication.

We got back here and within about 10 minutes I felt the water closing up over my head again. It's been a long time since I've felt this uncomfortable in my own skin. Obviously this is just a phase and we'll all pull through eventually, but day to day existence at the moment seems like a feat of survival.

Had to physically peel a crying S off of me when we got to school this morning. I then did the kindest thing I could think of and left. Experience has taught me that if I stay to comfort him his panic escalates and it's harder on both of us. He was probably distracted within about 5 minutes of my departure. I, on the other hand, felt sick about it for a couple of hours afterwards.

Barnacle Boy is going to be the end of me. He found a discarded bottle of industrial solvent in some bushes on the way home today and ran around spraying it on everything in his path. Including a mouse which might or might not have been dead before he stepped on it. I ended up playing Police Officer Betsy and apprehended the solvent-- made him throw it into a nearby bin.

The problem is that this is also a kid who looks out for S in class-- he's his only friend in a pretty lonely, difficult time. I'm afraid that if I tell him he can't play with Barnacle Boy it will just make him all the more attractive. And I can't choose my kids' friends anymore like I used to when they were toddlers and were chaperoned to every playgroup.

I'm keeping the dialogue open with S-- why he shouldn't be cruel to animals or touch anything that might have chemicals in it. And that if he feels uncomfortable with any situations that he should let us know.

And I'm hoping that this friendship will eventually peter out. Before I do....