29 July 2010

July 29, 2010

Spielen ist aus, wir gehen jetzt nach Haus . . . .

So begins our last post from Deutschland. We will leave on a 9am bus in the morning, for a 1:30 flight in Düsseldorf. This week was filled with ‘end things,’ but also including a lovely trip to Bielefeld with Pastor Thilo from church (see pics and video). Today all of the children had “abschied” parties with their kindergarten/playgroup friends (see pics and video), and we said official goodbyes to all the people who have become such an important and valued part of our everyday lives. Our feelings are very mixed, I think. We are excited to get back to our family, friends, house, and life in the U.S., but are also very sad at all that we leave behind here. It has been a full six months, there is no doubt about that. In that time, we struggled with all manner of sickness, fought the awful north German weather, gritted our teeth at the inappropriate and annoying comments of various grumpy old German women, and felt the distance from both of our homelands as beloved family members passed away. But we also had some amazing experiences, met some wonderful people, made new (and hopefully lasting) friendships, explored new territory of all kinds, and watched in wonder as the children grew into themselves and impressed us with their ability to bend to circumstance and enjoy the madness.

When I think back on where we were six months ago, I am most amazed by the changes that have taken place in each of the children. When we arrived here, Sophia was still very shy around strangers, rather whiney, and apprehensive of all new experiences. Until the end of our second month or so, I was still not sure that coming here was the right thing for her, as she seemed to be suffering terribly at the temporary loss of her friends at home, as well as her inability to communicate with anyone here. Shortly thereafter, however, she really turned a corner in many respects, and has come on in leaps and bounds in all of those areas. Her German is now excellent, her pronunciation perfect. Another six months here and she would be completely fluent. She has also made some good friends, and is transforming herself into a child who relishes new experiences, even scary ones. She can almost ride a bike now, and can do gymnastics on the highest bar in the park! It has been a delight to watch her grow into herself.

For her part, Elsa remains probably the most stable of the three kids. She has such a sunny disposition that she is almost always happy, loving, and fun-filled, unless she is completely exhausted, and even then she simply says, “I’m tired. I want to go to bed.” It has been interesting for me to see her spend lots of time away from me for the first time. In Decorah, she had an art class each week by herself, but other than that, everything she did, she did with me. Going to playgroup alone in the early months here really gave her some space to become herself. Although she is very friendly and outgoing, she surprised me by really enjoying spending time alone at playgroup, and playing by herself. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, given that she is constantly around her siblings – why wouldn’t she seek some peace, just like the rest of us?! Perhaps the greatest change in Elsa is in the area of language. When we came here, she was only just beginning to speak. She didn’t have very many words, and many of them were rather unclear. She has now grown, however, into an out-and-out chatterbox, who happily fills even strangers in on all the details of her life and ours. Her favorite line when she is unsure of what to say next is, “I had a birthday . . . ,” which, while true, is done for the effect it engenders in the hearer, whose response is always excitement, and always enjoyed by Elsa!

And then there’s Lawrence. There is no peace to be had when that child is around, and I am sure that there are a few apartment dwellers here who will be glad to see him ride away in the stroller tomorrow morning! Lawrence is all drama. He cries at least three times as much as either of the girls ever did, and has the temper of a bear. But he is also great fun, and a real comedian, who loves to make everyone laugh. He has changed so much in the past months. When we arrived, I was carrying him on my back in a backpack. We gave that away last week because he no longer fits in it, and even if he did, I wouldn’t be able to lift him! He was also only crawling when we arrived, but is now walking with ease, and has recently discovered that he can almost run away if he tries really hard! But the most fun change in Lawrence is his new-found ability to communicate. We don’t always know right away what he is saying, but HE does, and he is beginning to find some words with which to express himself. The more the better, we say, so that they can replace the cries soon rather than later!

And Robert and I? What was our experience here? It was mixed, I think, but overwhelmingly good. There were difficult moments, especially for Robert in running the program, and for me in dealing with the nutjobs and their various ailments/accidents, but we really enjoyed our time here to the fullest, and hope we’ll have a chance to come back for another extended visit at some point in the future. But what made this experience (both here in Münster, and on our various travels elsewhere) so very special were the people who shared it with us. Thank you, to all of you for being part of our lives this year. We will miss you (some of you we miss already), but we will think of you often and with great fondness. Liebe Grüße to you all, und auf wiedersehen!!!

Monday, 19 July 2010

July 19, 2010

The Countdown Begins

We have just under two weeks left before our return to the US, and already I feel as though everything we do has the prefix “last” attached to it.  We went to the zoo this weekend, under blue skies, for what was possibly the last time (although that remains to be seen!), Sophia had a day off school, and spent a “last” morning as a guest in playgroup, and Robert is currently in Wolfenbüttel, for what is definitely his last short research excursion of our stay.  I find myself saddened by all of the “lasts,” but still largely in denial about the fact that we are really about to head out of here!

Despite beginning our preparations to leave, we had a lovely week-and-a-half since our return from Austria.  We watched, with sincere sadness on my part, Holland get beat in the World Cup by Spain, we got lots of good work done (pressure is a good motivator), we did a little shopping (now that both little ones are in playgroup, Robert and I can have the occasional morning “date”!), and we watched Sophia’s first football match (see video) in a kids-versus-parents game at school, followed by a lovely BBQ.  We also, of course, spent another day at the zoo, and a very nice afternoon wandering around the beautiful botanical garden at the back of the Bishop’s palace, where the kids befriended a busking violinist (see video.  It was hilarious).  The extreme heat of the last few weeks has eased off recently, leaving us with perfect summer days of 80 degrees and sunshine.

Robert left at 5:00 this morning for a final jaunt to the research library at Wolfenbüttel (where we spent a summer with Sophia as a baby), to do some final research for our Augustinian project.  While he is away, I am trying to pull together the paper I’ve been working on, which I will present at a conference in October, and also include as a final chapter in my dissertation-turned-book.  In the evenings, we have continued our practice of taking turns to go on bike rides around the city and around the lake after the children are in bed.  We have plenty of sunlight, until 10 or so each night, and the temperature has been perfect for such trips.  That is one of the special treats I will miss most about this place.

In the coming 10 days, in addition to packing everything up, we have a trip to a castle planned with the pastor of our church here, and some picnics and abschied celebrations to enjoy.  The children continue to be very excited at the prospect of seeing all their grandparents, but we are all trying to enjoy our last days here as much as possible.  More on all of that soon.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

July 10, 2010

Austria: Perchtoldsdorf and Vienna

It is Saturday night, we are back in Münster, it is 94 degrees, and we are still getting back into the swing of things after a FANTASTIC visit to Austria. On our last night there, Robert and I sat on the patio of our pensione, drinking a bottle of wine made by the owner’s brother, and reflected on how incredibly fortunate we are to have been able to experience all the amazing things we have over the past few months, and especially this past week.

Our reason for heading to Austria was to attend the wedding of Robert’s friend, Herwig Langthaller, and his now wife, Irene. Robert first met Herwig when the two were neighbors in Leipzig in 1999. Robert and I then stayed with him in 2002, when we went to Vienna for our first “date”! Since then, we have stayed in touch, and Herwig came to visit us four years ago in Wolfenbüttel when we were there doing research for the summer. Although he and Irene are just marrying now, they have been together for many years, and have two daughters, Mia and Sofie (see pics and vid). Mia is just 4 days younger than Sophia and Sofie is one month younger than Elsa, so we have a lot in common! When Herwig invited us to his wedding, we decided to rent a place in his village and spend a week there, as our family vacation for the summer.

The village, Perchtoldsdorf, borders the city of Vienna. Our pensione was literally on the border, and it took only half an hour by tram to get to the middle of the city. The village is an old wine-producing dorf, in which Herwig’s family have lived since the mid-1600s. Herwig and his brother inherited land from their grandfather, who was a vintner in the town, and they each built a home that borders the home of Herwig’s mother and father. They have quite an amazing set up. The village is now losing something of its rustic wine-farmer feel, and fast becoming the most sought-after real estate in the Vienna area, much to Herwig’s dismay. For our part, we completely understand why everyone wants to move there. It is absolutely amazing. Although it lies only minutes from the center of Vienna, it is a true village, with all the good things that come with that. Robert and I decided quite quickly that, of all the places we have seen, visited, and lived in in Europe, this was our absolute favorite. If we could buy property anywhere in Europe, Perchtoldsdorf would be it. We might start buying lottery tickets when we get back to the US!

Highlights of our stay, other than the wedding itself, of course, included having the opportunity to spend some quality time with Herwig and his family, and to get to know Irene and the girls, all of whom are wonderful. We also really enjoyed the “Heuringer” in Perchtoldsdorf – little restaurants that are owned by the vintners. They are open only when the wine is ready to serve, and work just like beer-gardens, but for wine. They are also very welcoming to children, so we could actually go there without feeling as though we were ruining everyone else’s dinner! Hiking up to the Wiener Wald was also a lot of fun, with breathtaking views of the entire region. Robert and I also very much enjoyed our outside dining spot, where we took in a bottle of the vintner’s wine each night after putting the children to bed. All of Europe is experiencing a massive heat-wave at the moment, so it was up into the 80s and 90s all the time we were there. I also managed a quick trip to the Vienna archives one day. I was only there for a few hours, but I managed to see enough to know that there is plenty information there to justify a longer, return visit! I also took Sophia into the city one afternoon, and showed her some of the sights, including the Opera house, where Robert and I had our first date!

Our week in Perchtoldsdorf was relaxing and beautiful. We did contend with some health issues (of course!), including Lawrence’s returning ear-infection and a VERY high fever one night, but fortunately, Herwig’s brother is a pediatrician, so we got the wee man all sorted out in no time. We felt as though our time there really book-ended our European adventure very well, so that we can finish up our time here in Münster having had the chance to unwind and prepare for our return to “real” life back in Decorah.

Wednesday, 30 June

June 30, 2010

Sweden

We arrived back from Sweden last evening at about 5pm, after an absolutely lovely five days at Anne and Michael’s place on a lake near Linköping. The scenery was absolutely spectacular, and the company was wonderful. We were quite sad to have to leave!

Our travels began in a very civilized manner, with an afternoon train to Düsseldorf, followed by an evening flight to Amsterdam and then another to Linköping. We arrived at about 11pm, and then Michael drove us the remaining 40 minutes or so in the family’s massive VW bus! Despite the rigorous schedule and late hour, the children did incredibly well. There was a certain amount of screaming from Lawrence, which turns out to have been the probable beginning of an ear infection, but was definitely not helped by the fact that he is simply a child that does not like to be contained. An airplane seat is therefore definitely not the place for him. He was an unhappy camper. Generally, though, the journey went well and all three of the crazies went immediately to sleep upon our arrival.

It was actually dark when we arrived at Anne and Michael’s place (this happens for only 3 hours per night at this time of year!), but the extended family was still up and about. Anne took us over to the Farmhouse (see video), which is the summer home of Joran (no idea if that spelling is right) and Marie (Michael’s oldest sister). We know their son, Pele, and his wife, Sarah, because they lived in New Hampshire for a while. We also met Pele’s sister, Lisa (mother of Ella on the video) on our last trip to Sweden. The family had gathered earlier in the day for the baptism of Ella, and the celebrations were still continuing when we arrived, so we sat down and were entertained by their conversation and occasional poetry readings until we headed to our beds.

As you can see on the video, our bedroom was a little cabin, separated from the main house by a lovely little flower garden and a wooden deck. The whole place is absolutely spectacular. It sits on a hill above an enormous lake that is almost completely undeveloped. The land on which the buildings sit has been farmed by the same family for over 100 years. They still rent the bulk of the land and farm it today, and the law forbids anyone to build a new structure on the land – hence the nickname “chicken coop” for Anne and Michael’s place, since that is what the original structure on that site was. But it isn’t now! It is just beautiful, and we spent many hours admiring the scenery at all times of the day and night, always in the light!

The weather while we were in Sweden was extraordinarily warm. We got to swim in the lake (which was rather chilly upon first contact, but got more comfortable as various parts of your body became numb!) We also took a little row boat out with the Horvath girls, and ate every evening meal outside in the open air. It was great. Michael’s extended family (including his brother Martin and his family, and his sister Eva) were beginning to gather for the birthday party of his mother, Ranghild, whose 80th birthday they will celebrate this coming Saturday. Although we are relatives of Michael only via marriage, we felt so very welcome in the company of all Michael’s relatives, who showed us tremendous hospitality and grace. Michael’s sister, Marie (a doctor), even drove Lawrence and I into Linköping one day to check his ear and get him some penicillin for his ear infection. We had great chats with many of the relatives and learned how to properly drink aquavit, and dance around a fertility pole (a lesson we no longer need!) We also took part in a huge feast for Anne’s birthday, which happened while we were there. All in all, we
had an unforgettable time, and are really grateful to have had the chance to see that beautiful corner of the world, and spend some time with this group of very special people.

We are now onto our next adventure, which is a week in Perchtoldsdorf, a small village just outside of Vienna, where we will take part in the wedding celebrations of our friend, Herwig Langtaller, who hosted Robert and I on our “first date” in 2002 – just eight years ago, but a million light years away!

Thursday 24th June

June 24, 2010

Pre-Sweden Post

I am sitting on the couch, two hours before we are due to head out for the airport to visit Anne, Michael, and co in Sweden.  The children are all in bed for early “naps,” (although Elsa is currently singing at the top of her voice, which suggests that little sleep is happening so far) and our bags are packed, except for hand luggage.  We will be gone until Tuesday.  Then we will be back for one day before heading out to Vienna for Herwig’s wedding.  The travel portion of our agenda has definitely begun!

The past week has been filled with some good hours of work for me, which has been great, and lots more World Cup watching.  After England’s atrocious performance last week against Algeria, I am tempted to look for a new team to support!  I can’t quite bring myself to get behind the US in football (sorry all you patriots out there), and I can’t cheer against England this coming Sunday (despite the fact that Robert bought a “Germany” stroller.  I’m not kidding.  Check out the video for this week.  He promises me that we’re going to tell people it’s Belgian.)  So it’s quite a conundrum.  Holland is looking better and better!

One of the hard things about being here so infrequently these next couple of weeks is that our friends, Jana and Bernardo (and, of course, Anika) are leaving for Columbia while we are away in Vienna, so we will have only one more day with them.  We had a lovely BBQ again last night, but we are going to miss them terribly when they are gone.  Today I gave a sheet of dates to Grit, Elsa’s playgroup teacher, and both of us teared up to realize how soon we will be leaving!  There are, of course, things to look forward to about our return to the US, but there is also much that we will miss when we are gone.

Uh oh, Elsa just came downstairs, so I will close as we try to wrestle her back into bed for her “nap.”  We only arrive in Lindköping at 11pm tonight, so there is an increasingly good chance that the children will be absolute train wrecks by then.  Fingers crossed that it goes better than we think!

17th June 2010

June 17, 2010

Finally Summer . . . .

The last week and a half has been lovely. The departure of the students coincided almost exactly with the arrival of beautiful weather here in Münster (on an off, at least), so we’ve been enjoying a little freedom and warmth! Robert had a short trip to the archives in Münich, which included some beer drinking with his old friend and former roommate, Marcus Schwarzenberg, and we had a lovely, if short visit, from Julie and Marc Dinsbach, and their perfect child, Katie. We have also been watching with excitement and amusement as Lawrence finally decides that walking might indeed be worth all the hassle. And, of course, the big excitement of the past week has been the beginning of the World Cup, which we always manage to be in Germany for, and which we are spending too many late nights watching!

Julie and Marc drove over here from Amsterdam last weekend, just for Saturday and part of Sunday. It was great to see them again, and to spend a little time with Katie, their apparently perfect daughter. Julie was my closest friend when I lived in the Netherlands while I was doing my dissertation research. We both lived in Leiden, and spent untold hours in many pubs, drinking many beers, trying to get our lives in order. I think we both did a pretty good job in that regard, and it was great to have the chance to spend a little time with her and Marc and Katie. We also learned that by the next time we see them, there will be another little Dinsbach to meet – all the more reason for another European adventure before too long!

Other than enjoying some lovely summer weather in the park, the zoo, and even just here in the courtyard sand pit, we have spent quite a bit of time in the past week closing down the semester portion of our time here. Boxes of winter clothes were shipped home, closely followed by our teaching materials from the semester. Now we are focusing the little time we have left here on getting some of our own research and writing done, a task which has been significantly hampered by the indefinite cancellation of Elsa (and recently, also Lawrence)’s playgroup each morning. Some strange bureaucratic guffaw on the part of the university has forced the suspension of the playgroup, and has meant that Jana and I have had to become very creative in finding ways to entertain our youngsters in the morning hours. It has been a challenge, but the sunshine has certainly helped.

The children themselves are doing very well. Elsa has become the talker in the group (a position for which competition is fierce!), and readily chats with anyone who gives the impression of interest (including some old woman she completely freaked out in the grocery store today, by declaring, a propos of nothing, that she has a pig named Stinky!) Lawrence is growing into a fiercely determined little man, who is willing to kick and scream every single time he is not getting his way. He might not talk yet, but he communicates fully. He is also beginning to walk, which he is perfectly capable of doing, he just doesn’t always want to (see the video!). He is also very interested in making everyone laugh, so all in all, he is a bundle of trouble waiting to happen! Sophia is really settling into herself here now as well. I’ve given up trying to figure out the extent of her linguistic understanding, but she is certainly doing much better socially. She seems to be enjoying school now, and went to her first birthday party on Saturday (Lukas, 5). She had such a good time that she accepted an invitation from the birthday boy to go for a playdate yesterday, which she enjoyed so much that she stayed longer than planned and went strawberry picking with Lukas and his father. Tomorrow, she is going to go back to school after lunch so that she can watch the Germany-Serbia world cup game on a big screen with her friends. We have, of course, been coaching her to wish the German team ill (in favor of England – me – or USA – Robert. Not me), but we’re hoping she’ll keep that to herself during the festivities!

We have just about six weeks left of our German adventure (which will be punctuated by a short Swedish and a short Viennese adventure too), and we are adjusting to the thought of our immanent return to the U.S. I think Robert is a little more ready than me to get back to our Stateside lives, and this has been an interesting half year for both of us. I have far more ties to the Old World than Robert does, obviously, and I feel a huge draw to the notion that the paths on which I am walking have been trodden for hundreds of years. At the same time, I have never lived in Germany before, but it has always been one of the places we could both imagine living in some parallel universe (or as an escape plan if Sarah Palin ever gets elected – seriously!) I think that our time here has made that possibility seem somewhat less appealing. We have been really struck by how very rule-oriented the Germans are. Of course, we knew this already, but life here really does depend on everyone knowing and playing by the rules. I have always had a rather flexible relationship with rules of any sort, and have a deep-seated conviction that stupid rules don’t deserve to be obeyed. Such an ideology doesn’t fly here. So long as you fit the conventional categories (which by and large, we do), then things sail along with amazing efficiency in this country. But anyone who challenges the norms, or seeks to change them is viewed as something of an aberration, and definitely a problem. I (and Robert too) find that kind of atmosphere a little suffocating. It shows itself in subtle ways. The other day, it was thinking about raining. It was just beginning to spit. Nowhere close to drizzle. I had the two little kids in the stroller with the hood up. An old woman approached us just outside the apartment building and said something directly to me that I didn’t initially catch. When I asked her to repeat herself, she said, “it’s raining. They are going to get wet. Don’t you have a rain cover? You should put it on.” I suppressed my immediate reaction, which was to say, “mind your own business, you nosey old biddy. Perhaps German children dissolve when wet, but mine are more resilient,” and instead told her that we lived here and thanked her in what I thought was a very sarcastic tone. She didn’t catch the irony and just said, “oh it’s nothing.” Idiot. But she is a symptom of the “way it’s supposed to be” mentality. I wasn’t following proper rain etiquette, and obviously needed to be informed of that fact. That’s a bit much for me, I’m afraid. So part of us is looking forward to coming back to the Land of the Free (also, obviously, an annoying misnomer), and at least being able to allow our children to get wet and sick unmolested by nosey do-gooders! The other part, of me at least, is still reveling in the opportunity to be here and really enjoy riding my bike around the “promenade,” which is a trail made from the old moat, which has been here for at least 900 years. There are lots of great things in the U.S., but no 900-year-old moats that I know of! In the meantime, I will keep on hoping (against all good evidence) that the English team will pull their fingers out and manage to score at least one more than Germany, the U.S. and everyone else!!!

4 June 2010

June 5, 2010

End of classes, some relaxation!

Again, it has been a while since I last added a post to this blog. In part that has been because things have been busy, and in part it has been laziness! Classes ended last week, which meant that we had exams to grade, and various last minute things to wrap up. But then I escaped for a weekend to visit Claire in Southampton – Alone!!!! It was wonderful 🙂

As I write, Robert is on his way to the airport with the students, to make sure that they manage to get onto the correct flight and start their long journey home. During the past week, both he and I have taken them out to “goodbye” dinners in some very swanky restaurants, and helped them generally get ready to leave. The are sad to go, but seem to have enjoyed their time here, although they were by no means an effusive bunch as they were living it through. Their last weeks in town included a behind-the-scenes trip to the zoo, with the director (which included them and our girls being allowed to feed bananas to the giraffes – see pictures!), a canoe trip with Frau Kreutzer (who organizes the host families), a hike with Robert in Detmold (in the driving rain and fog – see pictures!), and a couple of days of stunning early summer weather, which is LONG overdue! They finally get a taste of how lovely Münster can be in the sunshine, and they have to go home!

We, on the other hand, are quite excited to experience the joys of sunny weather here. In the last few days of sunshine, we have visited many a new park and revisited many an old one. We have, of course, been again to the zoo (!), and Robert and I have started taking lovely bike rides around the promenade, or the Aasee when the children are in bed (never together, of course. Someone has to stay home, even with the sleeping crazies!) Tonight, we are having a BBQ with Jana, Bernado, and Anika. They leave in mid-July to go back to Columbia, and that will be a very sad farewell for all of us.

Almost immediately after classes ended, I jumped on a plane (alone!) and ran off for a quick weekend in Southampton with Claire and Drew. It was only 2 days, but it was worth a month in terms of relaxation and fun! We ate long, lovely dinners, and drank lots of cava and a fair amount of sambuca to boot! We even watched Germany win the Eurovision song contest; a musical event I am sure is enormously enhanced by the addition of copious amounts of alcohol (and even then it’s pretty silly!) Claire and I spent a lovely day in Winchester, and an even lovelier day at a Spa in Locksheath. I haven’t felt so relaxed in a very long time! Robert was very gracious to indulge my weekend of escapism, and he and the children fared very well in my absence. Of course, all the hard work of the spa was undone within a few short hours of my arrival home, but it was no less worth it! If only we could move Southampton and put it in Northeastern Iowa. My life would be so much better all round.

We have just under two months left here in Europe, and they will be action-packed. Now that we have no students to teach, Robert and I need to get down to some serious work of our own. But we also have some trips on the horizon (to Sweden and Vienna), and some visits to look forward to. So we should have lots to report in the coming blogs!

22 May 2010

May 23, 2010

The English Invasion

This post is quite a long time coming because we have been so busy with relatives and friends, here and in Old Blighty.  It was absolutely wonderful to see friends and family again, and to have the chance to host some of them here.

First in the line was Grandma Sylvia, and her friends, Tony and Iris.  Tony and Iris have been best friends with my Mum (and Dad) since they were fifteen years old, so I have known them all my life.  They came over from England on Sunday, May 9th, the day that Anne and Michael headed back to New Hampshire.  For most of their stay, the weather was absolutely atrocious, but they managed to avoid the worst of it by taking refuge in the many shops that downtown Münster has to offer!
Their trip also included tours of the town, a lovely, authentic German meal, and a boat trip on the Aasee, but they somehow managed to avoid the otherwise obligatory trip to the zoo!

On Thursday, May 13th, Robert took the students to Munich, and the children and I headed to England with Mum, Iris, and Tony.  Robert would like to have been included in the trip, but I am only able to travel when he is away (because then there are no students to teach!)  Mum and I planned the trip like this so that she would be able to help me transport the crazies across the channel.  At the time, I thought that she was worrying about nothing, and that I’d be able to do it by myself:  WRONG!  It was a complete odyssey to get all of us from Münster to Düsseldorf airport – a journey that included the bus being late, us missing our train, us carrying all manner of luggage and children up (and down) several sets of stairs, and all kind of acrobatics to get through security.  It was a nightmare, and I definitely could not have done it by myself!   We finally made it to Manchester airport, late in the evening (around 10pm), where my cousin Ian met us, and took me and the children to his house, and to some much-needed sleep.

I still can’t believe that Ian and Sheila put up with all four of us for a full five days, but they did!  And all of this with both of Ian’s parents incredibly sick and in need of constant visitation (Auntie Joyce in hospital and Uncle Albert now in a home), and with their first grandchild just born, seven weeks premature (but healthy) on 1st of May.  They were, however, perfect hosts, and dealt with the insanity of the children, and the stress of me, with complete grace and patience!  Even the dog, Megan, was a great host, putting up with constant harassment from all three of the children, particularly Lawrence, who “loved” her almost to distraction.  During the course of our week at Ian’s we managed to see a whole host of old friends and family members, and still had time to squeeze in a visit to Knowsley Safari Park (where Lawrence tried to feed an ostrich, and a monkey pooped on Ian’s car), a day in Liverpool (which is transformed into a beautiful city since I was last there, four years ago), and a lovely morning at Sherdley Park and mini-zoo.  It was a fabulous trip, and the kids had a great time, and now have a very good impression of their mother’s place of origin!

Ian and Sheila had planned to accompany me and the children back to Münster and stay for a few days, but it was unclear until the very last minute whether that would actually happen.  Auntie Joyce seemed to be in extremely bad shape for a while, until the doctors located an infection in her face as the cause of her recent decline.  Until they started to treat her, it looked as though her ill-health would mean that Ian and Sheila would have to stay close to home.  Once Auntie Joyce was doing better, we thought we were in the clear, but then the volcano in Iceland raised its ugly head again, and flights in and out of England were canceled again!  Service was restored the day before we traveled, however, and so we made our merry way back to Deutschland, several rail missteps on my part notwithstanding.  I still don’t understand the stupid Deutsche Bahn, and I understand the system just enough to hate it!

Robert returned to Münster the same day that we did, and we spent three lovely days with Ian and Sheila, showing them around the town and enjoying – FINALLY – some beautiful spring weather.  We had some delicious food, some lovely walks, some fun buying baby toys and clothes for George, the new grandson, and spent some quality time with the kids at the park.  We really enjoyed hanging out with them, and hope that they felt a little bit restored by their time here.   We hope we get to see them again before too too long.

Robert took Ian and Sheila back to the airport in Düsseldorf on Friday afternoon, and now we find ourselves alone with the children again.  We are trying to restore some sort of rhythm to our lives and theirs, even as we enjoy a few days of spectacular spring weather (due to end tomorrow), and get ready for the end of classes in the coming week.

12 May 2010

May 12, 2010

A Much Better Week!

After all the “excitement” of last week, we just enjoyed a week filled only with excitement of the enjoyable sort! On Wednesday, Robert’s sister, Anna came to visit. She was joined on Friday by her husband, Michael, who had been in Heidelberg lecturing in economics to a group of grad students there. It was such a treat to see them and to have them to ourselves for a few days. They live in Hanover, New Hampshire, and we get to see them a couple of times each year, but the visits usually take place over holidays such as Christmas or Easter, and are therefore hectic. It was so nice to have some time to relax, hang out with the children, and chat over a few German beers. There was also, of course, the mandatory visit to the zoo in there as well! The only downside to their visit was the fact that the weather here has been absolutely miserable this week (“spring” in Münster), but we battled through and managed to enjoy ourselves nonetheless!

On their last night here, we went with Anna and Michael to the Pinkus brewery here in Münster for drinks and dinner.  We sampled some of their beers, which were lovely, and had a very “traditional” German meal.  Robert ordered the sausage plate, and got at least six different kinds of sausage, sauerkraut, and potatoes, but nothing that contained any shade of green whatsoever!  Despite being a bit carnivorously-intimidating, it was absolutely delicious!  Germans don’t really eat like that anymore, and most of them even eat their big meal of the day at lunch time rather than at dinner.  Not so at the Pinkus Brauerei, however, where we didn’t actually get our food until close to ten o’ clock at night!  Although it was late, it was a lovely evening, filled with good beer, good food, and great company.

Anna and Michael left early on Sunday morning, and Grandma, Iris, and Tony were arriving Sunday evening.  In between, however, we managed to squeeze in Anika’s second birthday party.  It was fantastic!  Her parents took us all to “Family-Fun-Land,” which consisted of an enormous sports center, filled with inflatable slides, encased jungle jims, trampolines, go karts, and all manner of other kid-heaven contraptions.  Although Anika herself was a little nervous about some of the bigger rides, all of the Christman children (and the parents too) had an excellent time, as you will see if you check out this week’s video.   Even Anika’s grandparents, who live in Frankfurt, came over for the day.  A good time was had by all.

After naps, the children got their PJs on while I ran over to the station to meet Mum, Iris, and Tony, who had called to confirm that, after much fearful hand-wringing, they had actually managed to catch the right train from Düsseldorf to Münster.  They were bang on time.  We grabbed a cab, and got home just in time for them to play with the children for an hour before bedtime.  It was a perfect start to our great English adventure, which I will describe in full detail next week!

2 May 2010

May 2, 2010

Update on Elsa

We had a rather dramatic couple of days here in the Christman household. On Thursday night, we got back from the zoo quite late and I shuffled the children all upstairs to shower off their feet and put them to bed. They were, however, pretty wound up, and the two girls went up on the top bunk, fooling around, which is, of course, completely forbidden. You can imagine what comes next. I was not in the room at the time, but it seems that they were standing on top bunk (also completely forbidden), and Elsa fell backwards from the top of the ladder. On her way down she hit a bedside cabinet with the back of her head, and then hit the front of her head on the floor. She screamed right away, which is a good sign, but within about five minutes she became zoned-out and zombie-like, which was terrifying.

Because Robert was in Leipzig with the students, I called my friend, Jana, who was (and remains) completely amazing. We agreed that we needed to take Elsa to the hospital, so Bernardo, Jana’s husband, came over with their little girl, Anika, and stayed with Sophia and Lawrence while we were gone.

After an awful interaction with the worst emergency-room nurse in the world (translated quote: Victoria; “I need help. My daughter fell from the top of a bunk bed.” Nurse; “And I NEED a couple of minutes,” and then she slammed the door in my face, without even looking at Elsa!), we eventually saw a bunch of doctors, Elsa vomited on the floor, and they decided that we should stay the night for observation.

It is a sign, I think, of the nastiness of my inmost being, that I was ABSOLUTELY THRILLED when Elsa vomited on the floor, because I got to watch the horrible nurse clean it up. I would have been even more happy had I been able to tell her, in German, how much I enjoyed that scene. If times of stress reveal a person’s true character, then I am indeed a complete jerk. No surprise there, really.

The whole scene was completely terrifying, but I knew that Elsa was going to be ok when she was lying on a table having an ultrasound on her stomach (they were afraid of internal bleeding) and four doctors were looking down on her. She looked back at them all and then sang “Mama called the doctor, and the doctor said, ‘no more monkeys jumping on the bed!'” They don’t have that song in Germany, but the doctors thought that it was absolutely hysterical!

Jana stayed at our apartment with the other children overnight.  She and Bernardo absolutely saved us in this situation.  I can’t even explain how amazing they were.  Saturday is a national holiday over here, and Bernardo even went grocery shopping for us, so that we would have the essentials for the rest of the weekend!!!  All of that, and they have a child of their own to take care of, and had visitors coming to stay on Friday for the weekend.  In addition to all of that, Jana, who is German, was able to translate my shocked ramblings to the doctors, and explain in calm English what was going on when I didn’t understand.  I don’t even know how to begin to thank them.

In the meantime, Elsa and I spent a sleepless night in a four-patient room in pediatric neurology. I was hugely unimpressed with the organization of the whole. No one passed on any information to me (where are the toilets? Is she allowed to eat anything? etc.) and it took hours to actually get to a doctor when I needed one. The room had no dividers of any sort, so there was no privacy, and when any patient was being seen (one little baby in our room had seven epileptic seizures between midnight and 5am), all of the others in the room were necessarily involved. The nurse came in to check Elsa’s pupils every hour, all of which ensured that we got absolutely no sleep the entire time.

During all of this, Robert was trying to decide whether or not to come back early, and if so, whether to leave the students there, or bring them with him. Any decision had enormous and expensive downsides. The doctor wanted us to stay in hospital for a second night, but I decided against it. All of Elsa’s tests came back clear, she was obviously returning to her old self, and I felt positive that she would get more rest at home than in that awful room. We also live only 3 minutes from the hospital, so we decided that Robert should stay with the students, and I would come home with Elsa. We have now been home for two nights, and she is restored to her old self – so much so, in fact, that I caught her back on the top bunk again last night! I couldn’t believe it, and am considering getting her a pack-and-play, just so that I can contain/restrain her each night. Unbelievable. Robert gets home at 4 this afternoon, which will be a huge relief to us all. This was a German adventure we could really have done without!