Sunday, December 30, 2007

Auerbach Schloss

I know I personally have not posted in awhile. My mom and sister had been here visiting and we did a lot of traveling. I have been working on a post but I have so many pictures to share with that. So I will add that later. For now, I want to share about our weekend we just had.

We took the kids down to the temple in Frankfurt for a few days after Christmas. We were going to drive to Heidelberg on Friday for a short day trip. I was there with my mom and Sister and knew exactly how long it would take and a few things to go look at. On our way down there, about half way there, Gardner pointed out a castle on top of this high mountain. We decided to go there instead.

It was Auerbach Schloss. And it was WAY high up. It was amazing driving up this steep mountain. And the higher we got, we were starting to drive into the white witches forest.... (From the Movie The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe: The Chronicles of Narnia). The trees were white and it was so pretty.

We got to the top and went and looked around at the castle. It was nice but part of it was closed due to ice. That was ok. The kids were more intersted in playing in the snow anyway. After walking around a bit, we went to the parking lot and the kids played in the snow for approximately 45 minutes. They had not seen real snow in about two years, since we left Wisconsin. They were loving it. They had snowball fights and just played. They did not want to leave. But a las, we had to because we had forgotten to grab a coat for Ian when we left our house the day before.

Here are some pictures of the day!


















Sunday, December 23, 2007

Emma's Christmas Present

It looks like Emma has received her Christmas present a bit early this year. She's got one of the hottest toys on the market. It squeaks when you poke it's belly. It laughs when you squeeze it's hand. It is adorable. It is Ian!

What am I referring to? Emma has found Ian buttons lately. Emma has found everybody's buttons lately. I think she is in the terrible twos. Still adorable, but wants to dictate everything that happens to her and give orders to all around her, expecting only the strictest obedience. How hi ma'dam? is the only answer she'll accept. Shantal should change my daiper; mom should bring me to bed; Spencer should hold my hand while we cross the street; Hannah should get my shoes; Ian can't have that; no! I wanted to open that drawer.

It's like a bad nightmare of sorts. And she's taking out on Ian as well. I hear him squealing in pain and look over to see what's up. I see Emma tiptoeing away with a cruel smile on her face, and Ian dazed and confused regarding where the attack came from. They still love each other and play together often, but something has definitely changed for Emma. She has found that Ian has lots of buttons. And if she pushes them, Ian makes very cool sounds. Just in time for Christmas! And, no off switch for these two little whippersnappers.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Quick Ian Update

As I played with Ian tonight, all alone, I realized how much he has grown up that I thought I would share. First off, he has been sick the last two days. This has made him a little tired and not so wild. He woke up at around 10 p.m. and we played a bit before I brought him back to bed. He has been in his tornado phase lately. So, Ian without the tornado effect, i.e., slowed down a hair by the illness, was very nice.

First item is that Ian has learned his first word. O.K., not really a word, more of a grunt: Uhuh! He changes the inflection in his voice, the duration of the sound, the emphasis (first syllable vs. second syllable), and the urgency to mean various and sundry things: more, give me that, no, yes, I'm happy, I want to be picked up, I want a bottle, etc. It's such a versatile grunt. He's really come very far with it. He may put off speaking for sometime, now that he has this grunt.

He also has started doing more things with his hands. He started using the spoon to move food from his tray or bowl into his mouth and started playing with more dexterity with toys. He is funny to watch with the spoon. He will pick up a food item with his left hand and place the food item on the spoon, which is being held by his right hand. He will then lift the food item with the spoon to his mouth. Then, if all things are working in his favor the food item will be placed in his mouth and he can start eating. The great thing about Ian's learning process is that if the spoon feeding breaks down at any point, Ian does not become frustrated. He just reverts back to the old fashioned method (grab food as fast as possible with fingers and stuff in mouth) and giggles. What a great approach to life.

I've been home the past two days (albeit a bit under the weather), and realized that I really enjoy being with the kids. Spencer got legos as gifts after the breakfast of his sleep-over B-day party today. By the end of the day Spencer had built all of the lego cars, mars landers, ambulances, etc. by the end of the day. At which point he announced that he "needed" more legos. Mom said, you mean "want" more legos. Spencer, said no I "need" more legos. Smart people at lego land.

Work, school and activities for the kids, church, etc. have all been very busy lately. It will be nice to relax over the holidays these next two weeks. And, we get to go to the temple in Frankfurt next week after Christmas, so we are very excited about that. The kids will be able to stay with us on the temple grounds in the youth hostile, so it will be very nice.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Animal Emissions?

It's times like these when I am truly in awe at how far we've come:

Cow Emissions study.

Nothing to do with life in Germany, but just too crazy to pass up.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Grandma's in Town

Wow, what a wonderful change I've seen in the kids sinceGrandma and Aunt Coco arrived.

It is most noticeable in our two babies, Emma and Ian. Every night when I come home Emma is so excited to see me and so happy to tell me all about everything that is currently going on at the Wheeler household. You might find that normal for a 2+ year old. But lately Emma has been on an anti-daddy kick. Anything that daddy says is no good, and anytime I talk to her, she doesn't want to have anything to do with me. She's been anti-everything lately according to Tamara. I just know that it hit me as a dad pretty hard. For instance, she was so excited when I came in the house this morning that she first of all couldn't stop talking to me. She only stopped talking to me to run and tell everyone the great news: "daddy is home." That does a body good.

Every time I see Ian he is walking around smiling and looking for hugs from whomever will give them. Ian does this a fair amount of the time anyway, but not constantly throughout the day without stopping. He is also very excited to see grandma and aunt coco.

The big kids are excited as well. Spencer and Shantal are reading their english books with exceeding speed, and Hannah was very excited about receiving the learning English books from Grandma.

Well, we look forward to having some fun with them over the next few weeks. The three girls are off today to Holland to visit the Anne Frank house and hopefully to take a canal cruise in Amsterdam. They then plan to go and visit the LDS Temple in the Hague as well as the Knight's Castle if they have time (I think it was the Knight's Castle).

If Tamara can figure out how to drive the Hybrid Toyota Prius out of the parking garage at the Düsseldorf airport, she should have some fun pictures and stories. She'll most certainly have some great stories about all of the gas she saved driving the hybrid. Learning how to drive a hybrid, which has a "Power" button instead of an ignition, should be well worth the extra hassle with gas prices at roughly $7.28 a gallon. But I'll let Tamara report on that.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Difficult Subjects Indeed

Betsy wrote a great article on her Blog Ness Monster blog regarding how to talk to children about the 2nd world war and Hitler. In other words how to discuss difficult subjects (which I stole for part of my title here).

After my attempt to add a comment went on into the 6th or 7th paragraph I decided I should just do a blog reply. This comes partially from my major in college, which was German. It seems like the major could have been renamed, German and the 2nd world war. The topic was pervasive throughout all of the courses that we took.

How does one deal with that war as an American living in Germany. How does one explain the atrocities, difficulties, etc. of that time. I remember the story of Anne Frank being a great start for younger kids. I still think that is a great story and worthy of telling.

Here are some of my other thoughts for dealing with the 2nd world war with our children.

For younger kids the TV program Sendung mit der Maus produced an excellent episode about how children lived after the war. Only found one site that sells the episode (VHS). Seems like they could make a ton of money off of selling the episodes, on DVD? But, anyway, the episode tells the story of living in post war Germany outside of Cologne (Köln), Germany. One of the actors on the show grew up during that time and describes his life outside of the city. Very well done. Hope they get it onto DVD some day. It's in German of course.

For older children I really enjoyed the film Saints and Soldiers. Our first German exchange student and I really loved watching that one together. It captures the emotion of longing for peace and friendship in the midst of the war.

Another idea I've had, and plan to work on over the next years while we are here to have individuals who lived in post war Germany talk to our children. I have spoken to several of our neighbors and heard many intriguing stories about their childhood memories of living in post war Germany. I plan to invite them into our home to tell my children about their own childhood, about the walk from East Prussia to Germany for instance; about the life they lived with meager supplies and housing. I hope that some will be willing and able to share their experiences with our children. One good reason to do this is that that generation won't be around much longer. The children of the war (the 7, 8, 9 year olds) who walked from East Prussia to Germany are now in their 70's and 80's.

And one final note on Betsy's experience with her Russian landlord who lived through the war.

In the states I worked with a fellow who would lick his plate clean after meals, including meals in semi-public places. I asked him about that and he credited his father, a German immigrant to the United States. He said his dad always did the same thing and always told his children basically the same thing as the Russian landlord said. You don't know what it's like to go without food. Be thankful for every bit of food you have.

That war changed our world forever and is worthy of discussion, study, contemplation, and reflection. And it is worthy of re-telling. How to re-tell the story is another question and I hope my thoughts help the cause.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Shantal Turned 10!

Well, I guess I should say Happy Belated Birthday to my Shantal. She turned 10 this past weekend. And she celebrated by having a sleep over party. Since her birthday was on a Saturday, she decided to have her friends sleep over on Friday and then they would be here for her birthday when they woke up.

Well, if you remember, the germans consider it bad luck to celebrate before hand. One grandma told her granddaughter, who in turn told Shantal that it was typical Americans to celebrate such a way. And then there were a few girls that didn't come because of it.

Well, her friends came over Friday night and they watched 2 movies. They actually went to go to bed around 11pm. Not too bad. But then they didn't just go to sleep. Of course, this was expected. But they stayed up way too late. I know I went up to bed around 1am and some girls were still awake.



In the morning, Shantal woke be up before 6am telling me all the girls were awake. So I went down and made breakfast.


After Breakfast, Shantal opened her presents. She got some polly pockets from her friends. And then From Grandpa and Grandma Wheeler, Grandpa and Grandma Johnson and from Us, she got a Polly Pocket Airplane. Almost 100 Euros. YIKES. Her friends kept saying they had never gotten a birthday present that big before. For Christmas yes, but not her birthday. It was funny.


The rest of the day, Shantal turned into a terrible monster. Seriously, she was so moody and tired. She was crying a lot. I felt bad she was having such a terrible day for her birthday. But it made me realize that maybe sleep overs are out. If it is going to cause so much trama afterwards, it isn't worth it. Hannah was crushed to hear such a thing because she was planning her first one for her birthday. She immediately asked if they had a bedtime and a few rules if I would change my mind. Oh, she is a wise little one!

St Martin Pictures

So Gardner mentioned St Martin's already and things that took place that night. So I am going to simply upload some pictures here of that night. Since I am the one who walked around with the kids as they went door to door, I do need to add one funny thing that happened.


At one house, the kids got a clementine. It took the people awhile to answer the door and then afterwards, that is what they received. Later on that night, the same thing happened. It took them awhile to answer the door. Shantal laughs about how they are looking frantically for something to give them before they answer the door. And sure enough, they got fruit again.


It Seems like those that were not prepared thinking the kids wouldn't come gave out the fruit. just was funny with the comment Shantal made. When they finally got a banana, I joked that we could now make a fruit salad.


The kids had a blast that night. And I must say, I was really impressed at how well they knew these St Martin Songs. We went around with a neighbor friend who has 2 kids. And our kids knew the songs better than the other kids. So I was very impressed.


I did get sick from being outside in the cold for so long. I now have a cold, dry cough and my eyes hurt like crazy. Like they are always tired or something. And then my ears have started to hurt as well. But it was a fun night for the kids.


And then they took candy into the school the next day. Remember, this is the first year the kids took candy to the school to give away. Last year, my kids didn't do the door to door, or the store to store thing. We had only been in germany a month and we did the parade and then went home. Well, the kids took in their candy. They were so excited about it. Well, all the kids were kind of laughing at them because that was *all* they brought. These kids really took almost all their candy. I was impressed by that when I saw their big bags. Shantal didn't care though. She said, she would rather keep her candy anyway. That's my girl!


Here are the pictures I promised! Also, just found a 9 second video of the parade I took. It is really dark and that is why I didn't make it longer. Now I wish I would have.




This is a Weckmann. It is a bread shaped like a man with a pipe. Gardner spoke of this in his last post.




This is St Martin riding his horse and leading the Parade of kids with their lanterns through the street. Hard to see it because my camera doesn't take pictures in the dark very well.





Spencer so re-luctantly getting his picture taken with his lantern right before the parade started.


Hannah standing with her class right before the parade started. Her Lantern is a fish aquarium.



Emma with her store bought lantern.



Shantal during the parade. I was lucky to get the shot!




The kids singing at a door to get their candy. You can see how much stuff they have in their bags already.




This is some of the bigger candy bars that they took out of their bags after we got home.



A look inside their bag after the big stuff was taken out.




After the three big kids took out their big stuff, this is what it looked like inside our big bowl.



This is how much fruit we came home with. 24 Clementines, 6 apples and 3 bananas.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cowgummi

This is a special edition of German Homework that gave me some insights into the challenges our children our facing as foreigners in German Schools. Those who speak German may have guessed by now what Cowgummi might be. English only speakers will be scratching their heads, wondering what I am writing about.

Shantal had to measure different objects that she has in her back-pack. The list looked roughly like this: ink cartridge (for pens) "die Patrone" 32 mm, eraser "der Radiergummi" 44 mm, Cowgummi 15 mm, some other items.

At that point I stopped reading the list and I just cried a bit inside. Cowgummi is just not a word in either language and I didn't know how to break it to her. You can check LEO for the real meaning.

It brought up a lot of emotions for me. Do I give the clinical explanation of why it is wrong so she'll know how to avoid the mistake in the future? That's been a common approach for me and I think it drives her crazy. Do I just hug her? Then she won't know why. Do I say nothing? But then the question lingers. Have I done enough? How do I say anything and still let her know that I love her?

It is so tough to live on this planet. No matter where you live or what challenges you face, it is always tougher than planned. But by now I've forgotten, somewhat, how tough it was to be a child. And to be a child in a foreign land. That I can't really even begin to relate to.

I just hope and pray that I will keep that in mind whenever I am dealing with our children and pray that I can more clearly see things from their perspective.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

7 Random Facts

Food for Thought (Austrian vs. American cultural differences by Bek) tagged us for the "7 random facts about yourself" meme. I figured what the heck:

1. Though both americans, Tamara and I first met in Düsseldorf Germany (Tamara is from the mountain west and I am from the midwest). We met while serving missions for the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
2. I enjoy science fiction and fantasy (star trek, lord of the rings, narnia, etc.) and tamara despises these types of movies. Gratefully she watches Star Wars with me and the kids.
3. Tamara's food weakness is egg rolls. Mine is Mexican.
4. From American TV Tamara misses Survivor and Amazing Race the most. I like watching them as well (especially with Tamara). I miss American Football and College Ice Hockey the most.
5. My first name is normally a last name, but everyone probably noticed that. It's also actually a middle name, but that's too long of a story for this list.
6. We hosted two exchange students and one Au pair while living in the states. All were from Germany. It has been great to see them again.
7. My mom and dad met in Germany, as did my sister and brother-in-law. All are americans and met as Tamara and I did, while serving missions for the Church of Jesus Christ in Germany.

P.S. we served missions by choice, but the location (for all of us Germany) was designated by the church.
P.P.S. we can't really explain the phenomenon (all being called on missions to Germany). I am just grateful that my parents met, and of course very grateful that Tamara and I were brought together through the mission experience.

I have tagged the following fine bloggers:
Scott
Coleen
Both Sides of the Pond

Here are the rules:
- Link to your tagger and post these rules.
- Share 7 facts about yourself: some random, some weird.
- Tag 3 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).
- Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.

Sankt Martinszug - St. Martin's

Yesterday was the Saint Martin's Day parade or Sankt Martinszug in our village. It is a very nice tradition that tells a great story about a Saint Martin, who gave up his position in the army to help a beggar with no coat during a snowstorm. He gave up his position because he cut his army coat in half and shared with the poor man. Destruction of army property was against the rules of the army. Martin felt strongly that he had done the right thing and eventually left the army for a life as a monk.

The tradition here is that the children walk with lanterns "Laterne laufen" through the city, arriving at a school usually. Tamara will post some pictures of the kids with their lanterns later. During the march, which is led by St. Martin on a horse, songs are song and there is a quiet reverence and power that comes with the march.

Upon arriving at the school, the story of St. Martin is recounted and more songs are sung. In our village, the school prepared goody bags with walnuts, peanuts, an apple, an orange, and a Weckmann, which is a roll shaped in the form of a man holding a pipe. The pipes are whistles and kids can play with them after eating their Weckmann or Weckmänner. The rolls are only sold in bakeries at this time of year.

After the play, the children go door to door to sing St. Martin's songs, for which they receive candy or fruit. In Düsseldorf people went to business, which stayed open later for the evening, and to friends houses. In our village, most houses around the school had their porch lights on and were ready and waiting with candy or goodies. The kids had tons of candy, but also tons of clementine oranges. I was home with the babies to get them something to eat and get them to bed. Ian was excited about the apples in the St. Martin's bag. He ate two of them (they were small and not too crunchy, which was perfect for Ian and his 6 teeth).

The next day at school, goodies are gathered in for the less fortunate. I'm not sure through what organization the candy is donated to less fortunate families, but the kids were sure excited to bring their candy to school. I never saw that after Halloween.


The picture of St. Martin sharing his coat with the beggar on the bag of goodies from the school:


The St. Martin song, on the back of the bag of goodies from the school:

Sunday, November 11, 2007

German Homework

At least once a week I get a call from Tamara, on behalf of one of the kids, or one of the kids themselves. This call is to discuss today's German homework and to help them figure out something that is a bit complex, or a word that is new.

On Thursday, Tamara called to ask what this word meant: "das Moos"

For those scoring at home, it means moss. You know, that green fuzzy stuff that grows in shady spots in the woods.

The homework question, below a picture of a lady standing in a garden/yard, was: "Ist mama im Moos?" In English: Is mom standing in moss?

Hannah answered yes. I would have said yes too based on how much moss we have in our backyard.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Back Home



Well, I'm back home now. It still feels a bit odd to say that. Back Home. In Germany. With my Swedish Fish (and various and sundry Swedish gummi candies). But, alas, it is true. I did feel at home when I landed in Germany tonight.

First off, I was very grateful to be on the ground after we landed. The plane ride was a quite bumpy near the end. I thought of kissing the ground, like sailors would do after a long, long journey. But decided against it.

The Second thing hit me as I got off the plane and started into the airport. I was grateful that I could understand the signs. The German signs. And the same thing happened as I started to listen to people speak German. It was refreshing, because I could understand the random conversations going on around me (cell phones, fellow travelers, etc.).

Normally this doesn't bother me in Sweden, but being in Sweden this time around and not knowing what the signs meant and not knowing what people were saying was frustrating somehow. I took a lot of taxis this time around and that may have caused some frustration that I couldn't answer the simple hi, how are you, where are you going question. But the trip on the whole was very productive, and enjoyable. I like Stockholm and hope to get up there with the kids one summer. For good or bad, I didn't even realize how frustrated I had become until I noticed how grateful I was to hear and see German at the airport.

Then when the taxi driver dropped me off at our house here outside of Düsseldorf, I was so glad to come up to our house and even felt a lift in my spirits walking up the walk way. It is good to be back with Tamara and the kids.

By the way, the reason I looked for Swedish fish is because when I was a kid I loved the little gummi candies called swedish fish back in the states. They were one of the "penny candies" at the local quickie-mart and whenever I had more than 2 cents and happened to be at the local quickie-mart I would buy some "penny candies" and i often chose the swedish fish. I realize that I sound very much like one's grandma or grandpa talking about "back in my day when candy cost a penny". But it really happened. Anyway, here is a picture of the swedish fish I remember from my childhood. They are still available:



Hopefully some will try and identify the various objects available in gummi form below. Good luck guessing:

Monday, November 5, 2007

It Happened! OUCH!

OK, today it happened. I am not surprised in the least that it happened. Matter of fact, I am surprised it didn't happen before today. I am talking about Ian falling down the stairs. Today was the first time for this.

He is actually 14 Months old. I have had all my kids fall down stairs before. And everytime, it makes my heart sink and I run faster than ever thought possible to get to them and cuddle them and make sure they are all right. But this time, my heart sank deeper than ever before. And I think I ran faster than ever before. Because I got to him and caught him before he got to the bottom of the stairs.

The reason my heart sunk deeper than before is because of the stairs we have here in Germany. They are marble stairs. In America, we had carpet. These marble stairs hurt. We all know it because we have all fallen on them many times. I even have broken a toe on them since living here.

I was in the basement and took him down with me. I was doing laundry. And he was in the playroom right next to the laundry room. And then he escaped. And in case you didn't know, he is a fast climber when it comes to the stairs.

Ian now has marks on his face and forehead from the stairs. I feel terrible. Sure, the marks will go away within a day or two. And I am sure he has totally forgot about falling, as he tries to climb up over and over again. But I feel terrible. And everytime I see those marks on his face, it reminds me of him falling.

The worst part for me is that Gardner is in Sweden. There is no way for me to call him. Sure, Ian is fine and Gardner doesn't need to worry about him. But I am not so sure that I am fine. As Emma always says.....I need a hug.

Oh I know as a mother I can not protect them from everything. And I know that I can't be with them 24 hours a day. But I have feelings and I love them and of course, I don't want to see them hurt.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Off to Stockholm

Well, I'm off to Stockholm for two nights. I leave tomorrow morning early (5:30 a.m.) for a 7:00 a.m. flight.

I hugged Emma when she went to bed tonight and realized I will sure miss her. The cool thing was she didn't really let go. I'll miss Tamara as well and realize how much she does to hold down the household. The other kids will also be on my mind. They said the like it when I go to Sweden because of the gummi-candies, i.e., "Swedish Fish" that I bring back. When I looked for Swedish Fish, a popular candy in the States, I discovered that in Sweden they not only have Swedish Fish, but also, Swedish ice cream cones, strawberries, lips, hands, and most shapes you can think of. I'll try and get some pictures this time.

Although I enjoy the trips to Stockholm and the benefits to the project, I am grateful I can work in Düsseldorf the majority of the time. Can't wait to hear about the adventures while I'm away.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Thanksgiving Day - sort of

Well, today on the German holiday of All Saints day, we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving. Well, not really. Tamara decided to cook a Thanksgiving style dinner and invite some friends over (a young married couple with no children). Tamara did this 3-4 times a year in the states, and you can't ever do it just by yourself, it just tastes better when it is shared with friends or family. But here it is harder/more expensive to get the turkey. I think Tamara bought this turkey when we went to the US base in the Netherlands for her birthday.

It was quite enjoyable. The turkey was great, the stuffing was great, the potatoes were great, the yams were great, the apple pie was great (heard the pumpkin pie was good, but I'm not a fan). The German couple brought the cranberry sauces, well Preiselbeere were actually used in the sauce, but it was equally good. Did I mention my wife is great. She does a fine job with everything around the house and Thanksgiving dinner is one of her specialties.

After the fabulous dinner we all watched Mr. Mom (our friends hadn't seen it before and me and the kids enjoy it quite a bit). After the kids went to bed I pulled out a football game my dad had sent me on DVD last year - the rivalry game BYU vs. Utah, 2006. The draw to football after some Turkey was just too strong, and I had to throw it in, despite the objections of my loving wife (just like thanksgiving day back home).

I told Tamara that there was one really sweet play I wanted to show our friend (the husband). But, in order to enjoy that one play (game winning touchdown pass on the last play of the game), we had to review some of the other plays leading up to that play. So, we watched the first quarter and then fast forwarded to some of the touchdowns in the 2nd half and concluded by watching the final few minutes without fast forwarding.

BYU went up 27-24. Then Utah roared back and it was 27-31 with only 1:09 left on the clock. There were a few lucky plays for BYU so they could move the ball and stop the clock. They got down to the 10 yard line and called their last timeout with 0:03 left on the clock. The last play of the game. Q-back scrambles left, and then gets flushed out to the right. All players race across the back of the end zone, except for one. The Q-back throws back across the field to the TE for the winning touch down. It was still amazing fun to watch it again this year. I guess that wouldn't hold true for all the Utah fans out there, but for me it was a great "Thanksgiving" day.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween II

No not the scary movies. Just had to give some quick impressions on Halloween. First off, Tamara takes great pictures and really keeps the kids excited about the fun stuff in life.

And, I have to admit that I have been a Halloween bummer over the years and never dressed up. I saw other dads do it, but never took the time myself. Not sure what changed this year. I did play Mr. Mom a few weeks back and you know how Michael Keaton got into Halloween. Then yesterday a co-worker asked me what I was dressing up as. I was embarrassed to tell her as a "dad". Then I had the day off today and some time to think about what I could dress up as - nothing better than hockey. Not that this really matters, but the socks are Colorado Avalanche colors, and the jersey is a practice jersey in the Avs colors.

Our kids were sure cute last night. Spencer had a great time at his birthday party, and we missed him at Halloween, so that was good for him to be gone. It's hard to believe how much they have all grown up. Shantal was very cute as the dark daughter of darth vader. Nothing is cuter than Hannah in witch costume, and Emma is just at that stage where everything is cute, no matter what. Then little Brett Farve, i.e., Ian, what more can you say. It was nice and reminded me of the good times we had at our congregation's Trunk or Treat activities back in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Those were a good time.

Though fun, I have to admit that celebrating Halloween, not a very sentimental holiday, made me a bit homesick. It's weird how different things strike that longing for home inside your heart.

Back to the evening. I kept myself entertained by actually wearing the helmet, and asking the kids dumb questions after they asked for candy. I mostly asked what they were dressed up as and then commented on the apparel.

Here are the top ten Düsseldorf, Germany - Halloween 2007 moments:

10) Answer to dressed up as question: The 11 year-old kid with the pillow case, normal clothes, and a basketball He said something about a street baller, but didn't get the words quite right: His pillow case was pretty full.
9) Answer to dressed up as question: A girl with white face paint and blood painted on to appear like drool and a white dress listed herself as Death Princess. I didn't get it. She explained that she was dead, but still a princess, therefore, death princess and mumbled something like "so obvious" under her breath.
8) The 3.5 year old kid dressed up in a cool spider-man costume who came over and half-smiled, half-cried and just looked me. I handed him a piece of candy. The dad then sauntered by and asked, if his son said "Trick or Treat"? I responded. He looked like he wanted to and was just too cute. I gave him candy.
7) Two German kids rang the doorbell after we got home (unfortunately all costumes were off). Süßes oder Saures, ohne Kostüme. They did not have any costumes. We gave them some candy anyway.
6) Spencer mentioned that some kids came to the house he was at (for the B-Day sleep-over). The mom didn't have any candy, so she gave them a Brötchen instead. Very cool option.
5) Ian as a green-bay packer, who didn't want to wear the helmet.
4) Emma as the cutest pumpkin on the planet
3) Hannah as the cutest witch on the planet
2) Shantal as the evil daughter of darth vader
1) Mom for making it such a great Halloween.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween 2007

We took our kids to the International School here in Duesseldorf. They had Trunk Or Treating for the kids. Everyone parks their cars so the trunk is facing out and the kids go from car to car to get candy. I refused to buy costumes this year and couldn't remember what we had from our move over a year ago. This time last year, Everything we owned was being held in the Netherlands waiting for the custom officials to release it. So we hadn't seen these items for 2 years. It was seriously like new items to my kids. They were very excited.

Spencer did not join us this year. Tomorrow is a holiday here in Germany and he had a friend who had a slumber party tonight. And Spencer went there instead. He knows that the girls candy is his candy too. So, he really isn't missing out on much.

Shantal ended up as Darth Vadar, Hannah as a Witch, Emma was a Pumpkin and Ian was a Green Bay Packers Player. I think he was adorable.

Oh, Emma had a fabulous time. It was so cute that she would go up to each car. Not knowing really who she should get the candy from. She tried getting into some of the cars looking for the candy. She always said thank you instead of trick or treat. And she always wanted to take her own candy. It really was priceless watching her.












I See One!

I went Grocery Shopping this morning. I went to Aldi first, as I try to get there right at 8am when they open. Today was a day that Shantal and Spencer don't go to school until 8:45 am. So they were able to stay home with Emma and Ian while I ran by myself to Aldi. So I dropped off Hannah at school (as school for her was at 8am), and then headed on over and got everything I needed from Aldi. Of course, Aldi doesn't carry everything I need. So I also had to go over to Real. But there is not enough time to do that before the kids had to go to school. So after Aldi, I went back home.

I unloaded what I had bought, packed up the other four kids and off we went. I dropped off Spencer and Shantal at school. When I drive to Real, I have to pass by Aldi. And then it happened. The words that Emma consistantly says! "I see one! Mom, there is one!" Nothing else is around. It is only the Aldi.

Emma has been doing this lately. Everytime we drive past an Aldi Grocery Store, she says that exact phrase, without fail. If I am running to Aldi, she tells me, "I want to go to Aldi, too". It is all too cute the way she says it. I know my writing about it doesn't explain how cute it is everytime she does it.

Obviously, Aldi is a big part of our lives. I go there three times a week. It is my main grocery shopping store. And why it is so fabulous to go there from the perspective of a 2 year old is strange to me. She has to sit in the back of the cart and hates it. But Ian is smaller and therefore, sits in the front. Then she sits there while I fight my way into the crowds to get all the sale items. She gets all the groceries crammed around her. Seriously, she complains everytime we are there. But for some reason, she loves Aldi.

For now, I will always smile when Emma sees an Aldi. Because when Emma talks, usually no matter what she says, I smile. She is just too cute when she talks.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Blessing of Bananas

I was feeding Emma and Ian a banana yesterday morning in the car and felt suddenly very grateful that we have bananas and fruits generally here in Germany and in the U.S. where I grew up.

I wasn't sure why I was so grateful.

Emma and Ian are really cute together and Emma kept making sure that I gave some to Ian. Ian kept smiling at Emma after each bite. They genuinely like each other and truly seem to care for each other those two. That was definitely part of it, just being grateful for the opportunity, with my wife, to care for two such wonderful children.

I did recall that a neighbor gave Emma a banana the other day and said that bananas contain many of the vitamins and minerals that a body needs every day and that we should eat a banana everyday. She's in her 80's and still pretty fit, so guess she speaks from experience.

I then suddenly recalled a really cool banana story from the former East Germany. The story was told to me by a colleague who was about eleven when the Berlin Wall fell. A story ripped from the pages of the world history story, or world history through the eyes of an 8 or 9 year old. Not sure if the story would ever actually make the history books, but I found it quite refreshing.

She and some other colleagues who grew up in the former East Germany (GDR) were talking about bananas one day at lunch. They then talked about the special banana shipments in the GDR. They recalled waiting in line and getting bananas. I asked how often this type of a shipment came. They recalled it being about twice a year, or at two times in the year spring and again in the autumn. They joked with each other about waiting in line with their mothers, and talked about how many bananas they would receive (generally based on family size).

One of the colleagues then related this story.

My mom had the great idea that we could get more bananas if we split up and both stood in line separately since I was old enough to stand in line by myself. So the plan was that I would stand in line and ask for bananas and then my mom would stand in line a few people back and ask for bananas as well. Twice the bananas, a brilliant idea. A brilliant idea until I turned to my mom and asked how many bananas did we need again mom? Then it wasn't such a great idea. Six months later, we could work the plan to perfection and we got twice the bananas.

I enjoyed that story so much and found it to be such an interesting perspective on "world events".

I then realized in the car with my children that I enjoy the fruits of so many people's labors and share that with my children without much forethought, without knowledge regarding how bananas get to Germany, and without much gratitude most of the time. I was a bit more grateful that morning while caring for my two youngest children and hope it continues.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mommy, we going to church again?

This was Emma's first question when we got back into the car, for the 2nd time, to go to church this morning.

On our first trip, I had noticed that the streets were a little quiet for 8:45 a.m., and that the Autobahn was just a little too empty, but I didn't think anything of it. Tamara didn't notice it either and just kept driving. But when we got to the empty church parking lot at 8:58 a.m. we realized that we had been struck by daylight savings time. We decided to head home for some breakfast.

Our friends told us last week, I probably heard someone mention it at work this week, and generally one should just know these types of things. But we didn't.

And so we got the adorable question from Emma after we packed everyone up in the van again, and were heading off to church for the 2nd time at the real 8:40 a.m. Mommy, we going to church again?

On the upside, the sit down, no stress breakfast while I read a short passage from the scriptures in between our two departures was sure nice. We are usually racing and hectic prior to church.

The other plus of the early waking (relative to the new time) was that Ian slept very soundly during the services with grandma B. Grandma B. is a fine sister in the congregation who adopts Ian each Sunday, i.e., holds Ian during the main service while we wrestle with the other four adorable, but sometimes rambunctious children. And who wouldn't get a little restless after an hour long service. Grandma B. and Grandpa B. always say they want to take Ian home after the services, because he is so cute. After an hour long break we are also glad to see him again. It is a great break for us each week.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Shrek Marathon!

Yesterday I went to a store called Ratio and bought the Movie, Shrek the Third. My kids love the Shrek Movies and when they saw that Shrek the third was out on video, we just had to buy it. Normally, I don't buy movies when they are brand new. But Shrek the third was not that expensive.

For example, Meet the Robinsons has been out for I believe 2 months on video here in Germany. But it is almost 20 Euros. I got Shrek the Third for 14 Euros.

Great thing is the movie comes in both German and English. We usually watch movies in English at home. But when the kids have friends over, then they can watch something in German.

Every Friday Night, the kids look forward to Friday Family Movie Night. So they decided we would watch Shrek the Third today for our Movie Night. Well, at lunch time, the kids started asking if we could have a Shrek Marathon and watch all three movies in one sitting. I had to calculate how long they would be where they are still in bed by 9pm. And sure enough, if we started by 3pm, we would be done in time. I had to plan enough time for a small break inbetween plus dinner.

Well, I then said, we could only do it if everyone's homework is done and if all their jobs were done. And we had to start the movie no later than 3pm. And guess what, we started the movie at 2:58pm.

So here we are, in the middle of our Shrek Marathon. I personally have never watched the first two straight through. Of course, I have heard it in the background while on the computer or while I'm in the Kitchen. I plan on watching more intently today so I can say I have seen them. And I guess that means, I need to stop blogging.

We Have Heat!

At this very moment, we have reached heat status. What that means, is that I had to take off a layer of clothes because I was a little warm. The man from the heating company (the same one always shows up) was here this morning for over an hour. And when he left, he told me we were all turned on and we would be having heat within a few hours. And sure enough, I can walk around without socks on again. My floors are warm.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sleeping Last Night

Last night, Gardner and I slept in the living room. It is on the main floor and as a reminder, our bedroom is up 2 flights of stairs. Gardner initially went to the basement to sleep. But I went down there to talk to him and asked him if he thought the basement was warmer than the living room. His response was no. So when he heard I was sleeping on the main floor, he also slept there. He dragged a mattress from the basement. We grabbed all the blankets from our bed and the beds in the basement. I made a nice comfy spot on the couch. I had 3 blankets on top of me. Not just three blankets, but the thick German kind. As I was laying there, I thought it would be funny to get a picture because it was an amazing amount of blankets on top of me. And I was still cold. My feet had 2 pair of socks on them and I had sweats on my legs. And from my knees down were terribly cold. It was 12:30 when we finally laid down. And I eventually fell asleep until Ian woke up at 2:30am.

When I heard him crying, I jumped up and realized I was sweating. I was so hot by this point. All the blankets came off, but one. I took off both pair of socks. And most of the night, my feet were hanging out of the blanket to get some cooler air.

I don't know what it is about sleeping that makes us warm up. Because here I am, sitting on my couch. The same couch I slept on during the night and I am freezing. I have my same sweats on. My same pair of socks, and same sweater.

I have to add that at 5:30am, Hannah and Emma joined our sleeping party in the Living Room. Hannah thought it was so comfy. I don't know why they think it is time to get up at 5:30 am. But I put a stop to it right away and we all continued to sleep until 7 am.

I am looking forward to sleeping in my own bed. But for tonight, I will be sleeping on the couch again so I can hopefully stay warm.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Whole New Meaning To COLD

So, we have been living without a heater since Spring. And it has gotten really cold here in Germany. Currently outside, it is 4 degrees Celcius, which is 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Our house has been so cold, we all wear layers to bed. I was so cold last night, I honestly was awake shivering. (during the night it got down to -1 with the windchill to -5 which was 23 degrees Fahrenheit). Our bedroom is up on the 3rd floor. You know the saying....Heat rises? I know I have heard this my whole life. But I have to tell ya, in this case, It does not rise. For some reason, between the 2nd level and the 3rd level, the coldness practically doubles. So I will not be sleeping in my bed tonight.

Now, why don't we just turn on our heater? I know someone is thinking this. And here is the story on that. Our house is heated through the floors. And it has to be operated by a professional. It states in our contract that we are not allowed to touch the controls because "it is too complicated".

Well, the funny thing is, I was on the phone with the heating company yesterday. And the man told me he had to come out to do a yearly check on the floor heating system. I asked him if he would be turning on my heater at this time. He was amazed that we don't have it on already. He asked if we were not cold because it has been so cold outside. Of course we have. I failed to let him know we have had sick kids and the coldness is not helping at all. Ian, Emma and Hannah have all had Croup and some also Bronchitas. Spencer now has a cold as well. Anyway, he proceeded to tell me that I could turn it on. (he has done this in the past as well.) I informed him that I am not allowed to touch it as it was in my contract. Well, the earliest he can get here is Friday Morning.

So we are all continuing to freeze. I am so ready to put a fire in my fireplace. But, guess what....the wood is in my garage. And that would require me to walk to the end of the row of houses, move my van (which has an anti-freeze cover on the windshield) just to get the wood out. Oh, and I would have to move 8 bikes and a luggage carrier (that goes on top of your car), to get to the wood as well. That just is not happening tonight. It is just too cold out there for me to get this fire started.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Another trip to the dentist

Courage Certificate (Mutigkeitsurkunde)

Well, we were back at the dentist on Thursday. Shantal, Spencer, and me.

Spencer was in for a quick check-up after his baby teeth were pulled a few weeks back. I needed a filling and Shantal had an appointment at the orthodontist (Keiferorthopädin) (a bus and tram ride away since I didn't want to worry about driving to and parking at the 2nd location in Düsseldorf). That was where the fun began. If you've read Tamara's dental post about how much Shantal loves all things dentist related, you can imagine what fun we were in for.

First off some information about the orthodontist. She has a gift. A gift for working with children. It is a joy just to watch her interact with children. They are so at ease with her, and I sense that she truly cares about each child she is talking with.

After two minutes with Shantal, the orthodontist turned to me and said - "am I doing something wrong?" I emphatically said "No. If anybody had a chance with Shantal, I thought it would be you." Through hand signals and head nods Shantal consented to sitting on my lap and while the orthodontist looked at her teeth. The orthodontist needed an X-ray. Luckily we had talked about x-rays at the regular dentist's office earlier.

I won't go into detail, but with a bit of help from the training orthodontist, Shantal agreed and had the x-ray. The training orthodontist said - you don't want to come again and miss yet another day with friends and playing, let's just do it now while you're here. Very practical. I do love that approach that seems to be common here in Germany.

Now the fun part. The results.

The orthodontist showed Shantal the x-ray on the wall and indicated that the two permanent eyeteeth (Eckzähne) were coming in sideways and needed more room to hopefully come in straight. This meant that the dentist should pull two baby teeth and fit Shantal for a retainer (eine Klammer).

This was all said and German and Shantal looked at me rather in shock. I couldn't tell sure if she understood, but didn't want to believe, or just didn't understand at all. She claimed not to understand.

In her defense, the explanation was relatively fast and contained many unfamiliar terms. Add to that that Shantal is the most grown up of the kids when it comes to German. She does the most thinking, i.e., translating, when it comes to German. Not that she doesn't do great, but she has the most struggles with new vocabulary. I would say this is more similar to an adult learning a 2nd language vs. a child for whom most vocabulary words are new and unusual.

At any rate, I talked to her in English but it only took three small words to help her understand what the orthodontist had just said. "You need the same things as Spencer". O.K., that was 7 words, but as soon as she heard me say the same as Spencer, she crumpled up with her head on my lap and began balling. Spencer had two teeth pulled (by grandpa) a couple weeks back.

I spoke with the orthodontist a bit while she made a certificate of achievement for Shantal going through with the x-ray. Since Shantal was still balling after the certificate was done, the orthodontist proposed another orthodontist appointment in 4 weeks. Maybe nature correct the problem. Maybe the teeth will have fallen out by then and only the retainer will be needed. Maybe Shantal will be used to the idea. Maybe a miracle will occur. The orthodontist didn't mention these possibilities, just that it will be better for Shantal to process the idea and see the orthodontist again first. I agreed and we left.

Shantal could barely walk out of the office and said her stomach hurt so bad she couldn't walk to the streetcar. Luckily the streetcar was coming and so we had to run. Then from the streetcar to the bus we had to run as well, which she also couldn't do, but it was too hard to complain and run at the same time. After we got out of the bus she was better and there were no complaints waiting for the next streetcar. I was glad I didn't have to carry her to the car, and I could blame our hurry on the streetcar and bus.

In the car on the way home and then when we spoke to mom at home Shantal was already talking about getting the teeth pulled and doing the injection in her arm thing as if it were totally normal. For a recent cavity, Shantal had general anesthetic instead of a shot.

She just struggles so mightily with new unfamiliar information. I was calm as I helped her through it today though, so that was a plus for me.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Back to German 101

I speak fairly good German. I passed a test in college in the U.S. that would allow me to study in Germany (ZMP). I converse in German on a regular basis with my team at work. I translate from German into English for the congregation I attend.

So, why is that when I walk into hardware store I am back at level 1, or below? I don't know the German words for things. Then I suddenly forget all of the English words related to the item I would like to discuss with the friendly store attendant. And that means I have no chance in real German (thinking and speaking), or brushed together German (i.e., translating from English into German on the fly). Some recent examples include: screws and washers (Schrauben und Scheiben), herbicides (Unkrautbekämpfungsmittel), names of certain weeds, such as clover (der Klee), or barbecuing terms (lighter fluid, charcoal [Holzkohle], etc). I get stuck at Square one.

Perhaps I simply need a bit more humility. I should accept defeat prior to the battle. I should learn to live with my language handicap, that I am not 100% fluent no matter how much German I've had and learn to do some stinkin prep work before going to the hardware store.

Friday, October 19, 2007

When it's cold it's NOT raining

Oh, what a glorious day today. It was cold, about 33° Fahrenheit (1° Celsius). This is such a beautiful thing for a kid from Missouri who loved snowy days and later love ice skating and Wisconsin's winters with his children.

The cold has always seemed to bring a freshness with it for me. Is it the freezing cold air, which is a bit hard to breath and reminds you you are alive, or is it recognizing your body's heat being generated inside your coat is also keeping alive in the cold. Maybe the memories of sledding (I lost my two front baby teeth sledding, or rather landing one winter) or skating on crisp clear ice on the neighborhood pond make me such a lover of the colder weather.

But here in Düsseldorf cold has a new meaning for me. It means it's NOT raining. The rain seems so stifling to me here in Drizzle-dorf. Perhaps it is not only the seemingly constant rain, but the lack of sun that makes Düsseldorf seem so stifling.

At any rate, it makes me wonder why Düsseldorf has chosen me twice in my life. And why I have chosen Düsseldorf now twice.
Once as a young
Mormon
missionary. I put in my name and said I would go, where ever the Lord would send me. Düsseldorf was designated and I went.

The 2nd time came through work. When I looked for my first job I had a goal of working in business or software consulting with an opportunity to work overseas, specifically in Germany. The company (CGI) I found and that found me back in 1997 has long had it's Central European headquarters in Düsseldorf.

And so here I am back living and working in and around Düsseldorf, and my love affair with Düsseldorf (but not the rain) has been renewed, and I endure the rain, and rejoice at a cold or a sunny day when it comes.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

You . . .

Ok, so this is a German lesson as well as something I find interesting that has happened to me this past two weeks.


In German, there are several forms of the word YOU. They have the words, Sie and Du. Du is something you only say to friends or children. Otherwise, you use the word Sie instead of Du. We of course in English have one word.....YOU.


Honestly, I have the hardest time with this. I say Sie to the people I should say Du to. And Du to those that I should say Sie. I don't know why it is so hard for me. But here is something I thought was kind of interesting that has happened within the last two weeks along these lines of Du and Sie.


I am going to talk about people I go to church with. Most of the members there are German. Some are Canadian, some are American. But mainly they are German. We have lived here 14 months now. Even still with them, I have a hard time knowing who I should Sie and Du. You would think these people that you have been talking to for over a year would know you and you know them well enough to say Du.


Well, on a Saturday, I was at the Church for a meeting. There is a guy there named Christof. He is a very nice younger guy. I would assume in his late 20's. He loves Emma and Ian. We talk every Sunday and he knows English very well.


On this particular Saturday, he says to me, "What is your name? I'm Christoff, by the way." I knew who is was. I've known for over a year. He has known me as well. At first, I thought it was really odd. Did he really not know my name? How could that be so?


Now, fast forward to this past Monday. I took Hannah to a birthday party and it was for a girl that goes to church with us. I was talking to her Mom, who I talk perhaps three times a week with. All of a sudden, she says to me, "I'm Brigita, by the way". Once again, I knew this. It took me back. Then she said, "I'm giving you permission to use the word Du."


It was weird to me how all of a sudden, even though you know someone, you re-introduce yourself when you are a "du" sayer instead of a "sie" sayer. Gardner assures me this is the way it is done here.

Tamara's Long Update

Well, I guess an update from me is long over due. The last time I wrote was 1 1/2 weeks ago.

As you all know, two days after Grandma and Grandpa Wheeler left to go home, I was admitted to the Hospital. It was Sunday night when I started to have pains in my abdomin. I wasn't thinking much of it. I get sick a lot to my stomach, but I knew these pains were different than normal. Gardner wasn't here. I was a lone with Ian and Emma. I got Ian to bed and Emma and I sat on the front porch waiting for everyone else to return home. It got to the point, I could not sit there any longer. The pains were getting stronger and I was really hurting. I tried laying down again.

At last, Gardner showed up and I decided to just go to bed. I thought that perhaps by some chance I could just sleep it off and I would feel better in the morning. And if not, then I would know it was time to get checked out. Well, it got to the point that I could not even lay in bed. The pains continued to come harder and stronger. I started making noises with each one and Gardner was worried.

He called our friend who is almost finished studying to be a doctor and they both decided I should be taken in right away. At 10:30pm, our friends arrived to watch the kids and possibly stay the night.

I got in right away into the E.R. But wouldn't you know it, before we got to the hospital, the pains stopped. But, we went in anyway. They did an ultrasound. They took blood. Of course, they pushed all around on my big belly. They kept saying the the Apendix is a small but tricky organ and I should have to stay a few days to be watched. At this point, we just wanted to go home and get to bed. Finally, they told us we could go home but would have to fill out a form saying we were leaving against the doctors orders. And then I would have to be back no later than 9am to be checked again.

With that, we decided I should just stay and get some sleep. They started an I.V. They took me up to my room (number 433). I noticed the clock as I was being pushed in a wheelchair up to my room. It was 1:30am. It was also strange because I kept seeing people all laying around on the floors in the hallways with their pants pulled down. Later someone mentioned they were all probably drunk and waiting for them to become sober.

To make a long story short, Gardner always spoke with the doctor everytime he came to visit. Gardner was there with the kids 2 times each day. He says I ended up with a bladder infection, but I don't know if I really buy that theory.

Finally, I left the hospital Tuesday Night around 6pm. I don't know if they were going to let me go or not. At 4pm, I went to them and told them I was going home. I mentioned I would sign a form if they wanted but I was leaving. They told me to hang tight for another hour and the doctor would come by to see me. He did come by and he did grant my wish and allowed me to go home.

Here I was, a place were there was peace and quiet. Something I never have. And all I was wishing was to be home. I was so bored. I just wanted to have my crazy and loud life back. I missed the kids and I know they missed me. They never wanted to leave the hospital when it was time. Although, with the bigger kids, I wonder if it had more to do with them being able to watch TV than being with me. (We don't have TV here at our house).

I missed doctors appointments for the kids and the kids first day back to school after the holiday break. I guess as a Mom, I got used to these little things that take place in the day. Oh and the biggest thing I missed while I was gone.....a sale at Aldi. Man there were things on sale that Monday I missed out on. I still think about the cutter I wanted to buy and the binding machine.

Anyway, I am glad to be back and those days and times I start longing for peace and quiet, I hope to remember how much I really didn't enjoy the quiet I had and then appreciate what I got.

{tamara}

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sleep Talking in German

So last night I hopped into bed at my usual late hour. And, also as usual, Tamara starts talking to me as though she were totally awake. In our almost 14 years of marriage I've never been quite sure if she is awake or asleep when she talks to me in the middle of the night. Either way it always sounds like she is totally awake.

So, back to last night. Like I said she started talking to me, but to my complete and utter surprise it was in German. She said something like the following: "what are you doing it's already 2 a.m." or "was machst du, es ist schon 2 Uhr. I guess she is somehow awake, because the clock actually read 2 a.m. Crazy.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Scrapfreak is Back

Well, today was a milestone for Tamara. It was her first full day of scrapbooking in a long, long time. A friend from Scrapfreak came down from Hamburg (to visit family in the area). The friend snuck away from family activities for the day and she and Tamara spent the day scrapbooking. They took over the Dachgeschoß and seemed to be having a good time.

I can't really tell because scrapbooking is so complicated, and I realized again today that I am mostly confused when they talk about their activities. There are lots of tools, scraps of papers, competitions, acronyms, etc. I often just have to nod and pretend I understand what she's talking about when she tells me something. But I love the end product. Very nice photo albums with cute pictures of our kids.

I can only compare the complexity to something like replacing the head gasket on a '64 Mustang convertible and trying to tell Tamara about it. She just wouldn't get it, and that's O.K., because she would enjoy the end product - cruising down the highway in a cool looking convertible. O.K., I actually think Tamara would hate having a '64 Mustang convertible, but you get the point.

My main job is to ask - when can me and the kids come home. I did with the 4 oldest children and got lucky on Ian taking a long afternoon nap. I was happy for Tamara.

Friday, October 12, 2007

German Beer Legend

I'm not a beer drinker, and don't even drink alcohol, but this german beer legend I heard today was pretty funny.

You must first know some background. In Köln (Cologne) the beer of choice is Kölsch. In Düsseldorf the beer of choice is Alt. Cologne and Düsseldorf lie on the Rhine and are both impressive cities. Cologne has the great cathedral (Kölner Dom), 2 TV stations, an arch Bishop, and is Germany's 4th largest city with almost 1 million inhabitants. Düsseldorf has 8 bridges in one of the shortest spans in the world, the TV Tower right on the Rhine, the Altstadt, is known in the fashion world, and is the capital of North Rhine-Westfalia. Düsseldorf is about 20 km down river from Cologne.

Cologne and Düsseldorf have a great rivalry. I would compare it to a Yankees vs. Red Sox, New York vs. Boston level of rivalry. In Düsseldorf I often hear people complain about those from Cologne. Everything from Düsseldorf is better than anything from Cologne because, well, it's from Cologne. This naturally carries over to the beer: Kölsch vs. Alt.

Now to the story. This is a pro-Kölsch story, but as an outsider I just enjoy watching the rivalry and have not taken sides, yet. Besides I only work in Düsseldorf. I live in Ratingen.

German Beer Legend
Kölsch vs. Alt
What's wrong with the Alt beer in Düsseldorf. Well, as the story goes, the good old boys in Cologne drink their Kölsch and then urinate into the Rhine. That Kölsch enhanced Rhine river water naturally flows down to Düsseldorf. And where do the Düsseldorf Breweries pull their water for making their Düsseldorf Alt beer. Naturally from the "leftover" Kölsch beer Rhine water.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Habits from Home and Abroad

As I was driving home tonight it was a bit foggy. Off in the distance I could see a dark car parking on the other side of the street. The car parked suddenly and turned off its lights. I immediately pulled my foot off of the gas and checked my speed limit. I had a automatic response. I thought the car was a cop car pulling over to set up a speed trap. I would categorize this as a totally American response. In Germany the speed traps are done during the day with cameras and several police officers waving down cars who were speeding.

When I got home I got settled, got a bite to eat and then went to the restroom. I went to the door, turned on the light, opened the door, and went into the restroom. This I would categorize as a totally German response. Light switches are commonly on the wall outside of a room. I can't tell you how often, since being here Germany, I have walked into a room and searched in vain in the dark for the light switch. Yes, I have even done this in our very own house. So, it was nice feeling to remember that the light switch goes first.

Thought it strange how habit plays such a vital roll in our daily lives and actions. And to see how ingrained some habits have become for me and how long it takes me to learn a new habit

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Day 2

Well, now I am on my 2nd day of working as Mr. Mom. All the joys are gone, the back pain has set in, my diet is on the fritz, and I need a vacation. I know what all the real moms out there are saying - we told you so.

In reality it was another rewarding day with the kids. There were a few logistics challenges, and timing issues at the end of the day, but all in all, it was another great day with the kids. I'm thinking we should plan a fun outing for Tamara during the week another time so she can really de-stress.

Tamara is now home this evening. The bladder infection did not worsen and she improved enough to be released. The kids were happy to see her. Ian smiled several huge smiles despite aquiring Emma's croup and bronchitis today, and Emma talked Tamara's ear off on the way home.

That was a good end to the day. Emma was the saddest of all the kids with mom gone and her being sick. She cried first thing this morning for mommy. We were late getting ready for school again, but the kids did another great job getting ready for school and making their snacks. I helped out a little bit, but not as much as mom and they didn't even complain today. I think Tamara puts a little too much on her shoulders when it comes to getting the kids ready. I think the kids could do more and take some of the stress off of her.

We then read the scriptures during breakfast. Reading scriptures is something we talk about doing, but rarely get to. This morning was one of those mornings that make it worth it. The spirit was very strong. Because we were short on time, I just read were the book happened to be open. We read about Abish in the Book of Alma a womam who acted valiantly in a pressure situation and helped save peoples lives and bring others to Christ. The kids were excited about the passage it brought me some inner peace.

Then the big kids were off to school (hair partially brushed) and I was with Emma and Ian. Man those two are hilarious together. They are seriously like an old married couple. Ian toddling around and then falling, Emma helping him up and constantly telling him what to do. This morning she was feeding him grapes, just one at a time of course, and Ian couldn't have been happier. They have a great spirit of love about them and have been a huge blessing in our lives.

Yesterday I canceled the babysitter for this morning. I decided not to go to work for a 1/2 day because Emma was still feeling sick yesterday afternoon. That was a good decision. I called into my daily 10 a.m. conference call and took care of few things using email, called my team and was done. I used Skype for the conference call it cost about .50 €. The babysitter would have cost up to 50 € (10 € an hour for the 2 kiddos) and the babies slept for 2.5 - 3 hours (much better for them than playing at someones house for three hours. That was an effective use of time and resources. I was thinking I could do this everyday. Hang out with the kids until 9:30 and then hop on a conference call.

Ian and Emma slept very well, but when Ian woke up I could tell he had the bronchitis and croup that Emma has had. I was bummed for him. As stated above, the rest of the day was fairly normal. We had a few logistics issue picking up Tamara because the big kids had an activity at church. But we got her home around 6:00 p.m. and I'll be back at work tomorrow. I guess that means our lives are back to "normal". That is good news. It is sure nice to have Tamara back.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Mr. Mom

Well, today is a like a dream come true. I was always a huge fan of the movie Mr. Mom and today I got to live the out the film.

As stated in the gory details post I got home from checking Tamara into the hospital, and relieved our friends around 1:00 a.m. Monday morning (late Sunday night).

My fun Mr. Mom day started at shortly after 5:00 a.m. Emma woke up and her sister Hannah brought Emma upstairs to me. Emma is still sick and I could tell she was feeling pretty horrible. At around 5:45 a.m. she threw up. Gratefully she didn't have much in her tummy. I cleaned her up and got her settled again. I then emailed my work so that folks knew I would not be in the office, I read a bit and then started getting the kids up for school just after 7:00 a.m. It was later than I should have started, but the kids got up pretty quick once they knew mom wasn't there to help.

The big kids handled getting ready for school without mom pretty well except for one thing. They had to make their lunch on their own and were in shock and disbelief. One German cultural note, the school lunch is actually brunch or what the German grade school (Grundschule) calls breakfast - (Frühstück). The kids make small lunches all the time when I am around, but they claim that it is 100 times better when mom makes the lunch for them.

Hannah was coughing and I had a doctor's appointment for Ian (immunizations) and Emma (follow-up for her croup and bronchitis). So I kept Hannah home from school and took her with me to the doctor. She was a huge help with Emma and Ian throughout the morning. Emma's bronchial problems had disipated, Ian didn't cry too much after his immunization shot. He only had one and had recently been getting 3 and 4 shots per visit. So, I think he was like - that's all, and just stopped crying.

With Hannah, I saw a miracle. First off, she was not sick with bronchitis like emma and just had a case of croup (which is bad, but better than bronchitis and croup). Second, I'm not sure what it is about Hannah's German experience that has changed her so, but I am just filled with awe and wonder whenever I see the change manifest itself. This was Hannah's first visit to the doctors here in Germany and so they wanted to weigh her and measure her height (standard stuff). In America she would have cried and even screamed and kicked and pulled and maybe gotten on the scale with mom or me. Here in Germany she jumped right on and then let the nurse measure her height.

You might think it is her growth in age, but I believe it is more, as the change for Hannah started shortly after we arrived in Germany. In America she went two months in Kindergarden without speaking to another child, or playing on the playground. Like I said, she fought tooth and nail at doctor's offices and other places.

I'll recount todays episode as closely as I can recall and translate. The nurse introduced herself to all of the children by playfully trying to figure out which names belonged to which kid. She then said, wow those are some nice dress boots you are wearing Hannah (they are 2 days old by the way and Hannah was wearing a dress to be able to wear the new dress boots). Then she said, you've never been here before Hannah, so we want to weigh you and see how tall you are, so we know these things about you. Take off your jacket and those nice boots and jump on the scale.

At this point I was waiting for a scream, a cower, a flinch, or a something from Hannah. Instead, she took off her jacket and boots and jumped onto the scale. I stayed quiet.

The nurse called out the weight (something in kilos, which I can't recall now) and was excited about it. She then said the following about the height measurement. O.K., now you need to stand against this wall, right where the tree is. That's right, feet all the way against the wall. And make your head tall and straight. That's good. Alrighty Hannah, you are 116 centimeters tall (at least I think it was 116 centimeters).

Regarding my 1st Mr. Mom day, I was kind of keeping score in my head throughout the day. You know, how would a mom have handled the various situations I encountered throughout the day. I think I ended up at about a C+, maybe a B- (if I get extra credit for the two trips to see mom in the hospital). Not bad, for a first day, but definitely should have written down such facts. Tamara knows the weight, time of birth, length, names of various nurses in the delivery room, what I ate for lunch that day, etc., about all of our children's births. I can't remember their names from day to day. Would definitely need a notebook for day two or the next doctor's visit. Tamara also knows such facts about other events in the children's lives, so I've got room for improvement and that's not bad.

By the way, I have watched our children without Tamara before. Just never on a weekday, or only very rarely on a weekday, so this was a new and exciting experience for me. I had a lot of fun.

Well, back to Hannah. Then the doctor came in, also introduced herself to all the children, and then asked to listen to Hannah's chest. Lift up your shirt, all the way up, that's good, very nice. I again waited for Hannah to cower, squirm, jump back, cry, etc. Nothing. She just lifted up her shirt and let the doctor do listen to Hannah breath. I was very amazed.

I do think it is partially a German thing for Hannah, that has transformed her, or allowed her to transform. I think the German's handle pressure situations very well and maintain a calm and tranquility when times are tough that I did not always experience from Americans (including myself). Having a child say no I don't want to get on the scale, could cause stress, and so the German nurse was very excited for Hannah. I have sensed the stress from nurses in America when Hannah did not want to participate. The Germans seem to say, kids generally don't want to do this, so I have to make them feel at ease and valuable (they speak more directly with the child than with the parent I think), and then ask directly for what I need from the child.

Over the last year I have watched the Germans in situations in business and in conducting church meetings since being back and been amazed, time and time again, with their calmness and sense of purpose in times of nervousness and potential stress. Often this calmness and even distance from emotion is perceived negatively by Americans. But it has impressed me. It is one characteristic that I am trying to understand and model as I believe it will benefit me. You can sense that I don't fully understand it, as I have difficulty describing it.

Wow, do moms have a lot to write about. I'm only at about 10:00 a.m. and haven't written about our visit to Tamara in the hospital (with 3 kids), how Emma wanted mommy to come home and cried as we left the hospital, our trip to Aldi, the kids coming home, our 2nd visit to Tamara in the hospital (this time with all 5 kids and a toothbrush for Tamara), how Emma again wanted mommy to come home and cried as we left the hospital, and of course dinner, and bedtime.

I do have to share one thing about bedtime. That is, what Spencer told me when I asked him to put on pajamas. Spencer often wears clothes to bed. Usually the clothes he will wear the next day, so he just has to wake up, and walk out the door. But the clothes he was wearing were so soiled and dirty that I couldn't help but ask about possible options for bed and subsequently for the next school day.

Spencer responded by saying, these are my only long pants and so I have no choice but to wear them to bed, and then tomorrow to school.

I found some long pants and shirts in his winter clothes bucket upstairs. I hope they fit.

The gory details

Here are some of the gory details of Tamara's trip to the hospital. O.K., they aren't that gory, but nonetheless they are the details.

On late Sunday afternoon I headed off with the children to general conference (this was the Sunday morning session Salt Lake time, but started at 6:00 p.m. Düsseldorf time via satellite). I had to leave a little bit early to pick up a friend. Naturally as soon as I'm gone, the pain starts for Tamara. Not sure how that happens, but it seems to happen without fail.

She said she had discomfort in the middle of her stomach, with loose stools. The pain got progressively worse and moved to lower right side of her abdomen. Around this same time I arrived home from the general conference session. Tamara was not doing well. It continued as we got the kids into bed (she was still semi-functional and we tagged teamed the kids into bed. After the kids were down the pain really kicked in (9:30-10:30 p.m. time frame). At one point she was writhing in pain about every two minutes (sharp shooting pains she said).

We thought for sure it was appendix related and were naturally quite concerned, especially after recently reading An American in Germany's appendicitis blog entry. I think living overseas, away from family and not right around the corner from friends who would just pop over at 10:30 p.m. at night, or at least who you don't feel comfortable calling at 10:30 p.m. at night, makes everything a little bit more worrisome. I know I was very nervous.

We decided to call our good friends from our congregation. The kids love this young married couple and get excited when they come over. The bonus is that the husband is also finishing up his studies as a doctor and is the president of our elders quorum in the congregation. They were willing to come over and stay at the house while I took Tamara to the hospital. He also assisted in giving Tamara a priesthood blessing. That always brings a measure of comfort that you need in such moments.

By the time we got to the hospital, Tamara's pain had subsided. I don't know how that happens either, but it seems to happen without fail.

Despite the strongest symptoms having subsided, the doctor wanted to check Tamara into the hospital for observation based on the nature of the symptoms Tamara had experienced earlier that evening. He said they were classic appendicitis symptoms and that is why he wanted to keep her in the hospital. I got home, relieved our friends, and got into bed by around 1:00 a.m.

March 2007