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


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:
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.

March 2007