Jun 232011
 

Howdy all!

You may have noticed that my blog has a somewhat different appearance today.  That is because, like all great artists, I have decided to tinker with perfection.  😉  A lot of occasional readers had been asking for easier ways to check out my photos.  So I have added a few new pages accessible through the tabs at the top.  Many of the photos are from previous blogs, but many are new (for instance, the entire Sign Collection page).  Check them out if you so wish.  They make me smile.  Maybe they will make you smile, too.

Also, I have gone with a lighter, airier theme.  It just felt better to me this week.  Next week it may all look like ducks or hobos or diagrams of molecules.  Who knows?

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Quick Update

So, what has this week held for our merry band of adventurers?

Today is another feast day, though honestly I have lost track.  I have no clue which one this is other than that it is the last one for about 6 months.  But, as a feast day, David has the day off from work.  So, he is currently taking the kids (cough) jogging!  I, on the other hand, am sitting at home nursing my sore shoulder.

“Sore shoulder?”  You may ask,’Why, Stephanie, didn’t you injure yourself in that terrible Belly-Flop-for-the-Bus accident some 2 months ago when you first arrived?”  Why, yes.  Thanks for remembering.  Then I re-injured it a while later when I almost fell off a ladder painting the new apartment.  It really never seemed to heal right and sleeping on the hard sofabed has not helped.  So, this week we finally took the plunge and started our exploration of the German Medical System.

Here is what we have found so far:

  • It was not hard to find doctors who speak English.  I suspect that the better educated you are in Germany (or the younger you are), the more likely you are to speak English.  Also, the American Consulate keeps a list of English Speaking doctors online.  So, that at least was easy. 
  • Finding the actual doctor’s offices was more challenging.  They are not necessarily in clearly marked ‘medical buildings’.  They are just located in typically historic looking ex-house kinds of places strewn about town.  Parking, too, is a challenge.
  • Wait time is variable.  For the GP we waited almost an hour in a small room with a coat rack and poorly behaved children.  For the Ortho specialist we waited 3 minutes, tops.
  • Doctors visits here are pretty straight forward and no-nonsense affairs.  Each time we were shown into an office with a desk with a computer and chairs.  The doctor would come in and sit and nod to us, apparently expecting us to initiate the conversation.  No preliminary weight check or blood pressure or anything.
  • The first doc didn’t examine me at all.  She just asked questions, then referred me to an orthopedist and re-prescribed meds I had run out of since our arrival.
  • The second doc  was dressed in a white polo shirt and matching white pants, looking very much like Sven-your-Masseuse-for-the-Day- if Sven were 6’3 and 140 lbs on the outside.  He name was Herr Doctor Lars Meiworm, which might not engender trust for the English speaker.  But, he had a very mild manner and seemed quite willing to take the time to explain things as best he could.
  • German doctors apparently do not have any compunction about asking female patients to remove their shirts in the middle of their office.  Glad I was wearing a decent bra!
  • While the doc spoke English, the staff did not.  They were all dressed in color coordinated polo and pants outfits, too.  The front office had pink and the technicians wore baby blue.  Technicians also have no issues about asking you to remove articles of clothing- in German.
  • Best guess for my injury is that I compressed the soft parts of my shoulder (especially the rotator cuff) when I fell. Plus, the bruising of the surrounding tissue is probably continuing to irritate the already annoyed bits.  I may also have torn some tendons, but given my age he thought that was less likely.  So…
  • Physical Therapy (called ‘physio’ here), short term anti-inflammatory meds and Ultra-sound therapy to start.  If things do not improve, we do an MRI and look at the tendons.
  • Total cost for 2 docs, 1 prescription and a set of x-rays? 15 €    Of course, we do pay for insurance through David’s work, too.  

The trip to the pharmacy was actually fairly amusing.  When we handed the pharmacist our Rx, he started in to explain something detailed to us in German.  We both balked and explained our German wasn’t up to the task.  So, he asked what language we do speak, and when we told him English, he launched immediately into a grammatically-perfect translation of his original speech with a thick Australian accent!

Other stuff from this week:

I dyed my hair the very German color of “kirsch”, which is a dark purply red.  I will post photos once I get it cut.

Speaking of Kirsch, we got stuck in a violent hail storm while we were at the Ortho.   Cherry-sized (see the clever tie-in?) hail-stones suddenly dumped from the skies.  Which would have been less surprising if it hadn’t been in the 80’s down here on Earth.  The hail only lasted 10 minutes or so, then it just started pouring down buckets of rain.  We were soaked by the time we got to the car.  But, not nearly as soaked as the streets themselves, which had become overwhelmed by the amount of moisture to fall that quickly.  Several intersections were quite flooded as we passed.  The locals were even impressed, which we could tell by the confused looks on drivers, the gleeful looks on pedestrians brave enough to venture through it all, and the chuckles of the little old lady who ran out to sweep the hailstones from her front walkway.

Summer Solstice is also World Music Day, which here means an uptick in busker activity and a big music festival in Strasbourg.  We saw a bunch of buskers at the local market and then made a trip into Strasbourg, but it seemed a bit crowded for our tastes. So, instead, we came back to Offenburg and ate ice cream past everyone’s bedtime.  Sunset was technically like 9:50ish, but it stayed light until nearly 10:30.

This week we also saw our first castle.  Ortenberg Castle is just south of Offenburg on a hill surrounded by stepped vineyards.  It apparently was destroyed by a couple of mining explosions in the 1600’s, but was rebuilt in the 1830’s by a local noble.  It has a bit of a fake Disneyesque feel to it as a result, but is quite pretty.  It has now been converted into a youth hostel and was conducting an English Immersion week for students DD’s age while we were there.

castle on the hill

goofy family

Not a bad view

How would a guy in armor get through there?

Every castle needs a volleyball court

Glad she is bowling and not weeping (one for the Dr. Who fans)

Bird of prey checking us out from her nest

Jun 172011
 

The letter had been in French. 

Ma’am and Sir,

After examining the application for admission, I can inform you that your child DD is admitted to attend Hogwarts School of Magic for the coming school year, for the S3 class in the English Section.  However, the admission will become effective after successful testing.

I pray that you accept this expression of my highest consideration,

Elisabeth LAPORTE

Her name means “the door”- rather fitting for an admissions officer, don’t you think?  The other letter had been equally formal, but had conveyed that Hogwarts had an exceptionally large group going into his grade this year, so there would not be space for DS.  If space were to become available, we could expect to be contacted.   DS was disappointed, of course, but we assured him that we would look into other local schools of witchcraft that might serve his particular talents.  Perhaps Beauxbatons still has space for this coming year?

But, first to the more pressing issue.

Testing. 

DD can be variable on tests.  Her standardized test were always a marvel because they would typically look like this:
Computation   99 percentile        Reading Comp.    25 percentile
Algebra            99 percentile        Literary Resp.       99 percentile

The following year it would look like this:
Computation   20 percentile        Reading Comp.    99 percentile
Algebra            99 percentile        Literary Resp.       99 percentile

We were completely perplexed until we realized that she would simply Stop Taking The Test if she got either A) stressed or B) bored.  She might fill in answers, but she would not really care what they were.   We had the same experience with specialized testing for her.  They were able to establish that her innate magical skills are strong, but, they have no clue just how strong. She would only show what she could do up until a point.  Then she would get bored or stressed and literally just stop.  So, we have a minimum MQ (Magical Quotient), but nothing more concrete than that.

I truly had no idea how she might respond to an unknown examination that she actually cared about.  She could rise to the occasion, or balk and panic.  I decided we had better start getting her used to the idea.  But, I wasn’t sure how much time we would have to prep.

Parental Procedural and Informational Meeting

Last week we attended an informational meeting for “the families of students who have been admitted”.  We weren’t sure whether kids were expected, but as we had nowhere to keep them, we went ahead and brought them along.  There were a handful of new students in the audience but that was definitely the exception, and there seemed to be no younger siblings present.  As usual, we stood out.

The meeting itself was relatively dry and procedural.  If you have sat through school meetings about lunch bells and forms, you have some idea- only this one was conducted in three languages!  Luckily, everyone seemed to have a good sense of humor, and the crowd was professional and bright.

What sort of info did we receive?  Well, here are some of the more interesting highlights:

Magic schools do not necessarily follow the same process as the other schools in their areas. So, much time was spent explaining to the multi-national audience what the process for their children would be as they worked their way through.  They start as ‘S1s’  and work their way up through ‘S7’.  Each year the work gets more intense and by DD’s age they are expected to take one of their core classes (Geography) in their primary foreign language.  The following year, two of the classes are in a second language.  As of DD’s year they can also opt to take Latin- either in addition to or as a replacement for Music and Art.  As in the books, the final years are punctuated with both written and oral exams- and examiners with their tests are brought in from Brussels for this purpose.

Also of interest, French schools do not allow students to bring a sack lunch.  Typically there is a 2 hour break during the midday for students to go home and eat.  For students not going home, the school provides a cafeteria (“canteen”) and activities.  At Hogwarts, there is only a one hour break for lunch.  And, since families come from all over the world, some cultures expect to be able to pack lunches for their children.  To accommodate this, the parents club has arranged for students to be allowed to bring box lunches and provides supervision for those students eating lunch from home.  They call this the Lunch Box.  But, there are apparently strict guidelines for food safety that must be followed and parents must volunteer to supervise 2ce a month if their students participate in the program.  It is all so complicated by American standards.

As mentioned, all of this information was provided in three languages- French, German and English.  So, they did not get into too many details, but, we did come away thinking that the whole thing sounded darned interesting, very Hogwarts-like and definitely an amazing opportunity for DD (and eventually, cross fingers, DS as well).

Special

By the end of the meeting there had been no mention of the test- and, more troubling, our Parent Packet of Forms was not present.  We stopped the Administrator (a French gentleman with decent English and very good German) to inquire.  He knew exactly who we were, but was surprised to find us in Europe already.  I had assumed the examination was a normal part of their process, but, apparently not.  We are just special.  Because we were American and, it came out later, because of our homeschooling status, they wanted to make sure that DD was truly at the level that we said she was.  He said that it would be best for them if they could arrange for testing sooner rather than later.  He explained it would be fairly informal with DD talking with one of their teachers and taking an test with her.  And he told us he would make arrangements when he got back from the long weekend on Wednesday.   

Test Day

What I didn’t realize was that he meant he would make arrangements for the test to take place That Day.  Wednesday morning around 11:30 I happened to glance at my junk folder.  I am not sure what possessed me to do so, though perhaps magic was at work because in it was a letter from the school asking us to be there at 2:30!  We had spent some time brushing up Algebra and History with DD over the weekend, but I wasn’t at all sure she was comfortable enough to take an exam that day.  She looked at me evenly and shrugged as if I should have known.  She assured me “today” was fine, and asked to use my computer to look up some information on Thutmose to refresh her memory.  Ok, well that seemed like a fine start.  I wrote the school and told them we would be there at the prescribed time and set off to make sure DD had a good lunch.

We arrived at Hogwarts 1/2 hour early and sat in the car.  DD was a little frantic, but not alarmingly so.  DS was a little sullen (he was still disappointed), but I managed to largely keep everyone distracted enough to coast through the wait.  We sang a little and the kids discussed characters in a game.  At 2:30 we walked on over and found the Administrator alone in his office.  He offered his hand and DS and I shook, but DD shied away.  He gave her an odd look, then rather perfunctorily whisked her off to the teacher with whom she would be meeting.  We had expected a somewhat smoother transition and DD looked a little lightning-struck.  I began to worry. 

The Administrator returned and took DS and me into his office.  He reiterated that they did not have room for DS at the moment and suggested Beauxbraton and Durstag as potential options.  Then he set us out in the courtyard and went back to his work.

About 1/2 hour later a small, prim, but passingly friendly English woman came out and hailed me.  She said that DD was in her room taking a test on The Hobbit that she had recently given her S2 class.  She figured it would take another 15 minutes and apologized for the wait.  I asked if DD was as nervous as I thought she might be and the English Teacher indicated that they had gotten off to a rocky start when she had asked DD to write in pen instead of pencil (she had gotten whisked away without her full assortment of writing implements).  Apparently in Europe pencils are for young kids and drawing while pens are for older kids and professionals.  I could see how that culturally embedded landmine might have set DD off to a poor start.  But, the English Teacher told me that they had gotten her settled down and she thought DD was doing fine now.  She went back to her room and DS and I settled back to watching a bird-dropping beetle go about its business and a black and white jay-like bird sneakily watching us from the rooftop.  We decided it must be scoping us out.

A few minutes later the Administrator came out to “see how they were doing”.  He headed toward the classroom, where I noted DD and English Teacher huddled over her paper.  I was having a hard time reading body language.  DD didn’t look pleased, but she didn’t look distraught either.  The Teacher had her patient face on, and the Administrator looked vaguely amused.  Hmmm…..

Finally they beckoned to me.   I entered the room to find DD passionately explaining that Bilbo had been able to get close to Smaug not only because of the Ring, but because the dragon was asleep- also, the Ring would corrupt you, not just turn you invisible.  English Teacher tried to soothe her- instinctively reaching out and touching her back. DD balked visibly.  She does not like to be touched- especially when she is stressed.  Oh dear.  Also, I could see the score at the top of the paper.  16/20.  75% seemed borderline to me. I did not think this was going well.  By now I had asked DD to get up and move to a place where she wouldn’t feel cornered.  She was standing a few feet back, trying with marginal success to keep herself within the acceptable range of behavior.  I reaffirmed that she was extremely nervous, and the Administrator offered to let her leave the room.  She declined, preferring to stay and learn her fate up front.

Luckily, English Teacher had been here before.  She started right off by saying that DD’s score was extremely high (really?  Ok, well good.) and that she thought that given DD’s aptitude and age that she ought to be in S4, not S3.  There was no question at all that she was capable and acceptable academically by the standards of the school.  She constantly deferred to The Administrator, but he seemed to take her assessment without question.  She also asked DD point blank how her teachers praise her in school and what they do instead of touching her.  Ok then.  Big points for English Teacher from me!  She continued, guiding the conversation to where I could admit DD’s gifted status.  The teacher carefully phrased it in terms of DD having special needs.  She and The Administrator began to make plans for how to help DD integrate into the school. The Administrator welcomed us.  We were in!

In the end it was decided that they would admit DD into S3 and then look toward perhaps boosting her up 1-2 months in after she had had a chance to settle.  The problem with S4 is that 2 classes would be taught in German, and that may be a bit much for DD right off the bat.  The last thing DD will need entering school again is More Stress.

Once we left, DD decompressed for a bit.  She vented her frustrations, but acknowledged that she will need to learn how to cope and express herself better in order to adjust to a school setting, again- even one as specialized as Hogwarts.  She acknowledged that English Teacher seemed willing to work with her, even though she didn’t like the instructor’s approach off the bat.  We discussed cultural differences, and we decided to spend the summer working as much as we could on adjusting to the new setting.

She also told me that before they had started the test, DD had been introduced to some students with whom she had chatted.  She was pleasantly impressed by their friendliness and really liked showing off her drawings to them.  She seemed hopeful that she might be able to escape some of the social stigma of her past.  And we touched on the idea that much of how things go from here will depend on how she conducts herself going forward.  Very little will have to do with the past. 

Going Forward

So, I guess, Here We Go Again!  Let’s hope that Third Time is the charm for the Schooling of DD!  School starts September 5 in France (our anniversary), so we need to get everything as settled as possible by then.  We are still looking into both German and French options for DS.  German schools get out later and start back up a little later, as well.  They also have different daily/weekly schedules and different holidays through the year, so juggling could be tricky.

Currently I am leaning toward the French International Section schools, which teach 3/4 of the time in French, but 1/4 of the time in English and have a staff trained in teaching kids who come from non-French backgrounds.  David heard word that there might be something similar on the German side in Offenburg, and he liked that possibility, but we have yet to track it down if it does exist.  There is also a private school in France that we are looking at that does a bit more of their day in English.  But, yeah, “private” in this case does mean we would need to pay- not as much as in the US, but still quite a lot for our current income level.  Definitely need to look at these options carefully.

Still, one kid off to Hogwarts definitely seems like a good thing.  Now to help her get ready for the challenges ahead!

Jun 122011
 

2 Midnights gone, 2 Midnights Gone!

Ok, the move has occurred! We have now spent two nights in the Offenburg apartment and I must admit, this is one gorgeous locale. Check out the sunset we watched from our kitchen last night:

Amusingly, when I expressed appreciation of the view to Sanja and Herr Sachs on the day of our tour, she felt the need to explain that the reason we were so impressed was that we were from California, so anything that wasn’t desert was exotic!  She wasn’t wrong.  But, I was struck that they all considered this just to be sort of an average sort of thing to see out of one’s apartment windows.

At roughly 1100 sqft, this is easily the smallest place David and I have lived since we have been married.  And it is the smallest place the kids have ever lived.  It is also, realistically, about as large a place as we can afford right now.  But, in a lot of ways, this apartment is nicer than anywhere I have ever stayed long-term.  Whirlpool 2-seater tub?  Never had that before!  Kitchen with well-designed cupboards including built-in lazy-Susan designs and a fridge with an alarm to tell us when it is ajar for too long?  Yeah, that is new for me, too.

Also, for the time being all of our furniture is brand new.  Ok, it is Ikea & Friends level stuff, a lot of which is laminated press-board.  But, with the exception of the couch, we can honestly say we built it all with our own eight hands!  And, given that we don’t really need it to last more than a few years, perhaps laminated press-board will work just fine for our current situation.  It is surprisingly sturdy and well-engineered laminated press-board furniture at least!  I keep returning to the college analogy.  We are here to learn and explore for a while.  We don’t have to put down roots right away.  If they grow, great.  If not, well, we intend to have a lot of wonderful experiences to carry with us as we go forward.  Our home environment needs to be functional and pleasant, but not, necessarily, meant to last for generations.  So, here is our current living situation:

New table & benches- DS, DD & I built that!
Homier with a rug and a smile
DD built the coat rack by herself
Ah, where I like to be!  I built the desk and chair with help from DH and DS
Also built the other chair and 2 bookshelves like the one at left
Ikea Guys built the couch

Well engineered storage
Restful bed

Less-restful bed!
I built this, too!

 Germany = The Land of No Built-in Closets.  So, things like this are actually Really Important until you can afford the large wall-sized wardrobes that are sold at most of the furniture stores.

TV-cabinet.  No instructions.  DOH!
This is what we were trying to build
I think I look like Grandma Herweck here.
Adding Wheels

Finis

Of course… *Now* we find directions! But, we did pretty well, really

In our defense, the delivery guy put it down *on* the side that had the directions and the box was so heavy we couldn’t turn it!  Every other piece of furniture we made had instructions IN the box!  Yeesh!

And just because-  

More random Whimsical Art photos from Offenburg:

Get it?  He is ‘Dog Tired’
Your guess is as good as mine!
DD noticed the skeleton climbing this apothecary! (click to enlarge)
Jun 092011
 

Just a quick update on the Association of Educational Publisher awards- The project I wrote for won in both its categories!  So it got a 2011 Distinguished Achievement Award in both K-5 Reading and Language Arts and K-5 Social Studies.  Yay team!

Jun 072011
 
This week apparently we were very German.   ‘Oh?” say you, “Did you drink beer or eat wurst or wear charming leather shorts?”  “No”, “Yes”, and “No, but what a terrific idea!”    
However, what we did do was: 
     1) Spend a LOT of time working on our (new) apartment;
     2) Visit not one, but Two separate town festivals; and
     3) Wrestle with several tiny-but-ridiculously-complex-and-over-engineered electrical items.
I am pretty sure we also get a few points for IKEA, IKEA, IKEA- though, perhaps I lose some for signing up for integration classes (after all, if I were already German, I wouldn’t need them!) and for potentially allowing our daughter to go to school in France.
First up, Festivals!
As I just mentioned, and will mention again soon, we spent a great deal of our time this week working on getting the new apartment ready.  One thing this meant, though, was that we were sort of exhausted and prone to search elsewhere for food.  As it happened, the localities of Kehl and Offenburg were especially obliging on that front this week!   Each kindly put on a local event to provide us with a pleasant distraction and some less-typical food options.  
I mentioned in the last blog that Ascention (aka forevermore as Flying Jesus Day) is a national holiday here.  Well, what else are you going to do with a Thursday holiday than throw a muti-day street fest with local bands, crafts, food booths and carnival rides?  I suppose in the States you might have a mattress sale or something.  But, here, folks seem to take holidays a little more seriously and most of the stores are actually closed.
DS sampling cheese spätzle.

 He might have enjoyed it, but they seem to use fried onions in the recipe, so he was unimpressed.

DD at the Kehl fest

The second festival we happened upon completely at random.  Sunday, we worked all day at the apartment and stumbled into town hoping to find something other than McD’s open.  Often the Turkish places and maybe a bakery or two will be open into the early afternoon, so we were crossing our fingers.  As we approached the Main Street, though, we started hearing music.  And as we got closer we found pleasant smells wafting our way.  Offenburg was having a festival!

But, this one wasn’t the holiday.  This was “International Fest”.  Have you ever been to a Girl Scout International Day celebration?  Typically each troop has a booth with samples of foods, costumes and maybe a craft or two from their chosen Nation.  This was *just* like that- only it was run by adults!  All around the square were little booths with a sign saying what country they were from, a couple of reasonably-priced foods from their region, maybe a person in traditional costume and maybe some samples of regional crafts.  There was a bandstand with a jazz trio playing (other groups scheduled for later) and lots of long tables in the shade to eat at.  There were numerous ads for Integration classes and services and get-togethers in the area, which was nice to see.  Down the block a mini-soccer court had been set up with 4-5 person teams of youths representing various nations engaging in a tournament.   I was gladdened to notice that a girl with Portugal on her t-shirt immediately stopped to offer a hand to the girl with Great Britain on hers as the second girl took a stumble.

All the local ice cream parlors were also open to serve the needs of the festival-goers.  Definitely goodness, there!  Found some very yummy chocolate ice cream I plan to incorporate into my regular diet.  For lunch we had various samples of grilled meats and sausages from, I think, the Syrian booth.  Not all that un-German, come to think of it, but pleasant nonetheless. Unfortunately, I did not bring my camera since I thought we were just grabbing a bite.  But, it was a fun break in our day.

Education Update-

Incidentally, on the issue of Integration Classes.  It looks like I will be taking some of these.  They offer low-cost language lessons to folks who are staying as long-term residents.  But, they are a serious commitment.  5 days a week, from 8:30-11:50 every morning.  For 8 months.  Wheee!  At the end I can take a test and earn my B1 language certificate.  I am not sure what that is good for, but, it seems like a positive regardless!

Also, more news on the kids’ school.  The European School in Strasbourg confirmed that DD is accepted (as long as she passes an entrance exam), but DS is on a waiting list because there isn’t room in his grade.  So, I guess that stuff is still up in the air, but it is possible our kids will be going to school in two different countries!!!  Wild Stuff. 

 Next- The New Apartment

Turns out that moving for the second time in 2 months is a little easier than the first time, but still a heck of a lot of work!  This week we concentrated on finishing up the painting, and started to collect items that we will definitely need.  We had a couple set-backs: i.e. still no working fridge, but that is supposed to be solved tomorrow, knock wood.  And some successes: e.g. found what we think will be a perfectly serviceable table with benches for under budget.  Mostly we just worked our buns off and tried hard not to make all our work look like crud because we were too tired to follow through with the last minute finish.

David working on putting up a stripe in our room
DS finished taping the hallways!

…but all the tape fell off overnight!
Not what he wanted to see!
And, after all that work, what do we do?  Pull it all up in the end!
Taping for another pass at the ceiling line- first one looked…. bad

Nothing bad about DD’s wall, though
Removing the tape- done ‘for now’
We may have used a little tape in her room, too!

Wonder what that will look like once there is furniture!

DD does not need furniture when there are windowsills!

DD’s new favorite spot- she really is a cat!

She reminds me of my Dad here- sketch pad in hand

The Ikea Guys!!!

We ordered our sofabed, a computer table and our washing machine from Ikea.  It was our first furniture in the new place, so I was pleased to see them.

Woohoo!  The Ikea Guys arrived!!!!  This was step 1 on our couch
Many steps later, DONE

True story on these guys- when they arrived, and completely by coincidence I am sure, all the ladies from the office downstairs happened to take their cigarette break at the same time.   They spent their whole break watching the gentlemen unload our stuff from the van, chatting merrily among themselves- only returning to their office once all the packages were unloaded.  Too funny!


The Washing Machine

Speaking of good looking guys unloading furniture- here is DH with our new Ikea washing machine.
Now, a few of you who also follow me on facebook may remember a post I made early on asking about how to run a particularly old German washing machine.  We have gotten relatively good with it, now- mostly because with the help of a friend and her hubby (Thanks Kim!) we just picked one setting and have stuck to that for the past month.   Now let me show you the settings on the, I kid you not, cheapest and simplest German washing machine we were able to find. 

DH unpacking the new washer

Ok, so let’s take a look at the knob to the left… How Many Settings?

Answer- *15*

This is the list of basic operations

One setting is for jeans, another for baby clothes, and one is to help your ironing.  But, my favorite is called “5 Shirts”.  It is for washing, “5-6 lightly soiled shirts”.  Germans apparently take their washing very seriously.  Incidentally, your lightly soiled shirts had best be light in weight, too.  That load can only handle 2 kilo of fabric.  The strongest setting can handle 5 kg- but only if you use pre-wash settings.  All I can say is Thank Goodness this instruction manual came with as many languages as it has wash settings or we would be completely sunk!!!!

Next big accomplishment- Cable TV, Telephone and Internet!!!
50 MB for the moment, may switch up to 100.  Won’t feel like home until the router and TV Recorder arrive in the mail, though- hopefully Friday.  Tomorrow we have the electricians out for try two at our refrigerator.  We tried to get them to install the 2 lights that we still need since I didn’t want to mess with 230, but, and I am not kidding, they said that the Fridge Guy didn’t have the technical skills to install a light and we would need to wait for the Light Guy to come next week.  Boggle!!!  Thursday should be another big furniture day- our dining room table, tv stand and my ergonomic computer chair will arrive.  I am thinking Thursday may be official Move-in day.   I am trying to scrounge enough money to get a little storage and a rug or two.  Gonna need to redo my budget again.  But, we did find a really economical place to go for rugs, so we shall see what I can do.

Epilogue
Oh, remember how I said Germans like home improvement projects?  There are several houses in the Auenheim neighborhood getting facelifts at present.  When we arrived back at the temp-house today, the house kitty-corner to us had a large crane set up for some work.  I have only been here a month, but, maybe I am getting a little Germanized because this didn’t even strike me as odd….
Jun 012011
 
[First, a quick brag and aside. Apparently the project that included my first two books for TCM is up for two Association of Educational Publishers Awards.  I am told it is sort of like the Grammy’s of Educational Publishing.  So, sort of fun!  For those of you playing at home, the two titles I wrote for the series are Sal Fink: American Tall Tales and Legends (Building Fluency Through Reader’s Theater) and  Pecos Bill and Slu-Foot Sue: American Tall Tales and Legends (Building Fluency Through Reader’s Theater)
 
Sal Fink: American Tall Tales and Legends (Building Fluency Through Reader's Theater) Pecos Bill and Slu-Foot Sue: American Tall Tales and Legends (Building Fluency Through Reader's Theater)

(Incidentally, and perhaps not coincidentally, two of my cousins also wrote on that series!  Diana Herweck wrote Davy Crockett: American Tall Tales and Legends (Building Fluency Through Reader’s Theater) Dona Rice, who is now the Editor in Chief of the whole company wrote Paul Bunyan: American Tall Tales and Legends (Building Fluency Through Reader’s Theater) and John Henry: American Tall Tales and Legends (Building Fluency Through Reader’s Theater).  Dona lured me into this career path with the Sal Fink book and I haven’t looked back since!)]

Now back to Germany!

This week has been a busy one.  I restarted work with a 1/2 time project.  So, I am trying to juggle that, getting the new apartment ready, and all the usual Day to Day Life in a New Country kinds of things.  The end result  is that I am stretched a little thin, but I am (mostly) having a great time!  I find I really enjoy the diversity of life here.  I can pick any direction and a few feet out the door is something new and interesting.  Sometimes I don’t even need to leave the house!

For instance:

The Visitor

Yesterday morning I opened the door to discover a huge man dressed head to toe in black.  His costume was rather reminiscent of a turn of the century police officer, but he had a black skullcap and there were dark wires, brushes, a ball and chain (!) and a small hatchet slung around his body.  My first impression was that he might be collecting for a local community theater production.  He smiled at me reassuringly and instantly launched into a friendly spiel that I had no hope of understanding.  I tried to redirect him to my landlords, but apparently they weren’t home.  He reassured me (I think) that I wouldn’t have to pay anything and kept indicating upstairs in the house.  Finally, perhaps out of curiosity more than anything, I stepped aside.  He instantly leaped through the door and sprinted up the stairs all the way to the attic, where he proceeded to…. clean the chimney!  5 minutes later he came cheerfully down, sweaty and sooty.  He jovially thanked me then trotted off on his way to other jobs in the neighborhood!
His costume looked a bit like this:

It was a hot day, though, so no turtle neck, no gloves and his shirt was partially opened to reveal a black undershirt.

Witness Similarities

A little while later, I also received a call from some local Jehovah’s Witnesses.  But, really the most remarkable thing about them was how similar they were to American Jehovah’s Witnesses.  They were pleasantly dressed, soft spoken and had the ubiquitous Watchtower with them.  Once they understood that I don’t speak German and established that they don’t speak English, they wished me well and left.  I expect I will be getting a visit from some English Speaking Witnesses in the near future.

A few feet outside the door await more wonders

I have mentioned before, I think, the stork nest in the middle of Auenheim.  I had been meaning to get some photos of the Mom feeding her rapidly growing young.  But, as it happened, she flew away just as we drove up.  So, instead, I will treat you to a couple shots of the younglings stretching their wings and starting the Learn To Fly process.  Now I am all nervous for them!

This is where their nest is

Not as clear as I would like.  I will try some time when the lighting is better.

European School

Yesterday the kids and I went into Strasbourg to see the list of admissions for the European School there.  This is a school largely dedicated to providing education for the children of EU diplomats.  Every student is taught in their home language (as long as it is either French, German or English), and then taught the other two languages.  We had not actually been to the school, but had applied for both kids because all the locals had told us this was really our best option for schooling in the area.  (Even local school officials had told us this- remember Frau Frankenstein?).

We largely managed to avoid getting lost on the way, and easily found the school’s two buildings- one for primary/nursery, the other for secondary- just around the corner from each other.  They look like city schools with tall fences with locking gates all the way around.  But, we got there as the students were getting out for the day and were reassured by the pleasant bustle.  We were also pleased to note the Patisserie just across the street :)

DD waited in the car while DS and I checked the list.  We quickly found DD’s name,  but DS was not on it!  We had been told that they have a priority for keeping siblings together.  So, we aren’t sure if maybe his grade is impacted or if perhaps there was a mistake.  So, we are trying to find out.  Of course, since everything happens in three languages, and not all staff speaks all three, it does complicate communication.  Honestly, I think the school would be an amazing opportunity for us if we can finagle the logistics (and manage to get both kids in).  So, stay tuned, I guess!

Painting

We continue our work on the new apartment. The first day the kids and I painted on our own, I lost my balance on the step stool and jammed my shoulder trying to catch myself.  This probably would not have been a big issue, except that I had jammed the same shoulder when I fell running for the bus a couple weeks before.  Might I say OUCH.

It is still not fully recovered, but, I have been being kind to it (Lots of ice and rest and some ibuprofen to stave off swelling) and I can largely paint now without too much pain if I am careful.  This is good because for such a small place it surely does require a lot of painting!  Part of this is just that every painting job is bigger than it seems.  The other is that our new landlord & wife in their decorative zeal painted the entire place in various shades of orange!   The pale apricot throughout most of the house hasn’t proved too much of a hindrance.  Honestly, I might have left that if we weren’t contractually obligated to paint.  But, the must-go accent walls in dark rust, burnt sienna and toasty pumpkin are a little harder to cover.  As is the ribbon of red-orange running around the entire perimeter of living room, hallways and master bedroom.
    

DH and DS in front of some of the lighter orange walls.
DS’s room, almost done.
What a catch he will be!  He seems to LIKE cleaning!
DD working on her room

She incorporated the dark orange-red of the wall as an undertone for her forest theme.

The New Landlord

Speaking of the new landlord, we met him for the first time last week.  His name is Frank Sachs (said zahx) and he is probably our age, soft spoken, blond and German-looking.  He speaks a little English and apparently owns a couple of businesses housed in buildings across the street.  He now lives in one of those. We walked through the apartment with him, Sanja (David’s wonderful co-worker), and the agent for the property.  The two German men talked about and recorded any issues that were found- mostly little things like cracks in wood, or a window that didn’t open correctly.  At one point Mr. Sachs decided to show us how the Fantasy Bathroom works.  He seemed especially proud of the tub.  He showed us in detail how each radio station was selected, how the jets were controlled, and spent a fair bit of time making sure we understood that the light could either go through a variety of colors, or be set to stay on one color in particular.  If you like your bathwater orange, this light can accommodate.

Next, it was time for the shower.  Now, I am going to hazard a guess that Herr Sachs was the Tub Guy, and perhaps his wife is the one who loved the shower- because he seemed altogether more awkward getting the shower to run through its paces.  As you may recall, this shower has a rain faucet, a hand shower, and jets that go all the way down each side.  It is supposed to have a steam function, too, but apparently that and its built-in radio do not currently work.  The jets, though, were worthy of a show, so Herr Sachs gamely set them going.

What he did not take into account, though, was that the shower door was open at the time!  5 people crowded around the tiny, lovely bathroom found themselves swiftly soaked by the Dancing Waters of our soon-to-be shower :)  The only ones to escape the torrent were the kids, who were quite amused to find all the grown-ups laughing hysterically and Herr Sachs somewhat sheepishly trying to turn the faucets OFF.

Ascension

While everyone in America got Monday off for Memorial Day, here we get Thursday off for Ascension Day.  When David asked one of his co-workers about this, he replied “I am not really up on the religious stuff, but I think it has something to do with Jesus flying”.  Flying Jesus Day is apparently celebrated with local carnivals and, for us, More Painting!


Integration Classes

More Education-  We went down today to meet with a woman who runs the integration school in Kehl.  If we can work out the logistics, I will stat taking 1/2 day language classes at the end of June.  For about 80 EU/month I will have full immersion with other immigrants 5 days per week for 8 months!  At the end of that time I can take a test and be awarded my B1 Language certificate…. which I guess is a good thing.  Whatever the case, I think learning more German will definitely be useful!