Jul 302011

A Birthday to Remember

Thursday was my birthday!  Hooray, and thank to all those who sent good wishes- and even moreso to those who sent presents!  😉 Woohoo!  In any case, David asked me what I wanted to do and I thought about it a bit. I decided that the best way to celebrate my first birthday in our new digs was to Eat.  :-)  I wanted to go to France and get chocolate and pastries and figure out something yummy for dinner.  Honestly, despite the amazing number of bakeries and the proliferation of everything Pork, I find getting food here to be a fair bit of work.  So, I wanted to go forth and be mellow and have fun and eat yummy delicious foods. 

David took the day off and after a few morning errands (ultrasound and our first in-person pass at Schiller Gymnasium see last post), and a brief nap (morning errands happened far too early!!) we headed out to France for a trip to The Chocolate Museum.  As usual, we got a little lost , but with an assist from the GPS, we managed to find our way.

It was good to be a returning god.

Ok, this place is fabulously cheesy.  Luckily cheese and chocolate go well together!  It starts you out with a promotional film in one of three languages telling you of the wonders of chocolate.  Ours was narrated by a somewhat fey British man who felt the need to moan when he discussed how scrumptious he was- because he was playing the “cocoa mass”, you see.  Yes, the film, much like a Saturday Morning cartoon break, was narrated by the object itself.

Next, you take an animatronic tour through the history of chocolate.  Around the first corner you are greeted by small Mexican zombie children, forced into the eternal labor of crushing cocoa beans with a pestle.  The vibe is creepy, but not quite as creepy as it gets when Cortez arrives and becomes gradually enthralled by the cocoa bean all the while not-so-gradually enslaving the indigenous population.  Oh, but, hey- one of the Popes (Yay! wish I could remember which one)  threatened to excommunicate any christian who practiced slavery, so suddenly the native slaves were engaged in a policy of “voluntary cooperation”, which, honestly, still looked a lot like slavery by another name.  Good Ol’ Chris Columbus, though, we are told, thought the chocolate stuff was just vile and never showed an interest.  Still, Chocolate did eventually make it to Europe, where, an enterprising young couple started their chocolate making business.  Oh, did I happen to mention that this couple made the brand of chocolates sold at this museum?  No?  Well, DUH!

The company sponsoring the museum is the Marquise de Sévingé Chocolates.  So, of course they had to have a room with their namesake. Upon entering her room you are greeted with a fashionably-dressed animatronic lady sporting a powdered wig and a rather sepulchral pallor.  She hums and whirs in an unsettling way as she sways back and forth at her ornate writing desk.  If you press a button, she begins narrating bits of letters that she wrote to her daughter.  The Marquise is famous not for chocolate, but for her witty, insightful letters about aristocratic life in the 17th century.  The only problem seems to be that most of her commentary on chocolate happened during a time when chocolates were going out of style in France. Her chocolate quotes are… well, an odd choice for this museum to say the least!  She describes that chocolate is getting blamed for all conceivable sorts of ills.  Among these every kind of sickness, foul tempers, loss of friendships, loss of complexion (from *making* not eating the chocolates!), and, of course, for giving birth to “a baby black as tar”!  The whole thing is wry and wonderful and hysterical.  But, not really in keeping with the rest of the museum.

The museum also has many artifacts of chocolate making, including molds and presses and grinders and such, a room with the scents of various ingredients often mixed with chocolate, and a demonstration room where a chef shows how to pour chocolate into molds.  When you get out you are given a bag of bonbons, hazelnut I think, and fed into (what else) their store!  We bought a couple bars of quite pleasant chocolates (David and I are digging the salted caramel one we got) and then skeedaddled in search of lunch. 

Rest of the Day

A few days back, the kids and I scouted out a mall in Strasbourg that seemed to have some cafes and restaurants with potential.  So, we headed back there and selected a pleasant Patisserie/Cafe called Paul where we could sit and actually have a waitress bring us food and everything!  We had a nice, though somewhat odd meal.  David got a traditional ham and cheese crepe- but it had a strange cream inside and also was served with a fried egg on top!  Mine was a Croque Monsieur, but it seemed to have balsamic vinegar mixed with the cheese and bechemel up top.  The kids just had ham and cheese sandwiches which were pretty normal.  I guess being so close to Germany, no one managed to escape the ham!  Our meal also came with two of the largest servings of creme broulée I have ever had.  Delicious!

Where’s the beef?

For dinner, I really wanted to satisfy my craving for beef.  Now you must understand, Germany is the land of the Pig.  Supermarket meat sections are easily 3/4 schwein and schwein products like schinken and speck and wurst.  There are usually a few chicken and turkey offerings, some ground pork mixed with beef, and, if you are lucky, some straight ground beef.  But, this time of year seems to be BBQ season, so I have started noticing pre-packaged, pre-marinated over-priced beef steaks.  I was hoping to find some that were un-marinated.  The best I found was something called a “Hüft”steak, which turns out to be “hip steak”.  Not something I am used to cooking, but what the heck.  Sort of flat, no fat, I guess it is related to sirloin, but cut oddly, and .. well, sigh.  This was not the meat I was looking for.  But, it *was* beef!  Amusingly, at first I thought it was called a “haft” steak, and in looking it up discovered that this means “imprisonment” steak.  The fact that I didn’t catch my mistake until the next day when a co-worker of David’s explained it to me pretty much tells you what I thought of that meat!  Still, beef, rice and roast broccoli made me a happy camper.  Add in chocolate for dessert, and life was good!

The day was topped of by the sound of dripping in the kitchen.  At first, we couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.  We thought it might be the fridge, which has some icing problems, so we emptied that out and de-iced it.  Only to discover that the real problem was a split hot water pipe under the sink!  DOH! 

Ok, so Now what do we do?  after 10 PM on a Thursday and we can’t even seem to find the right kind of plumber online to solve this problem.  This is where you realize that moving to a new country really does take away your Grown-Up status!  Our initial attempts to turn off the water are failures, so we eventually email our landlord, hoping he will see it.  There are no lights on in his house, and we can’t figure out where the house master’s apartment is located. Water is now spraying out against the wall at an alarming rate.  I envision collapsed ceilings and torrents of water rushing over our downstairs neighbors!  Luckily, a while later we do manage to turn off the water using a different tool, so disaster averted for the time being.  Tomorrow will be a LONG DAY, though.  We already have an appointment with Durmstrang, a physio appointment, necessary shopping (TP!) and the company picnic.  Now we must also find a plumber.

Another LONG Day

Ok, so now we hit Day Two of our tale.  This day starts out with the story from my previous blog about the trip to the potential Durmstrang.  So, already off to a stressful start.  David had driven to Kehl once in the morning, but since I have a Physio appointment in the afternoon, I need the car.  I drive him back to Kehl and drop him off.  Then it is off to the bank and supermarket for the fore-mentioned necessary supplies and on home to make lunch for the kids and do some work.  At this point David is getting quite agitated about his inability to locate a plumber and the likely necessity of doing dishes in the bathtub for the next 3 days.  Still no word from our Landlord.

By now it is almost 2PM, and folks are getting peckish.  But, just as I am about to put noodles on for the kids and me, who should buzz but- The Local Plumber!  Hooray!  Our landlord must have sent him.  I actually like this guy a lot.  We have dealt with him before and I find him to be quite friendly and competent.  He is tall, probably in his late fifties, has a jaunty silver mustache and always seems to wear non-matching solid T-shirts with long shorts. Today he has a young man with him who is obviously his apprentice and perhaps his son.  They go right to work when I explain the problem and then tell me that our entire faucet needs to be replaced.  But, and this is nice, because we rent the kitchen the bill goes to Herr Sachs.  Double Yay!

By now I am getting perilously close to my appointment time, so I have David cancel that for me and let the plumbers finish their work.  Magical creatures these Plumb-ers.  Useful folks to have around.  The Master has his apprentice do most of the work and checks each step.  Then they clean up, give me a hearty goodbye and toodle off- leaving two rags, and a large metal shard in their wake.  Oh, well.  Apprentices make mistakes, too.  I would return them, but I don’t know where  since we still haven’t successfully identified where to find these talented creatures when we need them!  Either way, we have no leaks and a new faucet, so blessings to them and their families!

By now we barely have time to eat lunch before we need to make a 3rd trip to Kehl.  This time for….

The Spellbound Company Picnic

This was a fun event.  I mean, it was probably just an office party for most of the folks who attended, but for me it was a wonderland of English Speaking German-knowledgeable Humans!  Extremely therapeutic and hopeful.

This is already a little long, so let’s just do highlights:

  • I got to speak with other adult individuals who understood me!!  I did try out German and French with the appropriate people, but overall, it was just very pleasant to make small talk and chat.
  • I got to meet the owner of the company- she did not speak English and I really wish I had been better at coming up with the right things to say to her.  She mostly spent the whole party cooking and taking care of her son and dog.
  • A tablecloth caught fire- Always nice to have some excitement to break the ice
  • Lots and lots and lots of PORK.  These people BBQ thick slabs of fatty bacon, y’all!!  And they make Pork Kebabs.  Not beef or chicken or fish or lamb, just pork kebabs.  They did have a few (cringe) Hüft steaks and a couple chicken breasts- also something interesting called “grilled cheese” that turned out to be quite tasty indeed!
  • DS unexpectedly lost a baby tooth that wasn’t previously loose
  • Got to meet a lot of David’s co-workers.  Great to put names and faces together.  Nice folks!
  • Discovered a beer product I actually *like*.  It is called Radler and is a mixture of beer and lemonade.  I know, sounds gross, but it is light and refreshing and very drinkable, but not sweet.  Loved it.
  • The kids had a blast playing in the woods- finding mushrooms, rotting wood, and fresh apples from apple trees…..
  • Until people started going out there to PEE.  Doh!  DD says the first lady to do so was really funny, though.  She said the restrooms were closed and she needed to find a place to “hide”, then made small talk with the kids before finding a quiet spot to do her business.
  • Dogs!  There were 3 dogs there, including one adorable Pomeranian mix named Skip and an 8 month old white shepherd of some sort being trained as a rescue dog.  Gosh I miss having a canine family member.
  • Glass bottles of soda. Not sure why this is on the list, but DS insists it deserves to be here.

Ok, nuff talk.  I don’t have a lot of photos, because it seemed awkward to stop folks in the middle of conversations and demand a picture, but here are a few:

Just getting started.  They had the whole grill covered at some points.  Fun stuff!

That is Monica, the company owner to the left, and Sonya our German Fairy Godmother to the right

Unintended fire- a citronella candle sparked a napkin

5 legged spiderlike thing

Might want to be careful near this lake, it has a steep bank.

Grilled Cheese- literally.  Not sure what kind of cheese, but it was salty and good.

Yummy Stuff

Johan and Jacomi- they are from South Africa and it was nice to discuss our various aspects of culture shock.

    Jul 292011

    Finding Durmstrang, A Continuing Saga

    When last we left our merry band we had just discovered a local group whose mission is to help the immigration and integration process of local boys.  Friday, David and DS made a trip on over there and learned more.  The group is dual-sponsored by the German Government and the Catholic Church.  They aren’t really religious, have outings and get-togethers, and, yes, they did know a school that might serve DS’s needs.  In Offenburg is the Schiller Gymnasium- a bilingual English school for local brainy German kids.  Perhaps they would be a good fit for DS?  Only issue was that school was scheduled to end very soon, so we needed to make sure that we spoke with them ASAP.  Also, it would be a great idea if DS could work hard on learning German.  Er, yeah.  Working on it!

    So, Monday DH faces down his growing phobia of German Phones and gives them a call.  He gets through to a secretary and explains the situation (in German).  He is looking for a school for his son because we just moved from America and our son doesn’t speak much German, yet.  The Boy’s Integration Group suggested that they might be a good fit.  The secretary explained that the person he needed to speak with would not be in until tomorrow and suggested he call back.  Ok, fair enough.

    So, the next morning David once again dials up the school.  The same secretary answers and recognizes him immediately.  She quickly connects him with the person who can help us, who turns out to be….. the manager of an Auto Repair Shop!?!  German Phones have defeated us again!  Apparently David had  gotten the wrong number the first day and the secretary had thought that he was looking for a JOB for his son (who didn’t speak much German).  He and the auto-shop manager had a good laugh, but we were no closer to making contact with the school- and even the auto-shop manager warned us that school was out for 7 weeks!

    Now, as it happens, this particular school is just around the corner from where my physical therapy and doctor’s office are.  We often see students going to school as we drive to my appointments.  So, we figure we will stop by he school after my appointment the next day- which also happens to be my birthday!

    Long story short, we get to the school the next day and it is locked up tight as a drum.  The teems of students we usually see have vanished.  School was out on Tuesday, and we are there Wednesday.  DOH.  There are some custodians doing their rounds inside, but all the doors are locked.  Feeling a bit discouraged, David emails the lady from the Boy’s Integration group and asks for advice.  She responds by calling back a couple hours later to let him know she has set up an appointment with the principal of Durmstrang, er Schiller, and that David and DS should go down there at 9am the next morning.  Hooray for helpful, take-charge German Women!

    So, that brings us to this morning.  Around 8, we get a call letting us know that our appointment has been moved to 11.  This is trickier for David, but he takes the car to work, then returns home to pick up DS and toodle on out.  Once again the school is locked tight, but they manage to follow someone else through a door and begin asking the German janitorial staff where to find the principal.  After several false starts, a kind woman takes pity on them and leads them up through a labyrinth of closed doors and stairwells, dropping them off upstairs and telling them they need room 252.  After some wandering they discover 252 is the teacher’s lounge!   One of the teachers then ushers them to another closed featureless door that leads to the school secretary’s office.  The secretary greets them and asks them to go sit in the hall.  Which they do.  For 20 minutes.

    Unfortunately, this proves a harbinger of things to come. Once they get in to see the principal, it becomes clear that he does not think this particular Durmstrang campus is the best fit.  First, the German laws have recently changed and parents can now choose whether or not to send their students to the Gymnasium, when previously this was a decision made by teachers.  The Gymnasium is the highest of the German secondary schools and the place to go if you intend to go to college or get a high end job.  As a result, all the Gymnasiums are suddenly overcrowded.  His is particularly overcrowded.  Some of the other Gymnasiums in town might be better.  Additionally, while in most of Germany the students are taught English from an early age, here on the French border, everyone is taught French first. They don’t start English until later on.  So, effectively DS would be in school entirely with English Newbs, which might make it tough for him to communicate, and certainly would mean that the teachers were not teaching very much in English at his age.  On the other hand, there is a town to the south about 15 kilometers where they DO teach English from an early age.  He called the principal there (we will designate it Durmstrang South) and set up an appointment with her on Monday.

    He also strongly advises that DS learn German ASAP.  Yes, Working on it!!! He suggests that we hire tutors (a little pricey) and then points us in the direction of a potential German Language school(in other words a school specifically for teaching German) that will take younger students than the ones that I have spoken with will.  So, I guess he was useful after all.  But, wow this is a slow process!

    On Strasbourg, Bühl, Trampolines and Other Adventures

    Ok, so that was a long story.  I will try to be pithier about the rest:

    We live on the edge of a village called Bühl.  But, it is not the only Bühl in Germany.  In fact there are several.  And one of the larger ones is only about 30 minutes away towards Karlsruhe.  We decided to take a little trip up last weekend and check it out. Turns out it is a charming town with a picturesque stream running though it and pleasant English-speaking shop owners.

    As an aside- If you have the option, I would stay away from bottled “smoothees” in Germany.  I ordered what I thought was orange juice and was treated to something at least as thick as applesauce that was some sort of combination of orange and mango pulp.  Not really the refreshing beverage I was looking for!  

    Here are a few photos from Big Bühl:

    Nice Church- Much of Bühl seemed older than Offenburg.  My guess is less war damage.

    Statue in the square- the kids were feeling impish

    No clue why there are rocket statues here.
    moderne fountain
    Some of the few German Language graffiti we have seen

    This is more typical- something cheeky- or just incoherent- in English.  This one says “Also wet at night”
    Sign means “Jewelry for the legs”- who knew “schmuck” meant “jewelry”?!

    I don’t think that means what they think it means.

    The next day David took the kids on a forced march through Offenburg to give me some time to do some work.  They had fun photographing many of the funky art objects that they passed- and on the way back made a transcendent discovery.  Our local park has: a trampoline!!!

    kid art at the park

    Monster Mural on a school

    The arch to nowhere

    Trampoline- in a park!  Yes, you could actually get hurt if you weren’t careful!

    Art at the park

    A few days later, the kids and I took a trip into Strasbourg to check out a Mall we had passed a couple times.  A nice, actual regulation-sized mall!  90 stores and restaurants.  Sweet!  Unfortunately, when I got there, my French momentarily failed me.  I tried to tell an attendant that the light was out in the bathroom and wound up telling her there was no bed in there.  Whoops!  But language glitches aside, we had a good time exploring and buying a few delicacies at a pâtisserie and a chocolatier.  The most striking thing about the place, though, is that it is right along the waterfront- and people come often to feed the Swans!  French folks save up their stale leftover bread loaves, then stomp on them to break them into swan-friendly clumps.  One toddler was there with her dad and kept neglecting this last step and HURLING large, rock-hard (but light) french bread chunks at the swans.  The large birds didn’t seem phased, but I felt sorry for the scavenging ducks and pigeons. 

    Swan Feeding Frenzy

    Random Shots from Home:

    Johannis beeren AKA red currants.  REALLY tangy

    Sunset over corn

    Getting golden!
    Jul 202011
    Sunset over cornfield

    In the interest of full disclosure and balanced reporting, let’s start with this:

    Last night I had a good cry.

    And I do mean a good cry.  It was one of those cries that seemingly comes from nowhere and clears out all sorts of built up crap that you may or may not have even known was lurking there.

    Almost 3 months in on our actual German Adventure, and I suppose I may have had a fair bit of stress in need of an outlet!  My Mom says that as far as your body is concerned “all stress is distress”.  That being the case, I think a couple migraines and a hurt shoulder are fortunately-small indicators of our situation.  I figure I probably saved myself several injuries and a flu with just this one, cleansing cry!  Should you ever find yourself living for a prolonged period in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, I highly recommend letting it all out from time to time.  Seems like an enormously healthy thing to do!

    For the most part though, things here are finally settling into a somewhat boringly ‘new-normal’ daily pattern.  David, of course, works 5 days out of 7.  The kids and I food-shop 5 days out of 7 too, it seems!  And Laundry takes an inexplicably large portion of our homelife.  I cook most meals, so that is a big time factor.  And, the kids and I spend a fair bit of time running errands in addition to the food shopping.  Nothing in Germany is really ‘convenient’ we have discovered. Yes, if you are in town you can easily walk Mainstreet.  But, there is no parking-lot hopping like in the States.  Even small outings take some effort and considerable planning.

    Additionally, my work has been picking up so I spend even more time at the computer than I would naturally.  Computers are actually even more key to our existence than they were in the states, if you can believe that!  This is because they are our main conduits to the outside world.  In addition to being a work and financial tool and a recreation source, they serve as our translators (THANK YOU GOOGLE!) and our access to family and loved ones (FB, Email, Blogging and Skype). To encourage at least a bit of human-to-human socialization,  David has started gaming one night per week with a RPG group at work – currently running a Shadowrun campaign. But, as it is all adults and into the late evenings (read midnight or later) the kids and I are on our own and carless that day.

    I know, this is all a bit dull and conventional but, HEY, it is taking place in Germany!

    Also dully and conventionally, we are still trying to conserve money.  But, perhaps less conforming with American Convention, this is because August will have 2 large and distinctly German Money Sucks: Mandatory German Auto Inspection (we think this is like the CA Smog inspection on steroids) and, of course, Closets.  With our stuff on its way, it seems that it may be a good idea to figure out somewhere to put it once it arrives.    

    So, what else is going on?  Here are the highlights to catch you up, but first….

    Random Weird German Observations Of the Week 

    • Powders here are coarser than in the US.  Baking Soda (Natron) is like fine sand.  Powdered sugar is gritty.  Sort of like the toilet paper.  Need something smooth and silky?  Go to a different country!
    • Brown sugar is also like sand.  It is dry, not moist at all, and pours and measures just like any other granulated sugar.  Only, it is brown.
    • After a lot of searching I discovered that Chocolate Chips do exist- but they are tiny and come in very small packages.  Like 1/2 cup worth of flat mini-chips.  The packages say they are for making muffins. You can find them among the dozens of other small chocolate decorations carried in most markets- which, incidentally must make for some gorgeous home-made delicacies!
    • Neighbors are not universally quiet, afterall.  On Bastille Day and the weekend thereafter, there was partying into the night.  And, oddly but charmingly,the gentleman who shares the wall with our bedroom seems to be some sort of folk singer! On more than one occasion now he has taken out his Ukelele (!?) and sung Folk Songs into the wee hours. Now, you must understand that most of the walls in this place are 6-8″ of solid concrete (really!). But, apparently the one regular shared drywall wall that we have happens to be shared with an uninhibited singer.  His voice is lovely and full,  his song choice slow and dramatic.  He did a rendition of Hava Nagila that would have made a Mexican Ranchera singer weep.  But, it does disturb me a bit that it is quite so audible in our future-bedroom.  There may be nights- in the distant future you understand- when I might conceivably wish to sleep in that room… unserenaded. 

    Ok, so on to the Update!

    Health Matters:

    First off, my shoulder:  Much Better!  I have been getting physiotherapy a couple times a week and the therapist is having a fair bit of success.

    He is kind of an interesting character.  His name is Mario Schultz and he looks to be in his mid-late 20’s, perhaps.  He has lived in this area his whole life- born in Offenburg because it had the best local hospitals.  His grandparents own a house passed down for a couple centuries, at least. When I mentioned that we found it interesting how many people seemed to have been in the area for so many generations he said “We are proud to be from here- it is the warmest corner of Germany!”

    He has that calm physical demeanor common to those in his profession, as well as the reserved facade that we notice as a national trademark, here.  But, he also has a twinkle in his eye and he seems much amused by us.  Every week he tries to think of something interesting to discuss with us about America or Germany.  This week, he gave us a German tongue twister to memorize:

    • Wenn hinter Fliegen Fliegen fliegen, fliegen Fliegen Fliegen nach.
      • When flies fly behind flies, flies fly after flies.

    Speaking of words, here is a fun German one: Krankengymnastics.  It means “sick-gym” and was the old word for physikalische Therapie (bet you can piece that one together).  They only changed it recently to reflect the growing awareness that not all therapy is addressing illness.  But, a lot of places -including one in our building here at the apartment- still advertise Krankengymnastics on their signs.  Mario says that is mostly for the older folks who have not switched over yet. 

    Unlike past PT experiences I have had, this version doesn’t involve a lot of stretches or exercises on my part.  Instead it is what I imagine a trip to the chiropractor might be like.  I relax and he spends his time maneuvering bones and ligaments into their proper positions.  Not entirely comfortable but not painful either.  And, I already have a lot more freedom of motion and less pain than I started with. So, hooray for Herr Mario Schultz!

    DIY ultrasound
    The other part of my therapie is ultrasound.  Now, this is where it gets a little strange from an American point of view.  Until now, most of what we have seen of the German Medical System has been pretty on par with American SOP.  But, this particular procedure surprised the heck out of us because it really is Do It Yourself!  You go into a little booth, where the attendant sets up a machine that has a monitor and two wired knobs on it.  She sets the timer, puts two kinds of lotion on one knob and tells you to slowly move it over the area where you hurt, trying to keep a particular monitor reading as close to 100 as possible and avoiding any build-up of heat.  Then she leaves.  10 minutes later you are done.  Hope you did it right!  Luckily, I had David there to help me with it because I couldn’t reach the full area of my shoulder pain.  Dunno if it did anything for me, but it was certainly interesting.

    Insulin Pens
    David has been dealing with physical challenges of his own.  It turns out that insulin here is not injected by hypodermic needle, but by insulin pen.  So, while David had no trouble at all getting the medicines he needs ($5/pop, woot!), the method for injection has proved quite a challenge.  The bulk and mechanical energy of the pens do not allow for the same level of finesse to which David has been accustomed.  So, it has been an ongoing project to adjust to the new hardware and re-find reasonably comfortable means of injecting himself (4-6 times per day!).  He as discovered some work arounds, but I know this is NOT his favorite aspect of Germany so far.

    Also tangentially under David Health, I guess- the German Forced Marches have claimed yet another shoe sacrifice.  David’s black leather tennies gave up the ghost this week in a spectacular display of Divided-Sole.  Check this out- looks like someone took a axe to them, but it was just regular old wear and tear.  Does explain how his feet got so wet in the last rainstorm though!

    He says he damaged them blocking ninja swords- his kung fu was strong, his footwear was weak

    Local Lightning
    Speaking of the last rainstorm and David’s Health- for those of you not on facebook- The Man Nearly Got Hit By Lightning, Y’all!!!
    Last week David stepped off the bus into a thundershower.  The kids and I were at home and heard the tell-tale sound of a thunder CLAP instead of a roll or roar.  A few minutes later David came strolling through the door.
    “Hey, glad you are safe home,” I greeted him, “We just had a lightning strike that was really close!”
    “It may have been closer than you think,” he rejoined.
    Turns out that after he got off his bus he started toward home.  When he got to the street he needs to cross, the air felt charged and he smelled the crackle.  The CLAP we heard was lightning hitting a light post in the middle of the street he was about to step into!!  He said it was 100 feet away, but my survey of the scene says closer to 50.  Sheiße!!!

    The Move
    Remember when they told us that transporting our stuff would take ‘1 month to 6 weeks’?  Um, yeah, that was aeons ago.
    Definitely a lifetime ago.
    One, increasingly mundane, German lifetime ago…. 
    In any case, after being passed from company to company, we are now in the hands of the warehouse in England that will be shipping our stuff out for delivery.  They say that they will tell us sometime in the next two weeks when our stuff will be delivered.  Note, it will not be delivered in those two weeks.  But, they will let us know when it will be.  Good lord.  I barely remember what we packed.
    Whatever is in those boxes, though, the sure bet is that we will have no clue where to put it once it arrives.  I am not sure if I am looking forward to delivery or dreading it at this stage.  A little of both, I think.  I am just hoping the computers still work and the beds don’t have any unwelcome hitchhikers!

    Still sort of an amorphous squishy zone of unknown.  Here is the latest-
    DD’s paperwork is almost all in for Hogwarts.  We are just waiting on the Student Insurance.  DS’s paperwork is not all done, nor are we at all sure where will be best for him.  We got a lead on a group who cater to the needs of immigrant boys aged 12-17 (!) and have an appointment to talk with them on Monday.  We are hoping they may have some info that could be useful.  Especially since DS has entered the preteen zone of Unmitigated Angst.  This boy needs an outlet, but quick!

    We have also talked with the Offenburg Integration Course organization.  Like the Kehl group, they have classes daily from 8-12 for about 8 months that are offset in cost by the government.  We told them I could start in September since we don’t really want to leave the kids alone in the house for 4 hours per day.  But, I hate to wait that long.  Without language skills or access to other immigrants my ability to chat with human beings outside my immediate family is severely limited.  We have been researching English/ex-pat groups but few if any of them seem to have a strong presence in the area.  Stuttgart and Frankfurt have a few clubs, but Offenburg would seem to be too small to attract much attention.

    On the Good-For-Social front, though, David’s work has a company picnic coming up in another week.  It will be near our old stomping grounds in Auenheim and I am looking forward to the opportunity to finally meet a lot of David’s work crew.  Definitely will post some photos from that when it happens!

    Also, I hope to be making a trip down to Switzerland in the middle of next month to visit with some old friends (Hi Hans, Kim and Diane!).  Around the same time, David is scheduled to make the trip up to Köln to attend a major video game convention as part of his company’s pitch team.  I am not sure whether to hope that the trips overlap so we are apart for a shorter time, or that they don’t so we can more easily pass the camera back and forth to take photos of our journeys!

    Finally, although DS and DH have both gotten haircuts now, I have not.  But, even so, I figured I would fulfill my promise and post a sample of Kirsh.  It is not as cool as the Blue that I used to sport, but, second to blond, it is ever so German!

    It looks a bit more purple in the sunlight, but this is the best I could do with a flash and no photoshop.
    Jul 122011

    Back in the saddle

    Well, howdy!  Been a couple weeks.  Sorry about that.  The first week was dull.  Second week was busy!

    The dull week mostly involved David needing the car and uncooperative weather.  Honestly, my energy was low and my inspiration uninspired.  Not much to report there.  Though David did take the kids up to the top of the viewing tower in Kehl.  That was sort of cool!  Here are some photos.
    (as usual, you can click each one for a better look)

    The tower.  Note the size of the people at the base.
    You better believe you hold on up there!

    Nice view
    Landing Pad?

    View of the bridge

    Also, this guy apparently jumped off the bridge and went for a little swim up river! A crowd gathered and was delighted.

    Bridge-jumping swimmer

    Busy Week

    Busy week was more interesting- though objectively, I think it was probably more interesting on a personal level than an easily-shared one.  My mom came to town!  Not much can be better as a care package than the arrival of a person who truly cares!

    Presents for the present

    She brought gifts, too, of course.  Mom is rather known for that sort of thing.  Cheerios and Grape Nuts and Sugarless Maple Syrup were all welcome Tastes from the States.  The return of DS’s razor scooter & helmet that he had had to leave when they were too heavy for our flight made him a happy camper.  A picture of a lion from his room brought a touch of the familiar.  And for me, shoes!  A couple pairs that I had accidentally left, and 2 pairs of walking shoes and a pair of boots that Mom and Grandma Connie had gotten for my upcoming birthday!  I only had 2 pair from my luggage, and I am not exactly easy to fit (size 12 Narrow, US).  So, I am thrilled to have comfortable shoes with which to do my typical German forced marches.

    Stylin, too!

    Actually, Mom was in full-on Santa mode, determined to make our German existence more pleasant in as many ways as she could afford.  David has a birthday coming up as well , so she went ahead and pre-gifted both of us.  We have a lot of rebuilding to do, so luxuries have been quite neglected.  Even luxuries we might have considered necessities in the past, like books.  Here, English Language books must largely be ordered from England which can be a lengthy and sometimes expensive process.  So, Mom brought a Kindle for easy-English reading. I must say, has been wonderful so far.  DS and I are trading it back and forth happily reading our own personal mystery series (Rizzoli and Isles for me and Chet & Bernie- about a dog and his PI partner- for him).  She also brought us a Garmin Nuvi to help with our perpetual directional challenges.  When it turned out to be a US-Only version, she replaced it with a European model here.  I LOVE IT!  You can see around every corner as you approach.  Completely reassuring.  I do have to experiment with the voice, though.  The default American lady is just a bit too much the task-mistress for my tastes.

    But wait, there is more!  While here, Mom noted our lack of coffee-maker, microwave and toaster and rectified all three kitchen omissions.  Hopefully I repaid her generosity by putting each appliance to use in tasty ways.  I definitely enjoyed the opportunity to cook for an appreciative audience unaccustomed to my favorite recipes.  The poor little kitchen is overflowing, now, but far more functional!

    Grill Microwave

    Interesting note on the microwave- we got a common German version with a built in grill.   I don’t know if they have these in the states, but I had never seen one before.  It is a normal microwave with a carousel and all, then at the top is an element like might be in a toaster with a little rack that holds food up close to it.  You can even set it to microwave and grill at the same time!  I guess that solves the food crisp/browning issues that microwaves have?  I am a little intimidated by that function, but I will need to experiment soon.

    Visiting And Bodily Limits

    The presents were wonderful, no doubt, but really, the week was about family ties and visiting.

    Unfortunately, while she was here both kids came down with colds, I got a migraine and David wound up with MSG poisoning from a wayward wurst.  I also had my first Physio appointment for my shoulder which went well, but left me a smidge sore.  And, to top it all off, Mom twisted her “good” knee (by sneezing!) and wound up with some stability issues that she will need to take up with her doctor upon return.  

    But, between and in spite of our physical challenges, we did manage to get in a lot of visiting and even some sight seeing.  We showed Mom around Offenburg, Kehl, and a bit of Strasbourg.  We ate out at our first gasthaus (wonderbar snitzel!), and had a lovely frühstück (breakfast) at a local backerai.  There were wurst, of course.  And many cookies, pastries, & pretzels- and much schinken (pork), there can never be enough schinken in Germany it seems!

    We also made it to the Offenburg town museum.  That is an interesting place.    We had to lock up our bags, so I don’t have pictures from inside, but imagine a moderately-large, open building with a stairway going up 4 stories in the middle of the open floorplan.  On one floor  the natural history and geological structure of the town with lots of rock samples, taxidermied local animals, and the like.  On the next level, Roman artifacts- including a burned out log with a complete skeleton interred inside!  The next floor inexplicably is devoted to African animals and artifacts.  A tall white lion dominates the scene with a huge mounted elephant head looks over it all.  Around the corner, a special exhibit of Tomi Ungerer‘s work.  Nice!  He is from Strasbourg originally.  You have probably seen his work- he did a number of children’s books and many post-card sized ink and watercolors- many of them political and/or erotic.  He seems pretty unconstrained when it comes to emphasis.

    At the top of  the building are artifacts from the more recent past.  Crockery, religious items from a defunct church, etc- climbing tight up into the rafters where the bell from an old church is hung!   Not bad for a small city museum.  And, other than the Ungerer exhibit, it is completely free!

    All in all it was wonderful visit.  Here are some images from our adventures:

    That purple blur is Mom coming off her plane, this lady did not appreciate the camera I guess!

    Offenburg, at one of the fool’s fountains with witches!

    This big guy landed in David’s hair early in the evening then woke us up slamming around the hall.

    The kids made a Lego chess board and DS re-taught Bubby to play

    Discussing their next moves

    In Kehl, posing with the musical statue

    This sculpture reminds me of one at UCSC that students called “The flying IUD”

    Mom in front of the foot bridge between Kehl and Strasbourg

    We even got another double rainbow for Mom’s visit!

    Kids and me in Offenburg

    Bubby and DD at the Offenburg market


    DS hit his head on a witch’s broom!

    Kids and me a bit tussled in Kehl

    DS controlling the waters of a fountain

    DH and DS dining at the gasthaus
    Joan of Arc statue, St. Maurice Church in Strasbourg

    Inside St. Maurice

    Dunno what this is about, but LOVE it!

    Seemed out of place, maybe a display from a sister church?


    Lit two candles (in back) for family who have passed

    I want to hear that organ play!

    DS Breakfast: hot cocoa, brioche, slices of chocolate (!) and a boiled egg.
    Happy Hug

    Nope, No family resemblance

    Since when did I dwarf my tiny mother!?

    Still no resemblance