Sep 262011

I needed to pick up a translation of our drivers licenses from the local AAA equivalent, called ADAC.  Now this is a document we hired them to produce.  It is required for our German licenses and David just got the call from them that it is ready to be picked up.  He asked if I could pick it up for him and they told him yes.  This happened about an hour before I arrived.

First I get there and the only parking available has a big sign that says  “Nur fur Besucher Marlener strasse 6”.  Oh crap.  I have to go through my head and figure out it is “only for… um, Besucher?  *probably* means me.”  I check the address at the ADAC office and it is, in fact, number 6.  Ok, so I am gonna risk it. I walk up to the building.  The first door I reach apparently isn’t a door.  It has a little arrow that says “einfang” and points to the right.  So I go to the next door.  Which also has a little arrow pointing to the right.  But there is no other door… except the one that leads into the bowels of the building.   I look puzzled and try the non-door anyways.  Nope.  Back to the bowels.  Ah, that is the right one.  I go in there and turn the corner and find the correct office.

Inside, there are two woman bustling about morning chores.  I have no doubt they just watched me seriously fumble my door roll. The one at the desk tells me “ein moment”, then she walks away and semi-turns to tell me something that seems vaguely beckoning.   She is inside a large circular desk and there are no other customers to indicate where I should stand.   I step up to where she was standing before.  But, she walks back to a place completely different and waves me over with a slight chuckle.  By now I am keenly aware that I look like a boob.  I approach the desk with some small modicum of self-effacing dignity in time for her to say something else I can’t make out.

I say as clearly as I can “Ich bin hier fur eine Übersetzung fur Herr Paris, bitte”.  (I am here for a translation for Mr. Paris, please) 
She smiles and nods and say “Ja”.
Now, at this point, you must understand, I was expecting her to hand me something.  So, I try again.
 “Eine ubersetzung fur Paris?”
She nods and asks me a question… something about do I have something?  Doh.
 At this point I am thinking I am supposed to have a receipt – or maybe she just thinks I am there to start the process?   I start to panic a little.
“Mein Deutsch is nicht gut!  Er….” I stammer desperately, and I hand her my cheat sheet with “eine Übersetzung fur Herr Paris” written on it.
“AH!! So!!” she says, brightly.  She walks over, picks up a pile of papers and brings them back.  I see one says “Herr Paris” on it, and the rest look official.  She folds them and puts them in an envelope for me and I smile and nod and thank her.
Then I depart as hastily as I can without knocking anything over.  I try a few “schönen Tag”s over my shoulder for good measure.   Yipes!

Ok, that was the least comfortable exchange I have had in a good long while. But, David claims this is a near-daily event for him.  He does typically get stuck with our more challenging language interactions, so I guess I get it easy.  Oof.  I soooo need German Lessons!

Sep 252011

And apparently people have noticed.  Honestly, it has been a thick week to process, though not an easy one to write about in an interesting fashion.  But, hey, I am game if you are!

When last we left our merry band, DD had been doing well at Hogwarts, but was a bit overwhelmed with the Language aspect, and DS had struggled through his first week at Durmstrang, finding a few friendlies along the way.  DH and I were fretting over transportation issues.  And the weather was just starting to get an autumnal edge to it.

So lets get caught up!


DH finally managed to track down a local driving school that can speak a bit of English and get us set up for our Driver’s licenses.  We went and talked with the pleasantly flustered gentleman who runs the school and he took down all our info and researched things for us.  He mostly spoke in German, but was able to understand me when I did not.  We spent a busy morning attending to some of the hoop-jumping that is necessary.  We got our photos taken, our eyes tested (I passed, but it is clear that I need new glasses!) and we found a place that will translate our CA DL’s for us and got that process started.  We also got signed up for our First Response Safety class (what to do if you happen upon an accident).  Unfortunately, it is in German, but it is hoped that if I take it with David we will be able to muddle through.  Other than that all we need is to take the written test, take a couple actual driving in a car classes to make sure we have all the weird little things down pat, then take our actual driving exams and, knock wood, we should be in.

The other issue, of course, is finding a second car.  David has been researching, writing and calling a bunch of private sellers, but so far there are a lot fewer options this time around than last time.  And, the places he has managed to get ahold of have all already sold the vehicles.  So, we forge on.  I really want to get this dealt with ASAP.  Our life is complicated enough without adding hours of train rides and weather issues to the mix every day.  Also, last week I got a migraine for 2 days, which meant I was not able to drive.  But, I still had to drive up to David’s work in order to get him the car so he could pick up kids.  Would be safer if he already had a car there with which to make the runs.  Most of the cars in our price range are very much like the one we already have.  Small, hatchback, practical without much personality.  But, we did find one very cool car in the mix.  It isn’t really practical because it has terrible gas mileage, but I am sort of in love anyways.  It is a black, Fiat Stilo Abarth.  David’s dad used to collect Abarths, so it caught our eye immediately.  Creamy beige leather interior.  And the weirdest dang sunroof I have ever seen.  It sort of fans back, creating what looks like a series of spoilers across the top of the car.  Also, it is an automatic so I could even drive it!

I cant find an image that shows the sunroof correctly.  The rear section is like 5 layers and looks seriously bizarre.

Unfortunately, the gas mileage makes it pretty much a no go, but, sigh, a gal can dream! 


By the end of the first week, DS’s school had hired a tutor to teach him German during the other students’ English classes.  They had also set him up with an after school tutoring program where older students help the younger ones.  By the end of the second week, they called us again.  This time they had set up a second tutor to come in and teach DS during the after school programs.  But, this one we would have to pay for.  A quick email to the Grandmas and we got a tutoring sponsor (Thanks Great-Grandma Connie!).  So, now DS will have about 6 hours per week of one on one German lessons.  I was supposed to go in on Friday and meet with the new tutor, but somehow the info got confused.  DS and I wandered the school for a while before ending up in the Headmistress’s office.  She confirmed with me that we were interested in getting it all set up, and will meet with DS and the new tutor after school Monday to make sure it is all flowing correctly.

Honestly, DS is still having the most trouble adjusting.  He mostly likes having other kids to hang with.  But, he is definitely still stressed a lot of the time.  Last weekend he had a major tantrum and David opted to take him running as a response.  They ran for the better part of 3 hours.  David was SORE for the next 3 days! But, it seemed like a positive way to get some of that crud out of DS’s system in a healthy way.

Friday was another rough day for DS.  This time he didn’t have a tantrum, but some kids at school discovered that he didn’t like the nude pictures in the text book, so spent time shoving them in DS’s face.  He, unfortunately, responded emotionally.  I fear that temperament-wise, DS is not very German, and this may prove a challenge for him going forward.


In the mean time, DD reported having a few clashes with one particular teacher at Hogwarts.  Given that she has between 11-12 teachers (one is stepping in temporarily for some extra French tutoring), the fact that there is only one with whom she seems to have had personality conflicts is hugely encouraging.  But, she requested that we help her in finding healthy ways of communicating with this teacher.  So, we started by writing a note to request a meeting. Coincidentally (or not?) that same evening is scheduled a “Parent Teacher Meeting”.  This turns out to be Hogwarts’ version of …

Back to School Night

The meeting is scheduled from 6-8.  We show up a few minutes early and make our way into the room designated.  It is in the new building in the middle of the campus.  Simple white and blue desks and relatively human-sized chairs allow parents to sit in semi-comfortable ease.  There are about 8 parents there when we arrive, and about double that trickle in over the course of the next few minutes.  It is an interesting group as we are about to discover.  We sit several rows back in the middle of the room.

A tall, attractive, slightly-greying, unadorned, formidable woman with a low voice and an American accent greets us.  She has intelligent eyes, a confident, self-deprecating, slightly sarcastic edge to her, and a pleasantly straight-forward communication-style.  I like her right away.  This is Ms. Lustig, DD’s homeroom and science teacher. She greets each parent, explaining her issues with face-blindness (though she never used the term) and asks them to identify their children and introduce, or re-introduce themselves to her.  Her banter goes something like this:
“And you are whose parents?  Ah of course!  Wonderful.  And, I am sure you have your own actual identity.  You aren’t just ‘Fred’s Dad'”

A somewhat scraggly, tall gentleman with a twinkle in his eye comes in and sits at the back.  He introduces himself as being the father of one of DD’s friendlies.  Ms. Lustig does her usual spiel.
“And I am sure you are not known as just ‘Sebastian’s father’!”
“No.” He replies with a mischievous smile.
“You have your own name and Identity, I presume?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Which is?”
“Different than my son’s”

By now I am rolling with laughter.  Ms. Lustig wisely moves on.  She explains that since this is the 3rd year class, many parents already know the drill and don’t opt to show up.  Her implication is borne out as more lost parents looking for the 2nd year meeting wander through than the total contents of our room.

One by one 11 of the 12 teachers DD has this semester come in to introduce themselves and describe their classes.  Most parents behave as one would expect in such circumstances.  They nod politely, chuckle politely, and, perhaps, ask an occasional polite question.  But, there are exceptions.

The first teacher to emerge is actually the one with whom DD was having issues.  Ms. Gardiner is youngish, blond, and has a bit of an unplaceable accent.  She is also new.  The energy in the room immediately changes as the parents realize who she is.  “We’ve heard about you!” states one parent, bluntly.  “Oh, what have you heard?” The parents now begin reciting various things their children have been reprimanded for in class.  They aren’t hostile, but there is just a little icy edge to the banter.  They think Ms. Gadiner has been too harsh, and while they are not yet ready to confront her on it,  they are letting her know they are watching.  She tells one family that the reason she doesn’t allow the kids to sit with their feet crossed under their chairs is because she worries about their ‘poor backs’.  The father, a rather brusk, stocky red-headed American explains that the kids are used to gymnastics.  I am not sure what that has to do with it, but maybe they need to cross legs there? Ms. Gardiner says that she told the kids that if they had a note from home, they could sit as their parents said they needed to.  The father replies “You will have a letter tomorrow”.  Ms. Gardiner beats a hasty retreat.  We were among the friendliest gazes in the room.

The other teachers begin to file in.  Ms. Sungalee is a petite dark-skinned Indian woman with a thick accent.  She explains that Maths are getting serious this year and she will be upping the pressure.  She comes off a little humorless, and DH gives her a skewed look.  I whisper that DD loves her because she lets her play with the math, so he relaxes his glance.

Mr. Chevalier and Ms. Rapini are the French Teachers.  He is high-strung and animated, she is brash and domineering.  They explain that they are concentrating more on writing this year but that there are 5 students who are new to French (DD is one).  So, they are doing catch up classes.  They urge that the students must work hard, but stay relaxed, which is tricky.  I can’t imagine either one putting kids at their ease!

The technology teacher is a younger gentleman who doesn’t have too much to tell us.  He says that the group is mixed with English and French, so he teaches primarily in French, but helps with English as needed.  This is when we get our first glimpse of another of the true characters in the room.  A father sitting in the back introduces himself and his wife.  He is swarthy, thick, with tight curly hair and is dressed in a suit with no tie.  And, she looks a bit like a stereotypical Jersey Shore Matron- big hair, too much make-up and sausage-tight clothes with bold prints.  Dad then begins a long, thickly accented (Spanish?  Italian?) speech about how his daughter works on the computer but does not organize her work properly in folders.  He rather dogmatically demands to know whether this is not included in the curriculum.  The poor Tech teacher is taken by surprise.  He manages to stammer that filing really isn’t part of the curriculum, but that he will cover it.  Dad blusters and repeats himself several times, but they get through it and Tech Teacher escapes.

Music Teacher is mellow with a nose ring and poor English skills.  Art teacher is oddly defensive about the idea that the students MUST bring all their supplies each and every class.  German Teacher is mellow but doesn’t speak much English, which annoys one of the French father’s who doesn’t have any German skills.

Around this point the academic headmaster arrives with an older teacher in tow.  He explains that they are considering arranging a week-long ski trip for our students, but that last year there was a lot of discussion about other options, so he wanted to make sure everyone was on board before going ahead with all the work of doing the planning and such.  It takes a while for the parents to warm into the discussion, but in the end almost everyone thinks it is a great idea.  One French mother does raise her hand and declares “I would be opposed to such a trip”  The brusk red-headed father demands “Why?” “I am generally not in favor of fieldtrips” she explains.  Everyone looks surprised, but accepting of her personal preference.  She is the only one opposed, though, so planning will go forward.

Then the PE teacher arrives.  Her English isn’t great, but she does get the point across that everyone needs to have dedicated gym shoes.  She also discusses some sort of extra-curricular sports program that they have during lunch and after school.  There are some forms that we need to fill out if we want our students to participate, including a health form that must be signed by a doctor.  The father who wants his daughter to file things properly on the computer has a major issue with the forms.  He wants to be able to just sign something that says he takes responsibility for his daughter instead of having to get a doctor’s signature.  He is aghast that they would have to visit a doctor and finds this a major inconvenience.  The PE teacher muddles through the conversation for a while before Ms. Lustig jumps in to her rescue.  She firmly and clearly explains that while it would be more convenient if he could do it his way, this is a government rule having to do with insurance and they have no choice.  He persists for a while, but she is skillful in de-escalating his increasingly strident objections.  He eventually gives it one last “It would be better if” and then lets the conversation move ahead.  PE Teacher escapes.  

Did I miss anyone?  If so, they were a bit of a blur.  The Human Sciences (Social Studies) teacher is the only no-show.  Though, come to think of it the Ethics teacher walked through but never talked with us.  Toward the end a mom who arrived late turns to us and asks if the English teacher had been there already.  She expresses disappointment at having missed her opportunity to see her.  Ms. Gardiner already appears to have quite a rep.

I take the opportunity to stick around and grab some face time with Ms. Lustig.  I feel a bit guilty because they start to close the school down around us!  She walks us out, and we see her off on her bicycle.  But, she seems interested in hearing a bit about DD and seems to “get” what we are telling her.  I think that DD will have a lot in common with her, and discover that her degree is in The History of Science- which is a subject she taught at the university level in Texas back in the states.  I didn’t even know The History of Science was a thing.  Too cool.  She encourages me to talk more with Ms. Gardiner to get that situation cleared up, but I leave feeling encouraged.

Ms. Gardiner

DD stays home on Friday.  She is tired, cranky, a little stuffed-up and probably has PMS.  She could have forced herself through the day, but we have learned that about 1 Mental Health Day per month is pretty much necessary to keep her life manageable, so we agree that this one can be it. As a result, I am able to drop DS off with her at home after I pick him up from school before my meeting, simplifying dynamics.  So, yay.  He was a crabby mess anyways, so a bit more time away from humans is probably for the best.

In any case, my meeting with Ms. Gardiner is actually pretty universally positive.  She is a Californian who was raised in France.  She is new at the school and having issues with DD’s class because they are chatty, and more issues with another class because they are downright mean to each other.  DD, however, isn’t chatty and does her work as requested and is not mean to anyone.  DD did tell Ms. Gardiner that she is a “Control Freak” which she wasn’t sure how to parse, but she seems willing to let it go.  I describe DD’s strengths and challenges and some of her past issues and she seems quite amenable to trying to accommodate DD’s uniqueness.  I get the impression Ms. Lustig has also already given her the heads up.  And, before I left for the meeting, DD told me that she and Ms. Gardiner have been getting along better already.  So, knock wood, let’s hope this is the last one of these that we need to have for a while! 


On a completely separate topic, last weekend our friend Bernard came in to Liestal, Switzerland on a business trip.  So, we toodled on down to say howdy.  Unfortunately, it was Sunday- which isn’t a great day for a visit in Europe since, you know, NOTHING IS OPEN.  But, we managed to find things to do, anyways.  Those of you who follow me on Facebook will have already seen most of these.  But, for everyone else, here are a few pictures of our visit to Liestal:

Bernard was staying at the Hotel Engel (angel)- these ladies guard the entrance way

DS and DD checking out the art

DH reading the quotes

More playing with the angels
We did discover that the town museum was open.  This was an eclectic collection of textiles, family histories, and space Stuff.  The lobby had a nice working loom.
Both kids enjoyed it.
Trying out astronaut balance trainers

DH braved the challenge

Third floor- family histories.  You could read quotes on the wall, then find electronic picture frames and audio files to correspond

lots of places to kick back and listen/look
A jacquard punch card machine- pre computer

DS wanted to program it

Pretty textiles
Silk worm cocoons
Black Lit Astronaut

DS and Black Light

Everyone comparing black light

Top floor was all about watching lit star charts as if they were the night sky
This was an interesting set up near the hotel

Lots of hunting shops in town.  The box is a “game processor”.  We were geekily amused by this.

the fountain reads “Nancy”.  Interestingly, the statue does not look like a Nancy

St. George and the dragon above… no clue who the guys below are, though

weird art outside the church

weird art inside the church…. The leaf on that stained glass seriously looks like cannabis.

cat in the churchyard

very friendly
This used book store was not only open, but had English Language books.

gardenplatz near the train station

the smallest violin in the world playing just for you

wait, this one is smaller!

small recorder to accompany

Swiss Army Knives now have USB

Obligatory town snake art
Sep 152011
This is the last main turn through town before we arrive at Durmstrang. 
DS all ready for class

Monday– Upon arriving at Durmstrang, we noticed a couple of things.  First, the parents wear much more relaxed attire than the professional and chic folks at Hogwarts.  Most were in T-shirts and jeans without elaborate make up or jewelry.  A few were in business clothes, probably off to work after the drop off.  The relaxation did not quite extend to their demeanor, though.  Everyone was with their 11 year old kids.  Many of them gathered in little clusters, chatting, chuckling awkwardly, and catching up.  But, the kids were nervous, so the parents were nervous, too!

Second, there were a LOT of bikes out front- and most of them were not locked at all.  Apparently people here just don’t mess with other people’s bikes parked outside of school.  Another sign of the orderly social structures, we guess.

Unguarded bikes

We also compared DS’s stature vs. that of his classmates.  He is definitely in the upper 10-15% of the kids there (even if you don’t count the fluff factor of his hair ;-).  They have a broad range of maturity, too.  Some cling to their parents, others act aloof.  I watched one boy who seemed to be the tallest in DS’s class.  He had a T-shirt with an English phrase having to do with skateboarding.  “Summer Skate Bums”, I think it said.  As I watched, he greeted friends, then stuck his finger all the way up his nose, grabbed out something and…. oh my.  He ate it.  These kids are definitely still *kids* even if they are technically at the High School now!

DS and DH ready for the day

We milled about for quite a while before the Headmistress appeared on the stairwell.  She is a petite lady with a lot of pep.  She was dressed in a fashionable shiny tan pants suit, almost, but not quite, golden.  She began by introducing students from the 6th grade (second years), who sang an amusing song about the end of summer and returning to school.  The bits of it I caught made me smile, but few of the other parents responded to the lyrics at all.  They did clap at the end, though.  DH noted that the Germans were quite comfortable clapping, where the French needed a bit more prodding. Next the headmistress admonished the students that they would need to fill their minds with good stuff and talked educational philosophy for a while.  She seemed positive and well-received.  On the opposite stairwell, 10 or so adults had gathered.  Teachers, I was guessing.  Most were dressed casually.  But one lady was wearing a tight skirt, a frilly blouse, and had her hair and make-up done just so.  She sort of flowed more than walked.  In short, she was wayyy too sexy for this job!  I prayed that DS not wind up with her for his homeroom.  I just didn’t think he would be able to focus!

DS and his class

They began reading out class groupings.  About 25-30 kids per class, BUT, 2 teachers. Nice ratio!  DS was in the second set.  Thank goodness!  He got the perfectly down to earth looking redhead and her dark-haired partner.  We found out later that they are both fluent in English and the dark haired one is, in fact, the English teacher.Yay! Nose Picker was also in the group. Laugh.  At least DS will not be the immature one.  Off they went. We waited for the other classes to get sorted, then the headmistress invited us all to a large conference room for a parent meeting.  Well, that is what it turned out to be.  All we knew is she said some stuff and gestured and all the parents started trotting off, so we followed!

The conference room was set up with little plates of cookies and there was coffee and cups on the front table.  She let us all fill our cups before getting started.  Honestly, the meeting was largely unintelligible to me.  The headmistress and assistant headmaster and a psychologist all spoke.  The tone felt good.  The parents were nervous, but positive.  The Headmistress spent a lot of time reassuring us.  After 2 hours of German, I was exhausted, though.  I wondered how DS was going to feel when he got home each day!

After the meeting we tried to talk with the Secretary about transportation.  We had been told she had schedules and that we could buy bus passes with her.  But, if this was true, she seemed to know nothing about it.  Doh!

There were only about 2 hours left before DS would get out of school.  So, David and I decided to stay around town and do a little recon.  First we stopped by the train station to pick up info about the train routes from Offenburg.  Starting Tuesday, DH and DS would be on their own in the mornings because I had to drive DD to France!  We still weren’t convinced we had it right after talking with the woman on duty at the station, but David said he would just plow ahead the next day and they would muddle through.  Next we decided to wander through old town Gengenbach.  Nice old place!  A bit touristy- there were a lot of older people there speaking languages other than German.  But, very pleasant overall.  Here are some of the things we saw there:

These little demony things are outside of what appears to be an old monastery perhaps.  They are straddling a small stream that runs through town.

We aren’t sure who he is, but he looks like a conquistador!
The mill is attached to a working bakery that sells special breads.
Here is the water wheel that powers it.

 After school we pick DS up.  He walks down the stairs in the company of another, smaller boy.  When he sees us, he explains to the boy that these are his eltern, then proceeds to introduce us in German.  Then he explains to us in English that his new friend, Caan, is learning English and the two of them have been helping each other.  Big grins all around.  On the way home, DS explains his day, spouting forth more German sentences in a row than I have ever heard him attempt before.  Most of the day involved name games and other introductory things with the class, but he also got his books and his schedule.  We laughed, as parents do, when we discovered that he told the class that his hobby is soccer (fussball)!  He hasn’t played since he was 6!  But, he explained everyone was listing sports and it was the only one he knew.  So, fair enough.  He is jazzed to go back, but tired.  Good deal!

Tuesday– So far so good.  DH and DD make it to school on time by train.  DH misses one train back to work, but still gets there before most of his co-workers.  DS had a few more missteps with language.  We thought he was supposed to write his job at home on his homework, but turns out it was supposed to be his favorite sport.  Whoops!  Also, they play a game where they ask what he likes, and he says “noodles”, but he is supposed to be listing an animal!  Double Whoops!  So, now his favorite sport is taking out the trash and his favorite animal is noodles!  Hee.  His teachers send us a note about a special tutoring class they have after school, where older students help younger ones.  Also, they will take him out of English classes and give him extra German.  I write them back a letter thanking them and describing a bit more about our situation.  I also ask if DS can do 1 instead of 2 hours of tutoring after school because I worry that he may get worn out.  DH curses at me for making him translate my thick text.  But, he can’t really complain- he missed his bus coming home, so I had to make yet another car trip to Kehl to pick him up!

Wednesday– About the same as Tuesday.  DS and Caan are still hanging out.  And DS really liked the cafeteria.  He can buy butter pretzels there.  Yum!

I am not sleeping well, though, and get completely exhausted.  By the time I have picked up both kids and made an emergency trip to the supermarket, I have no brain cells left.  I collapse on my bed and sleep until DH gets home.  We have eggs and lauger bagette for dinner (sort of a huge soft pretzel).  I collapse again, waking up at 4am.  But, I manage to rest in until its time to get up.  I feel MUCH better.

Thursday– I blow it for the first time!  I am just finishing up a passage for work when I look at the clock and realize I need to be at Durmstrang in 10 minutes.  It is a 15 minute drive, minimum.  Crap.  I jump in the car and race off to Gengenbach.  Only, I get behind the slowest two trucks I have encountered in Deutschland.  Neither will go over 65 KPH, and the road is an undivided two lane highway.  I lose more time.  I try calling DS, but fail to get through.  I have to fight my panic response. I remind myself that DS is safe, just wondering where I am.  As I am pulling up to the school, I get a call from him.  He thinks I thought his tutoring started today, but it didn’t.  Also, his teachers want to see me.  I grab my stuff and jump out of the car, vaguely aware that my heart is racing and I look like I haven’t showered.  Oh yeah, I haven’t showered.  Damn.  I rush up to DS and realize he is standing next to Caan and an older distinguished middle eastern gentleman.  Caan’s dad.  I try to be friendly and polite as my inner-shy screams at me.  DS is simultaneously trying to introduce me to Caan’s dad and rush me off to see his teachers.  I shake hands twice and make some minor small talk about how Caan is learning English.  Dad doesn’t speak much English and I am feeling late, so I make the hastiest polite good byes I can muster and rush off to greet his teachers.

DS knocks confidently at the door of the teacher room.  The readheaded Frau Bücking comes to greet me, then ducks back to find her partner.  Another woman emerges.  I have never seen her before.  She walks over and talks with Audric and explains that she will be working with him on English.  She is young and perky and short. She seems pleasant. I miss her name.  Frau Bücking returns with Frau Algeier in tow.   Frau Bücking seems uncomfortable talking in English, but maybe she is just German Reserved.  Frau Algeier seems completely at ease, which makes sense since she is the English teacher.  We muddle through pleasantries and figuring out his schedule.  I thank them all and we retreat.  My inner-shy is having a she-ist-fit and my pulse won’t calm for the better part of an hour.  But, really, it is all good. 

Other stuff-

  • Some big German Readhead on a bike stops me to ask if I am parked in a particular spot at our apartment complex.  I say no and explain that our garage is busted.  He mimes kicking the garage for me and I am mildly charmed.  Two days later I park in the spot he had mentioned and we get a nastygram on the window, even though the spot is not marked at all and we are supposed to be able to park in all unmarked spots.  Sigh.  We need to get the garage fixed- and we will need another spot soon.  We will be buying a second car!
  • DH is working hard to try to get us our Drivers Licenses.  This is proving to be our biggest difficulty since arriving.  DH will have been here 6 months, soon, and at that point his US license fails to be valid.  Mine does the same thing a few weeks later.  And it isn’t like we can do without now that the kids are in school.  We need to get this dealt with.  DH expresses this in no uncertain terms to folks at work.  They assign the HR guy to get it solved.  DH calls a LOT of driving schools.  One finally comes through, and we are scheduled to meet with them Friday.  Stay tuned.
  • DD has an admirer.  He is a tall, redheaded German boy one class ahead of her.  He has a wingman who speaks better English and helps him out. He comes to flirt with her every break that they share.  He has awkwardly told her back that she is beautiful.  DD is amused and flattered.  DH thinks this boy is too forward and has tried to convince himself that what the boy really meant was “pretty”which is far less intense.  I think the boy shows very good taste!
Sep 082011

Day 1:

We arrive at the school and park about a kilometer away in front of enormous, prison-like apartment complexes with bizarrely asymmetrical window bars and walk quickly to the school, unsure what time we are actually supposed to arrive.  Not for a while, apparently.  We hook up with another family from the States who is also new this year.  They are originally from Peurto Rico but most recently spent time in Indianapolis and work for a big pharmaceutical company.  Their daughter is DD’s age and seems nice enough, but far too stylish to be impressed with our gawky-geek sprog.  Both of them will have Madame Lustig (Mrs. Funny!) for homeroom.

Chimes play over a loudspeaker: first the Ding Dong, Ding Dong of a normal door bell.  Then, something else…. It is fast bells and very familiar.  Wait.  Could that really be the theme to the Exorcist?  Nah, I must have misheard.

Together with the Morales family, we mill about until the principal gathers all the parents and students for an introductory meeting.  He plows ahead in French and English, leaving the Germanophones on their own this time.  Really all he does is announce his assistants and then read the names of each of the lower graders before dismissing the older kids to their homeroom classes.  And she is off!  Quick hug and a nervous wave and away we go.  Breath held.  Fingers crossed.

About 1/2 through the day, my cell phone rings.  We fail to pick it up in time, but discover that the number is in France.  Uh-oh.  Panic.  We call back.  No one answers.  More research confirms it is the school. We call back again.  This time DH gets shuttled through 2 different people in the admin, neither of whom claims any knowledge of why we may have been called.  Doh.  Well, if it is important, they will call back.

Pick up time.  Lots of parents and siblings.  Many seem to know each other.  Others stand alone.  All look just slightly nervous.  Again we park far away.  My calves are hurting from driving and walking in my stylish boots.  I wanted to look good for the first day!

Chimes again.  Ding Dong Ding Dong, Ding Dong Ding Dong…..  Deep deep dee deet deep deet.   Yeah, that really does sound like the Exorcist.  Boggle!  Someone must have a sense of humor!

Bustling masses of teenagers begin to pour out.  DD takes sufficiently long to emerge that I must remind myself to be calm and patient.  Then, there she is.  She gives a shy wave and makes her way out the door.

“Ok, that was CHAOS” she gleefully reports.

Once she starts talking, she doesn’t stop for 1/2 an hour.  But, the report is …. Good!  It was chaotic, but she fumbled her way through, and she seems to like several of the teachers.  She got lost, but so did several other people.  She connected up with a shy girl named Vanessa and a 1/2 French boy named Sebastian who helped usher her through the day.  There is also a friendly, outgoing girl named Susan who shows up a lot, and another boy named Jordan that hangs out with Sebastian.  She has probably 1/2 dozen other names, but those are the ones that recur the most. 

The  phone call was the principal trying to tell us that DD’s schedule has changed.  They don’t have enough kids to fill an entire German L2 schedule (German as your first of 2 second languages), so she has been moved into the French L2 schedule, and German will be her L3.  I am relieved.  As far as phone calls go, that is an easy one.  David is concerned about the French emphasis, but DD seems fine with it.  Everything is in French anyways.  All the kids speak French to survive (and, ya know, since most of them live in France!).  All the teachers speak French as default.  French will be a good thing to learn!

Oh, but there is a list of school supplies online that she will need. It is long.  It is mostly in French.  It is confusing.  No, it is *really* confusing. 

After allowing for some breathing time, DD and I set off for the local Drogerie to see if we can find her supplies.  2 hours and 50 EU later, and we only have 1/3 the things on her list.  French and German school supplies are different from each other, but do have some overlap.  And neither set are much at all like US school supplies.  Here it is all about individual booklets with a baffling array of sizes and line and box configurations.  Binders are huge and have 2 or 4 rings, not three. Fountain pens are required.  And parents are expected to provide art supplies, many of the text books, and any number of specific organizational tools that just make my head spin.  By the time we got out of there DD was on the verge of a full meltdown.  More decompression time definitely necessary!

After that, 2 more trips to local markets and we managed to get most of the necessities for the following day- but we were definitely going to need to do some shopping in France, too.  We all headed home with some store-bought roast chicken, then collapsed into bed and conked HARD.

Day 2: 

Dropped DH off at work, DD off at school.  Yeah, that is still the Exorcist theme.  DS and I go home, then head back to France to Go Shopping.  Kind people at the mega-ish-mart help us find most of the rest of the things on our list.  There are a few items still missing (books will need to be ordered, a couple art supplies are not to be found), but overall we are successful!

DD is looking tired, but still happy.  She scored “coolness” points in science by impressing her teacher with interest in the shape of water droplets and by impressing her classmates through repeatedly explaining the Water cycle to them.

If the word of the day for Day 1 was “chaos”, WOTD for Day two is “French”.  Several of her classes apparently default to French.  Art is in French, Music is in French, PE is in French.  Actually, in all, we figure out that 6 of her 11 classes are in French.  1 is in German, and the remaining 4 are English.  As DD notes “That’s a lot of French!”  They also had 2 hour of PE that consisted of running back and forth as a recorded voice in French counted them down and tried to inspire them to beat their last times.  They shared the exercise area with students from the other school that shares the grounds.  She swears Crabbe and Goyle were among them.

Once again we are all exhausted.  Sleep comes easy, but I wake up too early as a rain storm passes through. 

Day 3:

Short, hard day.  DD did not sleep well either, and has all 3 Languages plus Ethics today.  Her English teacher is new and trying to be strict.  But, they will be doing a lot of drama, so that part sounds good.

She likes the German teacher and did well the previous day.  Today, though, she is exhausted.  She messes up on her conjugations and can’t get her synapses to connect.  It happens.

The French teacher is panicked because with the L1/L2 switch, he now has 4 students who are complete newbs stuck in the middle of his intermediate French class.  They are working on reading Hercules in French, and she and Sebastian get assigned to write a response from Herc’s Mom’s Husband when Zeus impregnates her with Herc.  Hilarity ensues.  The teacher promises to figure something out to help the newbies catch up.

The Ethics class is taught by a middle-aged Irish guy with a good rep among the students.  She finds him amusing and enjoys the class discussion on Famine.

Day 4:

Another short day- but this one is EASY.  All her favorite classes.  Technology, Math, Science and Study Hall.  I get a write from her as she logs into her computer at school:

M Paris says (09:53 AM)
Stephanie Paris says (09:53 AM)
Are you in tech class?
M Paris says (09:53 AM)
Techno is awsome!
Stephanie Paris says (09:54 AM)
what is it like?
M Paris says (09:54 AM)
It’s French


Math is taught by a small African woman who tries, and fails, to be strict.  DD likes her and thinks the math looks like a lot of fun.
In science she and Mdme. Lustig discuss the nature of the solar system and the physics involved in proving (or not) whether the Sun is its center.  DD thinks Mdme. Lustig is quite the science geek and really enjoys chatting scientific theory with her.

So!  Looks like we are off to about as good a start as I could hope.  Knock wood!  DD even got invited to a party today.  It was a dance party for the birthday of someone she didn’t know and they were expected to wear dresses, so she politely declined.  But, what the hey!

I fully accept that there will be bumps in the road, but, as far as we have gone, I must say relief is the watch word.  As I type she is in the living room teaching her brother exponents and finishing her own math homework.

Speaking of exponents, next week things get exponentially more complicated with our transportation and scheduling when DS starts school at Durmstrang.  As far as we know, *all* of his classes will be in German, so I expect another exhausted child.  But, hopefully, a happily learning one!

A note on scheduling:

I skipped over it above, but may I just say that DD has THE absolutely craziest school schedule I have ever seen, bar none?  I guess complications add up quickly when each student has 11+ classes (not counting Study Hall, Homeroom, or optional Latin) and 3 different languages at varying levels.  DD’s schedule is different every single day and about 1/2 of her classes alternate weeks.  She has 2 arrival times and *4* different times that she leaves.  Lunch varies daily, and is as early as 11 and as late as 1.  Every other Monday she is there until almost 5, but 2ce a week she only stays for 4 hours (er, make that 1.5 times per week- one of the early days alternates!).  If I manage to drop her off and pick her up at the correct times more than 90% of the time, I think I should get an award!   I color-coded my copy of her schedule and marked the heck out of it.  But, I am thinking anything short of a tattoo and I am gonna so lose track.  Also, it looks like she and DS will get out at the same time on Thursdays, so I guess she will need to hang out in the Library for an hour, cause I have yet to get a hold of a Time Turner that might allow me to be in two places at the same time!

Total hours of school per day on Odd and Even weeks
Odd , Even
M 9,  M 8
T 8, T 8
W 4, W 4
TH 7, TH 4
F 8, F 7

Next week, I suspect, will be a lot of German- and a lot of driving!
Sep 042011

To celebrate the end of the kids’ summer break we went to the nearest Zoo of Size that we could find- in Karlsruhe.  That is city about a 45 minute drive to our North.  Turns out it has a nice big palace  in the center of it that serves as a museum (which we will attend at another time).  Actually, there are a lot of museums in Karlsruhe.  This is where the kids went with their Teen-Integration group, as well.  We noted the German influence of Order + Art throughout.  Animals were all much closer and generally separated from humans far less than in the states.  We believe this is because the expected behavioral norms here dictate that humans will be a danger to neither the animals nor themselves.

(Reminder, you can click on any photo to see an enlarged version of it in your browser)

The zoo is in a big park with lots of fun things to do

This was a popular game

Lots of nice art, too.  This is a drinking fountain.

Pelicans surround a ghost boat.  They had lovely boats on a track going around the park, but when we arrived they were all empty and being run anyways.  Sort of eerie!

Behind this nekkid statue of Adam is a kid playset.  We all noted that Nekkid Guy would be an unlikely guardian for a kiddie playground in the US!

Eve was right across the way- complete with unmistakably suggestive serpent

The peacocks had an easy way onto the roof

These sheep reminded me of tiny bison

DD having a moment with the leopard

We noted that the animals in this zoo were far closer to the humans than would be acceptable in the US.  We could have leaned over and put our hands in the leopard exhibit.  We believe that the Germans are more comfortable assuming that no one would do anything so Stupid!

These cranes were engaged in some sort of intricate (mating?) dance

There were two chimps hanging out right next to the glass.  I watched as one used straw to clean off her leathery skin.  This guy was having a moment with the family next to us.

Being groomed by the beaver

Just me and a couple other CA natives (sea lions).  It may have been a wee bit humid (rained as we left) so please excuse the frizzy hair. Actually, it started raining as soon as we got home, so I guess we timed it just about perfectly!

Lovely gardens throughout

Momma seal feeding baby.  She kept a wary eye on the crowd as she conducted her business.

LOVED this sculpture, dated 1902

Peahen and her chick wandering the park

This is at the town center of Karlsruhe.  Nice little wood burning train- smells like a crackling fireplace!

One side of the palace

Nifty sculpture/bench

They had beer and food stands everywhere in the commons.  Ready for Octoberfest so soon?

Another angle on the car

We got some “Largos”, which are apparently a specialty food from “Ungarn”.  I do not know where Ungarn is, but I approve of their food- sort of a beignet-like fried bread served with anything from powdered sugar to garlic and cheese and ham!

The other side of the palace.  The main gardens were behind me and currently under renovation.

We parked next to Stephanienstrasse!

This is the art and tech museum where the kids went before.  Cool Car Art here, too!

Pilsner and Sushi- is this a German Thing?

Sep 032011
Mauvey-Purple Sunset over yellowing corn fields

Huh.  Looked up today and realized that we moved to Germany!

Um, yeah, I know.  Been talking about it for many months.  But, something seems to have changed.  I think it is that we are moving past the “getting here and getting set up” stage (though there are still several key aspects that we are still actively working on).  Now, we are progressing rather rapidly into the “Living your life in this new location” phase.  

How can I tell?  Most glaring on the list of indicators is the fact that the kids are about to start school!  Nothing dictates daily structure quite like the education system.

DD begins at Hogwarts on Monday.  We have been prepping for months, but this is a still a terrifying development.  We had been homeschooling in the US for the last three years precisely because DD’s school experiences had been nothing short of nightmarish.  Now, in less than 2 days, she will begin High School in a country that is foreign not only to our US-accustomed selves, but also our Deutschland acclimating ones!  France!  I honestly have no clue what to expect.  And frankly, (Hee, get it? frank=French? yeah, ok, the linguist in me forgot her meds, ehem, anyways….) it scares the pee outta me.  The opportunity is, of course, wonderful.  She will be taught primarily in English, but receive instruction in both German and French.  She will, we believe, have actual art classes, too.  And she will be in school with an eclectic mix of kids from around the globe.  If she can resist the urge to panic, this could be one of the best experiences of her life.  Or…. well, I just don’t want to go there again- especially not in French.

Strasbourg tram- the orange lines inside the cars are apparently padding for leaning upon.

Transit Tests
In preparation for her first day, we did a test run of the public transit system to Strasbourg, yesterday.  DS and I dropped DD and DH off at the train station.  Then they took the 1/2 hour train ride into the city.  Next, they walked over to the closest tram station and rode the tram to within walking distance of her school- from whence they hoofed it over to the campus where DS and I picked them up in the car.  Unfortunately, the trip for the two of them was 13 EU one way.  Also it took 1.5 hours.  And it included a couple of walks in semi sketchy parts of town.  Hmm.  Good news is that monthly passes would cut the cost down and we think they could shave 10 minutes or so through familiarity and faster walking.  Bad news is that until we feel comfortable with her making the trip on her own, that is 2 hours of travel time for DH just to get her there (since he has to get back to work, as well).   Then another 80 minutes for me to make the circuit to pick both kids up- unless we get DS able to ride the train/bus combo to and from his school on his own.

Because, yes, indeed, DS is starting (20 minutes in the opposite direction) in just over 1 week!  He also starts about 1.25 hours earlier than she does, and gets out about 2.5 hours earlier…. except Wednesdays, when she will either get off an hour before him OR (and this would be delightfully complicated) At Exactly The Same Time. His transport may be a little simpler with a train trip ending at a station where a school bus will pick him up and deposit him at school.  Of course, he is also 3 years younger than she is.  So, gonna need to figure this out.  Whatever the solution, I have a suspicion it is not going to be fast and easy.  Fast and Easy is NOT the German way.  Life here definitely has a slower pace- and many many hoops to hop along the way.

As long as we were in Strasbourg, we figured we would stop and feed the swans…. and get some French pastries :-)

The current plan is for me to pick both kids up after school since DS can’t eat lunch until he gets home, and DD wouldn’t get home until after 5 if we made her take the trains.  So that is a minimum 80 minute commute for me to make the Kid Circle every day.  Yeesh.  I am thinking that it might be worth it to invest in a radio for my car- something I can plug my ipod into and maybe augment my German-Lernan time!

So, you begin to see what I mean about creating a life.  We have gone from ‘Big Eyes Full of Trepidation and Wonder’ to ‘Daily Grind- Logistics, Commute and Organization’.

Other signs that we are getting settled in-

David had his first appointment with his Diabetes Doctor here.  Herr Doctor Haass is a large, very soft man who walks around the office barefoot and understands English far better than he speaks it.  He spoke German to David and David spoke English to him and they somehow made it work.

Also on the medical front, I am going to be getting an MRT (German for MRI) on my shoulder.  Physio was helping, but not fast enough, so Herr Doctor Meiworm referred me to the over-booked, unpleasantly officious MRT facility in town.  Unfortunately, they scheduled me for next Wednesday.  Given the kids’ school overlap, I think I will need to reschedule.  Given the attitude of their front desk clerk, I think I will loathe the process of rescheduling.

185 cm x 185 cm- My Sim and I both LOVE these

Additionally, we are really trying to get out household settled in.  Unfortunately, we are probably a good month away from being able to afford all the furniture we will need in which to store the Stuff that has finally arrived!  That didn’t stop us from making a surveillance trip to Ikea, though.  I admit, every time I set foot in that store I feel like I have entered a game of The Sims.  Their styles are just so…. Sim-ilar.  I have been playing Sims Social on FB lately, and there is a definite blurring of my RL and Online decorating concepts!  In any case, we think bookcases and dressers from Ikea look like good buys, but Wardrobes will have to be purchased locally.  See, even our Set Up is Settling In.

Yeah, I know, this stuff really isn’t that interesting.  Next week I will report back on DD’s first week of school.  Let’s hope that report is moderately boring, too!