May 272012
DH the Ettin.

Challenge Week: Reading, Durmstrang, Partings and Taxes  …and some Russian Grannies to take the edge off!

I guess we will call this a Quick Update and just hit the highlights.

Reading  – Monday I confessed to David that I could actually see some small print on my screen better without my glasses than with them.  I have been getting frequent headaches and know that my close vision is fuzzy at best.  So, David did what any thoughtful caring husband would do: He kidnapped me!  I got in the car to go with him to pick up DS from school, and, since DD wasn’t due home for several hours, he simply drove me to town after the pick-up.  He figured the less time I had to think about it (and potentially chicken out) the better.  We wandered a bit until he could locate the optical shop that he remembered would accept walk-ins.  The optician (optometrist?  I wouldn’t know the distinct certifications to look for here, but the guy seemed to know how to outfit eyes with glasses which is what I needed) spoke a little English, but not much.  So, it was slow-going.  It was the usual routine of testing my old glasses, dropping down little lenses into a rig and discovering what made things clearer or less clear.  As usual, the last couple choices were a coin toss and I was pretty sure I was picking wrong whichever one I chose. 

Once the gentleman did the exam he tried to explain our options, but the communication just wasn’t there.  He left the room for several minutes, then came back with a chart.  That helped!  Basically, he explained that even though I am a little young, I definitely need reading glasses.  I could opt for multi-focals, but that would limit my field of vision and force me to tilt my head up and down a lot.  There was an option for a  straight close-lens that would only really show reading distance.  But, we opted for the middle option, which would cover everything out to about a meter.  This would be good for both my reading and my computer work.  And, since those two activities take up about 10 hours of an average work day, it seemed like the way to go.

It was fun picking out frames from among the various relatively severe German styles.  I could have gotten something rather like what I have now, but I thought it might be good to find something that was easy to distinguish so I could keep the near and far sets less confused.

Amusingly, the optician was so short that trying to get the focal points right proved to be a mild challenge.  I kept thinking I had to stoop down so he could see my eyeline, but he kept correcting me and having me stare at a wall.  Eventually the requisite black dots were marked on the sample lenses.  But, I am crossing my fingers that it works out OK when they arrive over the next couple days.

Unfortunately, he explained that since 2004 the glasses are not covered by our insurance.  So, its an out of pocket expense.  And the prices were higher than we would have liked…. like close to $1000 US for some lower-end frames and the two lenses.  Ouch!  But, if I can see, this will be a very good thing, and when balanced out with other medical expenses which have been very light, I am sure we still come out ahead. I opted for a bit of a Naughty Librarian look with some dark plastic frames, so at least they should be a bit fun.  For that price, I really felt like they ought to be Fun!

Durmstrang– This was really the defining and least-comfortable feature of our week.  DS’s teachers and principal called us in to discuss his progress.  It was tense.  It was a bit awkward.  There were cultural things I don’t think either side understood.  The long and the short of it is that they want him to have learned German already.  I brought along studies explaining that it takes 4-5 years for a well-equipped English Language Learner in an ESL program in the states to reach 50% proficiency in English under ideal circumstances.  I tried to share some of my experiences working with ELL kids in the states.  But, they didn’t want to hear about it.  They need grades and test scores to validate his matriculation, and they have no clue how to get them.  It doesn’t help that he went through a pretty major emotional upheaval a couple months ago and cried a couple times in class.  He has turned a corner since then and seems a lot happier, but clearly his un-German emo-ness put them off-kilter.

So basically, they are stumped and unwilling to bend any further for just one student.  And, he really is just one student.  He is only the second non-fluent German student they have ever had at the school!  Definitely not in California anymore.  Someone was telling me the other day that it is a bit of a dirty little secret that the vast majority of the Turkish immigrants they get here are simply shuttled off to the lower schools and not encouraged to attend the Gymnasiums (the college prep track).  But, everyone in the room did agree that the gymnasium is the place DS should be- it is just that his German isn’t good enough to meet the standards, yet.  So, in the end they put him on a form of probation so he can stay with his class.  He will need to show a lot of improvement in German and pass a test next February to keep from being dropped back a grade.  We are looking for a new tutor and possibly some extra-curricular activities he can participate in.  I am not sure how we can fit it in during the school year, but maybe come summer he will be able to participate with the Pathfinders (German Scouts) or perhaps join a soccer club or something else fun where he can hang with more German kids in a lower stress situation. February is a long way off and who knows what will be happening then.  But, for now, at least, things are a bit more settled. 

Still, that definitely left a bit of a harsh aftertaste in my mouth.  After all the school issues we have had with DD over the years, this is a challenge we aren’t really eager to face.

DD on the other hand, had a rather fun challenge this week- but more about that in a moment- first…

She wasn’t quite sure how to respond when I admitted
that I Beep in my sleep 😉  But, then, who would be?

Wednesday was Kerstin Fondue Day!!! One of the reasons they held the meeting Tuesday is because DS’s dear and wonderful tutor, Kerstin, will be returning to the US this month and they wanted us to make plans to support his learning without her.  Her grant has expired and she has to go back sooner than she would like.  We were just getting to know her better and we are just as bummed as she is that she will need to leave before the end of the school year.  But, we decided to have one more dinner in her honor before she had to go.  She opted for fondue, so we had way too much bread and cheese and fruit and chocolate and rice crispy treats and brownies and marshmallows!  I admit, the stress of the week left us a wee bit more manic even than usual, but she seemed to weather it with good enough humor.  Hopefully, somewhere mixed in with the ‘socially horrified’ and ‘confused’, she also felt ‘appreciated and well-fêted’!

What Foul Sorcery Is This?

Thursday was Rube Goldberg Day!  DD’s physic’s class at Hogwarts worked in small groups to design a long chain reaction machine.  DS was very helpful in giving DD ideas and suggestions and they had fun cloistering together and designing up a storm.  In the end, the amount of time to prepare was pretty short, so all the groups had to scale back a bit.  But, it was still a fun and really educational experiment! 

DD and her poster describing acid-base reactions

Setting up- domino launcher knocks over book, weight swings and knocks
over bottle filled with vinegar into balloon with baking soda,
inflating balloon tilts tube, sending a shuttle down the ramp and setting
off the next section.

 DD says that pretty much every section needed some tweaking as they did their actual run-through, but I figure on-the-spot engineering is a pretty useful skill to have!

Looking down the line

Finishing Touches

Aftermath- note the inflated balloon.

Friday- Recovery Day!  Just. Normal. Stuff.  Phew!

Saturday– I got a bug in my bonnet and decided it was time for me to actually do our US taxes.  (No, we aren’t late- ex-pats get an automatic 2 month extension and grace period). Here is what I learned: It is a pain in the tush.  Really.  Normal taxes are a chore.  Taxes in a year when you moved to Germany?  Whooboy!  Also, most of the tax software isn’t really set up for it.  I tried three different programs – and yes, that means I did the majority of our taxes three times before running up against flaws each time!  Finally, I gave in and purchased Turbo Tax.  I had had an issue with them some years ago and sworn not to use them again.  But, as it turns out, they were really the only program I could find that was able to easily deal with things like foreign addresses, employers without a Federal Identification Number, and the fact that we pay German taxes.  Also, even with all the stuff we wound up giving to charities etc., and the many other itemized deductions we had, the fact that we did not have much mortgage interest last year meant that none of it really mattered at all.  Standard Deductions are Back, Bay-bee.  Not sure that is a good, thing exactly, but it was about the only simplifying factor, so I guess I will take it.  So, as it turns out we owe a bit since I am self-employed, and there is one piece of paperwork we are still trying to track down.  But, otherwise, I think the 2011 Tax Year Ritual is pretty much DONE.  Woot! 

Er… well, at least our US Tax Ritual…. This week DH gets to fill out some German forms, so keep your fingers crossed that it is a simpler process!

Eurovision Song Contest 2012 Saturday was also a European Traditional Day of Kitsch.  The Eurovision Song Contest can best be described as sort of an international combination of American Idol and The Gong Show.  Basically, each participating country goes through a selection process and sends an act to compete.  This year there were 26 participating countries.  Viewers and judges watch and may cast their votes for any country OTHER than their own.  Yes, their are politics at play.  Yes, there are some really goofy costumes, songs, acts, dancers, etc.  It is a spectacle on a grand scale. I was totally looking forward to it.

And. We. Missed. It!!!!

I had been hearing about it all week, so I wanted to watch.  I sat down with the TV on Friday, but I couldn’t find the channel, and DD was watching something, so I figured I would just wait and find it Saturday.  But, Saturday when I went to find the right channel not only was I unsuccessful, but 1/2 through my scanning process we lost our satellite connection!  DOH!  Luckily, the Internet is our friend.  We looked up some of the more talked about acts, and scanned through the amusing costumes and some of the wonderful history.  It is an odd mix of professional performers (Englebert Humperdink represented England this year, and Jedward were there for Ireland) and quirky little specialty acts- like this year’s number two group, the Buranovo Grannies who sing in Udmurt- with a little English punch.  (Their Party For Everybody! really needs to be seen to believed, I encourage you to turn up the speakers and dance along)  Loreen, the Swedish singer who won the competition with her song Euphoria had already had that song on the international charts for a couple months before she performed it in the finals!

So, what this week has taught me is that we are learning, but we aren’t Home yet.  We have been here long enough that we know how to live, but living well in our new country is still an unattained goal. We can get through day to day.  We can get glasses (knock wood), and engage in difficult conversations with schools.  We can get food, clean our house, buy clothes and go on an occasional fun outing.  But, it is still a lot harder than it was in our Native Land.  And, there are still many little things that we just haven’t a clue how to handle…. like finding the right channel to watch Loreen in a cage match with Russian Grannies!  Ah well, maybe next year.

  2 Responses to “Challenge Week: Reading, Durmstrang, Partings and Taxes”

  1. What about generic reading glasses from a drug store?

  2. A couple people have asked- I am astigmatic, so given the 10 + hours per day I expect to be using them, that didn’t seem like a wise choice.

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