Jun 172012

Almost Summer
When Germans prepare for summer, you might expect them to think of San Troptez and the Côte d’Azur, or maybe the Italian Riviera, or in less stressful times between the nations, perhaps even Greece.  But, if their wardrobes are an indication, apparently what Germans actually think of is:  America.  Specifically, Californian and Hawaiian beaches- and a dizzying array of them at that!  Huntington may seem a pretty obvious choice given its Surfing History.  And, Santa Monica is big enough and splashy enough to be world known, I suppose. But, I wouldn’t have expected San Pedro.  I have seen shirts from just about every beach I have walked on.  Which, given my heritage, is probably 90% of the sandy or rocky oceanfront patches between San Fran and San Diego.  I didn’t take photos of any of the Hawaii-based offerings since they were both less-personally interesting to me and less specific.  Mostly, they just say “Hawaii” and leave it at that.

This one is for you, Aunt Leslee!

Another thing Germans (and, indeed probably all Europeans) seem to have on their minds right now is, of course, the European Soccer Championships.   I had been told you could watch them in the town center, but I hadn’t realized how extensive the set up would be.  I imagine that old “repro-service” there must do a hustling business this time of year, since I do not think Offenburg is the only place treating its populace to a community-building spectacle about now!

There are rows of benches set up in the town square to watch this screen. 
I suspect the pubs and restaurantssurrounding the area are
enjoying the event as much as the soccer fans.

Everywhere you look there seem to be signs of the tournament.  We went to the pharmacy the other day and they gave us a free promotional bag made in the German flag colors.  National Pride is wagging everywhere- or perhaps it is “swishing”.

Kids are encouraged to root for their country team by
eating a flag-colored #1 Popsicle. 

Funny translation: “Flutsch-finger” translates to “swish finger” or “I knit finger”. And if you remove the dash it becomes “fingerbang”.  To quote Mr. Takei “Oh My!”.

DS assures me they are yummy, though.  Rasberry, Cherry, Orange.

Father’s Day

With fewer social reminders around, I actually got confused this year and prepared all of David’s favorite foods in celebration of Father’s Day *last* weekend.  Whoops!  So, we had sort of a split celebration.  Today, though,  the kids outdid themselves with their Father’s Day Card creations.  David was a bit over-whelmed.

DD wrote her entire card in German- David even had to look up a word or two.

The theme was about figuring out if you were supposed to be
celebrating Father’s Day.

It came with exemplar cards with cute bunnies which could be
attached in the right locations to verify your Father’s Day Status.

Are you Male?  Check.  Is it the 3rd Sunday in June?  Check.

DS on the other hand, noted the untimely arrival of a zombie  invasion force!
Zombie Chess!

Luckily, there was a solution included.

Your Pop-up Rodent Army. Woot!

The kids said that they had hoped to get him a sword, but
noted his actual gift was 5 times mightier.

Random Cooking of the Week-

I made Mock Oreos.  The Oreo packs you get here are 4 sets of 4 Oreos each.
I wanted… More!
Jun 152012
Google Bike

One Really Great Day

Thursday I had the pleasure of meeting the mother of one of DD’s friends for coffee in downtown Strasbourg.  For 4 wonderful hours I got to drink cappuccino, eat pain au chocolate, watch the street activities in a nice French city, and, most importantly, speak with another adult human being who was not in my family!  Truly, this was a great treat for me.  And as it happens, she is a fascinating and gracious woman who speaks 7 languages and has lived all over the world.  While we were sitting there, the Google Trike came along and photographed our area- presumably for the Google Earth street view.  So, I imagine at some point you will be able to see us having coffee when you check out the image of Paul Cafe near the Strasbourg cathedral!

Then, after we had spent the morning discussing our lives and children, we went to go pick the girls up from school.  As they came trotting out, they stopped at the board with the lists of new students at Hogwarts.  We had already seen it quite recently, so I was shocked when DD suddenly turned from her friend and shouted:

“Hey, Mom!  DS is on the list!”

What?!  How is that possible- they had already told us twice that there was no room.  But, sure enough, there he was on a new paper they had just added.  Apparently, space had opened up and he got in on the second round of applications this year!  I didn’t notice at the time, but many of the new names had a notation saying they must pass a test before being admitted (as DD had to do).   DS’s name was just admitted free and clear.  Woot!

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but so far it hasn’t.  DH went to the office this morning, and they should have the paperwork ready for me by the time I go for pick-up this afternoon.

DS was excited and pleased when we told him.  His immediate response was “YAY! (I think)”  His main concern just being that be was able to stay in contact with his new Durmstrang friends.  Of course!  We aren’t moving, so that should be doable.

DH wants to make sure that German is still a focus.  He doesn’t like the idea of everyone else in the family speaking French while he is stuck dealing with all things German.  Understandable.  But, given, again, that we are not moving, that should also be quite doable.  We still have to go shopping, talk with locals, etc.  Being in a border area, we largely need to be able to have some basic understanding of both languages, regardless.

DS will be starting at the first year of secondary school, which is pretty much perfect. It will mean that he will be coming up with all the other kids who are Newbs at the upper level of Hogwarts.  He will need to learn French, but that was on the agenda for Durmstrang next year as well.

I can’t tell you what a relief this is to me.  It will cut our driving roughly in 1/2, allow us to plan family vacations, and give DS the opportunity to stay current in his core classes (Math, Science, Social Studies, English) while he is learning his two other languages (German and French).  After that last meeting with Durmstrang, it seems clear that they have realized that they aren’t really set up to handle his situation.  So, even though we think it is quite a nice gymnasium with some excellent kids and teachers, I honestly think this will be a much better option for all of us.

Other little things:

Many Many cars in town have German Flags on them.  This is
for the EM- European Meisterschaft.  AKA, the
European Football (soccer) Championships!

They mean that they have lowered the price.

There are so many strawberries around that I actually had more fresh
than we could eat, so I baked a cake!  It came in handy on the night
David needed to eat and eat and eat!

Coming Soon: DS goes to School Camp, and Friends Come Avisiting!

Jun 082012
Canapes at DDs Drama Club performance.

“What was so French?” you might ask.  Well…..

Let’s start with Thursday, which was actually a very German and a very French day.  It was German because it was Corpus Christi.  This is a largely-Catholic holiday (celebrated by some other christian churches, though, apparently less… religiously?) that takes place 60 days after Easter.  In Baden-Württemberg it is a state holiday, but in the less Catholic areas for Germany, it is not.  Nor is it one in France. So, DS (who was already on his second Spring Break) and DH both had the day off.  But, DD, in school in France, did not.

So, around 3:15 David and I set out from Offenburg to pick the girl up.  Plenty of time to get to her school by 3:45 when she would be out.  Only, as we got off the freeway in Kehl, things started getting sticky.  Or rather, they got *stuck*.  As in not moving.  After 10 minutes at the same signal, we knew there must be something significant up.  After 20 minutes of sitting in Kehl (a town all of 1 km wide) we were fairly convinced that there must be some sort of major border activity going on.

Usually the borders between France and Germany here are not subject to any restrictions, but occasionally officials from one of the two governments will stop rows of cars to check them for contraband.  This is most often the French police checking for things like fireworks around New Years.  I have only seen the German police stopping cars going that direction once, that I recall.  Since this was, in fact, a holiday we could only venture that there was something similar in the works- and, given the lack of movement, we were guessing they must have uncovered some sort of super firework smuggling ring.  How exciting!

But, when we got across the bridge to the area where the police usually conduct searches, we noticed that while there were a few police cars, there were no vehicles from the general public pulled off beside them and the cops were just sort of milling about, looking… well, bored, really.  Something else was afoot.

As we continued down the main road into Strasbourg, I glanced at the traffic alert sign that doles out the usual platitudes and good-citizenship reminders along with its traffic info and the phone numbers to report issues.  Today it read “Ne jouez pas avec les feux”   Don’t play with fire.  Ok, good advice, thanks.  It poured rain most of the week, but that’s no reason to let your guard down.

A block further on, and we finally reached the cause of the disturbance.  Dozens of people were standing about wearing bright yellow day-glow vests, These are standard issue for drivers here to make them visible if they break down.  Most of these folks seemed to be upward of retirement age and were walking about through traffic distributing brochures of some kind.  David understandably thought the circus (a senior circus?) was in town.  But, once I spotted their banner, I knew what it was: another strike!  Or at the minimum, a strike-like demonstration.  How, very, very French! Again!  I couldn’t actually read what the banner said- it blew in the wind and seemed to be mostly made of acronyms.  But, there was no other explanation.  Unfortunately, the folks handing out the papers stopped just in front of us and we never did figure out what cause was being touted this time. Later inquiries of locals indicated that they are so bored with the multitude of these events, that they didn’t even bother to pay enough attention to know who was out and about stopping traffic through town.  It is just part of living in France- like lingerie ads and butter.

We had been warned that sometimes during more major events French truck-drivers will actually drive their trucks onto the borders, turn off the engines, take the keys and leave.  Luckily no one had done that this time.  But, they were still managing to snarl traffic into some sort of undulating mass of barely-damp clay.  Not only was traffic slow… it was French traffic.  So it was slow and unpredictable.  Sometimes a car would dart to one side as if it could go around the blockage by force of will- or perhaps dematerialization.  Other drivers literally just threw up their hands, drove onto the sidewalk and *parked* there.

As we inched along, we arrived at a second traffic alert sign.  This one declared “Au feu rouge, je m’arrête”.  At the red fire, I stop myself.   Umm.  Ok, very poetic.  Thanks for that, too. 

Looking to the right, I noticed a long line of bicyclists also wearing the yellow vests.  It was then that I remembered that my camera was in my purse.

I only managed to get the last few in the row, but you get the idea!

We did eventually make it to DD- about an hour late.  Luckily, we weren’t the only parents coming from Germany, so she knew about the delay.  By the time we headed back, the protesters were heading out, so all their signs were furled and many were removing their vests.  The traffic took a nice long time to recover, though.  David, who never likes driving in France, was pretty much beside himself by the time we got to DD.  So I offered to drive on the way back.  I had some idea of exploring a bit and trying to work my way around the blockage.  But really, that just raised DH’s blood pressure higher.  You may recall similar results the last time we attempted this.  DH was definitely not designed to be French.  He criticized the way I ran a red light (seriously, it *was* the French way!) and didn’t like it when a bus turned into our lane and nearly hit us at a signal.  He also wasn’t fond of turning around 2ce to eventually find a short cut.  But, I *did* find a short cut- and, it was even, well, short!  Or, at least, as soon as traffic moved enough for us to make any progress, it was short.

Upon reaching home, I went ahead and rechecked the translation on the two alert signs.  It turns out that “feu” (plural “feux”) can mean both fire and light.  So, “feu rouge” is probably red light.  Thus, the second sign was pretty clearly trying a sort of indirect reminder “You know, *I* always stop at red lights, but, well, if you don’t want to, I guess.. Eh.. (French-shrug)”

But, now I am not sure what to make of the first sign.  Was it actually imploring us not to play with light instead of fire?  Maybe they don’t want us to race the stop lights?  Not that that is particularly easy to do in most of Strasbourg.  Traffic is generally heavy in the city itself.  But, on the other hand it did always seem a bit odd that an area so wet and green would be overly concerned with fire safety.  Of course, this is BBQ season….

Mind you, Germans don’t mess around with vague imagery- verbal or otherwise.  Here is a fire safety sign spotted in Germany on the very next day:

Seriously, y’all, DON’T leave your BBQ unattended or
the fire elementals will reach out
and GRAB your baby!  And, as the poster
warns, Help Often Comes Too Late.

As long as I am on the subject, a few other German things:

My new German Reading Glasses
Severe, but fun!
Sunsets have been gorgeous this month!

A dead Giant European Hornet in front of the apartment.
Yeah, they are large.  And yeah, they have invaded the US.
Keep your eyes peeled.

The weather, as I mentioned, has been wet.  But, that is typical this time of year, and it is a warm wet most of the time.  DS has taken to going for daily scooter rides around the neighborhood, so, these days, like the locals, he just throws on a jacket and heads out in the rain.

Granted, his pants don’t really repel water that much….

More French

DD has participated in an after-school drama club throughout the year at Hogwarts.  Tonight was their drama recital, if you will.  An evening of Sketches- done in English, by mostly non-native English speakers.  It was quite charming, actually.

Apparently we weren’t supposed to enter through the main
gate, but we didn’t read the sign and an administrator
let us in anyways… Getting out, though was trickier!

DD’s skit was about being “In the Army”
She wore her great-grampa’s Navy flight jacket,
and, um… a hat.

Their darling drama coach.  The poor thing was
bright red anytime she had to speak to anyone!
To be fair, it was rather warm in the basement
where the recital was held.

Seven Skits

Did I mention that the event was held in the basement of the P building?  That means, I swear to you, the room is numbered “P00”.

It took me several minutes to figure
out what this is.  Do you know?  I am still
not sure why it is bolted to the wall!
Left Right Left Right!

The tall guy is Sgt. Small, The short on Sgt. Large, and the guy in red
was filling in for their absent Private Potter

DD did the entire thing with a decent English accent- only she didn’t know she was doing it.  It was just the character she had in her mind.  Too fun. Actually, she frequently slips into an English accent when she returns home from Hogwarts.  I think it sounds mysterious and enchanting.  She thinks it is a bit ridiculous.

These two were really funny hamming it up as love birds
The stage crew almost dropped the TV, but DD jumped in a grabbed it.
Later, she and one other girl muscled the thing into a new position and then
removed it without assistance.  WTG DD!
Best Costume Goes to – the Old Guy in Shakespeare’s House
Best unexpected moment- at one point in the script, a character knocks on the
door- this toddler from the audience answered it!!!

Flowers & presents for the drama coach!