Sep 302012
One of my favorite parts of living in Germany- LOTS of rainbows.
This one was particularly stunning- and had a minimum of 3 bows.

Autumn has definitely arrived- 

Here you can see the triple rainbow better,
The bottom bow has at least 2 sets of arcs (in person I recall it having 3,
but only 2 are visible here)

The air has a chill crispness, the mornings occasionally reveal frost, the leaves are starting to turn, and the storms are windy, full of rain, and generally best to enjoy from indoors. Last night we turned on the radiators for the first time this season.  It is always a struggle to get them working the first time.  You would think you just turn the knob to the proper level, but there are these weird buttons that are supposed to get things started, and they just never seem to work right.  Last year I actually wound up taking the one in our bedroom apart trying to get it to work!  It was totally worth it, though, because waking up to a warm bedroom and a dreary grey outside is much more pleasant than the alternative! 

But, everything in Germany is seasonal and they seem to know how to make the best of each phase.  I went to the market last week and discovered all the berry displays had been swapped out for this:

Root vegetables, crisp apples and baking pumpkins dominate the produce aisles.  Also, all the BBQ meats are gone, and new slow-roasting selections are in their place.  Mostly pork, of course, but some roasting chickens and the like.  Soon we will be getting goose and duck and even a few beef roasts, I suspect.  I miss affordable fish and lamb, but there are definitely acceptable autumn options around here.

First Wassail of the Season, just starting to steep.

Whats new with The Kids?
After the rough start, things are (knock wood) going…. well- Well!  DS is settling in to his classes, learning names, making friends (even a couple female ones), and enjoying his new-found status as “The Best Math Student in the Class”.  He apparently roxored their start of the year placement test, receiving the highest score, and resultingly the coveted First Seat. He is also joining the Musical Club, where they will work with the English and Music teachers to perform bits from musical plays.

DD has had an even better couple weeks.  She did get into the Techno class, which she is loving (she, too got the highest score on the first test).  And she is even starting the get the hang of the dreaded French.  Unfortunately, she is still not learning fast enough for the Snape-like Uncle Deadly, but that is going to be a long-term struggle, I suspect.  She did draw this wonderful (and accurate) portrait of him in class, but he caught her at it, so she never finished:

She also noticed that there were several empty cabinets in the new buildings, so she set about to fill them with place-holder items until they can be properly filled.  This is my favorite:

Titles include “The Willnots”, “A Weasel at Midnight”, and “Mostly Nothing”

But, the biggest news for DD is that she apparently got Second Prize in an Poetry contest.  At first we thought this was just the typical kind of school award sort of deal, but then we found that it comes with a rather significant cash prize!  (To give you an idea, if it is as much as touted, she plans to buy several video games with it). Unfortunately, DD, thinking it would be boring, chose not to attend the awards ceremony.  And, now she has spent the better part of the week trying to track down the revolving circle of teachers and admins, who have had her certificate and cash in their possession!  the poem itself was written and submitted last year around the topic of “games”.

Next year’s theme is “stars”, which DS complains just doesn’t fill him with inspiration.  “I like symbology!! How can you use stars as symbols!!?” he demanded- to dropped jaws and confusion.  It isn’t due until December, though, so he will have some time to reconsider his position.

Through most of Germany the end of September and first week of October are notable for Octoberfest, of course! But, we are firmly in wine country around here.  They still revere Beer.  They are still German!  But, practical as always, they figure if you have access to some of the best grape growing regions in the world, go with it!  Thus our local town celebrated Weinfest this week.

I couldn’t find a great way to get a representative photo, but the town square was lined with
kiosks offering all sorts of local wines.  You buy your glass and wander
and sample.

Neither David nor I are much in the way of wine drinkers, so we mostly concentrated on the other stuff…

Entertainment was provided by this lovely orchestra.  I assumed
they were local. 
Until this gentleman began to speak, and introduced every performer in
perfect English- Nigel, Jeremy, Alexander, James….
I think he looks like a cross between Richard Attenborough
and Peter Ustinov.

Wait, What?  A piper?

Yes, indeed!  What every German Festival needs!

Turns out these folks are from Offenburg’s sister city of Borehamwood in England and were here entertaining for the first time in 14 years.  Even made their local paper:

They played fun tunes, mostly oompha- though I am sorry to say the only piece I completely recognized was Baby Elephant Walk.  Oddly, the one band member I heard speaking between sets had an American accent. 

Other bits of the festival had a more distinctly German feel.  The sweets cart:

Offerings include the traditional gingerbread-like Magenbrot, popcorn, sweet-roasted nuts,
and an assortment of candies and gum: Tubble Gum,
Candy Spray, Flic-N-Lic and Kaugummi (just German gum).

This guy was playing this percussion instrument that appeared to be an inverted steel drum that he banged on with his open hands. It was quite pleasant sounding.  When David dropped a coin in his basket, he looked up and said “Thanks!” in English.

The photos below him didn’t make sense to me-
they seemed to be cartoonish images, but I just couldn’t
parse them.
The Original Grosse (Big) Hot Dogs, for Big Appetites.  Yeah, They were!
Not bad, either, but I could only eat 1/2 of mine.

The kids opted not to go to town for the Wein Fest.  But, when we got home, we discovered they had not been idle.  They had taken a number of our old boxes and created a Degu Wonderland!

Ramps, tunnels, boxes inside boxes- lots to explore!

One of the inside areas- think of the paper box as a Degu ball-pit.

The Food Section:  The other wonderful thing about Autumn, of course, is that it is a perfect excuse to cook.  Here are just a few bits cause I can’t help but share.

Still trying to perfect my breads, I figured a few
local recipes couldn’t hurt

(Edit: Finally started thumbing through the book- the VERY FIRST bread recipe has ham in it!  No kidding.  The Schinken Police wouldn’t have it any other way!)

And, lets face it, if you are going to have a fondue
cookbook, it ought to be from Germany or Switzerland!

Slices of Lemon and Ginger covered in local wild honey.
The recipe claims it is great to make “tea” for colds,
but I am thinking of a dozen other uses- I am especially
eager to make an Asian chicken dish with it.

Woot!  That dough seems to have risen!

Made three kinds of donuts with it-
Can’t really get American Style donuts around here

Chicken Galette

DS-style chicken noodle soup.  He got a head cold this week, so he was
very happy for the broth (and noodles!)

Schäufele… SO good!

DD is our Salad Mistress.

Getting better with the breads!  Combination of learning
which flours to use, which recipes work best,
and don’t underestimate the role of a good
stand mixer!!!

Better crumb!

The mixer also really helps with butter-making-
I have made a batch a week since I got it :)

Safe Mixing
(Really, just to keep the buttermilk spray down…)

Yummy! (one salted, one not)

Splurged on Coffee at my favorite little coffee house-
They get extra points for color-coordinating their bags to my kitchen!

Kingly Pleasure Chocolate
Also considerately colored for my decorating needs.
(plus, Schloss Heidelberg on the cover)

A Few Random Fun things:

Spleens Magazine-
An offering for DD from our insurance company
“Stand-Up-Paddling, Feel the Freedom!” 

This same insurance company sent us a note about DD’s upcoming excursion into the world of Orthodontia.  It first outlined what they would pay, what we would pay, etc.  Then it admonished:

Mr. Paris, you and your child are now called – Employees and patience are needed to ensure that the treatment proceeds successfully, Please follow the instructions given by your doctor, and encourage your child when it comes to difficult moments.

Took me a while to parse that.  But, SOOO German.  Love it!

That white mini-vehicle off the the left?  Its a robot.  I don’t know what it
was for, but two French road workers walked along beside it (guiding it?)
as it meandered through a construction zone.

As an aside, something we have noticed here is that German road crews in particular are elderly.  Like the youngest guys often appear to be in their forties, and the older ones are well into their 60’s!

I had hoped to be able to report on a trip to a relatively local zoo this week, but weather thwarted our efforts.  We shall see if it gets any more cooperative as Autumn progresses…. um, yeah.  Could happen!

Upcoming: DD Gets Braces, DS learns to sing, Halloween is a sadly non-event and other tales of the season.

Sep 182012

Last night was back to school night for the upper grades at Hogwarts (DD’s class).  They call it a “Parents/Teachers Meeting” and it is definitely something that must be experienced to comprehend.  There is a second one this evening for the younger grades (DS’s class). but I am not sure we have the stamina to attend two such events in one week!  Luckily, it is probably not necessary.  Since the school is small most of the teachers teach most of the students.

The event is structured differently than similar ones I have attended in the US.  Instead of having parents move to the teachers, the teachers come around to different classrooms and present themselves to the parents.  So, basically you have a parade of different teachers coming through and introducing themselves to various classrooms full of parents.  From the teacher standpoint it must feel like a Judging Gauntlet.

We are all grouped by which class level our children are in.  I imagine this causes havoc with parents who have kids in multiple levels, but, again, it is a small school so presumably the information will get out… Also, these parents are pushy!  Not in a bad way, mind you.  But, figure Hogwarts families are not exactly the usual stay-home and go-with-the-flow sorts who populate the majority of the planet.  These are people who have 1) chosen to live in a foreign country and/or 2) chosen to send their children to a school that specifically caters to an international crowd.  This is not a population prone to Shy Wallflower Syndrome.  These folks know what is important to them and are willing to speak out to get it.  The group dynamics are fascinating to watch.

This year there are a lot of new teachers in the Hogwarts faculty.  What are they like?  Well, some are pretty typical teachery-types- professional educators like you might find at any school.  But, interestingly enough, a lot of them are a little different.  They truly do seem like people who might be cast as Hogwarts instructors.  You can practically see the floo powder still in their hair!

The upper-grade History/Geography teacher is what DD terms “not exactly a great teacher, but very, very interesting“.  He is an aging, auburn-haired Francophone with a slightly-forward-leaning carriage.  His spiky hair should long-since have gone grey if the crags in his face are to be believed, but I detect nothing bottle-died about it.  On the other hand, it is not entirely natural-looking either, having fascinating variegations and speckles.  DD says he has the unfortunate habit of pacing the room with his hands behind his back and perching above students to observe their work.  Her first impression was “vampire”, but I think he is  more bird-like with a quick, questioning eye, sharp nose and angular features.  Perhaps a carrion-bird of some kind, or one of the larger birds of prey- definitely something large enough not to be easily startled.  I am going to settle on Buzzard for now, but not in the ideological sense. Last year she had the Ghost Teacher for Geography, so a likely-animagus is an improvement. 

He seems to be a self-assured master of his subject matter and according to DD makes the attempt to ensure that his students are getting the information they need.  However, the poor gentleman has the misfortune of teaching two of the classes that are this year designated to be taught in the students’ second language (L2)- French.  For students who have lived in Strasbourg for a while and/or attended Hogwarts since the beginning, this is not much of an issue.  Their French is up to the task.  But, for students like DD and several others who came in late, the fact that they have several classes in a language that is still a challenge is, well, challenging!  One recently adopted dad started up the conversation about what was being done to get the late-comers up to level on the French, and 1/2 the room piled on.  Mr. Buzzard did his best to deflect imperiously, but he was standing right in the line of fire with no real answer other than “this is how it is done”.  In the end, a more diplomatic father suggested that perhaps learning support for French was something that the Home Teacher could address instead of the man whose job it was to teach Human Sciences, and the parents let the regal bird depart, feathers in tact.

(Edit: I just remembered who he reminds me of!  Uncle Deadly!!! Only, you know, Redder)

     The new Technomancy Teacher is somewhat simian in presentation, with cropped dark hair, thick eye brows, and long, hair-covered arms. So, for the purposes of the blog I will imagine that he is, indeed, a full-blown were-ape.  But, he is also awesome!  He has a rich, thickly French accented baritone, but claims to teach English students exclusively in English.  So, points there.  But, more essential, he is re-invigorating the Tech course with, holy crap, actual technical knowledge!  The first thing he said that made me prick up my ears that the he thinks they have done enough word processing and spreadsheets.  Indeed they have.  The next thing he did was tell us what he will be covering instead: binary/hex, video/film editing, 3-D modeling and actual coding topped his list.  Hello!  DD had opted out of Tech this year because her last teacher was so uninspiring.  She figured she would learn more just asking us things at home.  But, this gentleman is actually teaching things I don’t know.  So, kudos!  We sent a letter today requesting that DD be allowed to add the class.  Unfortunately, it will make her schedule late twice a week, but I think you don’t pass up an opportunity like this if you can take it.  Wish us luck! 
(An awkward aside- we were busy telling DD about the new teacher and his class as we walked by him in the hall.  I only noticed his presence after I stage whispered that he was ‘Awe-some!’  Whoops.  Well, if I had to be over-heard, I am glad it was probably while saying something that will make his evening :)

     There are going to be some Big Tests coming up this year.  Apparently there will be ‘Long Tests’ in October, and then full ‘Exams’ in December.  I guess this is a European thing, since most of the families seemed to understand the context.  Given our testing-heavy American society it feels a little weird.  Our kids are tested all the time, so what is the deal with Long Tests and Exams?  But, I get the impression these are sort of like a cross between Finals and State Testing and the SATs all rolled together.  For this year I think that these are mostly used internally, but that the ones they take their last two years will go toward their Baccalaureate, which is basically their High School diploma… only, there are some layers to it.  Like the OWLS in Harry Potter.  Honestly, I am still pretty confused.  But, I guess all we can do is encourage DD to do her best. 

     Today they released yet another set of schedules for the students.  The good news is that DS no longer has a 10-hour school day on Tuesdays.  But, apparently there is still some confusion on some of the other particulars.  For instance, on DD’s schedule there is a blank shown on Monday mornings.  But, the English teacher swears that she has the students during that slot.  The parents hadn’t all gotten to see the new schedules, yet, so my copy was popular before the meeting.  Most of the parents were relieved that the open slot was actually filled.  With the upper and lower grade classes on different schedules, it is already a bit of a nightmare trying to coordinate start-times when you have more than one Hogwarts kid in the family!

     DD’s French teacher does, in fact, speak French with an Anime voice.  Which is both hysterical and wonderful.

     Contrary to popular rumor, the English teacher does not seem to have a speech impediment.  However, she does have a particular kind of French accent that leaves her pronouncing ‘r‘s like ‘w‘s.  I might not have been sure about this if another of the parents had not had exactly the same accent!  Now I am curious to know where it is from. 

Big Talk 

We got to hear a lot of the parents speak, actually, because about 2/3 of the way through the discussion shifted from academics to Issues We Have With Teenaged Children.  And, wow was that fascinating to watch.  It is difficult to assess in a room like that how many of the differences in parenting style that we were seeing had to do with individual ideals and how many were cultural.  But, one thing that became clear in listening to the parents discuss their woes and possible solutions was that while teenagers the world over may be very similar in their wiring and behaviors, parental responses vary wildly!  I did notice some trends, though.  The French and Spanish parents seemed to advocate for communal solutions while the American and UK folks were much more concerned with personal responsibility. 

Here are the things parents of 15-16 year old kids are worried about at Hogwarts: Smoking, Drinking, Sex, Facebook.

Sounds familiar?  I am pretty sure the same list shows up in just about every industrialized society, and the rest probably just leave Facebook off.

Proposed Solutions:

  • Set up parenting seminars on how to address these issues. 
  • Band together and make Facebook rules for all the kids in the class so that the kids can’t say “but so and so is still online” at 1 am. 
  • Police your own darned kids. 
  • Somehow stop the kids from smoking near the school because it sets up a ‘bad attitude’. 
  • Ignore the kids smoking near the school because you can’t control it.  
  • Worry more about Facebook Bullying than Cigarettes.  
  • Worry more about Cigarettes than Facebook. 

An Irish Mom and the Spanish Mom seemed to be most vocal and most at odds with one another.  Irish Mom seemed to think Spanish Mom wanted a 1984 Nanny State, while Spanish Mom seemed to think Irish Mom didn’t understand the idea that the actions of a few can affect the lives of all.  The French all wanted group meetings and support.  And we are, apparently, the hard-nosed Americans since David kept just saying “Say ‘No’, its hard, but you have to do it!”  My Filipino friend and I just sort of sat there taking it all in with our jaws only slightly askew.

Eventually one of the administrators not-so-subtly came by and changed the schedule on the door to the one for tomorrow night.  All the other classes had already cleared out and we were still sitting around having a mini-EU meeting for S4!  Grin.  Well, the teachers all say that our kids are the talky-class.  I guess the parents are, too!

Dursley Update: While we were in talking with the parents, the administrator who had helped us deal with the Dursleys chatted some with DD.  He told her that after he had spoken with one of the other Admins, they had actually taken the Dursley girls on a little walk to have a conversation with the police!  It seems there were three complaints about the little darlings that day and they felt that the best way to nip it in the bud was a little Scared Straight action.  Wow!

I still see the girls hanging around outside the school every day, so let’s hope it had an effect.

Sep 182012

A few Catch-Up Images for today:

DD saw these at the supermarket and insisted I take the photo
I have taken photos of the base model before.
They are chocolate covered marshmallow on a cookie…
Only, this set has, er a free tube of sugar pen.

Folks on Segways wandering around town.
There were maybe 8 of them- mostly middle aged.
No. Clue.

Tell me you never wondered
how they transport them.

And, the best:

My mom and Grandma read of my cooking adventures sans stand-mixer and decided to give me an awesome gift!  KITCHENAID  WOOT!

Not exactly German Packaging as I have come to expect it.
A box, inside a shipping box, inside, er another shipping box
filled with paper!

On the other hand, definitely the
instructions as I have come to love them:
13 languages!  Including one I cannot figure out!

Look at that lovely color.  They call it “Brilliant Blau” and it is!

It fits!

Hello Gorgeous!

Stay tuned to see future adventures with the Hot Rod Mixer.

Sep 182012

So, this happened and was cool!  But I missed posting about it because of Hogwarts and Malfoy and the Dursleys etc.  So, check out this excellent event:

On the final night of the Kickstart for Project Giana, the team held a party, complete with Live Webcast hosted mostly by Schmitty and Elena.  It was a fun and somewhat surreal event reminiscent of Public Television Pledge Drives… Only, Geekier.  They interviewed all the team members, answered questions from the Net, had the Composer on Skype from America, ate pizza and drank soda, played some games and generally had a wonderful, techy, fun time!
Here are a few photos DH took behind the scenes of the event as it was going on.

Original Concept art from the 80’s

Florian- and some soda bottles

Recent Art- and, yes, a very green hallway.

Manuel, Rolf and Schmitty- and the Owlverlord

The Control Room
Sarah, Jacomi, Manuel, the Owlverlord and Schmitty

Andreas on his tablet
Elena, Marc and Niko– and more soda bottles

David with the Owlverlord

Adrian and Patrick

Schmitty and Eric
Made It!!!! WOOT!
Sep 102012

So much to process.  Been a surprisingly long week!

Imagine them with scrunchies and scarves.

Female Dursleys

You know how at the beginning of each Harry Potter book, our hero has at least two run-ins: One with the Muggle world in the form of the Dursley clan, and the other in the Wizarding world, generally with Malfoy and his cronies.  And all this happens before the main plots even get started.  Well, that was poor DD’s week in a nutshell.  After what happened with Malfoy Tuesday, we were hoping for a nice quiet finish to the week.  But, a couple of female Dursleys had other ideas.

One of the challenges with having a French Hogwarts is that scheduling is a pain.  There are no days in which DD and DS arrive or leave school at exactly the same time.  Friday DD got out earlier, so she was waiting out front for DS’s class to finish up.  I have mentioned before that the wizarding school is actually on the same campus as a muggle (public French) neighborhood school.  Unfortunately, I am told, not all the muggle children relish the opportunity to share their campus with the wizards.  And thus, two bored muggle girls looking for trouble decided DD was the perfect target.

First they approached her and demanded her stuff.  They wanted to see her cell phone (we have the cheapest ones available) and then they wanted a pen.  DD offered them a green pen.  But, no, it must be a blue pen.  When she didn’t immediately produce what they wanted, they grabbed her bag and started rifling through it, shouting at her and eventually pushing her around!  DH and DD are now convinced that they were essentially shaking her down for lunch money- trying to get stuff from her that they could use.

At that point, a kind witch- mother of a student at Hogwarts- came to the rescue. Suddenly there was a small woman at her elbow dragging DD away from the rough muggle girls and offering to stash DD in her car!  Since DD didn’t know the woman she wasn’t going to get in the car with her.  But, eventually she established that this was a friendly encounter, and the two of them stood across the street from the school until DS’s class got out.  The witch conveyed her concern that the muggle students were getting so aggressive and her belief that there was some bad blood between the two schools.  She also expressed dismay that the library (where students typically await siblings) was currently closed because the librarian was on holiday.

But, of course, I didn’t know any of this when I arrived.  What I found upon parking was both kids running toward me beckoning me to come with them.  DS explained that he had a friend who wanted a play date this weekend and asked me to go speak with his father.  So, that was my focus. It was only after I finished exchanging contact information and working out timing details for DS that I even discovered that anything unpleasant had happened! By then the other mother had left, so I did not get a chance to thank her or compare notes.

However, as it turned out, the two muggle girls were still hanging around with their group of friends!  Not really all that bright, these Dursleys.  Since DD and DS were unable to name them, I simply took out my camera and snapped a couple photos.  The girls ran, but I got enough to identify them to any administrator who might look.  I also got pictures of their group of friends, who could certainly identify them if they so chose.  This fact was not lost on the friends, who quickly swarmed me and demanded to know what I was taking pictures of, if I thought they had done something wrong, etc.- all in French.  By now, I was rather agitated, a state that never improves foreign language use, so my French became FrenGermLish quite quickly.

DD is smiling because she likes my plan.
You can see here the Group (faces blurred)
You can also see the magic golden gate!

The school is set up so that you must be rung in and out except between classes, so I could not escape into the school without buzzing, requesting entrance and getting the gate remotely unlocked.  It really is rather like magic with disembodied voices and bizarrely self-empowered steel gates.  I am never sure what language to use, but French seems right, so that is usually what I try.  Of course, my language centers were already scrambled, so I was just pleased that they were willing to let me in at all!

In any case, once we went in, the muggle kids left us alone and we hurried up to speak with the Hogwarts secretary.  She alerted us to the fact that another family had already come in to complain about these girls!  SO, she dragged us around the school searching for whoever was handling that issue.  Eventually, we determined that the other family had left.  But, the muggle director was the one to speak with.

The next half hour involved an almost comical chase scene with the director, DD, DS, and I all tromping out around the school trying to track down the wayward children.  The director threatened their friends, who kept turning to me for support in their claims that it was not they who had behaved so badly.  All, again, in intense, overlapping French. Awkward! In the end, the director got copies of the photos off my camera, sent Yard Duties out to fetch them, and had the Dursley girls in his office by the time we left.

The Aftermath

DD wasn’t even sure she wanted to report what had happened on Friday, but I am very glad that we did.  I am feeling like the only way to handle this is to be proactive and try to make sure that the Hogwarts our children attend is a much safer, less hostile environment than Harry Potter’s!   To that end, David went down this morning to speak with the Director.  Mostly he just wanted to make sure that the gentleman is in the loop (he seems to be) and to express our belief that the kids need a safe place to be during less-supervised time periods.  We found out that the library should be re-opened as of this week.  There had been rumors that it would be closed until December, so glad that is not the case!!  David is quite good at these sorts of interactions, so I am hoping it will have the desired affect.  For my part, I am spreading the word among the other parents that I speak with, so that folks can help watch eachother’s backs, and be part of the solution.  Wish us luck!  I figure one advantage that DD and DS have that HP did not is us.  Gotta put all your resources to bear.

DS’s old broom was wearing out,
So I stopped and got him this one.
Not quite a Nimbus 2000, but it will do, I think.

Random other stuff:

  • Thankfully, the rest of the week went largely well, knock wood.  DS followed the wrong group of students and wound up losing track of his German class at one point.  Even with the help of a yard duty, he never tracked down the roving German-speakers!  Doh.  That is the problem with going to a school where buildings reconfigure themselves as you walk about!
  • DS also had a play-date at a new friends’ house this weekend.  His friend is Spanish and lives in France.  DS is American and lives in Germany.  So, just with the two of them there are 4 countries represented!  Fun stuff!
  • DD spent her weekend researching, examining and analyzing various definitions of “life” for a quicky-report.  She was originally just supposed to find one definition by any credible scientist.  But someone in class asked if they could compare some of them.  The teacher replied… “That is a great idea.  DD, you will do *that* one.”  Hee. It is possible DD is known for her love of such things.  We compared and contrasted Asimov, Sagan’s 5, the current one used at NASA, and a few others.  Had a really fun time discussing it with her.  That kid has some keen insights!

German Cheese Ad: “So Smelly, So French”

DD went to a French market for a snack with
her friend.  This is the soda she brought back.

Only the French would think 70 cents US
is appropriate for approx 6 oz of liquid.

Standard US 2-cup measuring cup
This crop grows a fair bit around here. 
I think it may be sorghum. 
Can anyone recognize it?

Latest bread effort.  Getting better!  This one is almost all 550
flour.  Had a nice crisp thin crust and a moist interior.

DD finally got the most-shy
degu out to be held.  This is Veigar.

Sep 052012

So, today was DD’s return to Hogwarts and DS’s triumphant entry into the Wizarding School.  And an eventful day it was, too……

Please, Dear Mother.  Save me from this Horrible Homework Troll!!!

But, I get ahead of myself.  First….

The Morning:

I like to think our household is far more like the Weasley abode than Harry Potter’s.  Minus a few kids, of course, and the liberal dose of Ginger…..  Our loss, I am sure.  But, whatever the case, we started the day far too early with homemade biscuits (from homemade buttermilk!) and eggs.  Then we took the obligatory First Day of School photos,  hopped in the flying car and headed on over to Hogwarts.

DD was considering transferring to a degree in transmogrification.
Here is her attempt at becoming a Gremlin.
What do you think?
Magic Supplies are HEAVY

We need some sort of
Portable Hole for school supplies

Swish and Flick!
Or maybe a leviosa spell would help!
Buck up, Brother!  It’s Sorting Day!
Think you will be in Slytherin?

 Obligatory Mom photos…


A little squinty, but still cute


Once we arrived at the school, it was time for the Homeroom Sorting Ceremony.  We walked over to where the ceremony was held last year- only to discover a man on a microphone reading off names and sorting the dregs of a group of kids into …. Wait a minute- we were still 1/2 hour early!  Had we made a mistake?  Luckily, no.  Turns out this was the Muggle School that shares the same grounds going through their first day ceremonies!  Doh.  So, we set about to waiting.

And waiting.

I remind you at this point that Hogwarts is located in France.  We were meant to arrive at 9 AM.  We got there around 8:30, but found parking far quicker than anticipated.  Now it was… hmmm

Yeah.  Still waiting.

Happy to have put backpacks down!

The good news is that many of DD’s friends had arrived by now and were milling about.

MoOoom!  Stop taking pictures!

But I had to get a shot of this lovely
present one of her friends brought her.
I suspect it was bought in Hong Kong

Hogwarts, being a truly multicultural school, has students genuinely from all over the world.  And many of them visited friends and relatives over the summer, or just headed off into unexpected regions because- well, that is what Hogwarts families do.  It was fun watching everyone’s T-shirts as they arrived for school.  Of the students I know personally, I can confirm that the places the shirts mentioned were places the students had recently traveled!

The New Headmaster
Shortly before 9:30 the new Headmaster arrived and took up the microphone to welcome the students and introduce himself. Oddly enough, he seemed an awful lot like a somewhat smaller, less loquacious version of the old headmaster!  The old headmaster, incidentally, is apparently setting up a new school in Marrakech!  I told you, these wizards get around! 

Doesn’t really look like Dumbledore-
Maybe in his earlier years?

Our new leader was a little nervous, but pleasant enough.  He has been a principal/headmaster/director* before, but this was his first day with students at this school.  He only gave his speech in French, but greeted us briefly in English and German, as well.  Returning to the photo for a moment, look just behind and to the right of our new headmaster.  I would really not like to be on the receiving end of Madame Umbridge’s baneful gaze!  She is actually the Assistant Director.  Nowhere near as unhinged or nasty as Book Umbridge, but definitely not someone I wish to run afoul of!
* (we use all three terms since it is the same role and people here are as likely to use one as another)

After his speech, he handed off the microphone to the teachers who read off their class lists, gathering their new students.  DS got exactly the teacher we had hoped and expected that he would!  I am going to say that of the Harry Potter group, Mr. Purcell (Pronounced PUR-suhl) is probably most like McGonagall, though much more outgoing.  Middle aged, smart, charismatic, passionate, friendly, and with a wonderful Gaelic accent- though his, I believe, is Irish (accents get a little tricky when you are dealing with folks who speak 3-4 languages each, all in a tight little cluster- I think I have mentioned that DD often comes home with a rather modified British accent that she can’t shake for hours).  He teaches Ethics, Social Studies and History so both kids have him as an instructor.  DS trotted off with his new class and started right in trying to get to know people.  We were pleased to see DS was not the only tall kid in his class- I think the African boy on the left with the short cropped hair is taller, though he is scrunched in this photo.

DS got right to work introducing himself

Hogwarts Annex

This year the Upper Grades have moved into a new quick-built building across the street.

Not this building down the street
Nor this one, a couple blocks away

Nice stone cottage…. in the quad
The buildings next door…. Again, stone.  Oldish. Grand.

And, here is the new building:

Ummm, Think anyone will notice the Wizards next door?

DD joined her class. 

This year DD’s principal teacher is the Maths instructor, who I believe is from India and has a wonderful British Indian accent.  This will not help DD shake her off-kilter British accent, I suspect!  I will call this teacher Septima Vector :)  She and DD usually get along fine because they both have an ultimate love of all things logical and mathematical.  Though, they do sometimes clash over DD’s lack of manners and tendency to speak out when she senses something is wrong.  Interestingly,  DD will have the other Maths teacher, Mme Lardge (whose name is too wonderful to change) because she is taking the advanced course.  Mme Lardge also teaches Physics, so she will be seeing a lot of DD!

The Malfoy Incident
Malfoy is German and currently a second year.

Last year DD had a few issues with wandering groups of bored, surly students seeking her out to give her a hard time.  Yes, Bullying exists in the wizarding world, as anyone who has interacted with Slytherins will certainly attest.  The worst cases were reported and dealt with.  But, one group of younger boys largely slipped through the radar.  They were first years, so DD was just vaguely amused by their antics at first.  For instance, when one of them ran over and touched her ankle on a dare.  But, as they got more bold and aggressive she grew more concerned.  They took to calling her Ugly Betty, which she thought was silly, but largely harmless- except when they refused to leave her alone.  Their leader was a small animated boy whom she initially took as a clown.  By the end of the year she was fed up with them.  But, she had been unable to identify them to anyone in authority, so nothing really came of it. 

When she is unable to find her groups of friends- or just feels the desire- DD likes to sit in a quiet place and draw during the recesses.  Often students will come watch her or request specific drawings, and that is fine with her.  But, usually they will just leave her alone, and that is sometimes preferred.  DD likes to have some quiet space in her life. 

So, it was that yesterday at first break DS found his sister sitting alone quietly drawing.  The two of them exchanged stories about their mornings and compared schedules, discussed teachers, etc.  Soon, a group of boys approached and encircled them. Malfoy was their leader.  They started out taunting DD, calling her Ugly Betty.  Then they demanded to know who DS was. 

“Do you like him.” taunted Malfoy,  “Is he your…..”
DS and DD replied almost in unison “brother!
“Of course” sneered Malfoy, “Now I see the family resemblance!”
(cue unpleasant chortles from his followers- Crabbe, Goyle, Frankenstein, Monster and the rest- I am told there were 5-7 of them)

At this point DD decided it was time to make their exit and stood up to put away her drawing supplies.  Perhaps he wanted her to sit back down, or maybe the negative energy just overflowed at that instant. Whatever the case,  Malfoy gave DD a shove. 

“Leave my sister alone!” responded DS, shoving Malfoy in return.  He hadn’t just spent a year in Durmstrang for nothing.  He understood the German ritual of a shove-fight.  It can be done in fun, or it can be more aggro.  DS had learned this the hard way early last year.  This match got aggro quickly.  He and Malfoy singled each other out, while the rest got into a tussling free-for-all with a lot of jostling going around.  At this point many other students had gathered and some of DD’s friends were trying to separate the groups.

“Come on, Let it go.” DD told her brother, trying to draw him away.

Seeing that people were trying to diffuse the situation, he acquiesced.  He turned to follow his sister out of the area.

But, Malfoy wasn’t ready to back down quite yet.  He took the cheap shot and shoved DS’s head while his back was turned.  When DS popped back up and pivoted to meet the attack, Malfoy hauled off and smacked him in the face.  The blow was hard enough to knock tears into DS’s eyes (“I wasn’t crying, but my eyes did water!” he points out.  We assured him that  a blow to the face will have that affect).  It also made his face quite red and- most alarming to the crowd- quickly caused his lip to swell up like a sausage!  (“It felt like one of the tumors on the rats,” he descriptively conveyed.)

“Oh!  Are you all right?  I didn’t mean to!” etc. was stammered out unconvincingly from the offending party.   This is because by then some of the older girls had managed to seek out Yard Duties.  All the key players were moved into a small office where the questioning commenced.

The Aftermath
The yard duties speak primarily French, but one of them had a little English.  Apparently DS’s swollen face, Malfoy’s reputation, and the corroborating testimony of DD was enough to convince them that this was not a mutual-aggression sort of situation.  The kids are a little light on what exactly went down in this talk, but believe Malfoy claimed that he and his friends were just there to ‘find out who DS was’, as The New Kid.  The yard duties told them that “you pen in animals to test them, you don’t pen in people.  You can’t treat people like animals!”

DD explained that she found this whole train of conversation a little perplexing, but as long as they were giving Malfoy the What For, she was largely OK with it.  After the initial questioning was done they were released.

A little later, Malfoy showed up to fetch DS to the new Headmaster.  DS was asked to tell his side of the story, which he did.  Always considerate and, by now, an accomplished non-native communicator, DS relayed the events using many hand gestures and pantomimes. He was, after all, unsure of the headmaster’s English skills.  After that, the headmaster apparently turned his attention to lecturing Malfoy, though DS was unable to follow the French conversation at all.  (Malfoy speaks German, but prefers French- as does the headmaster).  Then, apparently the headmaster turned to talk exclusively with Umbridge…. and the boys, confused, slunk out of the room wondering if they had been dismissed.

Finally, DS encountered Mr. Purcell/McGonagall.  After retelling the story a third time, DS was reassured that should anything of that nature occur again, he should definitely tell him.  Then the proactive, imposing teacher sought out Malfoy and put him on notice.  It was in French, again, but DS believes the general message was clear: I have my eye on you!!!

So, yes, after a day like that, we have decided that DS has definitely been sorted into Gryffindor.

Such a ham!
By the time DS got home the swelling was gone.
Indeed, when I picked him up I had no clue anything
had happened until he told me about it!

DD putting protective arms
around her wounded brother

Other Hogwarts Developments:

  1. DS got into the L2 German Section, which means that his primary second language will officially be German.  He won’t need to start learning French for school until next year, and his first non-English core classes will all be in German.  We tried to get this for DD last year, but she was the only one in her entire class who wanted it, so they couldn’t do it.  This will give DS more time to adjust to the third language, which is definitely a good thing!
  2. DS reports that he likes his German teacher.  But, “She is very into work, I guess you could say.”  She was the only teacher to give homework on the first day of class.  And, the second! We had teased him about having to face a Troll on his first day.  Now he knows that we meant the Great Homework Troll!!!
  3. There are NO days when the kids start or finish class at the same time.  
  4. But, DD’s schedule this year is really a lot less complicated.  No alternating week schedule.  Hooray!  She starts school at the same time every day, gets off at five PM three days a week, and around 1 the other two days.  Makes for a long school day, but she has some open sections in the middle of the day, so she should be able to draw and get homework done.
  5. DS unfortunately does have an alternating week schedule.  He starts school 15 minutes before DD (no big deal), but has 7 different ending times depending on the week!  Oof.  Mondays are going to be trickiest because he gets out of school between 2-3 hours earlier than DD that day.  I am thinking he and I may spend some quality French Shopping and Exploration time on Mondays.
  6. Pretty sure DD’s calculator will have more computing power than my first 5 computers, combined.  “Ah, but can it play games?” asked a friend… Yes, says the internet!
  7. Our bank in Offenburg does not use paper checks.  Period.  Will not.  Cannot.  No teller checks, no certified checks, nuthin’!  What does this have to do with school?  For purchasing the calculator, we were supposed to send a check to Hogwarts in order to get a 46 EU discount through a group deal.  Germans typically do direct transfers and wanted bank account info. But I think the check was made out to the company we were purchasing from, not the school.  Eventually Hogwarts just told us to send gold coins.
  8. DD will be expected to dissect a rabbit next week for Biology.  She is not liking this aspect of Bio.  But, given that rabbits are a common food item around here, I am thinking many kids may already have seen many of the bunny insides.
  9. The bells at the old school play the theme to the exorcist.  But the bells at the new building play Close Encounters of the Third Kind!  Hee.
  10. Pretty much the entirety of France and Germany is one giant Road Project right now.  There are detours and delays all over.  Sort of nuts trying to get to and from Hogwarts on Muggle Roads.
French Road work- by committee

German Roadwork, very orderly.  Still slow, but orderly.
(block one lane, siphon people through taking turns!)

Blocked French Road

That is usually a road… Now it is a detour

And more…

What do French people do when faced with detours and road work?
See the black car at the right?  He is driving down a bike and walking path.
They also honk and shout.  Not sure how that helps.

Once the kids got home, they grabbed popsicles and headed out onto the balcony, where this wonderful Magic Creature landed and sat to hang out and say hello.

Hey there, beautiful!

Day Two Addendum: Knock Wood today was much smoother.  But, everyone is exhausted and cranky.  Still trying to get our sleep schedules and general flow down for School!  DS reports that not only did he fail to see Malfoy, he didn’t see DD.  She reports that this is because at the new building, she is not allowed to cross the street unaccompanied (insurance liability), so she has to take Wednesday break in the other quad.  Given that the older kids tend to be more into their own business and less in hers, that may just be fine.

A random picture of David with a Degu

DH bonding with Tristana

Next up: Learning languages, fighting moths, and whatever else comes up!