Sunday, September 26, 2010

Basking in German-ness

It is almost three weeks that we have been here and are falling into a groove.  It does not seem as chaotic taking three kids to three different schools.  Nor does it seem as exhausting walking everywhere. 

There is 9am mass at the Dom on weekdays, which has side chapels and corners full of art to meditate on.  We recently discovered the chapel that holds the remains of St. Willibald, who with his sister St. Walburga and brother Wunibald (who named these kids!?) built a monastery and Christianized this city.  This chapel is a favorite devotional place to many and always has dozens of votive candles flickering.  We also found out that the stained glass windows and many reliefs in the Dom were designed by famous German artists Hans Holbein the Elder and Albrecht Dürer.

As a family we have enjoyed a couple of the many bäckereien in town.  German coffee is pressed, not drip-brewed, and strong; leaving nothing to be desired, except maybe a little more cream?  But the baked goods and pastries are perfection itself.  The kids are forced to try authentic German items, even though they are drawn to the American-style donuts they see in the glass case.  But no matter the shape or size, it is still deep fried dough with sugar sprinkled on it.  Mmmm.

Our landlady, Frau Körner, has been very welcoming and friendly.  She does not know English, and is under the impression that Rachel knows German, or at least thinks that if she speaks very slowly and uses lots of hand gestures, that she will get her point across.  The truth is, the trash-separating system in Germany is very complicated but at least the word “Pampers” is the same in German, and that they are “Restmüll”.

Edy has gelled with her class and has even desired (and has been granted) ability to stay in the after-school program.  Her school day ends before lunch, so now she will stay two extra hours to eat with her friends and recreate.  This gives her more exposure to the German language, and if she chooses, opportunity to do her homework. 

Max came out of the abbey walls (St. Walburga Kindergarten) on Friday saying (direct quote), “I LOVE my school!”  He made a puppet out of a potato, a stick and a napkin.  Good craft!  Good boy!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Danke Gott ist Freitag

What a fun week it has been for the kids and what an exhausting week it has been for their parents.  A catalogue of the week’s difficult events is as follows:

-Three bonked heads

-One scraped chin

-Two forgotten homework assignments

-One forgotten lunch

-Two unplanned naps

-One public diaper explosion

-Several more private diaper explosions

-One over-cooked hen (Celsius oven)

Now that the bad and the ugly are out of the way, the good is revealed.  Edy had Wandertag on Wednesday.  Apparently a cherished German custom when the children go on a hike for the entire school day.  She loved it and was quite talkative about a new friend “Katerina” with whom she took turns teaching words in their respective languages. 

Max is learning lots of songs and just loves his school.  His disposition is happy and cooperative and he is sleeping VERY well at night.  Lucy, on the other hand is still getting used to her school, very gradually.  She is only staying less than 2 hours at this point and is very ready to be picked up then. 

That LITTLE chunk of time when all three older children are at school has been quite enjoyable to Rachel.  Even though it is spent hanging clothes on clothesline in yard and washing dishes (no automatic washers in this haus), it is a quiet, serene time when Libby can be focused on.

Libby has caught her first cold of her life.  The poor little baby is still smiling, though.  Even though Rachel doesn’t speak the same language as the other moms, we can all still laugh together when Libby’s sneeze makes mucous shoot out of her nose. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

First Day of Schule

Sigh of relief.  The kids have all made it to school and lived to tell about it.  Edith really enjoyed her day.  She had a bit of angst and shed a few tears before hand, but her classmates were very friendly, her teacher lovely, her math teacher (the principal) spoke English, and she played jump rope at recess.  The unexpected parts of her (and the other children’s) school is that it ends early (1pm), school children wear slippers during the school day, and school supplies are very art-oriented (and very expensive!). 

Max was fine; he wasn’t nervous, wasn’t emotional, was in a beautiful child-friendly Kindergarten atmosphere, and his teachers all emphasized how well he did and played with the other children.  He waved good-bye to Rachel at 8:00 am and was very happy to see his parents at 12 noon at the end of his day. 
Lucy also had her first-ever school experience.  The pre-school teacher asked Rachel to stay for a shorter day for Lucy to begin with.  She played happily for first hour and then the class went for a nature walk collecting chestnuts and other “treasures”.  Then there was a melt-down and we called it a day.  We will see how she improves with time.

The highlight of the day for the children was a delightful German tradition called Schuletüte.  It is a large cone made out of stiff paper that is filled with toys and candy on a child’s first day of school.  And since it was the first day of GERMAN school for all three, Philip bought and arranged one for each.  (This was a tricky task, as the first day of school was actually last week, so most stores were sold out of the tütes. 
The kids LOVED them and are all sleeping hard now.  Guten nacht!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Guten Tag from Frankfurt!

We are really getting the European traveling experience these days.  River walks with the sun setting; breathtaking altar art and sculpture; outdoor dining; live music, all accompanied by transferring trains; walking ten times more than you think you can; and over-priced small portions.  The kids are handling the new circumstances  very well.  They are getting accustomed to the walking and different foods.

Philip’s orientation was a smashing success and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Gottingen.  It is a city untouched by the wars.  We were shown the student jails at the University (which the kids really loved) and the "goose girl" statue in the main square.

As it turns out, St. Edith Stein studied at the University of Gottingen from 1913-1916 under Edmund Husserl.  She had not converted to Christianity yet but had been convinced by some fellow students to go to mass with them at a St. Michael's church.  Unfortunately, when they arrived at the church, it was closed.  But it was her first attempt at going to mass to a religion she would later die for!  Philip and Rachel used Annie's babysitting services one last time to be shown Edith Stein's house and the church by another young family who has a devotion to that saint.

At this point we THINK Annie has made it home.  We delivered her to the security check at the Frankfurt airport.  Our prayers and love went with her.  Thank you, Annie, for all your help!  The airport turned out to be an amusing place due to a giant rocket playground for kids and Phil leaning on the alarm button in an elevator.  The funny part of the elevator alarm was that we didn't know what the noise was, and the kids were a little scared by the noise, so Phil and Rachel sang along to the alarm to diffuse their nervousness.  The airport police must have been confused when they listened on the intercom to hear a bunch of people singing along to the alarm.  Anyways, we also got to go out onto the observation deck and watch several planes land.

Many of our friends from Steubenville have been with us very much as Lucy copes with her new experiences by pretending to converse with them.  It happens several times a day (usually when Lucy wants to do something she is not allowed to do, like eat another cookie) that Lucy will tell Rachel that "Mrs. Leonard said she could have another cookie."  Or that "Tinkerbelle wants her to buy this toy." or that "The 'Smytingtons' are coming to this park", etc.

The Frankfurt hotel is quite stark compared to our Best Western in Gottingen.  It is difficult to not be negative about the people at this establishment, but we have to admit that Philip mis-interpreted the German word doppelzimmer as meaning "two beds" when he made his reservation online a couple weeks ago.  In fact it means "double bed" but apparently the room itself is only a little bit bigger than the bed.  So they bent the rules a bit to put us in the "family room" which is still only a little bit bigger than the bed and futon.  BUT there was coffee when we arrived and lots of fruit and complimentary apple pie.  So there is an upside.

In a few minutes we will all happily return to Eichstatt via the awesome railway system.  Servus!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Here we go!  Libby in our apartment...
On train ride to Gottingen.

Lucy at the skulptur-garten, right in Eichstatt!
Cathedral main entrance.
Edy enjoying a gelati

Now in Göttingen

We have arrived at Gottingen, a city about 2.5 hours north of Eichstatt, for Philip's Fulbright orientation retreat.  It was a pleasant train trip with two connections and the children had fun especially on the "double decker" train for one of the connections.  It seems there about 15 other Fulbright scholars here, a few of which also brought their children.  All events for next three days are open to the whole family, beginning with a walking tour of the city in about an hour.

We enjoyed our first week in Eichstatt.  The last post was all about our first full day, Friday, September 10th.  The next day was sunny and unseasonably warm and we all visited the public pool.  There were many "splash park" special features, including a giant water slide that Edy, Max and even Lucy enjoyed.

The city also has a outdoor market that sells produce, cheese and eggs.  The difficult part of grocery shopping in Germany is the deliciousness of the chocolates and beer.  It is actually impossible to resist buying and consuming these goods.  Also the kids are forced to replace peanut butter (a previous staple) with Nutella.

In other news, Rachel's sister Annie has found she has a knack for putting Libby down for a nap.  This is essential information influencing Philip and Rachel's evening plans for next 3 days until she flies home...
Additionally, Libby is on all fours now and will very soon be as mobile as ein kleine Junge on the train ride here, who was crawling up and down the aisles while the train was in motion.and also busied himself by taking Lucy's chocolates out of her hand and throwing them into a different row. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Gruß aus Eichstätt!

Hallo! We made it! Let’s not spend too much space focusing on the trip to Eichstätt. We can sum up by simply stating that it went much better than Phil’s expectations and much worse than Rachel’s expectations. But all in all, we made all connections (three planes, two buses, two trains and a taxi), didn’t lose any luggage (20 pieces) or kids (4) and there were only 3 meltdowns (two kids and one mommy).

Eichstätt is amazingly beautiful. It is a picturesque town built on a hill. A mountain stream (Altmühl) meanders through the town, under bridges, along cobblestone streets and paddleboat parks. One very small part of the stream is even used as a trout farm, with two gated sections full of baby trout, then large full grown trout, which are sold to families at Easter time.

Our apartment is very comfortable for our family, even with Annie Durbin staying this week. It has a small half bath completely separate from a tub and sink area, a benched kitchen table that serves as a dining area, a living room with sectional sofa and satellite television (all in German, of course), two bedrooms, a storage closet and a balcony. As of yet we still have to get the land lady to turn on the hot water heater and the furnace, but otherwise we are sehr gut!

Today we all walked for several hours exploring our new temporary home. We saw two churches (Dom, und Schutzengel Kirche), the latter of which was full of giant altar pieces painted by Johann Evangelist Holzer. We also saw the school that Edy will attend (it is still not in session) and noticed from a sign posted that her teacher is named Sr. Edith! We patronized a gelato stand and a nearby bakery to buy brot to eat with our dinner.

Cute Lucy quote that I would be remiss to not mention: on the last train ride into Eichstätt there was another little three year old girl trying to communicate with Lucy. Lucy was confused and Rachel encouraged her by saying, “she is your friend, go and say hi”. Lucy obeyed and watched her from a distance and finally declared to her parents, “That little girl doesn’t know how to talk!” She also has been making up her own language babbling much more nonsense than usual with a bunch of dankes thrown in.

We are adjusting to Germany and enjoying time here and we hope to post a blog entry every three or four days. Thank you for your prayers and we miss you all very much. P.S. We do not have internet access from our apartment. We will try skyping and emailing when we get the chance! Guten Tag!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Germany, here we come!

We found out in March, shortly after Libby was born that Philip won the Fulbright, thus allowing our whole family to live in Germany for a semester.  Learning the German language is a life-goal for Phil and now it is becoming actualized!  Edy, Max and Lucy are all enrolled in German schools and aside from full immersion in German culture, Phil will also have a tutor.  I think we all may learn a lot of Deutsche!  We will be living in Eichstatt, Bavaria near a University that is "hosting" Phil as a Fulbright researcher.

This is the view from our apartment window