Monday, September 18, 2017

Cursive Writing for the Win

Jackson is learning cursive!  The kids in Germany learned their printed letters last year in 1st Klasse and as soon as those are done, they start on cursive in 2nd Klasse.  Next year will be fountain pens. No joke.  How cool is that?

There will be no excuse for our little lefties to have bad handwriting in the German school system!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

How to Be German. In 50 Easy Steps.

For my fellow expats in Germany (or any of our friends curious about the cultural differences from a comical perspective), I have to recommend these two little books. We stumbled upon these at the local bookstore, and they are hilarious.  

And double fun: they are bilingual - read one direction for English or turn it around for German.

To be clear, they are written very tongue-in-cheek and intended to comically highlight all of the little cultural differences that are so striking when an American (or Brit, such as the author) moves to Germany.  However, the best part for us is that having been here for nearly a year, we can think of personal situations that back up what he describes.

I have to include a short excerpt from How to be German, In 50 Easy Steps. This is the 5th step:

5. Dress Seriously
     Plan made for the day? Insurances in place? Great. Good work! Now it's time to change out of your Schlumperklamotten and head outside to face the day head on. You're going to need to get appropriately dressed. 
     *WARNING! AUSL├äNDER! WARNING!* Outside is this thing called nature. Nature is fickle and not to be trusted! It dances to its own illogical, changeable tune. Best dress on the safe side. You need - expensive outdoor clothing! After all, you're going outdoors, and it's called outdoor clothing, therefore it must be necessary.
     At all times, you should be dressed for a minimum of three seasons. Get some of those funky Jack Wolfskin shrousers: the trousers that zip off into shorts. If there is even the slightest possibility you may at some point leave a pavement, be sure you are wearing high-quality hiking boots. The Germans consider anything else an act of ankle suicide.

Holy cow. Yes. Have I mentioned how many pieces of clothing are required to send my kids to school & kindergarten?  We have the special rain pants (these are like waders that fishermen use in the US, with elastic around the ankles & stirrups on the bottom), a special rain coat (I was told Brandtley's American rain jacket didn't cut it, but Jackson's LL Bean jacket hasn't been rejected), rain boots, house shoes, gym shoes with a special colored sole that makes them ok on the gym floor, gym clothes and a special gym bag to put them in.  All of these are to be left at school and we are supposed to have a 2nd set at home.  In addition to these, they also need running shoes, summer shoes and winter shoes. And this list doesn't even include winter must always be prepared, which is actually discussed in step #2 of the same book: 2. Planning, Preparation, & Process. ­čśé

I haven't really read much of the 2nd book, but in flipping through, found descriptions for some of the wonderful German descriptive words like:
  • Fallschirmj├Ąger - paratrooper (literal translation: falling umbrella hunter)
  • Handsch├╝he - mittens/gloves (literal: hand shoes)
  • Spa├čvogel - joker (literal: fun bird)
  • Kopfkino - head cinema. I love this one. It's a literal translation & there's no single English equivalent word for what goes on in your head.
Aren't these great?  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Young Wine & Rainy Days

Yesterday was a downer of a day.  It rained. And rained. There was disobedience (a lot). And bad attitudes on the part of all three of us.

It was day 6 of Matthew's trip, which had closely followed another 5-6 day trip.  We had to run several errands (because it was Saturday and all stores would be closed on Sunday).  I would wait until the sun came out, call the boys to put on their shoes & jackets, and after leaving the house, it would start raining again.

Cue the disobedience during a rare sunny moment (why does the ground not look wet??? 
It rained all day! Maybe there was just a cloud over our house?).

We finished our errands (in the rain).  I've always suspected but it is confirmed that I couldn't live in the Pacific Northwest because I just can't handle all the rain. And right now, coming off of the nice summer weather, it's really disheartening to think of how much rain we'll be getting.

Beethovenfest is going on right now and there are free outdoor concerts in Marktplatz, not far from our house, (in addition to the bigger, indoor, traditional concert venues). I really wanted to go yesterday, but...the rain. And the kids.  Fortunately, this morning has dawned beautiful and clear!  Hallelujah! I think we'll try to go today.

One upside to yesterday, however, was trying something new.  While trying to wait out the rain, I read this article: Here's a German culinary treat you can only enjoy over the next two months.  I realized that yes, in fact, I had seen a few bottles added to the refrigerated cheese area at our neighborhood grocery store, but had never stopped to look at what they were. Since we needed to go to the store anyway, I decided to pick some up.

Matthew got home last night before I went to bed, and we tried it last night.  It is SWEET!  It reminds me of a sweet (nonalcoholic) apple cider, like what you would buy in the U.S. in October, but that has been just sliiiiightly fermented (as if by accident) and is a little fizzy.  It was way too sweet for us but would be fantastic paired with a zweibelkuchen (onion tart) as the article says.  Now to find one of those to complete the pairing.

Neither of us were able to finish our glass (too sweet!) but we both agreed we enjoyed trying it.

We live in a wine region and the months of September-October are full of wine festivals throughout our area. Thus the Federweisser. We just missed this last year, and I've heard so many great things.  The festivals sound absolutely magical and beautiful (vineyards on hillsides, night harvests, parades through quaint towns, and there might even be a "wine fountain"???). Between birthday parties and back-to-school and trips (both fun & Matthew's job), we haven't made it to one yet. Hopefully soon!!  And hopefully we can also find some onion tarts!!  I'm imagining a great weekly activity...hunting for wine fountains and zweibelkuchen!

One other interesting picture from yesterday...I saw this at the store yesterday for the first time. Apparently it's similar to broccoli, but pointy like little Christmas trees.  Has anyone tried it?  I'm going to need to get some & figure out what to do with it.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Ich lade dich ein!

Jackson has received his third invitation to a German birthday party!  He's thrilled, and I am just as excited for him! It's great to see him making friends and also to get another glimpse into German culture.

From what we've seen, birthdays are celebrated very similarly as they are in the US. Kids bring cupcakes, apfelschorle, and goodies to school on their special day and have a birthday party.  Sometimes an all day party!  And not all of the kids in the class are invited, so it's extra-special that he has been invited to 3.

I heard that the traditional rule of thumb is to invite only as many kids as the age the child is turning. So, if he's turning 8, he would invite 8 kids.  However, this isn't always followed.  He's been to parties ranging from 7-15 kids.

At Jackson's age, the kids are dropped off and the parents come back to get them at the specified time.  With each of the ones he's gone to, we drop him off at the birthday-child's home, the parents then take the kids somewhere, and we pick him back up at the home (or in one case, they dropped him off at our house on their way back).

The first was an all-day party at a play-land about 45 minutes away. (Unfortunately Jackson got carsick & nearly threw up in their car, which made me feel awful. But he got to ride in a convertible with the top down on the way back!)

The next party was technically set for 3 hours but the family threw a bbq in their backyard afterwards and invited families to stay.  During their 3 hours, the kids all walked together to a local ice cream shop and a play ground where they played some organized games.

The next one will be next Tuesday afternoon and will be a Treasure hunt!  According to the invitation, it's ok if it rains...just bring your rain clothes!

The one on the right is such a cute handmade invitation with a minion on it!

I'm taking notes since Jackson's birthday is only 7 weeks away!  I have no idea what we will do...I'd love it if he would choose a trip instead of a party, but I'm getting the impression he'll want a party with all of his new friends!  

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Dentists, Doctors, and School Schedules

As I write this, my mouth is still numb, and I'm still slightly in shock mentally too from getting an immediate filling at the dentist this morning.  I'd really like a cup of coffee, but I'm having trouble not drooling, so that will have to wait.  Maybe it will wear off by the time I finish typing. I hope. At least I've learned that when scheduling dentist appointments here, I should leave enough time for coffee beforehand instead of going immediately after school drop-off!!

As this is the first full week of school for both kids and all back-to-school parties are completed, I took this week to catch up on doctor and dentist appointments for myself.  I've taken the kids to several pediatric visits, but have put off my own care, so this was my first time in Germany.  Might as well get it all done at once!  And the dentist seemed to share that opinion.

I went in this morning, filled out new patient paperwork, and was taken back to the exam room where I shook hands with the dentist. He asked me if I had any complaints about my teeth so I told him one was sensitive. As soon as I sat down, he looked at that tooth first, immediately said yes, I had big caries and needed immediate attention. He turned around and when he turned back, he had a syringe in his hand and told me that I could reschedule the cleaning for next week. 45 minutes later, I walked out with a droopy mouth and a new filling (or two...not sure). Wow. Not what I expected, but I'm really pleased to have it taken care of.

Yesterday, I went to my first OB/GYN appointment for a routine well-woman exam.  I think this is the prettiest doctor's office I've ever been in! It's an old house on a residential street.  The pics don't do it justice.

I enjoyed getting to read (look at) German magazines since I don't usually buy them. Princess Diana, and now Kate, are the Queens of Hearts here too. :)  

The kids' play area in the waiting room at the doctor's office. No pictures of the dentist's office - I was a little distracted, and it just looked like any other dentist office.

Nothing very surprising happened here (thankfully!) other than getting a routine ultrasound along with the other tests that are performed in the US.  I mentioned to the doctor that I had never had an ultrasound when not pregnant, and she commented that it is important to look since there can be problems not felt or seen from the outside. Makes perfect sense and is so practical (of course).

I was impressed with the attention I received both at the doctor and dentist - neither seemed rushed and both gave me their full attention to discuss my needs. The doctor gave me her email address, saying she takes patients' emails whenever they have a concern or question and to feel free to email her.

Both kids are enjoying school and are happy to be back. Brandtley finally has a new best friend, named Moritz, so we're working on coordinating a time for them to play. Jackson stays at school until 4:30pm now in the after-school program where he eats lunch, does homework, and plays. He loves it. I love hearing about what he eats for lunch. Things like a pancake and apple salad.

Here is his new classroom schedule. Gottesdienst is their church service which is every other week. The X's indicate teaching the "normal" curriculum (math, writing, etc) by his normal teacher. And Jackson voluntarily signed up for Choir during 5th period on Fridays.

Brandtley got a new raincoat which he loves. It's made by Lego. Who knew they made rain gear?

Being silly at Jackson's school while we waited for him to finish & come outside.

A child's entrance to First Grade is a big deal here.  There are celebrations at the school and the child receives a Schult├╝te.  Since Jackson missed the first day last year (and knowing Brandtley would get a schult├╝te next year), we gave Jackson one for the first day of school this year.  The 1st Klasse at his school also had an all-day celebration with their parents & extended family on their first day, which the 2nd Klasse parents host, so I spent last Thursday helping with that at the school. We served homemade baked goods, coffee, and apfelschorle (sparkling apple juice), and I got a chance to see what we'll get to do with Brandtley next year.

Jackson digging into his Schult├╝te before school. He was so surprised! 
He really had no idea he would get one!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Summer Time Fun

Hi there! It's been awhile, so let's chat and catch up...

Jackson is FINALLY out of school! German schools in our region run until mid-June and then he gets a 6.5 week break until the beginning of September.  His first day back will actually be August 30, but it's pretty much just a party day. 
First day of 1st Grade in Atlanta and Last Day of 1st Klasse in Germany

Brandtley just started kindergarten at the beginning of June. (For those not in Germany: kindergarten is all of preschool starting at age 3, though some also have programs for children starting as young as 18 months).  And he loves it!  He's such a happier kid when he can go to school and he's starting to pick up some German phrases too! (I posted here about some of his first phrases)

Since he had taken such a lonnnnng break as we waited and since Matthew was working most of July, Brandtley has continued to go to "school" even though Jackson is out.  This has been a really nice change to get to spend some one-on-one time with just Jackson, which hasn't really happened much since Brandtley was born!  His school will close at the end of this week for the rest of August.

Also, bonus for us = the spontaneity of eating whatever we want! 
We love Fleischk├Ąse

And also the awesome sausages you can find everywhere!

Both boys had an end of the year church service.  Brandtley's service was at a Lutheran church and was in celebration of the retirement of the Kindergarten's director.  Jackson's was at the Catholic church next to his school and was a send-off for the 4th graders. They were both very sweet. And both included the singing of this lovely song by the children which all of the parents seemed to know too. (Note: I looked up the song on youtube since I wanted to find the words and this link is not from either of the kids' services). The chorus ends with the line "Und bis wir uns wiedersehen halte Gott dich fest in seiner Hand." / And until we meet again, may God keep you firmly in his hand. 
Brandtley lining up to sing with his class

Jackson's church

Brandtley's class singing 

Other than that, we've taken some great bike rides along the Rhein, we've continued to enjoy the street musicians of Bonn, Jackson pulled his 3rd AND 4th teeth on his own, we got library cards, I've continued going to Deutsch lessons, and I've also been driving with an instructor. 
Such a beautiful view - there's a bike/walking path all along the Rhein.  This is several km south of Bonn

I want Jackson to read this! So far, he's devouring English books but his German reading isn't at the same level quite yet to allow him to really enjoy the story.

The boys called this their taxi!

The car I get to drive. It has the instructor pedals & everything. :) 

So far the driving is going well. I've had 2 lessons.  The first for country driving, the 2nd for city driving. I've heard that I'll also need to be signed off on the autobahn & night driving before I can take the test. While I'd rather not put in so much time, it really has been helpful.  There are a lot of road rules not included in the written test. Plus, my instructor doesn't speak much English, so I'm considering it an extra German lesson each week. He's willing to meet me halfway, though, and we're both learning dozens of new words.  The one I hear most often is "Schulterblick! Schulterblick, da!" as he's reminding me to look over my shoulder alllll the way (which indeed is very important so that I don't hit a cyclist).

I can tell the instructor isn't worried about my actual driving ability, but during the city driving, he would sometimes get concerned and say "WHY would you DO that??" To which I had no idea what I had done.  He finally had me pull over into a bus pick-up to pull out some diagrams of the road.  My problem is mostly that in order to pass the test, there is a very specific order in which I must perform a turn - showing visibly that i have looked in the rearview & side mirrors BEFORE turning on my signal, then very clearly demonstrating my Schulterblick, which may or may not need to include both shoulders depending on the structure of the intersection.  An extra Schulterblick is viewed as wasteful, though, and should not be done since other drivers would not be expecting me to pause for this unnecessary step. There is a general understanding here that if everyone knows and follows the rules correctly, then everything will work smoothly and efficiently.

[Also, it is incomprehensible that one could safely turn right on red in the States.  That is SO DANGEROUS!] 

By the end of the city lesson which lasted 2 hours, between remembering the rules and trying to communicate in German, my brain was wiped out. And then as I became more cautious, I was also told "Joanna, don't be FEARFUL when you drive. Why are you fearful?"  So there's that too.  ­čśé 

Now I must go. Jackson & I are walking to the store to pick out all of his school supplies for next year, along with a stop at the library for more books and maybe a coffee or croissant. We hope to travel as much as possible during the month of August while school is out, so we're getting a head start on preparing for back to school in a few weeks. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

German Phrases of a 5 Year Old

I've mentioned before how Jackson & I are learning German differently and that our vocabularies don't always overlap. For example, he doesn't have the vocabulary to order meat at the butcher or make an appointment. And while I might have these words, I usually don't use them correctly grammaticallly. However, he is by far more conversational & can produce thoughts more quickly. I've noticed that he is simply speaking and usually does not translate what he intends to say from English, which I envy. He has a harder time drafting a sentence to express something that he may not have heard before.

His is a more natural learning of speech as a child. However, since he was already 7 with a large vocabulary when he was thrown into a new language in a school environment, he still is making the mental match of the correlating each word as he learns it and can provide a translation of a word when asked.

Now we have added a third tier as Brandtley has started kindergarten.  And his learning is so different from both mine and Jackson's. He doesn't seem to try to understand specific words, but occasionally an entire phrase will pop out of his mouth and surprise us all. (Even if he can't tell you exactly what it means in English!)

It's really amusing to me to hear what these phrases are since he's obviously reflecting what he's hearing repeatedly. He is becoming familiar with ALOT of commands!  So, I thought it would be fun to keep a running list of his first phrases (while I can still count them and before he actually begins speaking).

Note: These aren't necessarily grammatically correct. They are how he repeats them.

1. "Geh zu Toilette!" Go to the bathroom!  (Now when we jumps off the couch to go potty, he will command himself to go in German instead of just commenting on where he is going)
2. "Du kannst nicht mit das spielen!"  You cannot play with that! ( I think he hears this from teaches when he tries to play with something off limits, but he now uses it with his brother!)
3. "Das is gef├Ąhrlich!" and "Das is sehr gef├Ąhrlich!" That is dangerous and That is very dangerous! ( I think he must hear this a lot!
4. Gabel, Messer, Stuhl - fork, knife, chair. (I'm guessing he's picking up on what he's being instructed to do with each of these.)
5. liebe kleine Schmetterling - "dear little butterfly" - I think this is from a poem, book, or song that they repeat??? I have no clue, but he says it in this cute little singsong voice :)

Update: Last night as I was cooking dinner, Brandtley asked me "Mommy, what does langsam mean?"
Me: It means slowly. Why, did you hear someone say it?
Brandtley: Oh yeah! My teachers say it to me ALL the time!
(I bet!)