Saturday, June 28, 2014


So it turns out we are not much of big city people.  I have thoughts occasionally about how convenient all these great parks are.  How fun all the options are for events and activities. For instance, Emma and I went into town the other day and watched a fun little (very little) dance performance and listened to a band, for free in the local spa park.
As it turns out, we are not actually in a big city.  The rolling farm fields should have been my first clue.  I'm not sure we could have found a place in a foreign country as similar to our own home! :)  Funny story in point, Sarah Goracke and I searched high and low for local Oregon produced hazelnuts to bring as little gifts.  Guess what is a commonly eaten here? Hazelnuts.  Everything is hazelnut flavored and we have bought bags of them as snacks often. The kids and I are literally tortured on every walk or bike ride we take past fields of raspberry canes, laden strawberry plants and the final insult.... a large multi acre field of sugar snap peas! It was out in the middle of nowhere, full of some sort of grain as well as weeds... and many, many ripe sweet peas.  At first we didnt let the kids pick any... then the next time we let them have a couple.... and then walk along picking and eating....  Turns out we should have gone up and picked them every day, they were not harvested and are probably just delivering nitrogen to the soil.  They are now spoiled.
But one thing we do not have is local train transit and the kids have really wanted to take a train ride.  It has been much more convenient to take the car places.  Last week we decided to take the train to Wurzberg.  Wurzberg is about an hour away and last weekend they had a free music festival.  We didn’t really plan to do much more than walk through, but thought we would time our trip to be able to check it out.
We missed our first train.  By 1 second.  Literally.  There was a huge debacle with a woman in front of us in line to buy tickets and by the time we gave up at the station counter and went to the ticket vending machine we had only minutes.  We bought the tickets and went to board the train and were literally with bent knee to step on the first step when the doors shut.  Neither the door handle or button would make them open.  We stepped back and looked up and down the train… and it left!  Just like that. 
I spent a few moments wondering what on earth we would have done if one of our kids had been seconds ahead of us and was boarded already and giving myself panic attacks about that…. Good grief!
But no problem the next train was only 20 minutes later.  And we ended up on the same train as one of JB’s professors, who is also here with his family.  They have older teenage boys but have traveled here every year for about 10 years.  They were headed to Wurzberg for shopping, but did tell us about a theme park that we had not heard of, and we were very glad to learn about.  More on that later!

Coming out of the train station I felt a little like Brendan Frasier in Blast From the Past, when he comes out of his 1950’s bomb shelter into the big city of the 1990’s. 
 In truth though, Wurzberg was a a pretty unattractive, stinky and generally just “big city” place. Yes, there are castles and palaces and the like.  But we ended up at the festival which was free with some great kids activities.  Bouncy houses!  Who needs castles?  Climbing walls! Who needs trees?  Well, we found those too…  
and some old fashioned toys!

We had a very good time a finished the day checking one more item from our to do list…. Italian Spaghetti Ice Cream.  We had not had these yet, and apparently they are a must.  From a real Italian eis place that makes their own ice cream no less!! 

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Emma and Sam went with JB on another college excursion to Stuttgart.  They were not as impressed as with Heidelberg and Emma is not so interested in writing about it.  Looks like some fun pictures.  And a Mercedes Benz museum.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Bike Riding

As I mentioned, the plan for the second day of cat fleeing was a big bike ride.  The kids have been wanting to ride their bikes all the way to the college in Bad Margentheim from our house in Wachbach.  This would be about a 6 mile round trip.  JB was off on Thursday for a Catholic holiday, Corpus Christi, so the three older kids set off with him while Anneke and I went by car.  They did great! Once there all four kids did tricks in the skate park and rode their bikes on a drivers ed training course.  
And the cat has since found a home at the very nice humane society.  He is getting medical treatment and advertised for a family.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


To cheer on the World Cup series currently underway, the kids really wanted these soccer ball chips.  There were a few flavors to choose from, all unknown to me.  Some looked spicy.  We settled on these.  They appear to be Spinach Margarita.    Anneke and I like them.

Castle Fireworks

Apparently there is a Facebook Site called "Top 100 Things to See Before You Die"  and this is one of them.  It was pretty amazing.  JB, Emma and Sam have been to Heidelberg before, on an excursion trip.  The kids were pretty excited to show Mom the historical sites that they had already seen!
We arrived in the city in the early afternoon.  It is a large city with a beautiful river and the castle is impressive.  After some snacks we walked into the city center.  We walked over the bridge just as they were closing it to prepare for the fireworks.  We passed a tearful bride who wanted to enter the bridge to have pictures taken with the castle in the background and was not being allowed.  Oops.  Maybe she could photo shop herself into this picture...
We were surprised to hear American English all around us. The first time in almost three months I have heard this accent! Not only is it obviously a tourist event, apparently about 20,000 Americans live in Heidelberg! Hard place to live....

The kids had their first ever crepes!  We then walked along the river to the next bridge and found one of the best parks we have been to yet. Well, maybe not, but another fun one.  This video doesn't really show the kids, but I think it catches the scene and the castle in the background!
The kids played until dusk with a light dinner of street cart food and then we walked back along the river to where we had parked our car, directly across from the castle.  And realized we had forgotten our camera.  :(  The streets were filled with people and the river was filled with boats, but it was not nearly as crowded as I would have expected.  The atmosphere was festive but not crazy.
At dark the firework show began.  The show tells the story of the castle being shelled and catching on fire.  So they started with a volley of bangs and flashes from the bridge.

Then, the castle began to light up in an eerie red glow.  It flickered and grew as more and more of the castle "caught fire".  It would have been terrifying to be caught in a castle like that in flames.

I wish  had been able to catch Landon on video.  At first "bang" and light flash, his little face just lit up.  Huge smile.  He pumped his arms in a "YES!" motion and his eyes were glued to the show.  He had chosen a vantage point from on top of the car.

 The other three had taken running cover into the car and were huddled together asking for headphones.  (Incidentally, this is the first of two firework shows they will watch in a matter of weeks.  From the safety of their car.  With earplugs.  In Harrisburg we will tailgate across the river on the 4th and watch the fireworks... from our minivan)
The firework show was great.  Mid show a brigade of uniformed 18th century soldiers marched down the street.  
We left around midnight.  Arrived home in the wee hours of the morning.  I am glad to have seen it!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Top 50 Worst Decisions

In what may have been one of the more poorly thought through decisions I have ever made, I let Emma give this stray cat a morsel of food the other night.  We had come home to find it on our kitchen counter.  Mangy and somewhat injured looking.  Very skinny.  Emma wept for over an hour as it loitered outside, unable to even meow. 
And now, somehow, we are in Germany with the recent acquirement of a cat.  Which has been fortified from the food we ended up buying for it, to save our own people food, and has become quite aggressive about getting inside the house.  Every time the kids open the door.  It darts in.  And then I spend time trying to shoo it from behind the the coffee maker or out from under a bed.
Then... it recovered enough to start scratching.  Guess who. Landon.  Poor guy.  He has gotten scratched twice but now doesn't pick the cat up. Kind of.  We have gone through a bottle of hand soap, but I am not interested in "cat scratch virus".  So we ended up leaving the house.  There was no other option! Couldn't keep the cat out.  Couldn't keep Landon in.  No win.  We went to the Wildpark where there are only Lynx and 1000 German people on summer break. 
We are taking the cat to the humane society Friday.  In the meantime, tomorrow we are going to go ride our bikes on a busy street.  To avoid the cat drama. 

The Neighbors

Across the street live a family of 6.  Four kids; one girl, 18, and three boys, 15, 9 and 6.  One of the joys of my heart has been watching my normally quite reserved kids make friends with these kids, despite significant language barriers.  Besides that, just getting to know this fun family has been inspiring and thought provoking.  They have provided us with a couple experiences that are specific to German culture and will be some of my favorite memories.  I have already mentioned the Labor Day Walk as well as the stockbrot.  (Stickbread)
This family is very sports oriented.  The parents are both PE teachers and their children are already excelling in country level competitions in gymnastics and swimming.  Leisure time also involves sports, they are currently in Italy windsurfing.  They climb trees and scale play structures like no bodys business.  An Ipad they do not have.  Unfortunately the 6 year caught sight of ours and immediately was hooked.  The next day he was back at our dining room table casually drumming his fingers and hmming about as he obviously looked for the, now hidden, technology.
They are sweet kids.  The older two are always looking for a way to help out our youngers.  The 15 year old took it upon himself to set up and fortify a rickety swingset that was hidden away in the trees in our backyard, arriving with stakes and an extra swing from his own house.  I have seen him meet up with an elderly neighbor on the bike path and instead of just passing with a hello, get off his bike and walk with her the rest of the way home, keeping her company.
Their views on some things vary a little from mine.  :)  The loooove fire.  I walked by their backyard to see the children building a fire in a wheelbarrow and wheeling it around the yard with some 10 foot high flames.  The 9 year found a lighter in our backyard somewhere and was flicking it, I said to the mom, "Oh! Is that OK?" And she says, "Oh yes, they always play with fire".  Oh. Right.  Except we usually precede "play with fire" with "never".   She goes on to tell me he almost burnt down their shed and his playhouse because he built a fire in the toy box and then went off and left it- the whole family in fact left the house for the day and they came back to shooting flames.  Oops!  Sure enough, my kids ran home excitedly from their house during a rain storm to tell me that they had been hiding from the rain in the playhouse and he has all sorts of candles and matches and lighters so they stayed warm!!!  Oh boy.
I have heard many stories from the parents.  They do teach the kids safety, I have seen it, but they also very much let them be boys... do, learn, explore.  They have pocket knives and one did in fact cut himself and then proceeded to pass out from the sight of the blood.  They climb trees.  High trees.  Several years ago the oldest boy, then age 13, took the middle boy, at about age 6, to the top of their fir tree.  It was a windy day so the older tied the younger to himself for safety.  They got to the top.  The older got a phone call.  So... he. tied. the. younger. to. the. top. of. the. tree..... and went down into the house to take the phone call.  Then he forgot about his brother.  Some time later the mom comes out and hears crying and looks up to see her 6 year old tied to the top of the fir tree blowing in the wind.  Oops again!
Did I mention the teenage boy makes his own elderberry flower nectar juice?  Yep.  Gathers the flowers and adds water and sugar and brews it on the stove for 12 hours and makes syrup.  Yes, they are truly a unique family.
I have seen Sam and Landon grow braver and stronger just following them.  I am inspired to spend more time in sports and activity outside. 
Before they left for their two week vacation the two little boys came running over to give goodbyes and even looked for Anneke to say goodbye.  They do not speak much English but it has been fun to talk to the 6 year old like I am understood and have him look up quizzically and somewhat
perturbed and say, "VASS?" (WHAT??")  So now we go around shaking our head and scrunching our eyebrows and saying, "VASS?"