Hey All You F&**(&^%s We Throwin Some S-&*( Down Over Here in the Saturn Vue

•September 23, 2010 • 2 Comments

I just think it’s hilarious, the radio here in Germany –  on an average station you get obscure 80’s songs, very current trendy pop favorites, a peppering of  cringible German pop, maybe a 70’s classic here and there and today, well we got Right Above It by Lil Wayne on the way home from the post office at noon.  

I was just kind of zoning out and driving home with Mr. Griffs strapped in the back and I wasn’t really listening until it was waaaay too late.  Remember this is Germany and the swears that are sweary in America have the same effect on Germans as us hearing bollocks or fanny (which is the worst of the worst British swear ever, did you know that??), and that is to say not much effect at all.  So there’s no beeping and bleeping on the radio like you get in the States.  They just put it all out there, which is fine if you know they’re coming, and can dial down real quick-like.

I noticed, like I said – waaaay too late, round about the 42nd F-&k to be exact.  

I guiltily checked the rear view mirror and made eye contact with Griffin who was already looking at me and listening very intently and he said, “I’ll bet this man is singing this song in the closet so that his Mom and Dad can’t hear him saying bad words”.



•September 9, 2010 • 1 Comment

So that school that was about to start is now 3 weeks in, and we’re finding our routine in the mornings again – it starts for me when I wake up to my “Fighting Alarm” – these are Paul and Cameron’s morning arguments that wake me up, usually involving something about cereal. 

Cameron is not, what one would call…agreeable…in the morning.  And Paul, really really likes cereal and has certain cereal rules that must be followed always because on account of that he’s insane.  Then Cameron’s gone until 3:30 and then he comes home and we fight about homework and guitar and dinner and then off to bed!  Griffin is back at school after the German’s generous 3 week holiday and he’s doing just fine (if fine is getting in trouble every single day).  I’ve given up on Griffin I think and decided just to embrace the idea that the child will someday be writing us nice letters from prison.   I find this freeing and zennish.  I wish him the very best.


We celebrated Labor Day by going to our annual amusement park – we picked Holiday Park which has a good mix of young child rides and medium child rides and… what’s this?  Oh, it’s one big motherfkin roller coaster!!  Big FM’s Expedition GeForce – it’s often voted the best coaster in Europe and it’s always in the top ten worldwide, and here it is in this otherwise NOT thrill-oriented park.  Other than its wordy title, it’s a no nonsense steel-tracked monster that starts out big and stays that way – 82 degree drop, 75 mph and NO pansy-arse shoulder harness bar – just a lap belt and bar – this amounts to maximum feelings of butterflies in the belly. The whole coaster is just ups and downs of varying degrees – no whirlpools, no neck-breaking direction changes or rough tracks – it’s so smooth it’s almost silent. I’ve never been on anything like it.   Someone that really loved life designed this coaster.

Dog Days

•August 29, 2010 • 3 Comments

School starts tomorrow morning for Cameron – 4th grade.  He has the same teacher as he did last year which is great all-around, especially because in the history of cool teachers, there has never been a cooler teacher than Cameron’s and now he’s got Mr. Cool for another whole year.  Cameron feels like the BMOC.

It’s hard to go back to school when it’s still so hot and summery outside though…because it’s August and it’s…well it’s always hot when the kids return to school, right?  Dog days?  Cicadas still busy in the fields and sunscreen a factor before they head off to catch the bus, no?   It’s what we’ve been used to, but here in the GERMANY?  Yeah, not so much.

Right now it’s rainy for about the 16th day in a row and holy cow, it’s frigid.  August frigid, that is.  Temps are right at this moment reading an even 50 outside, which is one degree away from it being in the 40’s.  Can you imagine?   It’s not even a fluke either – it’s been only in the 60’s for the last couple weeks with an occasional 70 here and there.  For the most part, I love it.  I love that Germany is pretty much Spring and Fall with 3 weeks of OMFG on either end.  This is my weather, but 50?  Holy crap.

Paul’s birthday is also tomorrow – happy, happy!

Track Two

•August 13, 2010 • 1 Comment

I romanticize the trains here in Europe.  The train system is, indeed, amazing here and like a lot of Americans, when I think of Europeans, I rarely imagine them driving, but rather training to their Euro-destinations.  When we imagined ourselves traveling here, we imagined the same for us:  rail to Prague, rail to dinner out, rail to shop in the city for the day…

Yet the actual Europeans I hang with say, “The train?  NO WAY!  It’s a hassle – you have to drive to the station, then wait, then pay more than gas costs, and it’s stuffy and smelly and slow…”.    POP!  There went my Euro-bubble.  We still hold onto the fantasy though and see ourselves as potential trainers despite all the drawbacks, but the fact is that it’s confusing to take the train. 

 Deutsch Bahn, the German train system, is a tangled web of tracks with different levels of trains all crossing over each other – the inter-city, the regional express, ICE, the S-1, the S-3, and so on.  There are different pricing levels for each system and different pricing levels depending on where you are coming from and where you are going, of course, and it’s based on some sort of calculus or something that I’ll never be able to figure out. There’s a website, but to navigate it requires a high level of savvy-ness, and if you don’t possess it (we don’t), you overpay.  There are machines right at the track, and customer service counters with tired, disgusted and hurried employeees manning them, but if you don’t navigate them correctly as well, you overpay.  

I guess I’m just afraid to overpay!  But even if I get a good train fare or go with a group, something always happens that causes me to hyperventilate,  like a last minute track change, or that we’re traveling on a weekend and fail to notice that certain trains that run every day don’t run on Saturdays from 2:00 on, or whatever.  Sometimes trains even pull into stations and half the train gets disconnected and stays there at the station and half continues on – if you don’t remove yourself promptly you get left behind! 

We’ve been burned is what I’m saying, and it’s left me a little shaken, but being a resiliant and determined little bunny, I wanted more than ever to get over this train hurdle. 

So we had a free day yesterday and felt tipsy with the blankness of our slates, so I planned a train trip, the kiddos and I, to Mannheim.  I even went to the station the day prior and bought my ticket – a 24 hour pass to travel to this particular region: Mannheim, Heidelburg, Speyer, the wine country – they’re all near each other.  I found an itinerary system online that gave me all my connections, train numbers, etc (hello?  Savvy?  Is that you knocking on my door?).   Until I woke up and it was POURING.  The park that was my destination was a zoo/gardens “with over 100 Hectares of outside fun”  so yeah – not happening.  I decided something indoors was better and we remembered the Speyer Technical Museum was somewhere around Mannheim- my ticket’s region, so I hopped online, found a new itinerary, printed it and went to the station and folks – it all went off without a hitch! There was even a bus from the station in Speyer to the museum and my train tickets covered that and it was on my itinerary as well.   There was a near-miss in a small town we stopped at in the wine region.  Half the train stayed, half continued – I heard the announcement, started hyperventilating and some kindly German man in the opposite seat told me to “just sitz down”.  I did.  Thank you Herr Mann.

Here are some pics from our day.  Click to be taken, as if by a winged angel, to our web album:

Speyer – August 12, 2010

The Science, Mathematics and Vocabulary of Summer

•August 5, 2010 • 2 Comments

I have discovered during the intense parent child bonding session that is otherwise known as Summer Vacation that some basic principles of science and math apply to this time of year.  I have listed them here:

1) The relationship between the frequency of my children’s fights is inversely proportional to the start time of my cocktail hour.

2)  Terra Firma Syndrome:  A condition, aggravated by Summer, in which I seem to lose any ability to recall the last time my child has taken a bath.

3) Every particle of matter in a child attracts every particle of matter in their rooms with a force that is directly proportional to how clean I’m wanting to keep the house.

4)  Two children systems can remain in a suspended state of peace and equilibrium when combined with a third system, provided that the third system is Spongebob.

5) The probablility of the intersection of Event A:  Putting your children’s dinner on the table, and Event B: The ice cream truck driving past your house at that very moment, is well above 90%.

6) Fictitious Force (aka:  Pseudo Force):  The imaginary science behind those papery swim diapers in which all public pool-goers choose to believe (see also:  The Floating Corn Principle).

7)  Where it pertains to setting up home lemonade stands and fishing, the actual amount of fun had is always .00024 percent of the amount of fun one THINKS they will have.

8)  McDonagal’s Line – The imaginary de-militarized zone between two hostile entities in a backseat, always drawn by someone in the front seat.

9) My childrens’ bodies will persist in their states of rest until I am compelled to change their states by my forces being impressed upon them.

10) The sum of all educational aspects of any field trip location are always less than the whole of some crappy piece of plastic from that location’s gift shop.

Post Clemmenstern

•August 4, 2010 • 2 Comments

So I think it’s pretty clear about when Cameron’s musical education went awry – somewhere around ages 5.5-7. This was the period when I would visit my own house twice weekly, dressed as a large Austrian woman called Mrs. Clemmenstern. Until then, I had attempted to teach him piano as boring old me, Mom, but he paid me no attention. But when I donned the Clemmenstern suit, he sat upright with “tennis ball hands”, always at the ready, always aiming to please. It was a crazy glimpse of the Cameron only outsiders knew – teachers and coaches and, well, not us parents.

Over the years, Mrs. Clemmenstern developed an entire backstory – she was married to Clem Clemmenstern, a Danish/Austrian violin teacher/repairman who travelled Europe 3 months of every year teaching children the violin. She joined him from time to time, almost always when our family was on vacation too – funny how that worked out.

I liked it. A lot. Two years worth of like. I miss her. She’s still in my cell phone – I used it to threaten Cameron that I’d call her up to tell her this and that about his painful practices. I can’t delete it.

Eventually of course, she went the way all magical Austrians and their children go…he grew out of her, and one day I just told him I wouldn’t be needing her anymore as long as he kept up the good work. Thanks to her and her dutiful tutilage, he was playing left and right hand simultaneously, he’d learned to read music and had moved from preschool primer level to Level II beginner in the Bastian Series piano method, the same one I had learned when I was little (another coincidence!).

It wasn’t long after that he quit piano altogether – school, sports and Germany caught up with us and I let it lag. Then, about 6 months ago he took up guitar with Paul. We got him an electric number for his 9th birthday and Paul has a nice acoustic. He signed them both up for a simultaneous lesson weekly with Mr. Jim (NOT Paul.). Sadly again, guitar – once he found out it was actually work to learn it – failed to ignite any further musical fire in Cameron and it goes like so many kid/parent/musical instrument stories now – the cycle: parental nag, student practice half-heartedly, lesson and repeat. Paul and Cameron fight through each practice It’s ugly. So…now again I’ve stepped in to save my own sanity, sans costume this time (though I’ll admit that a hippy costume would be a great guitar teacher getup, wouldn’t it?).

My challenge this time is to make this kid “friends with his music”, but I’m not sure how. I want it to be more than work – I want him to learn the art of “tinkering around” and give him the power to figure out a song on his own – that’s powerful stuff! I want him to befriend his guitar, to name her, to learn what it can do for him (no – he’s not old enough for THAT yet). I want him to be that guy on the airplane who packs no clothes for the trip but would never forget his beloved companian – his guitar. But how do I do it?

I’m trying clever things like putting words to his boring practice songs and/or making up piano accompaniment. It helps with rhythm and timing a lot when I do that. I make sure that each practice session includes “goof around time” – time just sitting there picking at the strings. I suggest, or bet him a dollar that he can’t figure out how to play the choruses to his favorite pop songs. He tries, at least.
I praise him and I praise him – that can’t hurt. He just gets so down on it, it’s frustrating. He still wants to quit frequently.

But then I heard the following during a guitar practice the other day and my heart nearly burst – he actually picked out, on the piano, what he was playing on the guitar and was alternating back and forth. He called me up and he was so proud. It’s not much, but could it be a flicker of something other than pain and misery? Maybe.

In related news, when Cameron returns to school this Fall, I plan to take advantage of the time to reconnect with an old Austrian friend of mine, this time for Griffin. I’ve got to order some hair over the internet and dig out my old sunhat. It will be nice to see her again.

My Hands are Worming Down!

•August 2, 2010 • 2 Comments

Puppet came with us on our most recent trip.  My Mom got us this puppet for Griffin awhile ago at the deep discount store.  I think it was the only one there and I’m dying to know what this puppet was made for.  I’m suspicious that it might be one of those puppets for the kids to re-enact on when they don’t want to talk about things the real way, which is sad.  Actually, any puppet that is a person looks like one of those re-enaction puppets to me.   I think I might have issues.

We usually keep him up really high, because the dog wants to take him under the bed and do God Knows What to him.  Then our puppet would need a puppet, no?

So he came with us on our trip.  Paul likes to take him with us sometimes and has developed a voice for him that sounds somewhat like Mr. T.   I think it’s because the Puppet has his hat on sideways, the international symbol of street punks, circa 1983.

I go to all the shows at any price – I never miss a puppet theater with Paul.  Here is Puppet, upset because we all left him in the hotel room and went out to dinner and he didn’t have anything to do, so he’s yelling at us.

Puppet is often angry.

So then after Paul did his thing, Griffin got hold of him – I love the voice (it’s the same voice as his belly when it talks!):


•July 31, 2010 • 2 Comments

July has only 31 days, right?  Well I came close, like last year to posting every day.  Considering I’ve posted more in the last month than I have in the last year, I call it a job well done.

Anyway, as promised, here are some Baden Baden photos for your enjoyment…or whatever.  Click on the below to access the album.

Baden Baden

Taking Out the Trash

•July 28, 2010 • 3 Comments

Oh, my.  I completely forgot.  It’s Trash Day tomorrow.  I’ll have to post Baden pics another time because Trash Day gets all my brainpower.

First, you must understand that trash is not simply trash over here.  You don’t just flip something into a can when you’re done with it.   I believe they don’t have any landfills anymore over here so everything except a very small percentage gets a new life after you’re done with it.  It’s mandatory, it’s Earth-a-licious and until it leaves your home, it’s incredibly stinky. 

First, you must examine the item to be thrown “away” closely, determine its origin, its category and its potential.  Then you select the proper receptical that will house that item in a peaceful slumber until it is reborn. 

Each house has four five bins:  yellow-bag (gelb sack), residual, paper and bio.  And glass.

Gelb Sack is for plastic, aluminum, mixed material (yogurt containers, for instance, or those plastic covered styro-trays that hold your meat) and styro products (which you shouldn’t really use anyway).  You are issued Gelb Sacks by the Verbandsgemeinde (county office) and you must return to that office when you need more. There is ring-kissing involved, and always avert your eyes.

gelb=yellow. See? It's yellow!

 When it’s time for Gelb Sack pickup,you just lay them on the ground on the curb – there is no limit to the amount of gelb you can have on your curb.

Then, there is paper.  Paper is just thrown loose into the paper bin outside (we have an inside can that we dump into the outside one when it’s full).  The outside container is exactly the size of a typical trash rolling-to-the-curb container in America.  It’s blue.  What can go in Paper?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  Used napkins?  nope.  Paper towels you’ve used to clean the stovetop?  nope.  Wet wipes?  never.  Why are you using those things anyway?!  Use rags for that.  Just clean paper shall enter the paper container – not tainted, soiled, or otherwise offended paper.  Old mail?  SURE!  (just remember with envelopes to tear out the plastic window where you can see the address).  Advertisements?  Absolutely.   Things like that – pure, unfettered paper.

also: boxes and food container (clean) boxes and such...

Then there’s residual – aka:  the American Garbage.  It’s the “normal” or “I don’t know what else to do with it” garbage.  Just use a Glad Tall Kitchen type bag in the house for this.  Stinky things like cooked fish can go in here, soiled paper, Personal Waste (doggie poo) etc.  Things for when you just don’t care or have no other home -they don’t check it – you can put anything in there – it’s a Free Space garbage.  They give you a nice rolling dumpster for your residual garbage outside.  Problem is, it only fits about 2 tall kitchen bags in it when it’s full.  Think about that:  two bags until garbage day.  Therefore, recycling is NOT an option – it’s a necessity.  Oh and did I mention that those two bags are over TWO WEEKS?  Not one.  They pick up every TWO WEEKS.  Don’t be careless with your residual.

A luxury item: This one box will probably last a full two years. It's over a year old already.

Then there’s Bio:  Food scraps (but only compost type food – no olive pits and such).  Dinner scraps (no fish!), lawn mowings, plant and garden scraps, and egg cartons and paper towels too (bonus!).  We all have boxes under our sinks that we scrape plates into, then we carry the boxes out to the bio dumpster outside and pour it in.  They also have “Bio Bags” which are made of some sort of gelatin I think.  You can put really saucey or slimey gross bio in there and it won’t get all over the inside of your can, but in a couple weeks?  It dissolves.  There is no possible way to sum up how foul the bio container smells in 95 degree heat.  It’s indescribably foul.

And onward…glass!  Glass things we rinse out and place in a container and maybe monthly we haul it to the middle of town, sort it, and dump each glass thing in its proper color receptacle:  brown glass, clear glass and green glass.

So TRASH DAY is here!  Trash day is every week, but NOT ALL TRASH GETS PICKED UP EVERY WEEK, like I mentioned.  It’s on the average, every two weeks – sometimes 4.  But it’s easy, all you have to do is check the handy dandy chart…

So if the cosine of A is equal to pi over the root of the...yep! It's yellow bag tomorrow!

Look how happy those people look on the pamphlet – that’s you!  You have to line up your village and your day and follow the column with the date down and you get a code – check the key to find out what your code means and that’s what’s getting picked up.  God help you if there’s a holiday that week.  Most of the time, we just look at what our German neighbors are rolling out there.

RS Day - Residual and S=gelb sack. That's our residual can (everything garbage) and our gelb bags at the curb. The residual can only goes about halfway down, and it's about the size of Cameron. Tiny!

So that’s it!  I wanted to be so detailed to prove how much we’ve come to know about this process over the last year.  Is it bewildering?  Absolutely.  Is it a pain?  Sure.  

So we had to take a class when we got here to learn all this.  So it takes more than 5 minutes every week. So…so…so…

We are forced to do it, and so we must do it and guess what – we do it!  Greater good.  My question is – why in America is making people do something so hard if it’s for a greater good?!  There are whole entire countries out there full of people that do this every day.  Old people, young kids – everyone has to and they do.  But ask an American to scrape a plate or sort their bathroom trash bin when they take it to the big trash bin, and they shudder and gasp,  “But it’s…icky!”

An interesting side result of all this is how each consumer and waster comes to look at the world around them when they have to go through their trash piece by piece.   I think about things before I buy them – those micro-meals?  A LOT of waste that frankly I just don’t have room for.  Paper plates?  An absolute luxury item – I don’t have room to throw them out.  We buy a LOT more glass containers.  I use cotton towels to clean things a lot more than paper towels.  I waste less.  I re-use.  I think before I throw it out.  How un-American!  Imagine…

Schwarzwald Fail

•July 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

We planned on doing the Schwarzwald drive (Black Forest road – only 50 miles and 4 hours (!!)) today, but instead decided to linger in the paradise that is Baden-Baden a little longer.  We ate our hotel’s German breakfast (see:  lunchmeat), dropped the urchins off at the child “paradise” center (see: ball pit) and went to the other, not-so-naked thermal baths – Caracalla.  These are operated by the same folks as Freidrichsbad, the naked spa.  This more modern facility houses about 10 pools of varying temperatures (60 degrees to 100 degrees), inside and outside.  There are bubbles, jets, water cascades, fountains, hoses, whirlypools, strong current pools and whatnot represented here.  They even have a room where you sit and breathe in the magic waters in the form of a mist mixed with eucalyptus.  It’s supposed to cleanse the airways.  The point of all this is JUST GET THE WATER IN AND ON YOU IN ANY WAY POSSIBLE BECAUSE IT’S MAGIC.  It’s not a “family facility” even though you must wear a bathing suit.  The healing waters are very serious, folks and young children would find the environment to be…intense (see:  Seen But Not Heard).  A very large percentage of the population at Caracalla was old…er.  ‘Nuff said.

So the kids hate us right now because they were basically caged all weekend while we stole off to all corners of the thermal world, but you know what?  They’ll live.  We needed a getaway and we got one.  Let’s hope the healing waters did their trick and have enabled us to keep up with them for another 4 weeks until school starts. 

Tomorrow I’ll post some pictures of the town and such, so you must endure Baden Baden for one more day, but I promise Iwill not type the word NAKED ever again if you come back.  Scout’s honor.