29 May 2009

Brand management

Dear Belgium,

I just love

the brand names

you give

your consumer goods

and children's attractions.


A Fan

25 May 2009

Germany, part V: Guten Tag

We took a cable car in Freiburg, a trip highlight for everybody.

We hiked around at the top.

Lauren and I did not play it cool at all as we headed back down. For a moment I forgot my mother role and, rather than modeling fearless, cheery interest, screamed. It was kind of scary! I know, it was cable car, not a bungee. I'm no high adventure gal.

I can't remember if I have written about the time shortly after we moved here when I forgot my mother role while driving. We were on narrow streets, and other drivers were honking at me because I had not grasped the priority of the right principle. In the car with my two dear children, somehow the exclamation, "We're going to die!" slipped out. Nice. I've got to tame the hyperbole.

The town of Freiburg has water channels running through its streets. The kids were fascinated, but our time in Freiburg was cut short when Soren fell in one and was soaked from the waist down.

An aside: I highly recommend the Doodle Pro for traveling with children. My parents bought one of these for me (back when they were called Magna Doodles) when we moved from Florida to Minnesota in the early 1980s. Look at this awesome shark Lily drew.

Now, have I made it sound as though all our traveling is sheer glee, dotted with castles and mountain vistas? I've misled you. Sometimes traveling brings out the worst in Matthew and me. And I'd love to blame it on having small children, but frankly, pre-children, we experienced journey-related stress. At times, Matthew becomes The Supreme Traveler. He is a machine, and the rest of us are drag. Then (to compensate?), I devolve into a less competent, slower moving version of myself. Also, I become The Parenting Gatekeeper, because I do it a lot of the time by myself, and by good golly, I think I know how to (!!). So, together, we become The Bickersons.

Traveling brings out the worst in us, then, and here we are in three years brimming over with travel. Huh. Ever since this move was a possibility, I have been trusting that there are divine purposes in our being here, purposes other than Matthew fulfilling work goals. Marital refinement via ramped-up traveling seems to be part of it. We’re practicing at travel, and, nearly two years into it, it is finally dawning on me that in traveling we’re practicing at unity and patience, cheerfulness and perseverance. Of course as we travel we're also practicing at eating and sightseeing, which makes all the marital growth stuff more palatable -- a spoonful of sugar, I guess. (We started watching Mary Poppins this weekend.)

But if I've depicted Matthew and me as a really swell couple heading a conflict-free family, if I have painted a picture of us sitting around on lawn chairs in our wrinkle-free chinos, sipping Coca-Cola through straws from glass bottles, smiling at each other with strangely white teeth, I apologize. "Guten tag," I titled this post, not only because I have now spent all my German, but because we have our guten tags and our not so guten tags.

And I am so thankful that this man loves me no less on my sub-guten tags than on the guten ones.

(I'll spare you the photo where the entire family is faux-luging in this same spot.)

24 May 2009

Germany, part IV: Schwarzwald continued

The Black Forest (or Schwarzwald, another delightful German word) is gorgeous. It is lush and dense, its hills thick with varied green. It looked just like it seemed the Black Forest ought to look.

The kids had so much fun being outdoors, and we loved watching them run. Lily has such a natural, loping gait. Joy beams from her when she runs.

I don't want to try to make our children into little versions of us. You know; we want them to be their very own unique, fearfully and wonderfully made Lily and Soren and Clara. But I tell you, when I watch Lily run, it's hard not to think she's her father's daughter, and hope that she might get as much joy from running in her life as he has in his.

Also, I imagine her schooling sweet, ponytailed, far slower little girls on a cross-country course one day.

Soren's more of an engine. His legs turn over faster, and his arms swing, almost unbent, at his sides. He is working, focused. He has this cool little tic where every so often his head weaves over to the left. Very cool.

Matthew didn't ask the kids to do this. Just sibling coolness in full effect.

Clara's cool too. Look at her swinging! Super cool.

Look! It's a lilac bunny!

And here are the real bunnies, who survived Lily feeding them lilacs, and who made this place the kids' favorite.

It was my favorite too -- it was such a beautiful place (in Freiburg).

White asparagus is in season, so the hotel had an entire asparagus menu -- asparagus soup, salad, and several main dishes featuring it. Lauren got a dozen huge spears wrapped in prosciutto, with hollandaise sauce and a pancake slightly thicker than a crepe, but not as thick as a homemade American pancake. A plus-sized crepe. Matthew and I both ordered a mixed-up dish of white asparagus, duck, and a torn-up plus-sized crepe. The big kids had schnitzel, and Clara had spaetzle. This was her second meal of this -- the night before, her exuberant spaetzle eating attracted an audience at the table near ours.

Isn't this lavender hanging flowering viny plant beautiful? We see them in Belgium, too. Do you know what they are? I wonder if I could get them back home.

23 May 2009

Germany, part III: Water!

On Sunday we swam in a thermal spring. The Black Forest is known for these. It was like a municipal swimming pool, indoors, with a locker room and all, except non-chlorinated, warm, and sourced from a natural spring. It is supposed to be therapeutic. The majority of the clientele were elderly people, and lots of canes leaned around the edge of the pool.

Bad Peterstal-Griesbach, the village we stayed in, also bottles its water. It was non-bubbly mineral water -- a strange taste sensation. I liked it.

After swimming, and filling up our water bottles at Bad Peterstal's water fountain, we hiked around Germany's highest waterfall.

We had just a short drive from our lunch spot in Triberg to where we started hiking, so we were surprised to see that our infrequent napper had conked out during those few minutes.

This did not stop our hike. We've got to see every inch of Europe we can, you know. We can rest when we're dead, son!

Seconds after this picture was taken, he was racing ahead with Lily, tackling rocky trails,

taking in the beauty of the falls,

and attempting to push large boulders over with an enthusiastic adult cheering section.

22 May 2009

Germany, part II: Ich heiße Janina!

We left Köln (Cologne) the next morning and headed down the Rhine. Here's where my fondness for Rick Steves began. His was one of the Germany travel guides I borrowed, and it was very helpful. I really enjoyed Rick and all his advice. I became set in my Rick ways and didn't want to see anything Rick hadn't told me was good. We followed his Rhine Blitz Tour (he's got the whole thing on his website -- nice), driving right along the river for about sixty kilometers and seeing over a dozen castles and many lovely villages, like Bacharach:

We had a picnic along the Rhine (bratwursts!).

We always knew where we were and which castle we were looking at, because, as Rick told us, "You'll notice large black and white kilometer markers along the riverbank. I erected these years ago to make this tour easier to follow. . . . Now the river barge pilots accept these as navigational aids as well."

When I first noticed a sign -- easily two meters by three meters -- I pointed it out, and said Rick put those up. Matthew just laughed, and as soon as I said it, it sounded strange to me too. The markers were so professional, and substantial. How did Rick do this? Kayak along the Rhine, with a mallet and signs? Did he have to get the Germans' OK? The river barge pilots use them? Really? We reread the passage, searching for any sarcasm in his tone. We didn't hear any. We salute you, Rick.

We toured Rheinfels Castle in St. Goar, since Rick told us it was the best. His walking tour was great. I turned my nose up at the little one-sheet map they gave us at the entrance. Thanks, we'll stick with Rick.

Auntie gave us a much welcome break from toting Clara. I wore her a lot when she was a newborn, mostly in a sling, but now I wear a knee brace instead of a sling, and Clara gets stroller time unless her sweet aunt is here. (Maybe I did misunderstand this comment.)

This was the pantry, which gives you a sense of how many people lived within the castle walls.

Here's where they slaughtered animals -- channels in the ground took the blood away.

I'm hiding my Rick book in this picture. . .

Matthew's parents gave me The Reader, and I brought it along to read on our trip, familiar with the basic storyline, and then Rick Steves told me it was a good supplementary reading for the trip. Oh, Rick. Is there anything you can't do?

(The title: We had to pick German names at camp. I picked Janina. Ja, I did!)

21 May 2009

Germany, part I: Wo bleibst der Käse?

[I accidentally posted a big grab bag of photos with unfinished writing scraps version of our Germany trip yesterday. Here is the real part one.]

My sister visited! And we shared a pretzel or seven.

The day after Lauren arrived, we drove to Germany, traveling to the Black Forest via Köln (Cologne). Here's a map of Germany. See Brussels, just to the west? We drove due east to Köln (Cologne), then traveled along the Rhine to the Black Forest, in the southwest part of the country.

Köln is "anglicized" to Cologne, which is a French word. Weird. I guess the Anglos chose the Frenchification. I learned three new words from this page I landed on while searching about anglicization. "Allonyms" are alternative versions of a city's name in a multi-lingual country, e.g., Brussels. The Dutch name is Brussel, and the French is Bruxelles. Please note that neither includes a pronounced "s" at the end as the anglicized "Brussels" does. Maybe the Anglos liked the French version, but could not overlook that "s" begging to be enunciated at the end.

Then, "endonym" is what the people who live in a place call it, and an "exonym" is what the people who don't live there call it, in their own language. Perhaps an example helps. The endonym of the country we visited is Deutschland, and it has several exonyms, e.g., Germany to the Brits and Americans, Allemagne to the French. Cool.

But which should a traveling American use, the exonym or the endonym? It depends. Do you want to appear ignorant, or snobby? No, it's not that simple. Pah-ree, or Paris? Well, Paris, I think. Pah-ree sounds affected. But, for Provence, prah-VAHNCE [I don't know the real phonetic spellings], not PRAH-vence, right? The latter sounds dumb. Hmm. What's the rule? But, Germany or Doytchlahnd? If you have a sense of humor, I think the answer is clear. No offense, Germany! I mean, Deutschland! Really, no offense, I think your language is powerful and hilarious. Double trouble.

So. We visited the cathedral in Köln, and Clara is just mad for architecture, can't you tell.

There were a lot of police, we don't know why . . .

And we had some good eating. During our four days in Germany we ate bratwurst and sauerkraut; Kölsch (beer from Köln/Cologne), hefeweizen (I'm not a beer enthusiast but this is my fave), and dunkel; white asparagus; pretzels and schnitzel and strudel. These are a few of my favorite thiiiings!!

Oh, the title. I went to German camp one summer as a tween. Although I was a tween before that term was invented, I think. Anyhow, this is one of the only phrases I remember, from a song we sang before dinner. "Where's the cheese," I guess.

18 May 2009

Browsing brows

Our kids love this British commercial. Just 1:01. It's pretty funny.

15 May 2009

Doing it right

[I wrote a draft of this last October but decided against posting it at the time. It's just a small piece of the school decision, but it's part I want to remember, so I'm putting it up.]

This is a typical Belgian coloring book. Right side, outline blank for coloring. Left side, outline already colored properly, to use as a guide.

A friend recently told me that several years ago, her son's maternelle teacher ripped up students' drawings if they were not "right." Her son got this treatment when he drew a tree with purple leaves. The squelching of imagination is bad enough, but a tree with purple leaves actually did grow outside their kitchen window.

Lily loves to draw. She goes through pad after pad, doodling, and also likes coloring. Lately she seems especially interested in accuracy. She praises me for coloring a character the "right" color. She colors Elmo red with an orange nose, just like on the cover of her coloring book, and points that out to me. I try to strike the magic chord (cord?) of both praising her accuracy and casually mentioning that she can color any way she'd like and doesn't have to submit to The Man's coloring rules. [I don't actually talk to her about The Man. Also, I'm not sure that Jim Henson is The Man.]

Lily recently told me, "Sometimes Mme. J. doesn't like my drawings."

I immediately thought of the tree with purple leaves. "How do you know she doesn't like your drawings?" I asked.

"I'm not done with them."

Hmm. What does that mean? I asked her a couple questions but didn't learn much more. So I never really understood what was going on, and was just left with a vague unpleasant sense.

The friend with the purple tree told me that while Americans use art to encourage creativity, Belgians use art to teach accuracy. Sounds reasonable, I guess, but begs the question. Where do they encourage creative thought? Math?

13 May 2009

Backyard fun