There is a great deal of preparation that children and parents need to go through before a child is ready to start grade school in Germany. Formal registration, meetings with the directors, and doctor's examinations round out the top three. At the doctor's visit, a variety of tests are done, pattern recognition, physical assessments, drawing a stick figure, etc.. Claudia fails when it comes to holding a pencil correctly. We've been told no less than three times, on three different occasions, that this needs to be corrected before she starts first grade. Demonstrating hasn't helped, but I found a clip online that offered a handy tip. I'm sharing this in case any one else is struggling with helping their child avoid a childhood of fancy plastic pencil grips. Or stern German Directors.
The trick is to fold up a piece of tissue and get them to hold it under their pinkie and ring fingers. Then, when you pass them the pencil, they'll instinctively know how to hold the pencil properly. It's pretty much magic. Try not to zero in on the grubby, sand filled fingernails and instead marvel at that line work. 
We decided on Sunday that we were done with the material life and headed into the woods to build a new homestead. Primitive LEGO building, Aaron and the girls gathered wood to build the structure, while I was in charge of the beautification of our new home. 
See that lovely walkway? All me. 
I've accepted the fact that we've been written off as nerds ages ago, so I have no shame in saying that this was the best way to spend a day in the woods. Fallen leaves and filtered sunlight can get a little boring after a while. 
Truth be told, you find these sorts of structures throughout the woods. It is THE thing to do, apparently. We played for hours, turning twigs in knots in the trees like they were some mystical doorways. Which is exactly what I used to do as a child with a cherry tree in my backyard. I've been a nerd from the start.



Out for coffee earlier in the week, I found a little blurb in a local magazine about a flea market on Sunday just outside of town. Except, because my German is still crap, it turns out I had actually found a blurb on a Roman regalia market. Not exactly my cup of tea. Aaron was in charge of plan B. 
He wanted to go a canal, just outside of town. How could I resist??? I did, but to no avail. This is Kü, or Kanalbrücke. 
It was nice. Although Eloise spent the majority of the 3 km walk on Aaron's shoulders, we happily walked and climbed and just "naturized" ourselves in the village of Gelmer. AND, we found bone-fide toadstools. So super cool.
Since I was only feeling like a half ogre that day, I wanted to have some pictures taken of my burgeoning bump. Whether it's an expanding uterus or just an excuse to stop sucking my belly in, you can decide.
Chilly girls.
I am recovered! Stitches are out, strange side effects are gone and my one week bedroom vacation has come to an end. It was high time to go outside. 
Tops on my list of favourite things to do is wandering very very slowly through flea markets. After a while your eyes start to fuzz and everything looks the same, but everything before that point is pure happiness. The biggest flea market in town came this weekend, and off we went to comb the stalls.

What we got:
Right off the bat, Claudia scored a freebie. A wooden bear with wings. Completely random (creepy) and she loves it.  
Eloise found an über Waldorf-inspired doll that she's named Henny.
I found a little craft type sewing machine for 5 euros and a pair of broken, vintage, Ray Ban sunglasses for 50 cents. Though they may make me look like a have a broken nose. Still, 50 cents!
We had a little picnic lunch and found a fake bird. Then we found a tick in Eloise's hair and it was time to go. Still a great day and one that made me very grateful that my recovery went as quickly as it did. It was good to be outside.
     The last time you were in Europe, you were a precocious teenager. Equipped with only your Brother's sage advice of "Don't shave your armpits. If someone sees you with shaved underarms, they'll assume you're a prostitute." I imagine you would be in for a different experience this time around. For better or worse, I imagine Europe looks a lot different than it did more than thirty years ago, and I would like to show you around. More so, MOM, your grandkids miss you. So please, get on that passport thingy and come and visit us. I miss you too.

Thanks to Grandma and Granddad, the whole female side of the family was able to make it over to Germany in time for Aaron's 30th Birthday. The days were filled to the brim with the stuff memories are made of. Claudia and Eloise have a new favourite person in their niece Charlotte, and it was nice for siblings to be together again. Donna and I made a habit out of grocery shopping together, and I didn't touch a dirty dish once this week. Donna brought her own supplies to attend to said task, which brought up a whole sponge vs dishcloth debate. We all ate too much, drank too much, and wished for more time to do it all in. 
Bright eyes.
Aaron's little sister Katrina. On a boat.
Parkin it with Grandma.
Christine and Katrina in Enschede.
We love the Netherlands! We even played good samaritan by helping a woman look for her lost wedding ring, which was discovered half an hour later at the bottom of her boot.
Super duper snuggle fest. Every day, all day. xoxo
So we took the kids to the park on Saturday, when all of a sudden I saw a sailor. Confident that I wasn't dreaming, I looked again and saw that the sailor had an accordion. In no time, I was being serenaded by a German Sailor Trio. 
Novelty aside, these accordion playing sailors were full of shits and giggles. We decided to move on from the spectacle before us, only to come upon another troupe, and another, and another. All along the promenade, bands had gathered. We stopped to listen to a mini orchestra, and decided to find a spot on the grass to listen some more. An hour later and the band played on. Aaron remarked how each musician seemed perfectly suited to their instrument, a fat tuba player, a delicate piccolo player and this guy:
The hat, the sunglasses, goodness gracious. I have it on good authority that the saxophone is cool again, and this might just be the epitome of cool. Don't you think?
*update: Apparently I know what's cool as much as I know my brass instruments. He's playing a trumpet, not a sax. I still like his hat though.
The girls decided to surprise us last night by eating their dinner. As a reward to them, and a pat on the back for ourselves, I suggested we take the kids out for a walk to get ice cream.  
See those droopy eyes on Claudia? That's her slowly getting stoned off dark chocolate ice cream. The following hour was the most erratic hour of my life. I remember that my brother wasn't allowed chocolate for the longest time because it made him insane. The genes have resurfaced. 

First she wanted to do relay races. Then a marching band. Complete with instruments of our own imagination. Except she was the LEADER so she decided what instruments we would play. When I refused to march through town playing an imaginary tuba, she became unhinged. She started playing her own magic music called "5 year old public temper tantrum."  We had to seek refuge. We found a church. "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!"

This is where Claudia becomes paranoid. There is a choir and orchestra playing inside the church, music spilling out into the streets. It is breathtakingly beautiful. The members are performing Requiem for a War, written about when the Germans stormed Conventry. But Claudia finds it unsettling. She says it's eerie and evil and she starts to cry. We decide that the next time we treat the girls to ice cream, it's strawberry all the way. 
Eloise, not suffering, but trying to get a better listen. And really, hedgehog door handles?? I'm going to rob this church.
I took the girls out to the country this weekend, to a manor called Haus Rüschhaus. Nestled into the woods, this mini palace was the summer home of architect Johann Schlaun, the man famous for Münster's palace, among others. The gardens are great for rambling, and there are great trails through the forest. 
It was on one of these trails that Eloise LOST HER MIND. The shrieking, oh my goodness. I thought she'd been bit by a snake. "Mommy!!!! A SNAIL!"  And then, "Can we keeeeeeep him?" Needless to say, one bus ride later Shelly the Snail found a new home in a tupperware container. He's an outgoing snail, as far as snails go. He loves lettuce, broccoli and strawberries for a treat. And he likes to be sprayed with water. Guys, I have a slug in my house and I love him.
If you haven't seen the above video then your life is incomplete. Oh how I embarrass myself with snort inducing laughter. Watch it, be happy and smile. It's worth it.  
Eloise just came to me and said, in her quietest little mouse voice, "Uh, Mommy? My cereal was dinner. Here are the scissors and a freezie." It's 7 am. It's going to be a long day.