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.
St. Martin's Fest
Legend goes that a Roman soldier riding through town found a poor peddler dying in the cold. Mr. Martin, being a kind and gentle soul, took his cloak off his back and drew his sword, cutting the cloak in half. He gave the bigger half to the peddler, who survived. Martin then dreamt that the peddler was Jesus, and became a saint. That's all it took, folks.
St. Martin's Day is celebrated on November 11th, and is a HUGE deal in this Catholic neck of the woods. The children make paper lanterns and prance through town, bonfires are lit, songs are sung, and a man on a horse makes a "woah nelly!" appearance.
The girl's kindergarten held a Lanternfest in St. Martin's honour, and were spoiled with treats and sausages and raisin buns. The buns are meant to be split and shared with another child, in keeping with the sentiment of the evening. Claudia, my dear, quickly shoved the whole thing in her mouth. There are days where we just don't fit in.
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.
One week later...
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.
Sweet Mother ...
Inside our apartment, two ladies lain ill with the stomach bug. It was a quiet weekend, to be sure. I stuck my head out the window for some fresh air on Sunday and that's as far as I got. Outside, however, all hell was breaking loose.
The world's biggest sweet potato was found
just five blocks from our house!
Actually, it's an active bomb from the Second World War. And this lucky railroad construction worker found it inside our reno'd train station's exposed belly.
Over 1000 residents needed to be evacuated from the surrounding neighbourhood. All trains to and from the station were obviously cancelled and rerouted. The bomb squad came in and deactivated the yam and called Buddy over for his photo op.
How on Earth did this bomb hide out for almost 70 years? Did they just build the train station on top of it? Maybe if my German was better, I would find the answers in the local newspaper. But since I'm still at the "Hi, how are you?" stage, I'm just going to let my imagination run wild.
p.s. Were you more impressed when you thought it was a sweet potato? I just spent too much time looking through images of giant sweet potatoes, and man, they're ugly.
What we do without a car
About every 28 days I decide that it's time for us to have another baby. Every 29 days I decide that's not the greatest idea. Shelly the Snail doesn't really fill that maternal urge, but maybe a puppy would?
This is Teddy. I have wanted to visit the local animal shelter for some time now, and this past weekend was my chance. Except, "local" takes on a whole new meaning without access to a car. Local means a bus ride to the boonies, a trek through the woods and a rickety river crossing, of course. At least the bus is a Mercedes.
The walk/trek/hike/whatever was great. The weather was good, the kids were good, the scenery ... so on and so forth. But the best part? The absolute serendipitously marvellous best part? Right when we finally have the animal shelter in sight Aaron sees a sign. A yellow sign that says "Flea Market at the Animal Shelter, TODAY!" Tara! Today! Puppies AND junk.
Except. It turns out that we can't adopt an animal. Because, and I quote, "We won't let you have an animal because you're not German." Us: "But we LIVE here." And then, presumably after hearing themselves speak, they changed it to "Or maybe if you spoke better German ... not to be racist or anything, but this is just our policy."
There is no German race you assholes. Just give me my dog Teddy and my used books and let me go. I have to catch my Mercedes at twenty past the hour.
The 4th Quarter - Mauritz
Block party! We headed out the door around ten Saturday morning and spent 6 hours out and about in our neighbourhood. Mini flea markets sprung up by the dozens, musicians were playing in every square, neighbours were putting the humble lemonade stand to shame. And the sun did not seize to shine.
We ran into some neighbours, whose daughter is Claudia's best buddy at school, and conversed in broken languages. Canada has it wrong about drinking in public, it honestly is the best. The kids climbed trees and ran amuck while the parent just shared a beer and had a laugh or two.
It's hard to believe that I actually belong to a community in this town, but it appears that I do. It was nice just to ramble around, walking around with no map, saying hi to familiar faces. It turns out that this is our home.
Jail, and How not to Parent.
Apartment hunting proved to be a difficult challenge for us. When we found our flat, we loved it immediately, but it was unfinished. Even by German standards. The owners had run out of capital to finish the reno and we stepped in and agreed to finish it for them, in exchange we paid less commission than was originally asked. Fast forward a couple of months, the owners now bankrupt and our flat is now owned by the bank. Enter the appraiser.
We had previous experience with appraisers while selling our own home, and they're a scary lot. Sunday was all about cleaning the house to make sure that we appeared to be ideal tenants. Monday morning was all about making sure that the kids stood stationary in a corner until the appraiser showed up, lest they dare dump their bin of Playmobil toys all over the floor.
I told Eloise, in my least dramatic voice, that a lawyer was coming and the house HAD to stay clean or else Mommy would go to jail. I would have gotten away with this threat had we not visited an old jail the day before. "Oh, that's okay Mommy. Jail isn't that scary, it just has lots of ghosts." Why won't my kids take me seriously?!?
The old "Zwinger" is one of the original buildings in Münster. It's ancient. It's peppered history includes being a secret Gestapo prison. Forced labourers, Polish and Russian, were hanged in the courtyard for trivial crimes, stealing bread, loving a German woman, etc.. It now houses a modern art exhibit including a hundred hammers that tap on the interior walls, meant to mimic the communication between prisoners. It's eerie.
The prison has been left relatively untouched since its destruction by the Allies. As you walk around, unguided, you get a real sense of history. Interior bricks remain on the ground where they landed, rickety stairs stay rickety, the cells are still covered in dirt, the pathways dark as night. But it has an almost ethereal quality too. Nature has taken over and there is a juxtaposition of beauty and brutality that creates a stillness in the air, an invitation to reflect.
A Flash Mob, sort of.
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.