Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Munich's deep freeze

Earlier this year, we arrived in Munich to grey skies and rainy weather. There was no snow on the ground and the kids were disappointed. Everyone cheered slightly when the grey skies occasionally cleared and the Alps were visible in the distance.  Then the snow came and we bought sleds. Then Europe’s deep freeze kicked in and we realized it was much too cold for us to actually leave our apartment, with or without the sleds!
In our part of southern Germany, temperatures hovered around -10 Celsius/ 14 Fahrenheit during the day and dipped to -22 Celsius/-7 Fahrenheit at night. And stayed there for about three weeks. Life continued albeit at a slower pace. School buses were late and field trips cancelled due to icy roads. It was too cold for outdoor recess though occasionally the kids went outside for a few minutes just to say they did. The kids started dressing themselves in multiple layers on top of their wool long underwear without encouragement. The train Phil takes into Munich stopped a few times and he waited in unheated cars for it to move again. Our new car stopped in traffic once on the way to swim practice. Apparently the reason for the stop; diesel fuel sometimes freezes when it is below 0 degrees Celsius!
For the last few days, the weather has been warmer. The kids even went skiing this past weekend, wearing only their regular winter gear, not all their Arctic add-ons (like Tori’s cute pink balaclava ski mask that everyone calls her baklava after the pistachio pastry.) Today the kids are celebrating Fasching, the festival before the start of Lent, with a party at school during which they can dress in costumes. We don’t know too much about Fasching except that the party at school will last for all of German and math class. Apparently the festival is also meant to scare away winter spirits. Let’s hope one boy dressed as Aaron Rodgers, one girl dressed as a Native American Indian and one girl dressed as a little girl can do the trick and bring on spring real quick.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Happy Birthday Hike!

Each January, Tori usually dreams up an idea for her birthday party. We try to create something festive along this “theme” that works for a group of now eleven year old girls. Some years are harder to implement than others (i.e. the Ancient Egypt birthday party) but all are fun. This year’s party, all based around hiking and climbing, proved both easy and fun. Both of these attributes were crucial as we moved overseas the very next day!
While we were in Washington D.C this past autumn, one of our favorite things to do was to hike along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. The National Park, built around this 184.5 mile canal, had one of its many access points very near our home. Where we lived, the canal ran alongside the Potomac River. During the fall’s many rainstorms, we watched the water levels rise in the Potomac, often washing over the park’s towpath.
Tori, our natural born climber, immediately gravitated to the Billy Goat Trail sign she spied on one of our early walks. The trail definitely lived up to its name. It was about 3 hours of up and down hiking over big boulders, with many climbing bits including one climb up a 40 foot rock face.  After doing this the very first time, Tori immediately declared that she wanted a Billy Goat Trail birthday party. 
Tori, who owns a forty foot climbing rope and dreams of reaching the top of Mt. Everest, was thrilled with every minute of this party. We made trail mix, ate trail mix, hiked, talked and sang our way along the rocky shore of the Potomac River. We watched hawks swoop out of the skies and skim the surface of the water. We watched elegant white herons stand stock still, watching us as we watched them. We watched our eldest daughter laugh with her new friends and realized she was adventurous and brave in more ways than one.
We all needed to embrace the adventure theme this year. After Tori’s birthday hike, we returned to an empty home and had store bought cake (a first for birthday cakes in our family) on the floor. Our kids went with it. The other kids went with it. Friends stopped in and we all said goodbye. The next day, we left for Germany and a new European adventure. And as Tori pointed out, the Alps are very nearby.