Wednesday, December 19, 2012

O Tannenbaum

Throughout late November and the first part of December, we have gotten daily dustings of snow. Even I, still remembering warm winter holidays in Hong Kong, have to admit that the snowy forests and fields that surround us are beautiful. The kids say it is not enough snow to build a snow man or have a proper snow ball fight, but it is just enough to set the mood. With Bavaria’s many Christmas markets and their big advent tradition, we are all more than ready for Christmas.

We recently drove outside of Munich to a Christmas tree farm. There we found a full scale Christmas operation. First, we came upon a Christmas market. Christmas markets here vary but essentially include stalls selling Christmas decorations, handmade gifts and lots of food and gluwein and kinderpunch. From there, we loaded into the back of tractors, which took us out into the hills. We warmed up by a bonfire and tried to motivate to leave the warmth and cut down our tree.
The cold is hard to explain. It is cold, about -6C which is in the 20’s. But more than that, we just aren’t appropriately dressed. We have forgotten the layering concept and haven’t even dug old winter clothes out of the basement yet. Tori lost her coat last week at school. Adam wasn’t wearing socks. The kids kept telling me their feet were falling asleep or “buzzing.” I finally realized what they were saying and told them that is what cold feels like. I think it was a lightning bolt moment and it will all be better from here on out but that is probably wishful thinking.
Despite the extreme cold, we found a tree and cut it down. We bundled it up and got it back on the next homeward bound tractor. The wait for the tractor was a little long and involved much more time by the fire. The kids, who don’t care for the warm kinderpunch served here, took a cup and just held it for warmth. When we finally got on the tractor we stood next to a father and his three year old twins. They all seemed fine in the cold. The father told us that the little boys went to the “waldkindergarten” or forest kindergarten. There kids play in the forest all year round. While this sounds like torture, the kids definitely learn about wet clothes and cold fingers. A lesson we are still trying to master. I see the allure, especially with the added degree of difficulty in getting twins out the door.

Monday, December 10, 2012

London calling

Over the kids’ recent school holiday, we flew to London. We visited the kids’ godmother, saw the sights and just soaked up the English language environment. On the flight over, we were in with a  plane full of Germany soccer  fans. We tried to figure out who was playing and when and where but everyone was speaking German and we didn’t make much head way. As soon as we landed and started going through immigration, everyone on our plane started talking English! We quickly got the game details (which I forget but Adam probably remembers). Just listening to soccer stats in English and I was interested!

But soccer was not the main sport of the weekend. Adam and Phil went to a NFL game in London. (New England Patriots 45 vs. St. Louis Rams 7). It was all very thrilling for Adam who had only embraced American football in the past year. Adam went wearing all the Green Bay Packers gear he owns.  At the game, Adam hung over the tunnel to the locker rooms. As the only kid, and the only one wearing NFL gear, he got a lot of attention from passing players. He came home with a defensive back’s glove, linebacker’s glove and receiver’s towel. A big enough haul to keep him going until flag football starts in Munich.
The rest was all London and lovely. We visited Tate Modern and St. Paul’s Cathedral but also stopped in a Starbucks, Chipotle and Foyle’s Bookstore along the way. We played in playgrounds we remembered from earlier visits. We visited the Tower of London (first Royal Observatory) and Greenwich Observatory, where the observatory was later moved too. There the kids stood straddling the Greenwich Meridian, one foot in the Western hemisphere and one foot in the Eastern hemisphere.  This seemed like an appropriate photo opportunity for our family given our move from one hemisphere to the other this past year.
While we enjoyed it all, we were most amazed by the grocery experience.  We wandered into a grocery store and were amazed by all the pre-made food.  In Germany, there is virtually no pre-made food. A box of macaroni and cheese is a rare find. In London, I gleefully bought pre-cut green beans and prepared hummus!  The other trick with grocery shopping in Germany is the hours. Most stores close at 7 and are closed all day Sunday. As soon as we landed back home, I rushed out to the store to get food before everything closed. I smiled to myself, as the couple in front of me bought a whole acorn squash, something I didn’t even buy in London when I saw it pre-cut. They are definitely making healthier choices but I have the time to post this blog.