Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Middle School Softball Champs!

In a surprising come from behind season, Tori’s middle school girls’ softball team just won their league! What this means is that Tori’s team beat out seven other teams in a two day tournament that ended the season. What Tori tells us it means is that she got a medal, her team got a trophy and her team gets a banner hung up in the gym.
Tori tried out for softball this year primarily because her homeroom teacher was the coach and asked her to. Tori did not have a mitt or a bat or cleats but soon accumulated all of the above, though it was a little difficult to get an extra small left handed softball glove in Germany. Tori  struggled at the beginning of the season, enduring the indignity of striking out multiple times. She got her bat and made us take her out into the fields behind our house for practice. There she hit the ball (our one ball) into the knee high weeds over and over until she figured it out. She traveled with the team to Vienna and Zurich and came home happy, despite limited wins. She reported that she liked softball a lot because of the uniform and the cheers!
Our school hosted the league tournament, so no traveling for us and the chance for parents to watch. The weather was horrible; cold and rainy. During one game, play was halted due to hard hail. Tori was on second base at the time and was hesitant to give up her base and take shelter. When the game was back on, Tori was the first one back on the field, resuming her second base spot in pouring rain. Her team went on to win all their games in the tournament and win the title with a good sized crowd watching, including one very proud little sister.
Adam somehow missed the championship game with an ongoing school fair and some slight boy scout responsibilities as well. But he attended earlier games and was definitely caught up in the spirit. As we drove to watch the other big sporting event of the weekend, Championship League football, Bayern vs. Dortmund, the radio was full of the news about the hometown team, Bayern Munich. Adam said in all earnestness that the radio show should be announcing Tori’s team as well. They are league champions too he reasoned. We all heartily agreed.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Double Digits

We’ve recently had two kids reach double digits around here. Exciting stuff. Spirits are soaring. As Royce says best, “I’m as happy as a ten year old!” It was a wild and crazy weekend of celebrations, which we could not have survived without a big assist from the twin’s godmother, coming in from London for the second year in a row. Despite the cold and grey and rainy spring we’ve been having, the rain held off for all of our parties and outside events. A lucky start to the momentous year, I hope.
This year Adam was up first with his campout party on Friday. The boys came over learned how to tie knots, made a drinking cup out of paper and did some leather crafts. We ate plenty of smores and watched a survival video before pitching a tent in our basement. Somehow we survived the ten year old boys but that was mostly due to the distance between them in the basement and us a few floors up and not any particular skill.
The next day we all went to the Bon Jovi concert, thanks to the twins’ godmother, the person who introduced the kids to Bon Jovi.  The concert was outside in Olympic Stadium, downtown Munich, and the weather was beautiful; almost warm and clear skies. We even peeked into the Olympic swimming pool en route to the concert. 1972 Olympics and Mark Spitz glory days! Bon Jovi did not disappoint. He played for three hours with no break, interspersing old songs with new ones. The concert felt oddly personal as Bon Jovi spoke to the audience in English of course. We all came out of the stadium, feeling very American, pumped up by the Olympic vibe and the American lyrics, not to mention the huge Cadillac stage set.
Sunday saw us biking through Munich’s English Garden as part of a tour. Fifteen years ago, Phil and I were in Munich and did Mike’s Bike Tour. We loved it, though we can’t remember much. It did get us started on bike and walking tours in cities we visited…until we had kids who could not walk or bike. Of course, everyone can now, so we are back! The kids knew most of Munich history from school but it was a nice refresher course for the adults. We ate lunch at the Chinese Tower and watched folks surfing in the river that goes through the Garden. The best parts were our tour leader Tony, who the kids adored and the fact that that the torrential rain held off until we turned in our bikes and were on our way home!
Last up this year was Royce’s garden party. The girls had a picnic lunch, decorated flower pots and planted flowers. We also took them down to our community garden and tried to convince them that weeding was a party game. They didn’t go for that but did collect lovely wildflowers along the way. Royce had so much fun at her party (and Adam and Tori were so good at her party) that I almost think we can do it all over again next year. Here’s to another of double trouble, double fun and now double digits!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Saint Goar

Last fall I signed the kids up for a youth retreat offered through our church. It sounded good, so good that I signed up as a chaperone as well. Then I consulted a map and realized I signed us all up for a retreat in northern Germany, six hours away by train. Somehow, I thought it was just south of us, a few kilometers away. Geographic confusion aside, we had a great time. The train ride was fast and efficient. I enjoyed the scenery, lovely patchwork fields and forested sections and ultimately the Rhine River, and the chance to read. The kids enjoyed sitting away from me, breaking out their electronics and indulging in some serious screen time.  The kids eventually rejoined me when I started talking to some British tourists. The allure of English language beating out even Temple Run, the app they like these days.
The retreat for the Episcopal youth of Europe was held in a youth hostel on the banks of the Rhine, in a small town called St. Goar, named after a monk known for caring for Rhine sailors and who died in 575. While Tori travels for middle school sports, Adam and Royce do not. They took this trip very seriously, packing stuffed animals to sleep with and asking me over and over if I knew who they were boarding with. As it turns out, the kids sleep in big bunk bed rooms. The twins unpacked their small bags, made their beds and promptly joined roving groups of kids, playing ping pong, drinking slurpies and running around. I went in for a bed check of one girls’ room. Ten girls were up talking and one little Royce was asleep with a smile on her face. She told me she tried to stay awake and listen to the older girls (up to age 13) as long as possible.
Right behind our hostel, the Burg Rheinfiels is one of the main attractions in the area. We literally walked off the hostel’s outdoor eating area and up a series of the steps that took us to the castle in a few minutes. The Castle, built in 1245 by Count Dietner V of Katzeninbogen, was the largest fortress along the Rhine and said to be the largest fortress in Europe. The original grounds of the castle were five times the size of the portion we walked through. We entered through a clock tower and wandered around. The small museum explained that 600 people lived within walls during medieval times, though the number swelled to 5,000 during sieges. Burg Rheinfiels is also known for its mine tunnels. The kids brought flashlights and took off, while I waited outside for them to return. They eventually came back, wild eyed and covered in dust. When Tori told me it was “a tight squeeze” and “terrifying in a good way” I knew they were going through some very small pitch dark tunnels. On the way back to the entrance, the other adult leader and I had eleven kids in tow. Needless to say, walking through dark hallways, up spiral staircases and the like, we soon were down to a group of only three kids. Luckily, we all reunited at the castle shop. The allure of small wooden swords and toys and ice cream pulled those kids out of the tunnels.
The other local attraction near St. Goar is the Loreley.  At this point on the Rhine, the land rises 120 meters above the water, which contains strong currents and rocks. Man ships have crashed there, adding to the legend. The story goes that a beautiful girl, Lore Lay, was sentenced to death. Crossing the river, she saw her beloved and called to him. His ship crashed into the rocks and she threw herself into the rocks as well. We looked down at the rocks and a small statue there. The kids wanted to hike down there but we nixed it. Too much danger for a group of 30 pre-teens. Plus we were lucky enough to get them out of the castle!
The religious part of the trip was nice too. I remain surprised at the number of Bible stories our kids know, thanks to years of religious study at their school in Hong Kong. I found it comforting to see all these kids spending their weekend at this retreat. My kids and all the rest had to miss very sporting events and parties to come. As I wondered if all was worth on the train ride home, the kids singing religious songs in round all the way home convinced me it was.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Playing with fire

It has been a long winter. Grey and cold and snowy. Without going into temperatures and historical comparison, let’s just say (truthfully) we’ve had snow from Halloween to Easter. In light of this situation, we all embraced the ski season but as the months passed skiing lost its allure. We needed something new, something warmer. We needed fire.
In search of wood working tools for the annual Cub Scout Pinewood Derby, we found a wonderful little studio in Munich that has woodworking and more. Phil and Adam spent some time there, carving yet another Green Bay Packers themed Derby car. They were able to work, with a master carpenter overseeing their work, for a fee of just a few dollars an hour. With their car mostly complete, Phil scanned the all German literature at the studio and found a few classes the kids could get into over their school spring break. We were instantly hooked.
The kids first took a sewing class. We tentatively walked up the stairs into a room with rows of sewing machines. My kids were the only three students. I left them alone with a teacher only speaking German in what looked just a bit like a sweatshop. I came back to check on them, only to be waved off as they all sat hunched over the machines. At the end of the day, they all had sewn colorful little zippered bags. While the girls confided that the teacher spent much time untangling thread around Adam’s sewing machine, the final products were great. The kids were proud and confident and we moved out to metal working.
Everyone was interested in this course though we weren’t sure how much metal working they would be allowed to do. Would they just plan a project or watch the instructor? Never fear, all kids were given electric torches and fired away on scrap metal for hours. They pulled on heavy duty aprons and big face masks and got busy. Royce looked adorable, dressed in her robot gear, following around our pony-tailed instructor Fritz. The kids all made sculptures out of scrap metal. Fritz explained I had to pay for the metal, one euro per kilogram. Adam’s project weighed four kilos. But a small price to pay for time spent playing with fire, as long as he was the one to carry the masterpiece home.