Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Back to school

Schultute time! Yes,  the kids are back in school, celebrated in true German fashion with their gift of school supplies. This year we broke down and bought pre-made fabric cones and then filled them with pencils and pens etc. After years of Phil and I frantically taping together the cones at midnight it did seem that the time had come to stop that. Or at least take advantage of the fact that we currently live in the country of schultutes and they are available everywhere.
It’s always a bit sad when the kids go back to school. I love the lazy summer days when we lose track of what day of the week it is and they sleep in, read and eat brunch, rather than a breakfast and a lunch. But this year, perhaps because of all the rain, everyone was ready to go back to school and see friends. The weather has really turned autumnal and it just seems like school should be in session. Tori was also happy to go as the entire eighth grade goes on a school trip to Italy for a week. Tori attended two days of classes and then got on a bus for the Arnthal Mountain Trip. Indicative of how much travel Tori does at school, we had no idea where she was really going. I asked around and there was no consensus; Germany? Austria? Italy?  Well, it’s Italy and parents in the know said the weather forecast there looked dry. We hope so.
Adam and Royce are officially in middle school now. They have a homeroom but switch classes every hour. Neither are bothered by this and Adam says he likes it better. More movement is definitely good for that boy. Both are trying out new activities. Adam is trying out for the cross country team, not so much because he loves to run but because of the sport travel options he sees Tori enjoy. (And because we are now allowing kids to carry a phone when traveling out of the country). I’m not sure he really understands he will have to run 10k every day for a couple months for 2 days of phone use but he seems excited now. Royce has her eye on the choir and art and clarinet lessons. Both were chosen to show the new students around and took that job on very seriously.
For the back to school BBQ this year, the rain stopped and the sun came out. The twins and I (Phil and Tori were away)rode our bikes to school but quickly found out our regular bike path was closed. Normally the ride takes about an hour and we added on a good bit of time. We detoured, also on a bike path, through the forest, winding down by a river and then across wide green fields dotted with wildflowers. It definitely seems like our third school year here. We’ve gone from not being able to find the school with a map and car to finding the school on bike after asking people picking mushrooms in the forest for directions in German. Hoping we can coast for at least the first semester!

Monday, August 25, 2014


Summer 2014 has been mild, to say the least. When we were in Italy, someone there said it was the coldest wettest summer in 40 years. We concur- at least for the past three years! While we typically spend most of the summer in swimsuits at the lake or river, those days have been far and few between. The kids wind surfed this summer but in wet suits while we watched the satellite weather system to see if the next storm would hold off. In a desperate push for sun, we recently flew to Crete for a weekend of sun. We are back, happy, slightly sun burnt and dreaming of a return trip.
We stayed in Platania, a thirty minute drive from the airport in Chania. We promised the kids nothing educational and thus we sat on the beach and played in the waves with nothing else. We broke that promise slightly as we took a boat cruise to Saint Theodore Island. A guide was telling us Crete facts but we couldn’t hear much between his accent and the sound of the motor. We did learn Saint Theodore Island is uninhabited except for one day per year when locals are allowed on the island for religious ceremonies. I didn’t quite catch the whole story but a cave on the island looks like a beast with an open mouth and offerings are given. We stopped the boat and everyone snorkeled for awhile. We saw starfish and yellow coral and schools of tiny fish. The boat’s diver brought up bigger fare; large starfish, lobster, an octopus. The kids held the octopus as it squirted black ink all over Tori’s foot. The diver also said a local delicacy was sea urchin innards. Tori gamely tried some. So did Adam, though he spit his out and is still turning green when we talk about it.
One evening we walked up a hill to the town’s old church. We passed a museum to World War II’s Battle of Crete. Though tempted we walked on to the restaurant recommended to us. We sampled the kalitsounia, a sort of dumpling with cheese, spinach and mint. We loved it. Even Tori, who has been on an only goat cheese diet it seems for most of the summer, is a convert. With views of the ocean and beaches below, we all felt happy. And oddly homesick for Hong Kong with its similar heat and ocean views!
Our final day was all beach. The kids loved body surfing in the waves. We watched the kids getting tossed around on bigger and bigger waves. The next thing I know I see Tori coming out of the water with scrapes and blood all over her stomach and the red/no swim flag going up. But Tori is smiling. It looks like a shark bit she says with a laugh but Adam and Royce were not laughing. They quickly helped her with water and a towel. Adam ran back to the room for the first aid kit he bought at boy scout camp. He has used the kit three times this summer- all on Tori’s various sporting daredevil injuries. He’s got the helpful scout part down. Still some work to do on all the other parts of the scout oath; clean, courteous, thrifty, to name a few. But there’s hope.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Milan and more

This year we traveled to a new part of Italy; Laggo Maggoria. Phil and I had been there before when my Dad worked in Milan but the kids had not. Since we all love Italy we visit as often as we can, try to see as much as we can and eat as much good food as we can…to last us through a long spell of brats and potatoes. And we thought it would be a shorter drive.
Sadly, the shorter drive did not materialize. Between our car’s navi- which for reasons we don’t understand always goes on the blink in Italy- and our own general confusion, plus a bit of holiday traffic, we ended up driving seven hours one way. Exactly the same as every other year when we drive down into central Italy. We only went as far as Northern Italy but it took forever. Germany to Austria. Austria to Liechtenstein. Liechtenstein to Switzerland. There we emerged on Laggo Maggoria and drove along the coast until we finally came to the Italian border about thirty minutes for the town we stayed in.
We stayed in a lovely villa with tons of character and lush overgrown gardens. We found turtles and roses and wild kiwis and an unknown flower we just called the four dimension flower. I had read Lord of the Flies to the kids earlier in the summer and while it seemed an odd choice at the time, it paid off in the end. The kids had plenty of time to build shelters with enormous palm fronds, collect blackberries and fend off the mosquitoes. They wanted to spend the night down there but we had torrential rain at night and palm shelters tied together with twine. A downside was the noise; church bells ringing every half hour throughout the day and night. I would like to say I adjusted to the local ambience but really we just bought earplugs for the night.
We drove to Milan for an excursion with the idea to see The Last Supper. We bought tickets online before the trip and got there just in time for our 1:30 showing. Alas, the lady there showed us that our tickets were for 1:30 the day before! Tickets are notoriously hard to get. The friend we were with had tried to see the painting before and was unable to get tickets. With kids in tears, said friend questioned the ticket lady a few more times and realized there were tickets available for 6:15 later that day. Done! We were ushered into a room filled with the painting and left with the painting for fifteen minutes. The time flew by but was enough for Adam to memorize the names/positions of the disciples for at least another fifteen minutes.
For a final burst of fun, coinciding with a burst of sunshine, we rented a motorboat. Adults soaked up some of the first summer sun and let the kids drive the boat. All kids drove in their own personal style. Royce was slow and cautious. Tori tried to go fast. And Adam turned the boat in circles, stopping only to consider racing the other boats going by us! I’ m not sure how to interpret adults not getting much if any time driving. At least we’re not overprotective.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Lake Bled

School’s out and that means road trip time for us. For the past few years, we’ve gone directly from school to the lake, done our annual end of school jump in and then piled into the car for a drive. This year, all was the same (we love traditions!) but the end destination was new; Slovenia! We’re trying to see most things within a couple hour radius of Munich and Lake Bled Slovenia makes it. Recommended by friends, we tried it and have already recommended it to others.
Lake Bled and Slovenia felt like the old days, our old days in Ukraine. Just walking around the lake’s pathway made me nostalgic for all that walking we used to do in Ukraine. Not the walking to the grocery store, but the Sunday walking as an activity. As we walked past the Villa Bled, the private getaway of Tito during the days of Yugoslavia, we looked at, not the huge villa, but the lamp posts and thought we recognized them from Ukraine. The concrete block Soviet style made us smile. We tried to explain Slovenia’s independence in 1991, their accession to both NATO and the EU in 2004 and then their 2007 entry to the eurozone. Tori had done a paper for school on the possible benefits of Romania joining the eurozone so she caught on to that bit but all the rest definitely seemed like ancient history. Even to us as we drove through the huge abandoned border crossing buildings between Slovenia and Austria.
Lake Bled, a small crystal clear lake with an island in the middle, is surrounded by mountains and forest. We went right for the island. We put on our suits, leaving our clothes with a sidewalk artist (again, all those sidewalk artists in Ukraine…) and swam out to the island. We made it to the island just as a wedding party in a boat pulled up to the dock. We stayed to the side and watched the groom carry the bride up the Baroque stairway of one hundred steps; a local good luck charm. We didn’t run up the stairs ourselves, trying to stay out of the wedding photos. Plus we felt pretty lucky already, just to making it to the island via our own power!
Lake Bled had plenty to offer but recently freed from the school day all the kids wanted to do was swim. And rodelbahn, something we know from Germany. Basically, it’s a summer sled ride down a ski hill. The kids love it. They clamored up and down the hill while we enjoyed the Slovenia improvements on the experience. In Slovenia there is a seat belt on each sled and a nice café with a deck and lounge chairs to wait in. A cappuccino and a relatively safe rodelbahn and we were all very happy. We went there every day.
The evening we arrived at Lake Bled, the kids went right to the lake and jumped in. That was pretty much our weekend. We did a little something and then we jumped in the lake. We did a little something else and then we jumped in the lake. The kids liked all the swimming and I liked that we could point out a little history without going into too many museums. We pointed out the medieval castle, high on a bluff above the lake. The kids dutifully looked while swimming but we did not visit. It seems that castles in Europe have become what temples in Asia were; something the parents point out and the kids prefer to avoid. But we know where to find them when visitors come!