Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Here are some pictures from our post-Christmas trip to Bavaria with our nephew, Zach. We took in some culture . . . .And lots of winter fun.

Neuschwanstein - if it looks familiar, it is because it was the model for the Cinderella castle at Disney World!
A brief foray into Austria - playing on a frozen lake. There were even ice skaters pushing their baby in a stroller!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Our nephew Zach came in for Christmas. We are really enjoying having him. His first day here we dragged him out for a nice refreshing walk to try to counter jet lag. Here is the Mainz Cathedral and entrance to the Christmas Market. The cathedral is 1000 years old. On the 23rd we went to a Christmas concert there.
We did a Christmas tree in the German tradition, with lit candles.
Paul H. is also here visiting and we have really enjoyed having him. Looks nice and Mediterranean, doesn´t it?
A Merry Christmas to all!

Saturday, December 22, 2007


Yesterday (Friday) when I picked Abby up from school, she excitedly told me that she had finally seen the inside of an ambulance! And it wasn’t just a tour. While at the children’s farm she had fallen while pushing a wheelbarrow and sliced open the skin just under her nose. Luckily, she’s had a tetanus shot and I don’t think it will leave much of a scar. Luckily, Paul was with me and could translate the bits of the story from the school director I didn’t understand. Despite that she had a good day at the farm. This week they’ve helped clean and spin wool in addition to taking care of the horses. She had a ball.

Friday evening, Paul, Abby & I went to buy a Christmas tree! We went with the Charlie Brown ethos and picked a small tree that was missing its top. It needed a good home. We brought it home on the bus (which was one reason I wanted a small tree!) and spent the rest of the evening stringing popcorn and listening to the 5 Christmas carols we actually have along. Abby contributed the German children’s version of “Oh, Tannenbaum,” which involves grandma on the garden fence and naked firefighters. We put candleholders on the tree and plan to (briefly!) have lit candles on the tree as per the German custom. Don’t worry, we’ll also have a bucket of water handy!

I finished my Christmas shopping, except for the groceries, on Friday. We need to finish grocery shopping today as stores here are all closed on Sunday, will close at 2 p.m. Monday, and will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday. With two guys visiting, one 20 and one 14, I think we need to have plenty of food on hand! We’re lucky to have four grocery stores, including an Asian one, within two blocks of our house. They are all small, though, and none of them sells everything we need.

Today is Wayne’s birthday, though at the moment he’s celebrating by assembling furniture.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Running in the cold

Wayne & I both officially got back into running this morning, after 2 weeks of moving and recovering from my washer-induced back injury. Many of you know that running in below-freezing weather is not exactly my thing, but it was OK. I ran through an area I hadn’t seen yet, and it was beautiful. I felt sorry for the ducks paddling in the unfrozen edges of a pond. If I were them I’d fly south. They must have read the brochure on the Mediterranean weather and been fooled.

We signed Abby up for gymnastics today. You have to love the community sports center here - 2 hours of gymnastics a week, taught by a professional instructor, for 5 euro a month (just over $7). Amazing.

Our first house guest arrives today, and the second comes on Monday, so it’ll be a full house for Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Furnishing the flat

This morning Wayne came home from taking Abby to school with a recliner on his head! He’d carried it about half a mile. One of our main strategies for furnishing our flat has been to scan the curbs for cast offs, and this was a real find. Last week wasn’t so good for finding stuff as it rained all week. We still managed to get a good drying rack (we have a washer but not a dryer, so this is a critical item!) and a kitchen chair, and a friend picked up a bentwood rocker, but it was not a good week for upholstered stuff. This week is sunny and cold, so better scavenging weather. Abby has begun peering closely at piles of trash on the curb, so she has the spirit. She really wanted a hamster cage we saw on the street the other day, but I vetoed that one.

Wayne has been picking up Wiesbaden tourist information, and here’s my favorite quote from the official brochure: “Due to its Mediterranean climate . . . .” We have had highs in the 30s every day since we’ve been here, and we’re not into the cold part of winter yet. Wayne pointed out that the Rhine valley is a couple of degrees warmer than the rest of the country. I say that doesn’t make it Mediterranean.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Oh, my aching back!

Friday, December 14, 2007
Did I say Whoo-hoo, we have a washing machine? The good news is that I hear the comforting sound of the machine washing clothes as I type. The bad news is that all didn’t go exactly according to plan. As we unloaded the machine from the rented truck (we had a dolly, but no ramp), I slipped and managed to hurt my back. Did I mention that this was a fully-loaded truck and the washing machine was the first thing out? So we got it onto the dolly and up the steps into the building, feeling hugely grateful that we’re on the ground floor, and discovered we had made a completely amateur moving mistake. We measured the space, which is quite small, for the washing machine carefully, but neglected to measure the last door the washing machine would need to go through. Door: 56 cm, washing machine: 60 cm. Oops. So we decided that the washing machine would look lovely in the kitchen, and Wayne has purchased and installed the necessary hosing to make that work. The first load is in now. I actually think it’s worked out for the best, as any machine less than 56 cm wide would wash about 3 articles of clothing at a time. Given that washing machines are slower here (a load takes from 90-120 minutes), that means I’d be doing laundry constantly.

The other furniture that was in the truck was moved in almost completely by Wayne. I could carry stuff, I just couldn’t bend, so Wayne gave me a couple of things, I carried it in, Wayne put it down. Luckily the cabinets we were moving came in lots of mostly not-too-heavy pieces. (All those pieces are currently stacked awaiting complicated reassembly. It took Wayne and one of his friends hours to disassemble it to move, and will presumably take even longer to reassemble.) We didn’t finish unloading until nearly midnight.

Thursday morning, while we still had the truck, we went to look at a couch advertised in the classifieds. We didn’t really like it, so we’re still without a couch. We did buy a bed at a furniture store – the only thing we’ve bought new. We brought it back, unloaded the pieces, and returned the truck.

To all of you with chronic back problems, you have a whole new level of sympathy from me! Thursday morning I literally couldn’t get out of bed by myself (it didn’t help that bed as of Thursday morning was a mattress on the floor). I had never hurt my back before, and so am learning new skills, such as how to pick something up off the floor without bending over, how to put on socks with the minimum bending, etc. My back is already much better, though still painful. Ibuprofin is my friend.

Abby’s first week of school has gone well. She’s only had one hard day, which given the language challenge seems like a miracle. She is very excited about the trip to the children’s farm next week, and we managed to get waterproof pants and rain boots on our shopping trip. Her job at the farm will be caring for the ducks.

Still no internet or phone at home – we did get a letter from our service non-provider saying that the waiting period would be longer than the month they had first told us.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Me Talk Pretty

Whoo-hoo, we have a washing machine! Tuesday morning (which is the good day for classifieds here, for some reason) we scoured the ads for used washing machines and found one. It’s being sold by a nice Polish lady who needed a bigger machine since she has 3 kids. I’m thrilled to have one! We don’t actually have it yet, as Wayne is renting a truck again today and he’ll pick it up later, but I’m saved from the Laundromat.

Tuesday we also took the bus to Real to buy cheap plastic things. Real is pretty similar to a super Wal-Mart (though smaller) and I have to admit that it made me very, very happy. Embarrassingly so. We bought some kitchen things we need, a car seat for Abby for when we rent a car, a door mat, that sort of thing. Plus they had a bigger selection of groceries than we’ve seen elsewhere, so we were able to get things like whole-wheat pasta and flour. It’s not in walking distance, so won’t be a regular shopping place, but it’s nice to know that it is just a bus ride away.

Bus fares are actually more expensive here than the price with an Oyster card in London, and Abby’s not free here. Luckily, we’re in a great location, in walking distance of most things we’ll need. The pedestrian/shopping zone is less than a 10 minute walk away, which is nice. This afternoon Abby and I will be heading there. Next week Abby’s class is spending the week at a children’s farm, and she needs to be outfitted with rubber boots and waterproof trousers. She had a good second day of school. She thinks it’s the “coolest school ever,” primarily because, as she says, “we don’t have to work.” (We’re implementing a daily journal requirement at home!)

Tuesday we also went to visit my school for a language assessment, which was humiliating. My German is still terrible. Evidently I have to actually be immersed in the language before I can be bothered to learn it! So, in mid-January, I start what I am calling “German boot camp.” It’s 4 hours a day, 4 days a week of German at the adult ed center. It sounds just like Peace Corps language training, and I know some of you will groan at that memory. The funniest part was when the lady asked how many years of education I’ve had. When I answered 20, she thought I must have my numbers wrong. I think she had difficulty reconciling my level of German (equivalent to David Sedaris’ “Me Talk Pretty One Day”) with someone who has clearly had too much formal education.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The big move!

We left for Germany on Friday, December 7. I had class that morning and Abby went to school, but after class Wayne and I gathered all the luggage and took the tube to Holborn. He then waited on the platform while I went to collect Abby from school. The Deputy Headteacher made a nice speech to the class and all the kids hugged Abby and said goodbye. There were a few tears as we left – Abby really had some good friends in year one. We met Wayne on the platform and took the tube out to Heathrow. We were limited to one 20 kg bag apiece. We ALMOST made it – one bag was 24 kilos, but the lady was nice and didn’t charge us. Security was a pain. They made us wedge our largest carry on into the size thing. To make it fit I had to duck into the bathroom, change Abby’s clothes (from her school uniform to her bulkier jeans), and tuck a few other bulky items into my jacket pockets. So we wedged it in, took ten minutes to get it back out, got through security, and then refilled it as it had been. What a pointless exercise. They allow only one carry-on each leaving London, and that includes purses and computer cases. Our flight was an hour and a half late leaving Heathrow, which put us into Frankfurt at 10 p.m. It took 45 minutes for the bags to come, so we ran for the train to Wiesbaden, catching the 10:59 with 4 minutes to spare, which got us to Wiesbaden at 11:40. We caught a cab to the youth hostel, which closes at midnight, JUST in time. The woman at the desk remembered Wayne from his two previous visits, and was as nice as could be. The youth hostel in Wiesbaden is extremely pleasant and clean, so it was a good place to spend our first night. Abby was thrilled with the bunk beds in our room. She was a real trouper through what wasn’t the easiest day. Saturday morning, Wayne left early to go pick up our rental truck. He came back to get us and we met Frau Schumann at our new flat. Wayne did a GREAT job picking out a place. Abby ran around and said, “Are all these rooms ours?” We had all gotten used to our one-room flat in London, so this feels like luxury! It has 3 good sized rooms, a small kitchen, and one and a half baths. It’s on the ground floor, but the windows are high enough to feel safe. The neighborhood is good and relatively quiet (especially compared to London), and it is an easy walk to Abby’s new school and to a park. We dropped our bags and went immediately to see some friends in Mainz. They not only had some things for our new flat, but took us to meet a neighbor who is elderly and moving in with her daughter. She gave us a bed (with sheets & duvet), 4 wardrobes, 2 armchairs, 2 other chairs, a shoe cabinet/bench, and 4 nightstands. Abby’s room is set, and that gives us a wardrobe for our room, the living room, and a narrow one for the bath. This is a huge help, as our flat has no closets. In addition to all the stuff, they also gave us a delicious lunch of pumpkin soup and Turkish sesame ring bread. From there, we went to see another set of good friends in Mainz. Their daughter Caroline played with Abby while we went to our friend’s office to raid the storage room. We got silverware, plates, trash cans, and decided on a table & chairs we can use for our living/dining room. We couldn’t fit it all into the truck, and it was getting late. We did load up a small table for the kitchen as well as 3 mattresses and they loaned us some sheets. Abby stayed with Caroline while we made a quick shopping run to Aldi – a store completely devoid of charm and with limited selection, but low prices (sort of a grocery store version of Fred’s). We went back to get Abby, and headed to our new home. It was late – already after 8 at this point. We were all starving, so I unearthed enough kitchen gear to made a very quick dinner while Wayne unloaded most of the truck in a light (but cold) rain. This was one of those times when I wished we liked McDonald’s! We passed one and I thought how easy that would be! We threw mattresses on the floor and made them up, put Abby to bed, unloaded the big pieces of furniture that required two, and then collapsed for the night. Sunday morning Wayne got up early to return the truck. He took the bus back and stopped at a good bakery on the way. Abby and I slept late (almost 9) and then played for a while. When Wayne got home we had breakfast and then started unpacking in earnest. On Sunday we got Abby’s room totally set. Most of the kitchen gear has found a home. And thank goodness for Wayne’s superior planning abilities. It was wonderful to open the 2 suitcases he’d taken to Germany last May and find toiletries, towels, kitchen stuff (including oven mitts, which we never did get in London!), a couple of blankets, and even a couple of “new” items of clothing. On Wednesday we’re going to rent another truck and get the remaining 2 wardrobes, the table & chairs, and a desk. That will leave us with only needing 3 big pieces – a sofa, a bed for us, and a washing machine. All in all, we’re feeling very happy with our new digs and grateful for friends. Sunday night we went to the Christmas Market in Wiesbaden. It was beautiful. Gorgeous lights, fun shops, lots of food and drink, live entertainment. It was fun. We told Abby that if she wanted cotton candy she would have to order it herself in German, and she did it!

Today (Monday) Abby started her new school. She was a little nervous about it. Over breakfast she said that the good thing about going to school while traveling is that she meets so many new people, but the bad thing is that it is scary to go to a new school. We dropped her off at 10, and at the teacher’s request, stayed out of sight for about 45 minutes until she came to tell us everything was going great. When we returned at 12:45 to pick Abby up, she asked why we had come so soon! And tonight as we put her to bed, she said she was so excited about going to school tomorrow. After her inner-city London school, she is thrilled with the huge playground at her new school, and she seems to already be playing well with the other kids, who speak only German. The school has beautiful facilities and we seem, yet again, to be extremely lucky with teachers.

We’re continuing to work on our flat. It’s amazing how many things you take for granted (darn! No vegetable peeler! and “Hey, let’s just nuke the . . . oops, no microwave!) While I have set up household in a foreign country before, I’d forgotten how exhausting it is to have to figure out what store sells what and to read labels in a foreign language. Wayne is learning new German vocabulary – he’d never needed to know the specific words for baking soda vs. baking powder before. We haven’t found a good grocery store yet – I’m missing Tesco and Sainsbury in London! I look for things in the wrong places – eggs aren’t refrigerated here, for example, and come in cartons of 10. In London they came in cartons of 6 or 15. I know putting a dozen eggs together is an arbitrary thing, but any other number just seems wrong.

We don’t have Internet at home yet, so e-mail access will be irregular. I'm also handicapped by using a German keyboard- just different enough to make it hard! And by saying, "Ich mochte bitte surfen" with a straight face at the internet cafe.

Friday, December 7, 2007


One of the things I miss most about the United States? The Dewey Decimal System. So familiar, so easy. The book classification system used here (and I don't know what it's called, though I'm sure one of you does) I find completely impenetrable.

Having said that, I am so grateful to the Camden borough for having liberal library policies. We have borrowed probably 50 books, in English and German, from our local public library, mostly for Abby. Bless them. The University libraries I'm not so fond of - the one at the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine isn't bad, because it's small, but the Senate House library is crazy! It's a warren of tiny rooms filled with books using this mysterious classification system. And the entrance is on the 4th floor (that would be the 5th for Americans) and the building's elevators hardly ever work. You need one staircase to get to the 2nd floor, another to get to the 4th, a 3rd to get to the 5th, and yet another to get to the 6th, which is as high as I ever went.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I love trains

The "new" St. Pancras international train station opened up last month, and it is beautiful. I just wish we were leaving London by train instead of having to deal with Heathrow. Unfortunately, flying was way cheaper than taking the train for us. This is one of the entrances to the train station. St. Pancras was built at the end of the 1800s, in the Victorian era. They knew how to do public works.
One of the new additions is this statue. It's called, "Meet me at St. Pancras."
One of the interesting design elements of the station is that most of the shops and restaurants are under the tracks. I am guessing that's because, back in the 1890s, there weren't mini shopping malls in every train station the way there are today.

Now that the Eurostar has moved to St. Pancras it's 2 hours and 15 minutes from London to Paris. It's nice to know that I COULD be in Paris by midnight tonight (it's shortly before 9 p.m. when I'm writing). I'm not going to be, but it's nice to know that I could.

For the Harry Potter fans

And who's not a Harry Potter fan? Here's the famous platform at King's Cross, complete with the luggage cart halfway through the wall. And here is Harry's dining hall at Hogwart's. OK, so it's actually the Christ Church college dining hall at Oxford, but in the movie it was Harry's dining hall and you know all these people didn't come just to see Oxford!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Hypocrisy on the train

On our trip home from Oxford we were on a very crowded train, and the men who sat in our row (returning to London after a football match) asked where we were from. When we told them Arkansas, one of them said, "That's in the South right? Where it's still the 1950s?" There was no possible response to that. What made this statement particularly amazing is that a short time later he was telling his friends how he'd gotten drunk and, for fun, dressed up as a Klan member, even showing them pics on his mobile phone. This was amongst choice tidbits about their views on women and ethnic minorities. Thank goodness Abby is such a focused reader - she had her nose in a book and when we got off the train I made a comment about those rude men and she had no idea what I was talking about.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Today we went to Oxford to meet our friends Dr. Francis & Penelope Warner. Dr. Warner is a retired Oxford don, poet, playwright, musician, composer (and other things I'm sure I've forgotten) and was the last student of C.S. Lewis at Oxford. He also taught Ian McKellen, who I have now seen naked (OK, OK, it was as King Lear). Most Americans know Sir McKellen as Gandalf or from X-Men. Francis and Penelope run a program for international students, including those from Hendrix, in Oxford. Penelope is a near-saint, who handles the administrative end of the program and keeps cookies on hand at all times for homesick students. In addition to all the other things Dr. Warner does, he is also very good at entertaining five-year-olds with magic tricks.
We went with the Warners to Blenheim Palace, the only non-royal palace in England. It was decorated for Christmas and was spectacular. We toured the State Rooms and also did the new "Untold Stories" exhibit, which gave a more human touch. While the State Rooms tour was very interesting (even for Abby), I will admit I got a little confused with which Duke of Marlborough was which. I also got a little lost in the history behind the palace, for which the tour guide seemed to assume that all the visitors had a working knowledge of the Wars of the Spanish Succession, in which the first Duke of Marlborough commanded the Allied Forces in an important victory over the French in 1704. Queen Ann gave him Blenheim as a little thank you. The "Untold Stories" exhibit did help to sort it out.
These pictures, by the way, were taken at about 5 p.m., which gives you a pretty good idea of the length of days in England in December! It was cold, windy, and intermittently rainy today, so we only did a brief tours of the gardens. I'd love to come back in the summertime!

We're not in Conway!

A question that never came up at home . . . After I wrapped a scarf around Abby's head (it was cold and rainy) she asked, "Do I look Muslim?" She's also taken to saying "Gracious!"