Saturday, January 30, 2010

January 30, 2010: Germany, part two: the first few days

This was supposed to be just-a-list-of-what-we've-done-so-far, but I'm no good at that, so have changed it to "the first few days", and am now writing this sentence after having written all the rest.

Wednesday, January 19th: The pastor of our church here came in the morning for a couple of hours. I think all the children were up by the time he arrived at 10:30 or so, I'm not sure. We had a good talk with him, and are glad to feel supported by him personally, and are sad that he'll be leaving soon. In the afternoon we took three trains and a bus to Mülheim, to the very street where we used to live, but two bus-stops earlier, to spend the evening with my friend Peggy and her seven-year-old son, Florian. It was wonderful how "normal" it felt, also no problem saying goodbye, as we had another get-together with her planned already. It was a bit weird getting back on the bus in the "wrong" direction--we didn't even see our house. But a bus and three trains later, we were back "home" and went to bed.

Thursday, January 20th: This was a calm day. Friends of mine, Thomas and Caro with their three-year-old daughter, Antonia, came for coffee in the afternoon ("coffee in the afternoon" is redundant in German--"come for coffee" MEANS "come around 3:00 in the afternoon", whether one drinks coffee or not) and also stayed for dinner. I met Caro through La Leche League--she was pregnant with Antonia at the time and came to my very first meeting, and is expecting a baby in April, and is considering becoming an LLL leader herself. When they left, they took Jörn and Katie with them and made a detour to drop them off in Düsseldorf, where Jörn picked up the car that the C family was lending us until Sunday evening. We CAN get everywhere by public transportation (although we wouldn't have been able to get to quite as many places as with cars), but cars are admittedly much more comfortable and we much appreciate the generosity of friends in lending us their vehicles.

Friday, January 21st: Jörn took Jacob and Katie and the three of them went to Düsseldorf (three trains and a streetcar) to pick up the car that the L family was lending us until Sunday morning, and at 11:00 Marie, Lukas, Helen, and I left in the C family's car for Mülheim, where Jörn and company met us. I had a check-up with my doctor (well, with my "new" doctor, the daughter of my old doctor, who has taken over the practice, but I had met her once towards the end of the pregnancy with Helen) at 12:00, having made the appointment back in November. Baby and I were both declared well, and Jörn and the children all came in for the ultrasound. Baby waved and turned over, trying to hide, apparently. The due-date is still mid-June, and if I have no more check-ups the rest of the pregnancy, that's perfectly fine with me.

Then we went to the Forum, a mall connected to the main train station, where we had lunch. Currywurst und Pommes (curry sausage and french fries) for the children and me, something much less interesting for Jörn. We enjoyed it very much, having looked forward to it for a year, but I'm also fine with the thought of not having it again for a couple of years. As Jörn and Marie both needed new glasses, after lunch we went to an opticians, where Jörn was able to have his eyes tested and order new glasses, but they refused to measure Marie's, saying that a child has to go to an actual optometrist. That was a bit frustrating, as I'd counted on just being able to go the optician, and so had not made an appointment with an eye doctor. The next week I telephoned around to several practices, but the next available appointment is in March. I guess we're going to have to look for an eye doctor in Cyprus.

At 4:00 we arrived at the Auerstrasse church where I'd gone to Mutter-Kind-Kreis ("mother-child-circle", a playgroup for children up to seven) since we moved to Mülheim in 2001, where it was very exciting to meet up with quite a few friends, and quickly felt very normal. Marie, Jacob, and Lukas (Lukas for the first time) went to Jungschar (a pre-youth-group? anyway, ages seven to 12) at the same time. It was a little weird and very cool how totally normal it felt to be there, as if we'd never been away.

At 6:30, when the older children finished (MKK finished earlier, but there was plenty of chatting with other parents waiting for the older children), we drove to Essen, where we met another group of friends at an Italian restaurant for dinner. The last time I'd been at that restaurant I'd said I'd never go there again--it was full of smoke and one couple stared at us non-stop the entire time we were there, I imagine because we had "so many" children. (I'm not exactly sure, but I think we had only three at the time, which is still more than twice as many as average, and I DO remember that they behaved beautifully that one time, and I was very uncomfortable with being stared at...) However, there are now laws about smoking in restaurants, and I'm finally (mostly...) immune to being stared out, and that was where the friends (five of them, two couples and one other lady) wanted to meet, so we did. Yummy German-Italian pizza--I had spinach and ham on mine--and the waitress was very nice and if anybody stared, I didn't notice. And Katie slept the whole time, which admittedly made for a much calmer evening than might have been otherwise, but it was traded off for a wide-awake Katie between 2:00 and 5:00 a.m.

Drove home in the snow, barely able to stay awake for the drive, and then wide-awake with jet-lag once we arrived...but at least I had a good book to read, as I'd ordered the biography of James Herriot (actually Alf Wight) from amazon marketplace some time ago, to be delivered to Peggy, who had given it to me the evening before. (I haven't finished it yet, as on Sunday my friend Leigh lent me "The Book Thief", which I'm reading now. Both are very good, but "The Book Thief" has higher priority, as I have to return it to Leigh.) Oh, and on the way home, I took a little detour and drove past our house. There was another car in "our" driveway and lights on. A very odd feeling. We'll be having coffee next Sunday with the lady who lives there. It was strange to think that she could have walked out the front door while we were driving past, and she wouldn't have known who we are, nor would we know who she is. (We were the first family of the original nine in the building to leave, and the only one to rent our our flat, but since we left, three other flats have been sold and have new people living in them, so just because someone we don't know were to appear, we wouldn't know whether that's our renter or one of the new owners.)

I guess I'll do the weekend in another one--we're going to have dinner and as always, this has gotten more than long enough as it is.

January 30, 2010: Germany! part one: the journey here

We've been here for nearly two weeks now, there's no hope of truly "catching up", so this is going to turn more into just a list of what's happened so far. One fairly exciting thing for us has been the snow. :-) Not that Jörn has appreciated it at all, and Germans love to say, "Who brought this weather?" (to be fair, they ask it about weather they're happy with, too, and in fact, if they ARE happy with it, are more likely to say, "Ah, did you bring this weather?") to which we generally answer that yes, we probably did. At least the children (and I don't dare plead not guilty...) had prayed plenty that we would have snow in Germany. We've had lots of snow--in fact, more snow than any of the first 17 winters I lived in Germany, and maybe about the same as my 18th winter in Germany, just before we left for Cyprus. Although not quite as cold. It was around MINUS 12 degrees Celcius in Germany the day we moved to Cyprus, and the lowest temperature I've seen since we got here was -9, and it's generally been closer to freezing. The children had played outside in the snow some, but it wasn't snowman-snow until Thursday, when it warmed up a bit. They built three snowmen in a friend's garden, and then the next day it rained much of the day. There wasn't any snow to be seen around here by the time we went to bed last night--but we had another 10 centimeters or so waiting for us this morning! backtrack, we left my parents' house on Monday, January 18th, just after 8:00 a.m., completely filling up two cars with the seven of us, my parents, and my sister, Erin, who had come up for the weekend. The drive to San Francisco went very well (Helen slept the entire way!) and my dad decided to head right back north to put in at least a partial day at work, but as my mom didn't have any hurry, and had to take Erin home anyway, and we were pretty early for our flight, we talked Mom into staying with us at the airport for a bit, and Erin took Mom's car home. (Ten minutes from the airport--a lot more sensible than paying SFA parking!!) We enjoyed the extra time with Mom, and it was also quite a treat getting to ignore what the children were doing while we were filling out address tags and checking in, since they were all occupied with Grandma. Then she wanted to get them ice cream, which turned out to be more complicated than expected (I have to say, Sacramento Airport has a MUCH better selection of food than San Francisco, or at least better than the part of the airport where we were), but we did finally find ice cream. Helen, however, begged for a banana, instead, and although the thought of paying $1.19 for a single banana was painful, it was less than ice cream and better for her, so I gave in. Her siblings all shared a bit of ice cream with her, too.

We finally had to go through security, so said good-bye to Mom (who then called Erin to come pick her up--never having heard anything to the contrary, that all worked fine), and headed off. We had to take off shoes and sweaters, etc., but nobody commented on the bottle of cough medicine that I once more forgot to take out of my carry-on and which was bigger than the allowed 100 milliliters...

Our flight here was a bit better than our flight to the U.S. Still United Airlines, and they forgot to load the children's meals, and still didn't have any activities or treats of any kind for the children (much less sewing kits, socks, masks, etc., which used to be pretty standard), but at least the flight attendants were all polite on this flight and happily handed out as many extra bread rolls as the children requested. (This was especially good after one "meal" was a horrible sandwich with mustard on it--only Jörn ate it. Actually, Helen, who eats absolutely everything, ate a little bit, too, but then even she refused to eat much.) Also, the flight was well under half-full, maybe not even a third. They blocked several extra seats for us, so we had two sets of three and one of four--ten seats for seven people (only six with tickets) made for a much more comfortable flight, and at one point while walking up and down the aisles with Helen, I saw that many of the rows (three seats on each side, four in the middle) were occupied by one lying-down, sleeping, person each.

However, time was a bit close once we arrived in Frankfurt. The departure time had been changed since we had bought our train tickets, then the flight left late, and arrived in Frankfurt even later. Our luggage came through fairly quickly and we rushed to the left-luggage office to leave three bags with things we didn't need while in Germany (mostly things for other people and one 45-pound bag of books, mostly from Sonlight!), which friends of ours in Frankfurt (Peter and Christin) picked up for us later that day. We'll be staying with them our last two days before leaving Germany, so it was good not to have to take them on the trains. We then got to the train station with almost 20 minutes to spare before our train, so I left Jörn and the children and the luggage, and went to a bakery and bought Brötchen! Translated, that means "little breads", or "bread rolls", but one simply cannot call the wonderful, scrumptious, fresh-from the bakery Brötchen by such a common, boring term. They're Brötchen. :-)

We then got on the first train, an ICE, which is fast and stops only at big cities. About two hours later we changed in Cologne, no problem. (I've often said that it doesn't matter WHERE one is going, you HAVE to change in Cologne. It's a major hub in the west and I've changed there nearly every time I've ever been on a long-distance train.) Then we took an RE to Wesel, a slightly less fancy train, but fine (even the least fancy trains in Germany are fine--I really like the public transportation here), which left on time, but arrived about 12 minutes late, according to the announcement. As we had had 13 minutes to change scheduled, that was a bit close and we didn't even look at the clock--we just ran. Jörn took his carry-on, the lap-top, and two suitcases, and ran down the steps from our arrival platform and up the steps to the platform from which we were departing, Lukas and Katie each had their carry-ons and were told to "follow Papa!!" and Marie and Jacob each had a suitcase and their respective carry-ons and started down the steps. Yes, there was an elevator, but at the other end of the platform, and train-station elevators are notoriously slow, so there was no way there was time for that. I followed with my carry-on, another suitcase, the stroller, and Helen in the sling. Not quite sure how we made it (I think Marie waited at the open door of the train with the luggage Jörn had gotten there and Lukas and Katie, while Jörn and Jacob came back to help me?), but we did. The last train was an RB, and only 9 minutes from Wesel, but only goes once an hour, so we REALLY didn't want to miss it. And upon arriving in Hamminkeln, we had about a two-minute walk to the Globe Europe headquarters, and it only took us that long because we were tired, it was dark and snowy, and we had far too much luggage. :-) We arrived 23 hours and 15 minutes after leaving my parents' house in California, although the actual flight was less than 11 hours.

Eddi, the German director of Globe Europe, welcomed us, showed us our rooms, and gave us keys. By this time we'd woken up a bit more (I find jet-lag coming east MUCH more difficult than going west) and were hungry, so Jörn went shopping at Aldi, just down the street. We had dinner, made the beds, and did all fall asleep fairly quickly. And then of course woke up around 2:00. I was awake for about five hours that first night, the children less time each, but at all different times. The first night I slept through was the fifth or sixth night, but we're all pretty well adjusted now.

I'd been going to write more in this first post, but as usual, it's already too long, so I just changed the title to reflect what I've covered so far, and Helen just woke up, so I don't know if I'll manage another right now or not.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 21, 2010: Our visit in the U.S., final installment: our last week

We arrived in Germany the day before yesterday, and I will soon be beyond-hope-behind on our time here, so figured I may as well as least round up the rest of our time in California. It already seems like so long ago...where was I?

Monday the 11th was supposed to be a nice, calm day. The morning was fine, puttering around the house and spending time with my mom (my dad had to go back to work that day, after two weeks off), and then she went grocery shopping and took just Katie with her, which was very nice. For us, anyway. Katie is very loud. In the early afternoon, Mom left for a conference until Saturday, and we went shopping.

I hate shopping. Well, book-shopping is great, if one has money, and space in the suitcases, neither of which we had, so we didn't get to go book-shopping. The sole of one of Katie's shoes had finally come off completely on Sunday, despite having been glued more than once, so Katie definitely needed new shoes, and Lukas's shoes had several holes in them as well. Food may be much more expensive in the U.S., but shoes and clothes are cheaper.

So we drove to Grass Valley, as I wanted to make sure that I knew where the Raley's was where I needed to pick up a cake the next day (I'll get to that), and because I knew there was a J.C. Penny's, which my mom had recommended for Jörn's jeans, with a shoe store next door, and in any case, I wanted to find a bookstore in Grass Valley to get a gift certificate for my cousin for her birthday.

Katie, however, fell asleep on the way to Grass Valley. Helen did too, but Helen didn't need new shoes. Anyway, we left Katie and Helen in the car with Marie and Jacob, and took Lukas into the shoestore. The saleslady immediately pointed out some Spiderman shoes that light up with every step, which Lukas of course thought were wonderful. I wasn't thrilled with them, but probably would have broken down and gotten them for him--except that they simply did NOT fit his feet properly. We did talk him into trying on half a dozen other shoes, but he was adament that he only wanted the Spiderman ones, so we finally left with no shoes for Lukas. We checked on the children in the car, then took Jacob and Lukas with us into Penny's. Jörn got two pairs of jeans and Jacob got underwear, but they didn't have any thick tights for Marie.

Tried K-Mart, with no success, and discovered that there were NO bookstores in either of the two shopping centers with which I was familiar, so got directions to a bookstore downtown. Going to the bookstore was rather torturous, because I simply didn't dare look at any books. We just got the book certificate and some bookplates, and left. :-(

By this time the children had been squabbling in the car quite a bit, and I HATE shopping anyway, but I also wanted to get it over with, so we decided to head to Auburn, to Target. By the time we got there, I couldn't take the fighting in the back anymore, so I parked, then handed Jörn the keys and left. I wandered around Target for awhile, determined that they didn't have any tights in Marie's or my sizes nor any acceptable shoes for either Lukas or Katie. There were other things we wanted, but I couldn't remember any of them. I did buy a package of hair-thingies for Katie (72, in lots of colors, for 3 dollars, as opposed to four or so for at least 3 Euros) and a box of granola bars, and as I was leaving the store, met Jörn, who had taken someone to the bathroom. We went home, all seven of us sulking the whole way. I HATE shopping.

Tuesday morning we drove to Grass Valley again to pick up the cake that my mother had ordered for my grandma's birthday, to be served after lunch in the place where she lives. They hadn't been able to make a full sheet, but had done two half-sheets instead, and when I saw the size of the HALF-sheets, I was really glad--I don't know how we would have transported a full-sized one! I guess most people have space in their cars, but our car was full of people. Leaving the Raley's shopping center, I somehow got mixed up. I knew pretty quickly that I was in the wrong place, but couldn't figure out where, then remembered that my aunt's car has a GPS. Pulled over, figured it out (very, very easy--that was a relief), and put in the street where Grandma lives. They pronounce it "jore-skee", but it's a German word, so I knew how to spell it: Joerschke. As it turned out, I'd somehow gotten onto Highway 20 towards Marysville instead of onto Highway 49 towards Nevada City. (Including that just so that the family members of mine who might read this can all laugh!) I've been on Highway 20 towards Marysville several times in the past, never intentional, so I really should have figured it out sooner. Anyway, the GPS kept telling me in a worried voice to make a U-turn, which I did eventually, and eventually delivered the cake. Then we went to see Grandpa for awhile.

He was in a good mood that morning, and we had a lot of fun with him, taking a lot of photos. The children sang a song for him which included clapping, and he clapped along, then Katie sang "Away in a Manger" and he sang along with her. He wasn't too happy about us leaving, and put on his coat (he already had his hat on, which he keeps on most of the time because he's afraid someone will steal it) to "go for a walk". We walked him to the dining room for lunch, where he didn't want to stay, and finally I just had to leave him with the caretakers and walk away, while he was saying that he didn't want to eat, he wanted to go for a walk outside. It was hard.

We got back to Grandma's just as they were finishing lunch, and they had put candles on the cakes and the cakes on a cart. Everyone sang Happy Birthday, and Grandma was really pleased. She kept saying that most people only get one birthday party, that this was really special to have two parties. After we all ate cake (and Katie and Lukas flirted with every single person in the room), we walked back to Grandma's room with her, Lukas pushing her wheelchair. The night before she had fallen on her way back after seeing Grandpa and been taken to the hospital because her knee hurt. Nothing was broken, but it was pretty swollen, which was why she was using a wheelchair. We didn't stay very long, as the children were running out of good behavior by that time, and in any case, we hadn't had lunch and had plans at 3:00.

Back to my parents' house, quick sandwiches, then back in the car to see Nancy, the mother of the children I nannied for my first three years in Germany, who is now living in her parents' house ten minutes away from my parents' house. We had a wonderful afternoon there, Katie in particular was quite taken with Nancy's sister, Linda, who lives downstairs, Lukas loved the apple cider, Marie got given a book, and everyone played the dancing game on the Wii. It was cool hearing about Jenna and Eric, now 23 and 22, and seeing photos. Jenna lives in Washington D.C., but Eric lives in L.A. and was AT DISNEYLAND our last day there!! We didn't find that out until the evening we got home from Disneyland, however--I was REALLY disappointed to have missed him.

Wednesday morning we drove to Potter Valley to visit my aunt Elizabeth and her family, especially my cousin Paul, his wife Jessica, and their children Anaís and John, as they hadn't been at Shawn's wedding. The night before one of Lukas's shoes had broken, and my aunt lives out in the country and we were also going from there to Fairy Tale Town the next day, so now it was really desparate that Lukas and Katie get new shoes, as they only had sandals, so we stopped at Payless in Auburn on the way down. Only Katie and I went in--I picked out a pair of shoes for Lukas that I knew had fit him on Monday, and the first shoe we saw, size 11 1/2, dark pink with elastic and velcro and easy to put on, fit Katie perfectly and was on sale for 10 dollars. I was quite pleased that we were going to be in and out of there in less than five minutes--but first they had to find the other shoe, which was on display. Quite awhile later, the saleslady apologetically informed me that they had a size 12 on display, but no match for it, and no second size 11 1/2, so some customer had obviously gone out with one of each, so unless we also wanted one of each, we would have to find a different shoe.

We found a pair of less perfect shoes and got back in the car, and clicked "go home" on the GPS, which then of course led us to my aunt's house. :-) Helen went to sleep as soon as we started driving and slept the entire way, over three hours. She woke up about half a mile before we turned onto my aunt's road! It was great seeing Paul (whom I had last seen in 1999 at my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary celebration), Jessica (whom I had met when Anaís was three weeks old), and Anaís (who will be four in February, so had changed a bit since I met her!), and meeting John (4 months old). Anaís and Katie hit it off amazingly well, trying on every princess dress in the house, of which there are MANY, with shoes and gloves and necklaces to go with them. We all went outside for awhile, admired Paul and Jessica's "cottage" next door, and had dinner. Paul and his family went home, we put our children to bed, and then we got to chat with Aunt Elizabeth and look at photos until long past when we all should have been asleep. Uncle Bill was working in Concord, so wasn't able to be home that evening, and my other cousins, Nathan and Karyn, don't live there anymore and weren't able to make it, but I had seen them at the wedding, as well as the oldest, Daniel, who lives on the east coast and had gone home right after the wedding. (The last time I had seen Daniel before Shawn's wedding was at our own, 15 years before.)

The next morning everyone had left for work before we even got up, and after breakfast and packing lunches, we got back in the car at 9:15 and headed for Sacramento. Helen again went to sleep very soon and slept until we were parking at Fairy Tale Town in Sacramento, at 11:45! We were supposed to meet my friend Jacqueline at 12:00 and finally left a note for her and went on in. She did find us about an hour later--she had sent an e-mail that she'd be later, but I hadn't checked e-mail, not being home. Her son, Noah, who is almost 10, got along with all of our children wonderfully, as did almost-four-year-old Elam, although he was a bit more shy. And we all enjoyed Fairy Tale Town, which is essentially a big playground, so lots of climbing and sliding. The Crooked Mile and the Cheese Standing Alone are still my favorite things there. :-)

Friday we drove down to Newcastle (by this time I was REALLY enjoying Aunt Elizabeth's GPS!) to have lunch with the parents of a friend of mine from Cyprus, then from there drove back to within a quarter of a mile of my parents' house to spend the afternoon with a "girl" (she's only 7 years younger than I am) I used to babysit, Sarah, her mother, Ann, and her children, Darren and Eva. Her dad, Rick, got home from work just as we were starting out for a walk along the canal, so we got to see him, too. Darren will be five in March and he and Katie had a grand time together, as did all of the children actually, and of course everyone loved Eva, because there's nothing not to love in a 13-month-old. Just before Sarah and her children left to go home, I realized that I hadn't taken a photo of Darren, as I'd been chatting with Ann and Sarah the whole time, so I asked him if I could take his picture. He said, "Sure!" and gave me a big grin. Somehow, it's a lot cuter in other people's children than in my own!

Saturday morning we went shopping again, my favorite thing. Yuck. I really hate shopping. But we did finish everything on our list (angel food cake mix is the only thing I can remember...) and lived to tell about it. After lunch we went to Grass Valley to my aunt Theresa's house, for my cousin Emily's 13th birthday party. At some point Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Bill arrived, as did my mother with my sister Erin (Mom's conference had been quite close to where Erin lives, so she'd brought her up for the weekend), and my dad a bit later, who had been at a meeting all morning, and finally my sister Ruth and her boyfriend Justin. We had dinner and cake and a great evening. Helen, who has no fear of dogs who growl at her and have heads the size of her body, running up to them and scaring US like crazy, was terrified of Aunt Theresa's calm, friendly, totally non-yappy little poodle. Sasha never bites or even snaps, doesn't growl or even jump up on people, but Helen was scared of her just standing there. In the meantime, she desparately wanted to play with Emily's dog, who is a bit bigger and does NOT like unpredictable small children, and kept growling at Helen and even snapped at her a couple of times. Helen's not afraid of cats, either, so I found it very strange. Oh, and Ruth had just given Justin a puppy for his birthday (which was the same day as Grandma's), which they brought over. Loki was 8 weeks old, 3/4 bulldog and 1/4 beagle, and quite adorable. And Helen wasn't scared of Loki, either. After the party, Ruth and Justin came over to my parents' house so we could play games.

Sunday Mom made a cooked breakfast--she said her goal was to have leftovers to prove that it was possible to fill up Lukas and Jacob, as I said that I had never managed it, at least not with pancakes. Well, with a quadruple recipe of pancakes AND scrambled eggs AND two kinds of sausage AND bacon...she just about managed it. There were 12 of us, with my parents, Erin, and Ruth and Justin (who came over at 9:00), and there were six pancakes left over. Helen had only eaten one, but ate about five sausages.

Then our family and my parents left for church in Grass Valley, where my mom had grown up. Unfortunately, the large cooked breakfast and the curvy roads and pregnancy didn't make for a good combination, and I lost my breakfast in the street outside the church, which was rather embarrassing. Still, with nine pregnancies (and morning sickness during six of them), that was only the second time ever that I didn't make it to a better location, so I guess that's not too bad...

After church we went to see my grandparents, taking Grandma over to see Grandpa, as she's still using the wheelchair and it's hard for her to get over to Grandpa's by herself. Grandma didn't have her hearing aids in, and it doesn't often seem to make a huge difference whether Grandpa does or not, so the conversation was a bit interesting, to say the least. Grandpa asked Grandma if she thinks that his back is good enough to plant sweet corn and lima beans this year, and she answered that the pretzels are from cousins back east. And so it continued. At one point, Grandpa said to Grandma, "It's wonderful having all the children here, but the best part is you being here." They're not always that amiable with each other, so it was really cool to see. Although of course Grandma didn't even hear it, but she did smile back at him while he was holding her hand and patting it.

Leaving Grandma and Grandpa was really, really hard. Every time I've left the U.S. in probably the last ten years or so, I've wondered if it would be the last time I see them, and that's just stronger each time. Katie and I visited in May 2008, but the last time we were there as a family was March 2006, and I don't expect to get back again for at least several years. We were only able to go this time because of an extremely generous gift--with our move and not getting our apartment rented out for the first seven months, as well as other unexpected expenses, we simply couldn't have gone on our own. We do have enough miles for two "free" tickets now, but our experience so far in trying to use those is that the only flights ever available are the ones where the additional tickets (because there are a few more than two of us...) are astronomical prices. Once we were quoted 3000 Euros for the children--for EACH ticket. We didn't use the free tickets, but paid about 50 Euros more, total, and flew all six (at the time) of us to Costa Rica.

That evening I didn't get to play any games, because I was packing, and taking an absurdly long time about it, too. But it got done, and we left the next morning, which will be another post. Eventually. We're having visitors in about three minutes, so I'm turning the computer off now.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

January 17, 2010: Our visit in the U.S., part four: Disneyland

I've been trying to figure out how to write this--if I go into detail, it will take three days to write (and to read), but the only shorter option I can seem to come up with is "we went to Disneyland for three days and had a great time"! But here goes an attempt at something in between...

To start with, my brother Scott and his wife had left a couple of days earlier, to celebrate their 17th anniversary on the way and to arrive at the hotel in Disneyland early and have everything ready for everyone else. That left 13 of us (my parents, my sister Ruth and her boyfriend Justin, my nephews Kyle and Alex, and the seven of us) from this area to get down to southern California. Shawn and Lindsey were flying, and Erin, Ginny, Kenneth, and Amelia were driving on their own. Even with my aunt's car (the only one with seven seats), that was going to mean three cars, and Helen is not generally the greatest traveler, so it was also likely to mean lots of stops for at least one car. So my parents came up with the idea of flying me and Helen to southern California--the gas saved by taking one less car would about cover the cost of the flight. For some reason, it didn't bother me at all to think of taking a one-hour flight with one child instead of an all-day car-ride with five...

So on Monday, January 4th, my dad dropped us off at Sacramento airport in the morning, then drove back to Rocklin, where he left one car and met the rest of the group. They had an uneventful drive down, the highlight for the children apparently being lunch at Carl's Jr., where they had never been before.

Helen and I checked in (the only luggage was the carseat), had a bagel and a yogurt milkshake for breakfast and wandered around the airport for awhile. We sat and chatted with an 85-year-old lady for awhile, who had been at her grandson's wedding and was heading home for Florida, then she caught her flight. Our flight was half an hour late leaving, because of a "loose screw on the wing", which was a little disconcerting, but the flight itself was fine. Southwest Airlines, incidentally, does preboard families with children under four, and everyone was very friendly. The flight was also only about 2/3rds full, so I had an empty seat next to me, which also made things much more pleasant. (Except that Helen was extremely happy with her own seat and not at all pleased to have to get on my lap for take-off and landing.) The man next to us had a tiny little dog in a carrier, which Helen enjoyed talking with.

Shawn and Lindsey had arrived at the same airport just a little while before we did, so they waited for us and we took a taxi (with three adults, less than the shuttle for all would have been) together to the hotel. Helen fell asleep on the way and stayed asleep for a good two hours, during which I caught up in my journal, which I haven't opened since...

Everyone else arrived in good time and we had a barbecue that evening, just across the fence from California Adventure, of which we had a great view from our hotel "villa". (Two floors, with three en-suite bedrooms and pull-out beds in both living rooms, a kitchen, a dining room, and a pool table. My parents, Scott and his family, and our family were in this one. The rest were in the slightly smaller "room", with just two en-suite bedrooms, a sofa-bed, a murphy bed, and a kitchen.) Kristy had arranged for Mickey Mouse ears for my parents with their names and "40 years" stitched on them, as well as ears for Shawn and Lindsey, a top-hat and a bridal princess, respectively. We all had buttons that said "Family Reunion", my parents had buttons that said "Happy Anniversary", Shawn and Lindsey had buttons that said "Newlyweds", and the several people who were at Disneyland for the first time had "First Visit" buttons. And we also had an anniversary cake for my parents.

The next three days we had "park-hopper" passes for Disneyland and California Adventure, and took full advantage of them. We all stayed together a little bit, but 21 people make for a pretty big group, so we did a lot of splitting up and meeting up again. Each of the aunts and uncles took each of the nieces and nephews for awhile at some point during the three days, which was also fun for all. Helen just looked bemused during the first couple of rides, but when Dumbo starting going up, she looked startled and then laughed, and enjoyed the rest. Her favorite ride was "It's a Small World", which was still decorated for Christmas and was playing a Christmas medley, to which she danced and clapped her hands both times we rode it.

I just asked the other children what their favorite rides were. Katie said, "Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh and the Tea-cup Party." Lukas's favorite was California Screaming, which, inidentally, he was tall enough for the first day, but the next day they wouldn't let him on and said he was just the tiniest bit too short! Jacob's favorites were the Maliboomer, which I doubt that I would have gone on even if I had not been pregnant, and Splash Mountain. Marie's favorites were Space Mountain (my favorite when I was 12, too, but I confess I opted out of going on it this time because of being pregnant) and California Screaming. Joern's favorite was also Space Mountain, and just to finish it off, I suppose my favorites were the Matterhorn and Splash Mountain. The absolute worst was Astro Orbiter, which Helen loved, laughing the whole time, while I barely kept from losing my lunch.

The second day was also the birthday of both Shawn and Erin (not twins--they're exactly three years apart), so they got to add "Happy Birthday" buttons, and we had a pizza party and more cake. Erin had requested "a sun, a moon, something green, and something purple." I had no ideas, but Jacob did, and sketched me a design that I ended up using: the globe (just part of it), with the sun on a light blue background on one side, and a moon on a purple background on the other. Shawn's request was just that Lukas choose the design, so he had chosen the clubhouse that Shawn had built out of our moving crates when he visited us in Cyprus in March. So that's what Shawn's cake had. I really need to figure out someday how to get photo files small enough to use them on here.

We finished up the third day with everyone going on Splash Mountain a last couple of times, as that's my mother's favorite ride, then back to the hotel to play games and collapse into bed. Actually, that third night I simply went to bed, without a word to any of the children or my husband or anyone else. The next morning I apologized to my husband, that I hadn't helped get anyone ready for bed, and had even left Helen awake, and said, "I've never done that before, have I." His response was, "Well, actually, you did that last night, too." Oh yeah, I forgot. But actually, the night before I'd been trying to get Helen to sleep, but when I realized that I was falling asleep and she wasn't, I lifted her back down to the floor and just sort of...stayed there.

The next morning started with a "character breakfast", a breakfast buffet with some Disney characters wandering in and out. The only ones I knew were Chip and Dale, the others were a bear, a raccoon, and a gorilla, all from movies I've never seen, but that didn't bother my children in the slightest. Lukas in particular was having a great time hamming it up for the camera, hugging them all and playing around. Helen was pretty wary of them, though, and screamed when the raccoon came close, but stopped as soon as he backed off.

Then we finished packing and started the journey home. Alex and Kyle weren't with us for the return trip, as they flew home to Florida with their parents, and Shawn and Lindsey also flew from LA to Virginia. Helen and the traffic were both amazing--we didn't have to stop the first time for Helen until after almost two hours and only stopped for ten minutes or so, then made it another almost two hours before stopping for lunch. She slept almost the rest of the way home, just one more stop, and we were home, with only three stops (plus one for gas), only eight hours after leaving. No traffic jams, no hours of a screaming baby. Very cool.

On Saturday the 9th we celebrated Grandma's birthday (a few days early) with her, as my parents, Ruth and Justin, and my aunt Theresa and her daughter Emily could all be there. We had pizza and ice cream cake, and Grandma and Grandpa both enjoyed it all.

Sunday we went up to Tahoe to ski and play in the snow. Lukas and Katie weren't enjoying the cross-country skis at all and my parents finally told us to just go ahead and they'd stay with them, so the rest of us took off. Helen was in the Ergo with Joern, who was using snow shoes, and Marie, Jacob, and I had skis. It was a great deal like bike-riding with my family, in nearly every way. One thing was that as soon as I was on skis, I felt totally comfortable and "right", although the last time I had skied was four years ago, and the time before that 15 years ago. It's like bike-riding, you never forget. (But although my brain remembered Telemark turns, my knees wouldn't cooperate, so I snow-plowed a bit more than I'd like to admit...) Jacob and I were way ahead, kept going back to find the others, and Marie was worried about every single little bump or slope of greater than 1 degree. And Joern was only doing it "because it was good for him", not because he actually wanted to be out there. (Of course, he doesn't bike-ride at all, so that comparison doesn't work. And Lukas wasn't along, and he's the bike-rider who is always far ahead of everyone else.)

I went down one sledding hill, very pleased with myself, then stood at the bottom looking up the hill--and suddenly was lying flat on my back. I banged the back of my head pretty hard and my glasses flew off, so I kind of freaked out for a moment when I opened my eyes and everything was blurry, but I was okay. My head did hurt for awhile, but that was my only fall.

So that was the end of our second week here, and today is the end of our last week, but we're going to play a game now and I'll need to pack, so I won't be able to write about this week until we're in Germany. Probably at 2:00 some morning while on jet lag--going east is SO much harder for me than going west.

Monday, January 11, 2010

January 11, 2010: Our visit in the U.S., part three: the wedding

I'm the oldest of five, left home in 1989 to spend a year in Mexico, lived with my parents again for a year while going to college and working, then moved to Germany in 1991 "for a year or two." Under NO circumstances was I staying for any longer, and I was most certainly NOT getting involved with a German. Spanish was my language and Latin America was what I loved, and German was the only class that I did badly in during my two semesters of college! Although my husband I didn't start dating until two years after I arrived in Germany, we actually met within the first couple of months. We got married a year later, and it was over 17 years that I ended up living in Germany. None of that is relevant to the rest of this post, I just liked writing it! :-)

My next sibling, Scott, is two years younger than I am. He and Kristy got married when they were 19 and 18 (it was actually only a month before Scott's 20th birthday, but 19 sounds more dramatic) and just celebrated their 17th anniversary. Their sons, Kyle and Alex, are 13 and 12. Scott is in the Air Force and they live in Florida, finally staying in one place for awhile. They started homeschooling temporarily when unhappy with the school at one location, and have just kept on, loving it, for about six years now, I think. Kyle plans to go to school starting with eighth grade, Alex at this point plans to homeschool all the way through.

The fourth sibling, Erin, is eight years younger than I am, is a clarinetist, and lives in San Bruno (near San Francisco), in the house my dad grew up in, and the youngest, Ruth, 11 years younger than I, is a pharmaseutical (spelling?!?!) assistant and she and her boyfriend, Justin, live in the house my mother grew up in, in Grass Valley.

Shawn is the one that this post is supposed to be about. He's five years younger than I am and has traveled much, much more than I have, although he's only ever lived in the U.S., mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area and in the Washington D.C. area, now in D.C. When he announced on Facebook a couple of months ago that he was engaged to Lindsey (whom Katie and I met in May 2008 when we were here on a good-bye visit to my paternal grandmother, three months before she died), I wrote back that if he wanted us at the wedding, it would need to happen in California and between December 28th and January 18th! Apparently, they'd been thinking more of a summer wedding, definitely wanting it outside and with all sorts of outside activities, but they re-worked their plans for us, for which we were very grateful. They have friends all over the world as it is, so many of their guests were going to have to travel no matter what.

The wedding ceremony itself was scheduled for 5:00 p.m., outside, with a gorgeous view of San Francisco and the sunset. The weather cooperated, although it was rather cold, and the ceremony, officiated by my mother, was quite short. There were no attendants, but Marie and Kyle carried in jars of sand and Lukas carried in a bowl, into which Shawn and Lindsey poured the sand, and another little girl carried in the rings on a pillow. Then we all went inside for the party. The speeches were good, there was lots of food, and it was great seeing so many relatives, such as one aunt whom I did see in May 2008, but the last time before that was my own wedding, and her husband, whom I hadn't seen since our wedding. There was also dancing, and the music was good and not too loud! (Katie was really nervous when she heard that we were going to a wedding at all, as the last wedding we went to had horribly loud music and half the people were smoking. We all left coughing and with headaches. So Katie was immensely relieved that Uncle Shawn's wedding wasn't like that.)

At some point there was a variety show, something that the Americans apparently thought a bit strange, as hardly anyone signed up for it, but to Germans was the absolutely normal wedding reception. :-) Shawn and Lindsey started by making all the participants dance across the stage to the Muppet theme song (if we'd known that was coming, probably even fewer people would have signed up...), then the two of them sang a song together. One little girl (I think a niece of Lindsey's) sang "Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer", an aunt of Lindsey's did a stand-up comedy skit, and another little girl at the very end sang another song. Marie played the violin together with my sister Erin and Erin's partner Ginny, both on clarinets, and Joern and I narrated "Die Hocheitskuetsche", "The wedding carriage", a very commonly done skit at weddings in Germay. The actors were the bride and groom (princess and prince), the groom's best friend (coachman), the parents (the four wheels), the siblings (horses), the children (forest), and the audience (the forest path). Most people seemed to enjoy it--at the very least, there was a LOT of laughter--but my dad did make the comment at the end that he could understand why we got married in the U.S.! (Actually, the one thing I DID miss at our wedding was the typical German reception...)

Anyway, the rest was basically what a usual New Year's Eve party always was when I was growing up: ice cream sundaes, lots of junk food, lots of noise, and lots of board games. :-) Then at midnight, lots of noise, and being over San Francisco, we even got to watch a far-away fireworks display. Then it was clean-up and drive back to the hotel, where we collapsed into bed. Katie and Helen had both fallen asleep during the evening, but the other three children made it all the way through. Helen did wake up in time for midnight, meaning that Katie is the only one of all of my children to have ever slept through midnight on New Year's Eve.

The next day started with a breakfast buffet, then a hike to Shawn and Lindsey's "first kiss spot" in Tilden Park, then bowling, and then dinner at a Mexican restaurant. I can't say I enjoyed the bowling much--at least there wasn't any smoke (my last time bowling was over five years ago, in Germany, and one could hardly see through the smoke, and the time before that, which was also my first time ever, was well over 20 years ago, when they still smoked in public places in the U.S., too), but it was quite dark and the music was so loud that one had to shout to be heard, so there wasn't much conversation. Added to which, I think I got the lowest score of the 30 or so people that were there. 35 on my first game, and on the second game, which started with a strike on the first frame and ended with a spare on the final frame, had a total of 40 points. I kind of doubt that anyone else could get that low if they tried.

During breakfast one of my aunts was talking about lending us her car, which seats seven, for a couple of days, and the negotiations ended with her taking my mom's car back to Ukiah with her, and we left with her van for the next two weeks! My parents have two cars and a truck, and my youngest sister

January 2nd the festivities continued. After breakfast we went to an indoor climbing gym, where Shawn and Lindsey had been members when they lived on the West Coast, and everyone who wanted to got a chance at climbing. I didn't climb, but the children did, and there was a very nice (and quiet!!) area for sitting and watching and chatting with the other people who weren't climbing. From there we headed into San Francisco, where we had lunch on our own and then met up again with the group for a high-tech scavenger hunt. Shawn is a conflict resolutionist and travels around giving seminars, etc., and this was a version of one of the programs he leads. We were over 30 people and divided into 6 groups. Jacob was our captain and when he saw the GPS thing-a-ma-jig and saw that it was exactly the same one that he's familiar with from our friend Richard, who taught Marie and Jacob sailing last summer and has been having Jacob work with him on his new boat all autumn, he immediately took over that. Lindsey's father, Tim, and I, as the only adult native speakers of English on the team, worked on the word puzzles while we walked, and Magdalena from Switzerland took care of the camera. Her husband and Joern (who had Helen in the Ergo carrier) helped look for photo challenges and corralled the niece of Lindsey's who was along, as well as Katie, who sometime during the afternoon deftected from another team and joined ours. We came in second place, the only area we did really badly in was the quotations, getting only four out of 10 right, and two of those were guessed.

Then we headed back to Berkeley, to the home of some friends of Lindsey's, who had taken home the left-over food from the wedding. We saw a slide-show of photos from the wedding, ate our fill and then some for dinner, and finally drove home. I managed almost an hour, but was definitely falling asleep, so switched with Joern, who drove the rest of the way, another hour. As on just about every single day of our trip so far, the evening ended with us carrying sleeping children to bed and then collapsing into bed ourselves.

So that was my brother's three-day wedding! The next day Joern, my mom, the two little girls, and I went to church in Colfax, where I grew up. I didn't get to go there my last couple of visits to the U.S., as my mother is now a pastor in King's Beach (on Lake Tahoe), but she had taken all three Sundays that we're here off of work. There were two people I really wanted to see, and both of them were there: Myrtle, the widow of the pastor there from when I was 6 until I was 13, and who must be somewhere between 70 and 100, but hasn't changed in the slightest since I can remember; and "Mrs. Murphy", who has been in charge of the Sunday School forever and ever. She taught Sunday School that day, too, and Katie made up one-third of the whole Sunday School. All of the other people I had known there from my childhood have either died (most of them--my parents were the youngest adults in the church for 20 years) or moved.

And the next day we headed for Disneyland, which will be a separate post, and probably on another day, as I'm now going to play a game with Jacob and Lukas.

January 11, 2010: Our visit in the U.S., part two the end of our 34-hour day, we got to say hi to my sister-in-law and one of my nephews, my brother and the other nephew didn't wake up.

In general, I find traveling west much easier than traveling east. I tend to stay up late anyway, and getting over jet-lag when traveling west consists of staying up as late as you possibly can, then collapsing into bed and sleeping because you simply can't stay awake any longer. We all slept fairly well the first night, being so exhausted, but were also awake and up easily for the events of the next day.

My mother, my brother and his family, my cousin, and Jacob and Lukas went skiing the day after we arrived. Jacob had been on downhill skis once before, about two years ago in an indoor ski-hall in Germany at the birthday party of a friend of his, and had cross-country skied with us four years ago in Tahoe. Lukas had never been on skis of any kind. They had lessons and apparently had a wonderful day. I haven't seen photos yet, but my sister-in-law said that at one point she went to take photos and saw Lukas speeding down the hill with a huge grin on his face, the instructor chasing after him yelling, "Lukas! Luuuuu--kaaaaas! Slow down!" That sounds like Lukas. :-)

In the meantime, my husband and the three girls and I went for a walk with my dad. It's always strange when I'm here how familiar and how different everything seems at the same time. Also, ever since I moved to Germany in September 1991, the vegetation here seems so brown and dry, as Germany is very, very green, all year round. However, after a year in Cyprus (where, incidentally, we regularly heard comments from the people who had lived there for awhile about how remarkably green in was that year!!), the wonderful green of the evergreens and grass everywhere here in northern California is refreshing and wonderful! But the bare trees are strange, too--some trees in Cyprus lose their leaves, but not many, and our citrus trees were all bearing fruit when we left at the end of December. This morning Katie told my mother that they should cut down "all those dead trees", referring to the apple trees and other trees here that do lose their leaves.

After we got back from our walk, Marie was going to practice the violin, but her D-string broke. So Marie, Helen, and I went with my dad to run a bunch of errands and get the new D-string. My dad was pretty sure that he knew where a music store was, near a post office, and we drove around there for awhile without finding it. I suggested asking at the post office, but he opted to keep driving. We checked out the place where a music store used to be when I was a teenager, but it's a Starbucks now. We completed all of my dad's errands and all of ours (a plug adapter, wipes, shampoo, etc.), and at the electric place I asked if they knew were a music store was. The lady's description sounded like the area we had first looked, then at the pharmacy I asked again, and got another similar description. So we headed back for that part of town, I again suggested asking someone, my dad again kept driving for awhile. He finally did stop at the post office to ask--but they were closed for lunch by that time. He did manage to aks somewhere else, though, and it turned out to be just around the corner. We'd driven by it before, but it's a very small shop with a well-hidden sign--I didn't even see the sign, I saw the drums in the (fairly dark) window. Mission accomplished, we then stopped at the grocery store on the way home. The prices of bread and dairy products in Cyprus had rather shocked us, being up to twice as much as in Germany, but the prices here are even higher! Even though the money wasn't coming out of my pocket, it hurt just picking up a loaf of bread that was at least four times as expensive as bread in Germany, and wouldn't taste half as good.

The next day, December 30th, was our 15th wedding anniversary. The day started with opening Christmas presents with my parents and my brother's family, then Joern and I went out to breakfast all by ourselves, to the place where we had breakfast on the first day of our honeymoon. Breakfast was the usual humongous American affair, and it was fine, but the best part was nobody interrupting!! The children were all perfectly happy at home with grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins, and siblings, although Katie was rather driving my dad crazy. (I called home at one point, and asked how Helen was, and my dad just said, "Helen?! No problem at all. Katie, on the other hand...)

Around noon my parents left to go down to Berkeley to help prepare my other brother's wedding, and Helen cried when Grandma left. She's even saying "Grandma"--she says "mama" to me, with both "a"s the same, but Grandma is "maa-ma", the first "a" the same short-vowel sound as in "grandma".

December 31st we headed to Berkeley ourselves, together with my sister and her boyfriend, stopping on the way to buy shoes for Jacob (who had paint-stained sneakers and broken, bright-orange, imitation Crocs) and shoes and tights for Marie (who was planning to wear a white blouse and a black skirt, and only had brown tights and blue sneakers), and then ended up buying glittery shoes for Katie, too, who had perfectly nice pink sandals already. Helen sang all the way to our first stop, then slept all the way to the hotel at Berkeley Marina, which was very convenient. Joern and the boys got dressed and headed for the wedding location to help set up, and I had a shower and bathed the little girls, barely getting ready by 4:00 to meet someone else I was following.

And as this is more than long enough already, I'll save the wedding for another post. :-)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

January 10, 2010: Catching up, part one: the journey here

To start with, the runway lights in Larnaka were working, so we left as scheduled on the 28th of December. Not quite two weeks ago, but it sure feels like a lot longer ago! We left our house at 12:40 in the morning--Joern dropped us off at the airport, less than 10 minutes away, then drove back home, parked our car, and loaded our luggage into our friend Richard's car. Richard dropped Joern and our luggage (three full suitcases, and one with two collapsible ones inside) off at the airport, and we were on our way. Lukas talked all the way to Prague, and in fact, all of the children except for Helen stayed awake for the flight to Prague, changing planes there, and the flight to Frankfurt.

In Frankfurt we arrived in Terminal 1, collected our luggage, and headed straight for Terminal 2 (the children finding the "sky train"--not what it's called in Frankfurt, but that's what it's called in Duesseldorf and I can't remember what Frankfurt calls it--extremely exciting, we less so, with the luggage), as that's where our flight to San Francisco was leaving from. We started there by going to the information desk to ask if there was a children's play area--yes, back in Terminal 1. But the lady told us that we actually could check in, even though it was still more than five hours until our flight.

I've heard plenty of positive raving about Frankfurt Airport, but I'm not impressed with the sign-posting. We did eventually find the United Airlines counters and got in line. Halfway through the line it occurred to me that this would be a good time to brush teeth, before our toothpaste was checked for the next flight, so the girls and I headed for the restrooms--which were hard to find and very far away. When we finally got back, the others had just gotten to the front of the line, but the entire area was being cleared because of a bomb threat. We watched from maybe 20 meters away while an area right next to where we had been standing was marked off by the police with orange and white tape, but couldn't really see what was going on. I commented that if there WAS a bomb, we really weren't far enough away, but in the meantime, sent Joern and the boys to brush their teeth.

They got back just as the bomb threat was lifted, so we started to get back in line, but then got to go to the very front. We checked in and started to head for Terminal 1 for the play area, when Lukas asked where his backpack was. Good question. We couldn't find it where the line had been, Joern was sure he hadn't had it with him in the restroom, so we went to the information desk to ask about lost-and-found. The guy there looked rather bored until Joern started the description, then he raised his eyebrows and said, "Child's backpack? I have to make a phone call." I joked to Joern that maybe Lukas's backpack had been the cause of the bomb scare.

Well, a couple of phone calls later, it was confirmed that Lukas's backpack had been removed by the police and taken to the place where they explode potential bombs, but that they had been able to determine that it wasn't a bomb before they needed to explode it, so it was now waiting in lost-and-found. Oops.

Following bad directions and the very occasional sign, we did eventually find the lost-and-found department, filled out a bunch of forms and paid four Euros to recover Lukas's backpack (which contained a change of clothes, a lion, and a bear), and then started looking for the famed grocery store.

More rare signs (but along a very long corridor with interesting ads for a car rental company that went through the whole history of the world) and a long walk later, we found the grocery store, where we bought Broetchen (bread rolls, but one canNOT call the delicious, German bread rolls by the uninspiring term of "bread rolls"!! After nearly a year in Cyprus, we really missed those!!), cheese, cold cuts, grapes, and water. I didn't quite understand why this grocery store is so famous--it wasn't very big and it was of course very over-priced, but I suppose just the fact that it IS a grocery store, which is open on Sundays and holidays, is exciting? They even had fresh fruit.

We found a place to sit and eat lunch, and then finally, after counting the carry-ons, headed back to Terminal 1 and the play area. It consisted of slides and a big ball pool, with benches and a food court all around. Helen was asleep (in the stroller) by this time, so I laid down on a bench and had an hour's nap myself. Then we headed back to Terminal 2 for our flight to San Francisco.

Czech Air, by the way, was friendly and comfortable, and on EACH of the two flights the children received activity packs and I was asked if I needed anything for the baby and offered extra bread for her. They also gave me a "baby belt"--an extra seatbelt which connects to mine to put around the baby. A flight attendant friend once told me that it doesn't do much to protect a baby, the main point is to keep the baby from flying up in the air during turbulence and landing on another passenger and injuring him or her. I don't particularly care if I have one or not, but the point is that they did acknowledge the baby.

On our flight to San Francisco, however, which was 11 hours, the children were not given anything at all for entertainment, we could hardly see the movie screens which mostly had stupid and/or inappropriate things showing anyway, we certainly didn't have more leg-room than on the smaller plane, and I think possibly less, the flight attendant looked put out when I asked for an extra bag of pretzels for Helen, and both Joern's and my seats were broken. (His wouldn't recline, mine wouldn't stay up.) And my headphones broke. It wasn't the first time that I rolled my eyes at the announcement, "We realize that you have a choice of airlines and thank you for flying with United." If we were able to make a choice based on something other than price, we would NOT choose United.

Also, no baby belt, and no directions on how to hold the baby. Again, not that I cared, but on dozens of flights with babies (dozens? maybe even scores...), I have been given nearly as many different instructions: "use the baby belt"; "no baby belts as they're banned"; "use the sling/front pack/any baby carrier"; "please take the baby out of the carrier"; "hold the baby facing you"; "hold the baby facing out"; even "hold the baby diagonally"!! I've been given conflicting instructions on two different flights the same day with the same airline. But this was my first flight in which they didn't even say hi to the baby.

That Helen fussed and screamed for several hours wasn't United's fault, though. Katie and Lukas slept almost the entire flight, and Marie and Jacob entertained themselves with the movies and with reading, and Joern relaxed or even slept, but I spent a good portion of the flight fighting with Helen. I walked up and down the aisles with her, looked out windows, sang, etc. She did spend about five minutes scribbling on a magazine, and the pretzels kept her entertained for another five minutes, but that was about it. She wouldn't look at books and she wouldn't play patty-cake and she wouldn't even nurse. When she did finally fall asleep, so did I, but the head rests weren't anywhere near as adjustable as Czech Air's were, so I kept waking up with my neck hurting.

While waiting for our luggage in San Francisco, a sniffer dog found us and we were asked to turn in the three ham-and-cheese sandwiches we had brought from the airplane. I asked if we couldn't please eat them right away, as Katie and Lukas had literally had nothing to eat the entire flight, and the man hemmed and hawed and finally said that he wasn't really allowed to let us, but yes, we could keep them, but had to eat them completely--no, we would not be allowed to just throw them away if we didn't finish them, and it would be a 300-dollar fine if we didn't. We turned in one, and Lukas and Katie each ate one. Then we had to go through the red line, because we'd been "caught", and all of our luggage had to be x-rayed. The lady there looked very sorry, looked at five sleepy children and two exhausted parents and a huge pile of luggage and really, really looked like she wanted to wave us through, asked what the dog had found, questioned us about whether we had anything else (no), and finally apologetically said that she was very sorry, but we had to put everything through the x-ray.

My mother was waiting when we came out, she called my dad and my sister who then came from my sister's house (ten minutes away), and we piled into the cars and went to my sister's. We spent longer there than we had intended, eventually having sandwiches for dinner so that we wouldn't have to stop on the way to my parents' house (2 1/2 hours away), and then headed north, arriving at my parents' house at about 11:00 p.m. on December 28th--9:00 a.m of the 29th in Cyprus, so over 32 hours after leaving home. People like to wish that there were more hours in a day, but our December 28th had 34 hours, and it was NOT fun!!

But we made it, and the sequals will have to wait, as I now have to go finish getting children ready, as we're going up to Tahoe to play in the snow and cross-country ski. :-)