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.

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