Saturday, February 13, 2010

February 13, 2010: Germany, part eight: the last few days and the trip home

Everything went as planned on Monday (February 8th), and we were pleased to be given a ride back to the train station, as we would have had to take a bus at 7:30 to make all the connections to get the very last train from Wesel back to Hamminkeln, arriving at 10:11. It was good reconnecting with the R family--ever since we moved to Mülheim, and then their children changed schools and Aileen started working (in the school library, which works wonderfully as far as hours are concerned AND she loves her job), our visits with each other have been far too few and far between, yet I don't feel like we're "strangers" to each other when we finally do get together again. It was a very good ending to our time in our "home area" of Germany.

The next morning I managed to get everything packed in good time, although I was pretty sure we had too much. At 22 Euros per extra kilogram, checking extra luggage was NOT an option, but we figured we were okay as long as they didn't weigh the carry-ons, and I knew exactly what I could take out of which suitcases if necessary. Our second train was over 15 minutes late, making our connection in Köln VERY close, but we made it, and once we got to the airport in Frankfurt, had no problem finding our bus stop. Although we'd just missed a bus, and they go every half hour, it wasn't too bad waiting, either, as our particular bus stop was right outside the doors, so we waited inside. That day was by far the coldest day of our whole trip. There was no more snow where we'd been staying and I'd already thought that that would be our first day without seeing snow anywhere (the day before we hadn't seen any until nearly to Ratingen), but it was snowing quite a bit in Frankfurt and did the whole time we were there.

Christin met us at the bus stop at her end (less than 20 minutes from the airport) and we walked to their house, where we spent awhile just warming up. That evening we were able to visit with Peter and Christin, and after the children had gone to bed, played two games of Settlers of Catan. We slept very well, Katie and Helen with us in their HUGE bed, Jacob on a mat on the floor, and Marie and Lukas on a sofa-bed, while Peter and Christin themselves slept in the living room. We didn't get up the next morning until long after they had left for work.

Around 10:00 a friend of Jörn's, Arndt, arrived, and at 11:30, as we were just about to brave the cold and head for the playground, our friend Annika (whom we met in South Africa, but she's from Hanover and now lives not far from Frankfurt) arrived, so we all went to the playground together. We were fairly well-frozen by the time we left after not much more than half an hour, and all had lunch, for which Peter (who works only a couple of blocks away) joined us. After lunch Arndt left, and Annika played Settlers of Catan with Marie, Jacob, and Lukas (and Jörn, who ended up taking over for Lukas), while I played Go Fish and Memory with Katie, and Helen slept.

Annika was able to stay until 5:30-ish, just after Christin got home, and our friends Jill and Alan arrived at about 6:00 for dinner, by which time Peter had also arrived home. More good conversation (and good food!), and then to bed for the last time this trip.

Packing was easy the next morning--just the one suitcase we'd used for the two days. I weighed everything again and hoped that the airport scales would be set a bit lower. Another friend of Jörn's, Bernd, came for a few hours, and Peter came home for lunch again, and Christin made it home in time to see us off to the airport in two taxis. Interestingly, although in our experience Düsseldorf, Ratingen, and Mülheim all have taxi vans that will easily hold a family of seven AND their luggage, Frankfurt doesn't have any, or at least the taxi company we called didn't, nor did they have proper children's seats (despite us having requested them on the phone the day before), AND they tried to claim that no taxis do. I've only taken a taxi four times that I can remember in all my years in Germany, the first time nine years ago, and every single taxi had two children's seats, and in fact, one of them had integrated seats with five-point harnesses. But maybe that's only the law in NRW, not in Hessen. At least my taxi driver was apologetic and quite friendly, also helping to load and unload the luggage, which earned him a tip--the other driver got his fee to the cent, and not a cent more. (Not the U.S.: one does not HAVE to tip, as a tip truly is based on the service rendered.)

We had a short moment of concern when we arrived at the airport and the displays were all blank, but it turned out that the monitors were out of order, not that all flights had been cancelled! Checking in went well. Czech Airlines has a limit of one bag and 20 kilos per passenger, as well as one bag up to 10 kilos for an infant without a seat, but unlike some other airlines, allows the weight to be shared around a group, as long as no one bag weighs more than 32 kilos, so we could take up to 7 bags, up to 130 kilos. Starting with our heaviest suitcase, which was 26 kilos, we started with the weighing in, and after the sixth bag were up to "only" 119 kilos. We then had to choose between two "carry-ons"--one filled with clothes, weighing about six kilos, one filled with books, weighing 14. I put on the 14 kilo one, hoping that maybe, maybe, it was actually only 11, but the airport scale agreed that it was 14, bringing our total to 133 kilos, three kilos over, definitely not worth 66 Euros!! I was all ready to switch for the lighter one (or take out three kilos of books), but the man said that was no problem. :-)

Going through security was uncomplicated, but at our gate there was a sign saying that our flight was leaving from a different gate. At that other one, however, they knew nothing about it. Eventually, it was determined that our flight was late and that they didn't yet know which gate. We ate up the Walker's shortbread that Jill and Alan had given us (exactly 21 pieces--three for each person, no fighting, and yes, Helen knew that three were for her, too) and wandered around a bit, and finally got on the plane, which left well over an hour late...and arrived in Prague close to two hours late.

Once we got to the monitors in Prague to find out if there was any hope of getting our next flight, it was exactly 9:55 p.m., the time our flight was scheduled to leave, and the status was "gate closed". So we stopped hurrying and got into the transfer line, wondering if we'd get to stay in Prague long enough to actually see something more than the airport. Almost immediately, however, an airport employee asked if there was anybody there for Larnaka, and then told us to hurry--they were holding the plane for us. Passport control, security again, and then onto the plane, where everybody else had already been waiting for half an hour or more...we made it.

Once in Larnaca, we first had to go through passport control, of course, where the officer barely glanced at the six German passports, then started flipping through my U.S. passport, finally arriving at the single-use re-entry visa, and said, "What is this?" I'd completely forgotten that I was supposed to be nervous about whether they would let me back into Cyprus, but we explained that yes, we live in Cyprus, but that I don't have a yellow slip yet because Nikosia lost my file, so that's why I have this visa. He rolled his eyes as if that wasn't unusual--didn't seem to think WE were being strange--and then said that he'd never seen that kind of visa in an American passport before. But he let me in!

And our luggage, obviously having been the very last to be put loaded in Prague, was the very first out in Larnaca, so not much waiting. As I started to text Richard that we had arrived, he called to say that "they" (turned out to be Richard and his sailing friend, Tim--he'd only e-mailed that he'd come with two cars, but hadn't said which of his many friends he was going to talk into going to the airport at 3:00 a.m.) were waiting right out front.

We slept in seven different beds in the last six and a half weeks, all of them comfortable, but oh, falling into my OWN bed, on my OWN pillow, at 3:40 a.m. was the most wonderful, comfortable feeling imaginable! I also very much enjoyed being able to reach for the switch on my reading light automatically, as well as waking up in the morning proper and seeing my wall of photos, and getting to walk to the kitchen in my nightgown, and knowing that I didn't have to go anywhere. I still love to travel, but it's fascinating to me how much more I love home with the passing of the years. And now it's the next day and I'm quite tired and heading to my very own bed again. :-)

Monday, February 8, 2010

February 8, 2010: Germany, part seven: the last weekend

Maybe I'll be able to keep at least one entry short? I REALLY don't have time to be at the computer right now, but if I wait until we're home, I know I'll never go back and write this, and as I said a few days ago, at this point, this is more for myself than anyone else. Nobody else HAS to read this. :-)

Saturday morning (February 6th) two (of the three) elders and the pastor of our church came for a couple of hours, just to make sure we're all on the same page. It was very reassuring to know that the eldership is behind us, and that they will continue to represent us that way to the church.

Once they had left, we headed for Krefeld to have lunch with the H family. Again, too brief, but nice. Although their youngest son is 15, and the other two that were home are 17 and 18, they all spent good time with our children. At 3:00 I left, as we were expecting guests at 4:00 and I had to get gas first, as well, but Jörn didn't want to interrupt the good conversation at that point so I encouraged him to stay for a little while longer. Helen and I got back to Hamminkeln only a few minutes before Roddy and Erika and their son Alexander arrived. They moved to Switzerland about a year and a half ago, and then to Belgium just a few weeks ago, so came over this weekend just to see us. :-) It was great being able to chat with them with only Alexander (two years old) and Helen running around, before the rest of the loudness arrived with Jörn. They stayed for dinner and until Roddy was falling asleep and we wanted our children to be doing the same, and then we all went to bed early. We haven't been able to get rid of the colds we've had ever since we arrived (Jörn, Katie, Helen, and I), and none of us were feeling great.

Sunday, February 7th, Helen and I went in the C family's car and Jörn and the rest left a bit later in the B family's car to get to church for the end of the first service, to be able to say hi and bye to people. Very much enjoyed and appreciated William's sermon in the second service (he's so REAL--he doesn't sound like he's "preaching" at all, and his Irish accent doesn't hurt the delivery any, either--I certainly understand it better than some U.S. accents, to be honest!), they called us up and prayed for us to send us back to Cyprus, and then it was lots and lots of goodbyes and hugs and then a few more. I didn't cry too much...

After church we went out to a favorite Chinese restaurant that we used to go to with Jörn's father, and our friends from Belgium (well, now living there...she's from the U.S., he's from Scotland) joined us. More goodbyes, then both cars to Angermund, where we returned the C family's car to them and I put Helen in the sling and joined the rest of the family in the B family's car, which has 6 seats. And then we drove to Mülheim to have coffee and cake in our very own flat, as guests of our renter. It was admittedly bit of a strange feeling, and she is VERY different than we are, so that we hardly recognized it with all the fancy lighting and other elegance. However, she is very nice and obviously taking care of the place better than we did, so there's no cause for concern, rather, for reassurance. She intends to stay there at the very least until her daughter graduates from high school, which isn't for more than three more years, which was also reassuring, as we do NOT want to be trying to find renters from Cyprus.

After Lukas and Jacob had finished their cake, we all had a tour of the house to see the changes, and then the boys walked down the street to Peggy's house, and a little while later, Marie joined them. Without Marie to chase Helen around, it was a little less relaxing for us, but we stayed until nearly 6:00, and then went to Peggy's ourselves, where we stayed until a little past 8:00. It was great having one more evening with Peggy and Florian, only planned the day before, so reminding ourselves of the fact that that had been an unexpected treat was helpful in staying more-or-less cheerful as we said goodbye. This time, we put Helen in Katie's carseat and Katie and Lukas shared a seatbelt, and we were glad it was only a 35-minute drive, because Lukas, Katie, and Jacob squabbled the entire drive back. (We'd left Helen's carseat with the C family when we returned the car, as although it's our own carseat, we have more-or-less permanently loaned it to Margaret and Phil for their grandchildren, and had only "borrowed" it ourselves while we were here, so the Cs will return it to Margaret and Phil.)

And now it's Monday and I can't get away with any more time at the computer. We have a visitor at the moment (G from my August posts, for those interested) who will be here for lunch, then we're heading (via three trains and a bus) to spend the evening with the R family in Ratingen. That's our very last appointment while up in this part of Germany, as at 11:45 tomorrow we'll be getting on the train and heading for Frankfurt. On Thursday evening we fly back HOME, to Cyprus. :-)

February 8, 2010: Germany, part six: the third week

It's now Monday, February 8th, and I should be packing, but most of this had been written already, so I'm going to go ahead and post it! Besides, it's hard to pack when some clothes are still drying. :-)

Monday, February 1st: This was one of our earliest starts to a day, as Jörn drove me (and Helen and Helen's car seat) to a slightly further away train station to get the train at 7:30. If I'd taken the train from here, I would have had to leave at 6:45 and after a nine-minute train-ride, had to wait for my connection for 35 minutes, so my husband took pity on me. Unusually, I only had to take two trains: one from Mehrhoog to Duisburg, and then one more to Krefeld, where my friend Sabine picked us up at 9:00 for the La Leche League meeting that I had attended every first Monday of the month since Marie was four months old, and then after I qualified, had helped lead for a couple of years. After LLL (three of us leaders--Ute, who was the original leader and is still there, and with whom I've been pregnant at the same time several times, as she had three children when we met and I had one, and now she has six and I have five, Sabine, and myself--and only three "regular" mothers), our friend Elisabeth picked us up to take us to her house in Neukirchen-Vluyn, where Helen devoured grapes and I devoured made-by-Elisabeth candied almonds, and then I read and Helen slept, while Elisabeth went to pick up Jörn and the other children in Angermund.

In the meantime, Jörn and the others had left at 8:45 for a much less pleasant event. The children were happy to be dropped off at Jill's house, who had also kept her five-year-old, Eva, home from preschool to play with Katie, but then Jörn met Phil and Margaret to ride with them to a funeral. Just over a month before, Ralf had been perfectly healthy, traveling and evangelizing in Siberia, and his sudden, and very short, illness had been quite a shock. We'd heard last Sunday that he was in the hospital and not at all well, and Monday morning he died. While not the happiest of places to be, Jörn did say that it was a very good funeral, and he also got to see several people he wouldn't have otherwise seen, from the mission work he'd been involved in for the seven years before we left Germany. (He had planned to attend one scheduled meeting, but the date got changed on short notice, and he couldn't go to the new appointment.) After the funeral Jörn took the train back to Angermund (as Phil and Margaret were staying for the coffee time afterwards, which Jörn also would have liked to stay for had they known before-hand that it was planned.)

So when Elisabeth with Jörn and the children got home to Elisabeth's, as well as the two teenagers, John and Rebecca, we had lunch, and also climbed up in the attic to visit all the things we stored there when we left Germany just over a year ago. I'd really wanted to get the rest of our photo albums (we only took about ten years' worth with us to Cyprus, and I've missed not having Marie's baby pictures), but we just don't have space in our luggage and I don't want to risk sending them by mail, so I didn't even open the box. :-( Jörn got his winter coat (which, for no reason I could understand, he'd insisted on leaving there, and had really missed since we arrived in Germany, although he was able to borrow one) and I got my maternity clothes and the baby clothes that I'd stored. Maybe I should have let the doctor tell me the gender, because it seems silly to take all of them to Cyprus now, but oh well. There are very few boy clothes (I only kept my very favorite things, and although boy babies are just as cute as girl babies, their clothes aren't...) and girl clothes only for the first few months, as Helen was four months old when we moved to Cyprus, so everything girl and unisex from that size up is in Cyprus already anyway. But there are also the sweaters my grandma made and two snowsuits (one bright pink, one red), which we most certainly won't need in Cyprus...and are probably going to take anyway.

Gary arrived towards the end of lunch, in time for cake (I'm not sure I ever realized before how much cake one eats in Germany, even though I DID remember how good it is...), and we were all able to talk while John and Rebecca entertained the children. Around 5:00 Gary and Elisabeth took us (in two cars this time, so one trip) to the K family's house in Viersen.

Leigh K. is one of the two people at IBCD who have been there longer than I have (or had...but I AM technically still a member) been, definitely one of my longest-standing friends. She's another U.S.ian married to a German and I absolutely love her sense of humor and appreciate how well she understands me. And yes, Leigh, I'd be writing that even if I didn't know you're reading my blog, and no, there isn't anything else I would have written if I'd thought you weren't! LOL For several years in a row the K's hosted an open house on December 26th, to eat lots of food and play games, which we enjoyed very much, and we weren't the only family who thought it was a pity that it only happened once a year. So it got turned into a monthly "games evening", the first Friday of every month for another several years, almost always meeting at the K family's house. We weren't able to make it to the February games evening, but this Monday just for us was just as nice, and less chaotic with fewer people! Connie and her daughter Vida also came for the evening, Connie being the fourth-longest member of IBCD having arrived very shortly after I did. In a church with an annual turn-over of about 1/3 of the congregation, it's fairly noticable who the "old-timers" are!

Dieter went to sleep at his mother's house, as there were so many people in his, and he would be getting up early for work, Anna slept in her room, four of our children and Lindsey slept in the living room, and we were given Leigh and Dieter's room while Leigh slept in Lindsey's room. Except once we'd gotten everyone else settled down, Leigh and I hung out in Lindsey's room for another couple of hours talking. Another good reason that we're staying at the Globe Europe headquarters and not with friends, as I would stay up talking late EVERY night, but I certainly enjoyed it! Helen and I finally went to bed a little past midnight and slept very well.

Tuesday, February 2nd: The next morning Leigh drove us to the train station (in two trips--it was very icy and we definitely weren't risking squishing), where we took--as with almost every single trip we've taken!--three trains to Honrath, where Lisa S. had been going to pick us up in their 15-passenger van. (They have seven children, the seventh having been born a couple of weeks after we left Germany.) However, we were met by Paul in their five-passenger, four-wheel-drive jeep, as the van was iced in and they couldn't get it out. He'd taken time out of work just to get us and take us up to the house (and we did squish everyone in--it was a short drive on very quiet streets, in a 4WD), and then he went back to work. We had lunch and a wonderful afternoon with the S family, then Paul got home from work, so we had time with him, as well, and then dinner, and then he took six of us back to the train station. Marie stayed there to spend the night, as their daughter Alice is a good friend of hers.

Three trains later, Jacob, Lukas, Helen and I arrived in Hamminkeln. Jörn and Katie got out in Düsseldorf to take the train to Angermund to pick up the C family's car again, and didn't get home until quite awhile after we did. When we changed trains in Wesel, it was raining, and I was not looking forward to the walk home. It's quite short, but pouring rain gets one wet very quickly. However, by the time we arrived in Hamminkeln, only nine minutes later, it had changed to nice, fluffy snow! I was happy to not get wet--Jörn was less excited about the drive in the thickly falling snow.

Wednesday, February 3rd: Brad and Jan got back from the U.S. on Monday, so we'd arranged to meet with them this morning. Jan had all our sympathy for not making it because of the jet lag, but it was good talking with Brad for a couple of hours, and we arranged to have breakfast together on Friday. After lunch, Jörn left on the train to meet Marie in Düsseldorf, where she (together with Alice and Emma) arrived by train. He saw Alice and Emma off on their train back home, and then they took another two trains to Kaldenkirchen, where our friend Caro picked them up. They arrived at the house just a few minutes before the other children and I arrived there by car at 5:00 p.m.. Her husband, Lutz, unfortunately couldn't be there as he was on a business trip, but the children enjoyed Jonathan (21 months) and his toys, and we were pleased to have Spätzle, a type of noodle, for dinner. Caro took Jörn (and Jacob and Lukas--this time Jörn had a "schöner Tag ticket", which is good for the whole state and for up to five people, so it didn't matter if he took someone over six this time--he's often taken Katie because she doesn't have to pay, being under six years old) to the train station, and the girls and I headed home in the car.

Thursday, February 4th: Jörn and Katie got the train at 11:45 and the rest of us left a little bit later in the car to visit the H family in Oberhausen, in their new house. I found their house easily enough and left the three older children with Andrea and Nils (16 and 14), to go pick up Jörn and Katie. Finding the main train station with all the one-way streets was less easy, and then they weren't there. Drove around again, finally parked and got out to look for them. It turned out that their train was 20 minutes late, which is rather unusual. Also, the train station was eerily quiet, as all the public workers in the city were on strike today, so no busses or trams were running. That also explained why Andrea and Nils were home--anyone who lived more than a 30-minute walk from school was not required to go to school, and very few people in their right mind would go to school on a day they've been told that they don't have to!! But I did eventually find them and we got back to the house, where Barbara was starting to make lunch, having just gotten home from Mini-Club, the playgroup that she leads and that I attended for over seven years on Thursday mornings--first with Marie and Jacob, then with Lukas, and finally with Katie. Barbara also became a good friend of mine and had babysat for us some, including having Marie, Jacob, and Lukas overnight the night that Katie was born, and Marie and Katie overnight the night Helen was born, and was the very first person outside of our family (except for the midwives!) to see Katie and Helen after their respective births.

After lunch we headed for the place where Mini-Club meets, as Barbara had arranged a get-together for the "old-timers". Several of them came without children, but we made quite a large group--I think there were eight or 10 other children, and at least 14 parents. Some of them had been there with me with Lukas already, so people I'd met six or so years ago. The hottest topic was of course how all their children were doing in their respective pre-schools (or in some cases, schools), but it was a good afternoon.

Back at the Hs' house we talked a bunch, while the children played with Andrea, and then we had dinner (not much...a big lunch and all that cake again!) and came home, this time in two cars, as the B family from Mülheim came by to lend us their car until Sunday night.

Friday, February 5th: A friend came in the morning to meet with Jörn. We were actually a bit nervous about this meeting, as we thought we were going to be "told off" about something, and didn't know what, but it turned out that he wasn't upset with us and that his insistance about meeting with Jörn privately and face-to-face, and not on the phone, had more to do with what he wanted to share of his own life than anything else. It was a good meeting and we're glad it worked out at the last minute for him to come up to Hamminkeln.

At 12:00 we left for Düsseldorf, where we had lunch with Marie's violin teacher. Marie had looked forward to playing the violin together, but Katie ended up occupying rather too much of the limited time by locking herself in the bathroom and not being able to get the door open again. I was eventually able to talk her through turning the key to pull it out, and after trying several other keys from the house (German inside doors usually have what I think of as "old-fashioned" keys, and sometimes--but not always--all the keys in one house will be the same, or at least some of them will be), we found one that would unlock the door. Marie did get to play one piece for Frau S, but then we unfortunately had to rush off to get back to Mülheim for Mutter-Kind-Kreis and Jungschar.

After the playgroups, we went to the B family's house for dinner. Jörn sweated a bit parking their car in their narrow driveway (between a hedge and a step) while they watched, but other than that, cheese fondue and great conversation and our children all occupied with their three children made for a very nice evening that surprised us by not ending until after 11:00!

I did finally start to wonder why I bothered bringing pajamas for at least the little ones along on this trip...the vast majority of the evenings, they've been taken sleeping out of the car or off of the train and put in their beds in their clothes. At least, over the years, I've finally stopped packing more than one pair of pajamas per person: if the one pair they have is in the laundry at bedtime, oh well--a t-shirt works just as well!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February 3, 2010: Germany, part five: the second weekend

Saturday, January 30th, had been planned for months: the M family, who used to live in Germany but had since moved to Belgium and then on to England, was going to be in Germany for the weekend, so planned to come to breakfast. Then my brother-and-law and his wife were going to drive from Hessen (well over three hours one way) to have lunch and spend the afternoon with us. Well, a few weeks ago, the M family had already let us know that they unfortunately weren't going to make it to Germany after all, so I was able to arrange for my friend Andrea (who was, like Caro, one of "my" first mothers at my La Leche League meetings) and her family to come for breakfast. Silas is 14 months younger than Katie, but although Katie is by no means petite, he was taller than she was when she was two and he was one--now at not quite 3 1/2 he towers over her. And seven-week-old Carlotta could easily pass for a four-month-old! Just before they arrived, my brother-in-law called to say that after 45 minutes of shoveling snow, he still couldn't get his car out of the driveway, so they weren't going to be able to come after all, so we ended up inviting Andrea and Christian to stay for lunch, as well, and telephoned another family, Amanda and Raymond with their two-year-old Isaac, to come for coffee. Just as Andrea and her family were leaving, Amanda and Raymond arrived. They weren't able to stay long, but it was very pleasant, and having a quiet evening wasn't bad, either.

Sunday, January 31st: Jörn and Jacob left at 8:30 in Brad's car for the first service at our church, as Jörn was sharing at both services, and the rest of us joined them for the second service. We had a "faith lunch" (IBCD-ese for pot-luck) afterwards, so got to spend more time with a lot of people we wouldn't otherwise have seen, and as our family was told to go through the line first, we even got to eat something! (At our good-bye party, people were talking to us non-stop and by the time I got to go get food, a lot of people had already had seconds and there was no meat left, no bread, and not a lot of much else, either, so I confess to having much appreciated getting to go first this time.) We stayed until just about everyone had left, and then realized that if we left then, we would be 45 minutes too early to the M family's house in Dinslaken, which is WAY too early to arrive at a German home. (Five minutes at the most is acceptable, generally.) Judy pointed out that Daniel was sleeping and we'd be more than welcome to come hang out with her for awhile, which we very happily did. We'd been hoping to have lunch with her the week before, but she'd had to cancel because she wasn't feeling well, so it was great getting to spend some time with just her.

We then drove to Dinslaken for coffee and cake at Frank and Ulla's, with their three children, Daniel, Christina, and Benjamin. They used to live in Mülheim and I knew Ulla from Mutter-Kind-Kreis, but they'd moved to Dinslaken quite awhile ago (about six years ago, I think). However, we've kept in touch all this time, mostly with phone calls, and a very few-and-far-between visits. The last time they visited us they only had Benjamin with them, who is a year older than Lukas, so most of the children didn't even remember Daniel (18) and Christina (15). In the car Katie asked me again where we were going (it's been rather confusing to the children in any case!), and when I said "to Ulla and Frank, with their children Daniel, Christina, and Benjamin," she said, "No, the papa's name is Thomas!" I repeated all their names, not understanding at all why she was so sure that Frank must be Thomas...until Marie pointed out that our friends the H family, Ute and Thomas, who have seven children, also have a Daniel, a Christina, and a Benjamin! And "Ute" sounds pretty similar to "Ulla", so I could then understand quite well why Katie was so convinced that I had "the papa's" name wrong. :-)

Except for the tuba demonstration (Benjamin is learning to play the tuba, and for all I know, is doing very well, but it happened to be Jacob and Lukas doing the demontration...), we enjoyed the afternoon very much, and being "just us" for dinner for the second evening in a row once we got home wasn't bad either. Not that I actually had any dinner--once again, we had been completely filled up with the wonderful German "coffee and cake" time, which never, but never, includes only one type of cake, and obviously, one wants to taste the various types, all home-made. Far too delicious. Most of the others didn't eat much--except for Jacob, of course. And then we all, as always, collapsed into bed.

February 3, 2010: Germany, part four: the second week

At this point, this is more for me than for anyone else, but for anyone who wants to wade through my notes, here you go...

Monday, January 25th: We walked "downtown" for some grocery shopping and to get information for sending packages to Germany, as we're almost definitely going to have too much luggage for the airplane, at the very latest after I've picked up my maternity clothes and the baby clothes that we stored in a friend's attic when we moved to Cyprus. I'd just been discussing with Jörn the possibility of squeezing the seven of us into the VW Polo (five seats)--something we would definitely do in quite a few of the countries we've visited (or rather, HAVE done...including in Cyprus)--but would generally never dream of doing in law-abiding (and fast-driving) Germany. Jörn wasn't getting convinced. As we kept walking, we saw a Mercedes pull very slowly out of a side street and start to turn--and keep turning, sliding around almost a full 360 degrees in the middle of the snow-and-ice-covered intersection. I turned to Jörn and said, "Never mind--everyone is riding in his or her own seatbelt." So much for that discussion.

In the afternoon, we were supposed to be having coffee with a friend, but she couldn't come, so a telephone call was arranged instead. While Jörn was still on the phone, Katie, Helen and I took the train to Düsseldorf, where we got to spend a little bit of time with my friend Margaret, then I left the girls at her house and walked to the C family's house, where I picked up the car again, drove it back to Margaret's, and loaded in carseats (which we had left at their house the night before) and girls, and then drove to Mülheim, where Jörn and the other three children were already at the G family's house. Their five-year-old daughter, Hannah, and Katie are good friends and both had talked about the other (and sent dictated e-mails via their mothers) all year long, and were very excited to have an evening together. Jörn had the car of the director of Globe Europe, who was in the U.S. at the time. Another good evening, and another one where we got home and collapsed into bed.

Tuesday, January 26th: Only one visit today, from 10:00 a.m. to late evening! We spent the day with the R family in Odenthal, near Leverkusen, and as we always do when we visit this family, we went for a walk after lunch. They managed to dig up a sled in the garage, although their daughters are grown up (and we just got the news that Sophia is engaged--yay!--but we won't be able to go to her wedding, which is three days before our baby is due...), which the children had a wonderful time with. I even got on it, but only to be pushed (by the three older children) on level ground. :-)

Wednesday, January 27th: We found out that using Brad's car was going to cost us too much, so we all took the train to Viersen, where Jonathan of the T family met us at the train station. They have 8 children (only five at home now), so a van plenty big enough to pick us up, and plenty of people around to entertain each other. :-) Lunch (during which I discovered that Helen LOVES spring onions! Very strange child, but very convenient for me--she ate all of mine), lots of talking, and the K family (another five children, youngest born after we left Germany) came over for the afternoon, as well. After dinner Jonathan drove us home--such a luxury to neither be on the train NOR driving. :-)

Thursday, January 28th: Eddi (director of Globe Europe Germany) and his wife Angie made breakfast for us, here, and we spent the morning together, which was very nice. They spent five years in Pakistan, going there when their children were four and six years old, and it was really encouraging to be able to compare stories and receive both understanding and helpful suggestions about dealing with children and cultural differences with families, etc. Eddi also told us that Brad had let him know that we could use his car for something we could afford after all, so we got to head to Mülheim again with two cars, to "coffee and cake" with the R family, Angelika and Erich and their son Philipp. So much cake, so yummy! And the weather had finally warmed up a little so that snow became the "right kind"--Marie, Jacob, and Lukas each built a snowman in the back yard. Maybe when I'm back in Cyprus I'll figure out how to add photos. (That is, my friend Sue will add them for me. :-) ) When we left, Jörn said that this might be our only chance to go to Maredo, an Argentinian restaurant that he loves. We used to eat there as a family once in awhile with his father (and Jörn ate there probably a couple of times a month with his father), but it had been quite a long time since we'd been there. Marie, Lukas, and Katie only ordered a chicken wing appetizer and french fries, and although Jörn, Jacob, and I did get regular meals, I could barely finish mine after all the cake from Angelika. Jörn was also more than full, and Helen got plenty by getting french fries from all of her siblings. Jacob, however, finished his adult meal, finished his siblings leftover chicken wings and french fries (not one of the three managed to eat all four chicken wings each), and then asked for more. We said no. If he eats like this at age 10, I can only shudder to think what it's going to be like. And yes, he'd eaten plenty of cake, too.

It was raining when we left and by the time we got back to Hamminkeln, there was hardly any snow to be seen, so we thought that maybe the snow was over, however...

Friday, January 29th: We woke up to a snow-covered world yet again! The rabbit tracks all around the building were really cool. Jörn left early to run errands (talk with the bank about the fact that he'll be taking parental leave again before his parental leave for Helen has run out, pick up his glasses, and I think a couple of other things), taking Marie with him, and the rest of us left at about 11:45 for Mülheim. We first stopped at the doctor's office for me to pick up the results of my blood tests (everything normal, as they always have been, but I'm steadily adding "risk categories" with the years...), then bought Labello (lip balm, I think would be the generic term, Americans would say Chapstick, but anyway...) for all the children, then met Jörn and Marie at Konstanze's house at 1:15 for lunch. Individually made pancakes--yummy. :-) Konstanze runs Mutter-Kind-Kreis, and when we first started going, her youngest daughter was still part of it, but is long since out. We did get to see all three of her children, but unfortunately not her husband. Afterwards we left in three cars (our two and Konstanze's) to go to Mutter-Kind-Kreis/Jungschar, and after that we went to Peggy's house for dinner. Yes, we can get everywhere on public transportation if we have to, but again, it was very nice having vehicles!

February 3, 2010: Germany, part three: the first weekend

Saturday, January 22nd: We drove to Almere, near Amsterdam, to visit the P family. Victor and Jörn met 20 or so years ago, and I met Victor and his wife Inge, and their then-new baby in Texas in 1996. They moved to the Netherlands about 6 or 7 years ago and we visited regularly, their children (they now have five) and ours also hitting it off very well. Being only 35 kilometers from the Dutch border here, it shortened the drive even more. :-) After lunch, we went to a nature reserve (10 children age 16 months to 13 years in a typical Dutch house with relatively thin walls make for unhappy neighbors!) where we saw quite a few different animals, the most exciting to me being the otters! And lots of snow and ice, and as we were walking back, it started sleeting. We had a great visit and safe drives both ways, despite the weather, and very, very grateful for the loan of the two cars.

Sunday, January 23rd: Helen and I took the L family's car to Düsseldorf, leaving here later than planned, as getting out of bed was quite difficult with jet-lag, or rather, by this time more of a Katie-and-Helen-lag. I missed the tram I'd originally intended to get and thought the next one was half an hour later, so stayed chatting with the L family for 15 minutes or so. I got back to the street where the streetcar stop was in time to see a streetcar just leaving--got to the stop and discovered that although the first few hours of the day were every 30 minutes, the next one after the one I'd wanted to get was only 16 minutes later, and that after that they were every 20 minutes for the rest of the day. So much for getting to church for the 9:30 service, as I didn't even get the tram until 9:40. But it was a comfortable tram and a great-grandmother had a nice time talking with me and playing with Helen, and the walk through the woods was also enjoyable. I got to church in time to hear the last five minutes or so of Jörn's presentation, but that didn't matter, as then between the services I got to talk with people who had been in the first service, and of course was there for the whole second service, and then we hung around for quite awhile afterwards.

We very briefly stopped by Judy's house and waved to Daniel from the doorway--we all have colds and didn't dare risk getting closer to Daniel, who has Leuko-dystrophy and a severly compromised immune system, but it was wonderful to see him at home, as he'd spent much of December in the hospital--and then went to Margaret and Phil's house. We still had one car, and one child rode with Janet, who was also going to their house, and someone else must have ridden with Margaret and Phil. We had lunch there and a nice afternoon, including treasure hunts for everyone (licorice allsorts for me, baked beans for Jörn, candy and bubbles for the children!), and then Jörn returned the C family's car to them (they live quite close) and walked back, and we all took the train (as always, three trains...) back to Hamminkeln. We'd had such a large, late lunch that we didn't really want dinner, but Jacob simply always wants dinner, so Margaret packed "a few things" for the train. It turned out to be Brötchen, salami, mortadella, welsh cakes, mince pies, cucumber slices, and carrot sticks. We finished the welsh cakes on Friday and the mince pies Saturday, I'm not sure about the rest. Quite a feast for a snack!