Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

This was my first time back in the U.S. for Thanksgiving since 2002, so the first one for three of my children, and the first one in memory for two of the other three.

My mother took Lukas and Katie out to the garden in the morning to harvest what was left. There wasn't a whole lot, but they were very pleased with themselves:

The morning was occupied with various activities. Mom, Katie, and Jörn folded won-tons:

My sister-in-law played with her two littlest nieces:

The big cousins played tag and hide-and-seek outside in the gorgeous weather:

Dad and my brother (who requested that his name and face not appear on my blog) put a new cat-door in the new outside door they got for the bathroom:

Here's the old one, which is proof for why it had to be replaced: (we didn't take a photo of the new one after it was installed and it's raining now)

Then my sister Erin and my sister-in-law took a turn at the won-ton folding:

 ...and various people flopped on the couch.

Finally, the turkey:

For some reason, we didn't get any photos of my Grandma, who was happily able to come for a couple of hours and enjoyed herself very much, nor of my aunt and cousin, or of the festive tables. There were 19 of us all together. My sister-in-law did take some photos, which I might be able to add later, but for now I just wanted to get this posted.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010



"I can get a bathroom in there in two days."

"Do you like my princess?"

"And then she said okay."

"I'm not sure if they're open then."

"We go through a lot of milk in our house."

"Oh, I think we'll be in the Mediterranean for a good long time still."

"Leave the dog alone!"

"So, do you think you'll get the roof done this week?"

"This storm wasn't anywhere near as bad as they said it would be."

"Someone needs to change the baby!"

"Dog! A pet it!"

"See? The princess has a pink skirt!"

"So do you really like the Nook?"

"Leave the dog alone!"

"Who wants to see the movie?"

"Dog! I like it!"

"Okay, so I might not have it painted in that time."

"Do we need more milk?"

"We raced the boats in the ditch canal."

"I need to go on Farmville because my crops have all died!"

"Did you see this photo of a bear?"


"Turn the TV off!"

"So did you hear that his sister had the baby?"

"Just help me."

"Don't scream at the cat."

"They are shooting ducks."

"These are cabernet glasses."

"I'm sure she needs her diaper changed."

"This is fake sugar but it has the same volume."

"What are you looking for?"

"This toaster is slow."

"He's a Cream-of-Wheater."

"Pick up the train pieces."

"Away! A throw it!"

"Can I go on e-mail?"

"Where are my socks?"

"So what time are you leaving?"

"No, I don't want to see the movie."


"And he said, 'But he CAN'T go back with them!' "

"No, not even when he was a baby."

"How short can I make it?"

"No, you don't need to be on there."

"I'd just like to know if it's fixable."

"These socks never stay on."

"When are we going skiing?"

"No, she peels it herself."

"Leave the dog alone!"

Guess what: there are 14 people living in this house at the moment, and we had up to 18 on the weekend. And two dogs (well, just one now--the other one went home with my sister) and three cats (not that we've seen more than two--one of them stays away from children). And it did snow Saturday night but was raining Sunday morning and has been raining almost ever since, and now it's Tuesday morning and I'm going just a bit stir-crazy...

Friday, November 19, 2010

California at last!

November 17th--We flew from Minneapolis to San Francisco, and were met at the airport by my sister, Erin:

Erin called Dad that we had arrived, and he came to the airport with the van. By the time we got back to my sister's house (ten minutes from the airport), my mother had also arrived at the house, and Helen knew Grandma immediately:
Each of the children gave Grandma one rose, one for each decade, as we arrived on her birthday. :-) (Unfortunately, the photo with the roses didn't come out so well.)

We then drove to my parents' house, stopping halfway for dinner and then stopping again to visit my sister Ruth at work, but didn't take any photos.

Thursday, November 18th--Lukas helped Grandma make pancakes and bacon, and then he made fried eggs for those who wanted them:

 Then my future brother-in-law and I put a new tarp on the roof of the shed in preparation for the storm expected today. First I took off the old one--most of it was disinigrated, but I had to remove the boards holding it down and sweep all the pine-needles and leaves (and wonderful composted soil consisting of pine-needles, leaves, and shingles) off of the roof.

 Here we're nailing the boards on the new tarp, while Jacob hands us nails and Mom stands down below, holding the ladder and telling us to be careful:
The only injury of the day was a nasty splinter I got from the broom. I'm definitely happier hammering than sweeping.

This was the most fun--this side of the shed is two storeys above the ground, so we decided that lying on the roof and nailing under would be easier than trying to reach the eaves from a ladder:

 And Ruth got bonding-time with one of her nieces while her fiance and sister worked on the roof!

 Once we'd finished, Mom and Jörn took Jacob and Lukas to be fitted for their tuxedos for the wedding:

 In the afternoon we went to Grass Valley to see my Grandma. The colors are nice enough here in Weimar, but just half an hour away were that much more gorgeous. This tree was in front of the nursing home where my grandma lives:

 Youngest great-grandchild Elisabeth with her Great-Grandma Elizabeth:

 Thanksgiving dinner (one week early) in the nursing home. Residents were allowed to have two guests each, but when my mom asked if we could all be there, they said yes, of course, although they had to set up an extra table in the entryway for us:
There were a few other tables there with larger families, as well. The staff members were all wonderfully attentive and are so nice. If someone has to be in a nursing home, this is a great one to be in and my grandma enjoys the social aspect as well as the care. It was a little bit difficult for me seeing her there, though--when we visited in January, she was in the assisted living facility next door and had her own room with familiar furniture, etc. Now she shares a room with two other ladies and it definitely feels much more like an "institution." Also, Grandma wasn't entirely sure who we all were and asked several times if the baby was a boy or a girl and what her name was. Every time I answered, though, she did laugh and say that she should be able to remember that name!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More adventures in the first week

We're now back from playing at the playground in the snow, and I'll possibly get those photos on here eventually, but in the meantime, I'll back up to...

Day 3

We had separate bookings for our flights to Germany and back, and from Germany to the U.S. and back, as that works out considerably less expensive than booking all the way from Cyprus to the U.S. and back. It also gives us the advantage of extra time in Germany to visit friends--just flying visits on the way out, but we'll have nine days in Germany on the way back home.

So Day 3 started with getting up at 5:30 to leave the house at 6:00, to get the train at 6:08. We got to the platform with all of our stuff at the same time the train did, but the rest of the day was characterized by hurry-up-and-wait. Four minutes to the airport train station in Düsseldorf, another 10 minutes or so walking through the train station and taking the Sky Train, and getting in line at the check-in counter...where once it was our turn, it took them over an hour to get us checked in. The system couldn't handle eight people and kept kicking everything out because it had been too long since it had started. We weren't very impressed. Also, we'd asked at the beginning whether to show the children's American or German passports and were told it didn't matter, so handed over the German ones, as the American ones of course have no residency permit in them. (For that matter, neither does mine, as my permanent residance visa is in my expired passport--it's still valid, I just didn't have it with me.) Once the attendant had nearly finished the check-in process, he discovered that the children don't have ESTA had to go through it all again with the American passports after all. And then he was confused about why the children don't have visas in their U.S. passports...

Once that was finished, he told us to hurry to the gate, so the children and I started in the direction of security while Jörn headed in the opposite direction to take the booster seat to "special baggage" and met us at security. After half running through the airport to security, we had to wait in a long, slow line. Finished security, half ran to the gate, where we were told to wait at the entrance to go on the bus first with the children...and waited. Finally got on the plane...and then we REALLY waited. After quite some time, the captain announced that we'd be taking off late due to high winds in Amsterdam, but I was sure I hadn't heard the amount of time correctly, because it sounded like he said 45 minutes. However, after another long while, the announcement came that it wouldn't be 45 minutes after all, but an hour and 20 minutes.

In the end, I don't actually know when we took off, nor how long we were in the air. I just know that we'd boarded the plane not long after 8:00 and arrived in Amsterdam four hours later, although the flight is normally only 30 minutes. Amsterdam airport's average of 70 flights an hour had been reduced to 30 flights an hour, and the little city-hoppers were obviously lowest priority. Not being too optimistic about making our connection despite the planned two-hour layover and the hope that our connection would also be delayed,  I sent a text to a friend in Cyprus asking her to send a Facebook message to Michaela, our friend in Minnesota, that we would probably be delayed. I didn't know if we'd have time in Amsterdam to contact anyone, so that way Michaela would at least be alerted to check the punctuality of our incoming flight.

Upon arrival in Amsterdam, we hurried off the plane in hopes of finding our transatlantic flight to be delayed...but it wasn't. Jörn got in line at the transfer desk for re-booking, while the children and I occupied ourselves in a rather nice waiting area that did claim to have "free public wi-fi", although I couldn't manage to get my computer to agree with that, and wasn't willing to pay €8.50 for 15 minutes. The children were actually amazing, considering that by this time we were pretty hungry (the flight attendants on the city-hopper had distributed all they had, which wasn't much, as they'd only expected us to be on the plane for 30 minutes, not four hours!) and that we had no idea what was happening next. For some reason, our Cypriot cell phone wouldn't make phone calls, but we were able to send texts, so I continued updating my friend Sue in Cyprus, and also texted friends of ours who live near Amsterdam.

While we were waiting, Marie tried out lots of ring tones on her new cell phone, which Helen enjoyed dancing to:

When they'd finished with us, they'd booked us onto the same flight 24 hours later and given us vouchers for a hotel, food, phone calls, and miles or money off KLM flights, all valid until August 2011! First of all, we went and had lunch, which we kept well within the limits of the vouchers by only drinking water, which was easy to do as they'd passed water bottles out to everyone various times while we were waiting. Then we went to the KLM service desk in the baggage claim area, intending to use the phone vouchers while we were there to call Sue in Cyprus and our friends near Amsterdam...but they didn't work with the phones within the baggage claim area. I could still text with Marie's cell phone, but still couldn't make phone calls. Sue hadn't heard back from Michaela, and by this time we were getting a little nervous that she might not see the messages before leaving for the airport. At the service desk we assigned a hotel (which included dinner and breakfast) and given seven "hotel kits". I'd hoped for at least a toothbrush and toothpaste, which they did include, as well as a great deal more:

The black bag at the top left contained: a t-shirt, deodarant, razor and shaving cream, hairbrush, toothbrush and toothpaste, moisturizing cream, laundry soap, and a pair of socks. It also had make-up remover, but I guess I'd already thrown that away before taking the photo. We didn't keep the razors, either, or much of the rest, but Katie was especially excited about the hairbrush and requested a photo of just that:
We used the t-shirts as nightshirts:
And as far as Helen was concerned, the most exciting thing about the hotel was the H's to be found all over the place:

Unfortunately, everything had taken so long that we no longer got to see our friends, although we were finally able to talk with Victor on the phone. He also was able to telephone Michaela, who had happily gotten Sue's message in time that we had missed our flight and would be coming 24 hours later, but as we didn't hear back from either Sue or Victor, we didn't know until arriving in Minneapolis that the messages had indeed gotten through!

Oh, and the shuttle bus to the airport was a bit of an adventure, too. The first one that came stopped, filled up, and left again--it only holds eight passengers, and there must have been dozens waiting just for this one hotel! While waiting for the next one, someone standing nearby spoke with us and said that she works at that hotel and would make sure we got on the next one, so when it arrived, she pushed forward and told the driver to let us on first. Another man who was waiting got pretty upset, saying that he'd been waiting for three buses and it wasn't fair, and called us "Asis" in German ("asocials"--in other words, the low-life of society) for having so many children. As we crowded into the bus (so much for only eight seats...I quickly got into the back row with Elisabeth in the sling and Marie, Helen, and Lukas all sat down with me, so that was five of us on a bench for three--we've fit our whole family in less space in other countries!), I counted heads and couldn't see Katie, so called up to Jörn, two rows ahead of me, "Where's Katie?" I expected an annoyed, "Stop panicking--she's right here!" but instead got, "I don't know--where is she?" The door was already closed, but out the window we saw Katie standing there calmly, not having noticed we were gone, and we shouted to the driver who opened the door again and let Katie in--allowing us to hear our fellow German strandee shout in German a sarastic, "Great father!"

Day 4

Despite being finally the day of our transatlantic flight, this was our least eventful day, which we were more than happy to have! The flight left only a little late and arrived on time and nothing at all dramatic happened. We'd been given three seats in one row and one each in four other rows. Marie traded hers with a man who was going to be some 10 rows away from his wife and baby daughter, and she was quite happy to have a seat on her own, and with trading around, we managed to get three seats together behind the three seats we already had together. People don't mind at all trading when they realize that the alternative is sitting next to an unaccompanied two-year-old!

We had a couple of exciting surprises waiting for us in Minneapolis. First of all, Michaela and her children were there, and everybody laughed as she and I both called out at the same time, "They're here!" Michaela's friend Deanna was also there, to help drive us home--and to lend us her eight-passenger van for the time we're here! She has eight children herself and they spent 10 years on the mission field. It was amazing being welcomed like that, especially my someone we'd never even met. In addition to all of that, there was snow! After what felt like years of summer (really only about six or seven months...), snow was VERY welcome.

Day 5
Our first night in the U.S. wasn't too bad. The older children had all gone to bed late enough that they actually slept all night, and Helen and Elisabeth were only awake for about two hours in the night, and Katie less than that. Actually, I think I'd be over jet-lag already now if it weren't for the little girls partying each night, but over-all, we're feeling considerably less sleep-deprived than usual.

After church on Sunday, we went to the home of an Indian couple from the church who had invited us to lunch and for Jörn to teach on prayer. It was a nice afternoon, with only one slightly dramatic incident, when Lukas and the piano collided. He claimed he was sitting still eating his lunch when he fell over against the piano...which was further away than Lukas is tall. In any case, we managed to create a butterfly bandage to hold the edges of the wound together and opted out of visiting the hospital. Which reminds me, I wanted to add steri-strips and/or butterfly bandages to my shopping list.

Day 6
And now we're up to yesterday, Monday! We went back to David and Pramilla's house to meet with some more intecessors who were eager to hear more from Jörn, taking Lukas, Helen, Elisabeth, and Michaela's son Jeremy. I didn't want Lukas going out to play in the snow while we weren't home, with the hole in his forehead, and Jeremy came with us to keep Lukas company, which was much appreciated. We had lunch there again, and the big people had an enjoyable, lazy afternoon at home while the smaller people went in and out, playing in the snow.

Day 7

This morning we all went out in the snow, although we took so long to find Helen's shoes that the older children were coming back in by the time Jörn, Michaela, the three little girls, and I were, going out.

 I didn't actually end up playing IN the snow because of Elisabeth in the sling, but I did get to swing!

Katie and Helen also had fun at the playground:

The pink snowsuit that Elisabeth is wearing is a hand-me-down from a friend who is originally from Minnesota (and whose daughters are now 15 and 17), so I'm wondering if this is where the snowsuit was from in the first place. :-) (Leigh, if you read this, do you want to comment?)

I also had fun watching a squirrel:

And Helen was thrilled to find some more H's on the way home:

Once we were home, Helen added some more H's to her collection:

And now, although my computer thinks it's 12:25 a.m. on November 17th, it's only 4:25 p.m. on the 16th here, and I'm turning off the computer to enjoy the rest of the time we have with Michaela and her family! Tomorrow the adventure continues, as we head for California.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


First of all, nope, visa issues are not resolved, and nobody at immigration said anything when we left Cyprus last week. We'll see if they say anything when we return in the middle of December...

Long-windedness is one of my best-known traits, but I'll try to keep the report on our first week of travel as short as possible! (Edited to add: this ended up only being the first two days, but I figured that I may as well post it now.)

Day 1

Our flight from Larnaka to Frankfurt wasn't until the afternoon, which was nice from the point of view of traveling, but a bit confusing for me with regards to packing! My preferred method is to gather everything on the couch, and then as soon as everyone is asleep, to pack in peace. I really don't like it when I'm standing there thinking about where the nail scissors are and that I need to locate two more pairs of socks for Lukas, and someone walks into the room and says "don't forget the toothpaste" (I've never forgotten the toothpaste) or "I want to take my pink sweatshirt" (yes, I know, that's why it's already on the couch) or "can you pack these 27 stuffed animals for me?" (no, what you can fit into your carry-on is what you may take). Okay, so there wasn't any real reason I couldn't have packed the evening before, but I didn't. So Day 1 started with me packing and simultaneously fielding questions and suggestions from all children and their father.

At 2:00 my husband drove me to the airport, along with three children, four suitcases, and various carry-ons, then drove home and parked the car. A friend then drove Jörn, the remaining three children, one suitcase, one booster seat, and a few more carry-ons to the airport. Helen had fallen asleep in the car on the first run to the airport, but didn't let it bother her.

 All of our stuff, minus my carry-on (on my back, and I also had Elisabeth in the sling while I took the photo):
 The flight from Larnaka to Frankfurt was completely uneventful, exactly as one wishes a flight to be. We got our bus from the airport to our friends' house with no problem and had a nice evening with them. Helen managed to knock a stool over on herself and split open her lip, but at this posting, six days later, it looks much better.

The night wasn't so great, with Helen awake and crying quite a bit. At one point I asked her if anything hurt, and she said, "Yes, hurt here," and rubbed her hand across MY forehead. She apparently realized that in the dark, I wouldn't be able to see if she touched her own forehead, which I think is rather clever for just two! So I gave in and gave her ibuprofen, which may or may not have helped. She did go back to sleep, but two hours later was awake and crying again.

Day 2
Happily, we didn't have to get up too early on Thursday, so weren't as exhausted as we could have been. We got to the busstop in plenty of time...and then missed the bus, because when we saw the bus coming, we all turned our backs on the bus to grab luggage, so the bus driver thought we didn't want that bus and drove on. We weren't sure if the next bus, 15 minutes later, would get us to our train on time, but there wasn't really anything else to do but try, so we did--and made it with six whole minutes to spare, because the train was five minutes late.

What we hadn't thought about was the date: November 11th. In Germany, that's the beginning of the "fifth season": Karneval. I have no idea why. But people go crazy, dressing up and partying, and the Karneval capital is Köln, where our train was headed. A group of women in our carriage was obviously on their way to the festivities and Jörn had to scold me once or twice for staring at them. We even took a couple of photos, but I stopped short of asking them to stand up to get a full-length view of the costume, so this isn't great, but gives an idea.
At 11:11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, they all opened miniature bottles of alcohol and shouted "Alaaf!" and drank them down. (In Düsseldorf, which was where I lived my first three years in Germany, everyone says "Helau!" but what either word means, I have no idea!)

The children were great in the train, enjoying it very much.

In Köln we changed trains (one ALWAYS changes in Köln, it seems), and in Düsseldorf changed to a local train, arriving at our final train station just over two hours after leaving Frankfurt--pretty impressive, I thought. And the walk to Phil and Margaret's house took all of five minutes, just because it was pretty slow-going with six children, five suitcases, nine carry-ons, and a booster seat.

My friend Peggy and her son Florian came over for awhile in the afternoon, bringing with them my wedding dress and a silk skirt which I had stored at her house when we moved to Cyprus. Margaret then got out her wedding dress for Marie to try on (it was only a little bit too big), and then Marie tried on mine (it was way too big):
 I also tried on my dress myself, but there are no photos: six full-term pregnancies and over 13 years of breastfeeding later, it doesn' button up the front.

The silk skirt, however, does fit, so I now have something to wear to my sister's wedding next month! And I tried on half a dozen of Margaret's blouses and even have a blouse to wear with it, not having realized that the blouse I do own to go with it is at home in Cyprus...

The boys enjoyed playing with Florian:
 We didn't really get any other nice photos, unfortunately.

The night went well, and Day 3 will come eventually in another post, as this one is already rather too long and we want to go out in the snow here in Minnesota!