Friday, April 29, 2011

Jacob's friends

When Jacob was five and a half, we had a social worker visit us in Germany because of Marie not being in school. (While the end of that story is long and complicated, the end of that visit was that the social worker said, "These children are lacking in nothing, and if the school authorities have a problem with it, that's their problem: this is not a case for social services.") While speaking with the children, he asked Jacob if he had any friends. Jacob rolled his eyes and said, "Oh, I have so many friends I can't even COUNT them! There's Jakey and Susan and Margaret and Florian and Konstanze and Judy and Daniel..." The social worker was reassured that Jacob wasn't isolated, and I was smirking inside.

What it hadn't occured to the social worker to ask was the AGES of any of the people Jacob listed. If I remember correctly, the youngest he listed was about two years old, the oldest probably mid-60s. Several were even his own age. But for him there was no difference: friends were friends. I've always had friends of all ages, as well, but I think I was more consious of that not being entirely typical, at least, not for a child. (Especially since friends of my own age were a rarity in any case, two of my closest for a long time being three years younger and 65 years older than I was, respectively.) Jacob was, at five and a half, and still is, at nearly 12, utterly and completely un-self-conscious of there being anything even slightly unusual about his closest friends being nine years old and 50-something.

One of his friends was Patricia, the 86-year-old mother of one of Jacob's sailing buddies, Tim. I first met Patricia at the anniversary party of mutual friends last summer, and as soon as she realized that I was Jacob's mother, her eyes lit up and she couldn't say enough good about Jacob. I hadn't even known that he'd met her! Turns out, he'd had lunch with her several times and enjoyed good conversations. As long as that's the kind of person my son is hanging out with behind my back, I'm not too worried about him. :-)

When I told Jacob the next day that I'd met Patricia, his eyes likewise lit up and he told me about the lunches they'd shared and how they talked about South Africa and baking and I don't know what else. But it was clear that Jacob had found a kindred spirit.

A couple of months ago, Patricia wasn't well and ended up having surgery. Jacob bugged me again and again to find out how she was and whether he could visit her, and I finally followed up and he was able to go see her. A week and a half ago she had surgery yet again. Two days later Jacob wasn't patient enough to keep waiting for me to be able to drive him to the clinic where Patricia was, so he rode his bike to see her, enjoying another visit. He didn't do it "to be nice", but because he wanted to, to spend time with his friend.

At the beginning of this week, Patricia had to undergo emergency surgery, but to everyone's surprise, wasn't recovering as quickly this time, and Jacob was looking forward to visiting her later in the week. However, Wednesday evening Tim phoned and said that his mother was only expected to live another hour or so, and would Jacob please come. So Jörn took Jacob to say goodbye to Patricia, something very difficult for anybody, but I couldn't help being immensely proud of my son. First of all, he was someone that they wanted to be there, someone that they knew was important to Patricia. That's pretty cool. Second, he went. He didn't stay long and didn't say more than her name, but he went. Several hours later, Patricia died.

This morning was Patricia's funeral. Obviously, I was feeling for Tim and the rest of his family, but Jacob is the one who is my son, the one I was hurting for most. I'd only met Patricia twice myself, and while I liked her quite well, I can't say that I really knew her. When we told Jacob yesterday morning that Patricia had, as expected, died in the night, he didn't look at me for awhile, just sat crying, quietly. But when I asked if he wanted to go to the funeral, he turned and looked at me full-on and said, "Of course!" as if he couldn't understand why on earth I would ask. He gave me more reason to be proud of him this morning, as he read aloud from First Corinthians 13 as part of the service, with a clear and steady voice.

Jacob isn't stingy with his friendship, but he is picky. He has no use for talking-down or false flattery, no interest in being popular or ever doing anything just because someone else does. (Hmm...he reminds me of someone.) Treat him like a generic such-and-such-aged boy, and you'll be lucky to even get monosyllables from him. But when he's respected as a fellow human-being and just plain liked, he really responds. I'm glad he got to know Patricia, and I'm glad Patricia got to know him.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Jacob's garden

We don't have much in the way of green space around our house, as most of it is covered in concrete. So last year Jacob built a garden box, after a lot of research about square-foot gardening, and which plants should go next to each other, and all sorts of stuff that I know nothing at all about. He didn't harvest much last year, as it gets VERY hot in the summer and everything more-or-less burned up. He sold and gave away a lot of tomato and pumpkin plants last year, and was pleased to have the feedback that other people, at least, did get a nice harvest!

This year he moved his planter (it's one meter by two meters) to a shadier area, and also rigged up an irrigation system with old irrigating lines he found lying around the property when we moved here. These are all photos that I found on my camera--apparently, Jacob was pleased with is project and wanted to document it, so I figured I'd post them here!

Last week, Jacob traded two cucumber plants to a neighbor for a two-year-old strawberry plant which had one strawberry on it. He's been carefully sprinkling salt on the ground around the planter to protect it from snails and slugs, and has been researching other (perhaps friendlier) ways to keep them away.

Last Friday he had his first harvest: two beans. Ironically, Jacob doesn't eat beans, or for that matter, any of the other vegetables he's planted! However, Jörn ate the two beans, and Jacob was very proud. (Unfortunately, Jörn made a crazy face while eating the beans and won't let me publish the photo, so all I have here is a photo of the beans about to be salted and eaten with lunch!)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jörn's and Lukas's week in Germany

Jörn and Lukas had a great time in Germany. They didn't take a whole lot of photos (having too much fun!), and I generally don't post photos of other people without their permission, so most of these photos are of Lukas.

Jörn and Lukas arrived in Düsseldorf Thursday evening and stayed the night with our friends Margaret and Phil. Friday morning our friend Barbara (who also happens to be the mother of Andrea, who stayed with us for five months and only just returned to Germany in March) picked them up in order to collect a suitcase full of things that Andrea had left here, as well as to take them to Mülheim, where Lukas had an appointment with the orthodontist. From there they walked to the home of some other friends, with whom they got a ride to the church retreat of our home church in Düsseldorf. That was from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon.

Some of my FB friends might have noticed my friend Katrina's comment that I should tell Lukas that the tadpoles are doing fine. This is where he collected them.

 Bonfire the second night of the retreat, complete with s'mores.

 Lukas enjoyed the children's program very much, as well as of course spending time with some old friends. Also meeting a LOT of new people, as the turn-over in the church reaches about 30% a year, being an English-language congregation in Germany. Only two people have been members there longer than I have been. More than once we returned to Germany after a month away and were greeted at the door by someone who had moved to Düsseldorf while we were gone, who welcomed us warmly and asked if it was our first visit. It was great to see people getting involved so quickly, but a bit startling at times!

Sunday afternoon Jörn met with the lady renting our flat in Mülheim, had dinner with our friend Peggy, and then left Lukas with Peggy (and incidentally, her son Florian, who is Lukas's best friend) and returned to Düsseldorf to stay with Margaret and Phil. I didn't ask them if I could post this photo, but it's such a nice one that I couldn't resist!

Monday through Wednesday Jörn had various meetings with people (including his diabetes specialist), and late Wednesday morning picked Lukas up from Peggy's massage practice and shop.

They had lunch with some more friends who have a large garden, where Lukas had a blast helping clear the grass and generally getting dirty. (I spoke with Jörn and Lukas on the phone that evening, while they were in the middle of a "discussion" about whether or not Lukas was going to have a shower. I suggested that Jörn tell Lukas he didn't have to take a shower, but then he was going to have to sleep on the floor, instead of in the nice clean bed, shared, by the way, with Jörn. Lukas had a shower.)

Tuesday Jörn had moved to the home of the C family, where he and Lukas also stayed Wednesday night. Apparently, they were having too much fun to take any photos! Thursday another friend visited them there, then drove them to the home of the T family in Viersen, where they stayed most of the night, leaving at 4:30 a.m. on Friday for the airport in Weeze. (They had flown with Condor to Düsseldorf International Airport, but returned with Ryanair from Niederrhein.)

One of Jörn's visits during the week was to the A family, to visit with them, of course, but also to visit their attic, which still contains far too much of our stuff. Jörn brought back the baby books of the four older children (I had Helen's here, as she was only four months old when we moved to Cyprus, and Elisabeth of course was born here) and our photo albums from 1994 to 2000. (No, I do NOT know what logic was operating when I only brought the albums from 2000 onwards when we moved here, and I've missed Marie's and Jacob's baby photos many times since!) Here are our photo albums from 1994 (the year we were married) through December 2009:

I've technically started the next photo album (which starts on December 31st, the day of my brother's wedding), but all that's in it so far is the invitation to the wedding, as I haven't gotten any more photos printed yet. This is the furthest I've ever been behind in having photos in albums, and is a little frustrating. But I haven't figured out yet just where I'm going to put more albums once they're finished, nor have I found a place yet for the few other miscellaneous albums, such as a collection of my siblings' school photos and a small album from when I was 12...

Oh, and very importantly, Jörn also brought me my new sandals, which Barbara had ordered for me for less than half of what they would have cost in Cyprus:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Four down, four to go

Halfway point: not by hours or even days, but by bedtimes. Jörn and Lukas flew to Germany last Thursday evening and will be home again this Friday at lunchtime, which makes a total of eight nights. Helen especially was really missing Papa tonight and took ages to settle. We've had an arrangement ever since Jacob was born that suits me very well: at night, the baby is my responsibility, anyone older is Jörn's. I might help put them to bed (and since October last year we've started a new bedtime routine which has me involved every night), but once I've finished my part, it's Jörn's job.
Thursday night I was at my Greek class (I took Elisabeth and Jacob with me--Elisabeth fell asleep in the car on the way there and stayed asleep the entire time, so Jacob had a very easy babysitting job) and Marie put Katie and Helen to bed. Actually, that was pretty cool for me, coming home to a quiet house, although Elisabeth counter-balanced that with screaming for the next several hours (I took her to the doctor Friday morning, and sure 'nough, an ear infection), not to mention that I had to wait up until 1:00 a.m. until Jörn and Lukas had arrived at our friends' house in Düsseldorf and phoned me. (That's not usually all that late for me, but we'd had several bad nights in a row already with the developing ear infection.)

Friday night was the most difficult, as Marie was at youth group and Jacob went to the YWAM worship evening. That can't have been the first time I've had to get three small children to bed by myself, as after all, eight years ago I ONLY had three small children, and Jörn was regularly out at evening meetings. He even went to Uganda for almost two weeks when Marie and Lukas were almost exactly the ages Katie and Elisabeth are now, and Jacob was a year older than Helen is now. Of course, I do remember that as a fairly night-marish time, especially the night that ended for me at 3:00 a.m. when Marie threw up and continued to do so for the next several hours, joined after a few minutes by Jacob, and after another bit, by Lukas. At 4:00 a.m. I put on the first load of laundry. (And my friend Aileen drove half an hour one way to come pick up three loads of washed laundry, take it back to her house, dry it in her dryer, fold it, and then bring it back to me. Friends are so cool.) But strangely, I don't specifically remember bedtime being challenging.

Last night Jacob was out again (such a party animal--this time at an island-wide worship event taking place in Limassol), but I had Marie, so it went pretty well. She took Elisabeth for awhile while I read to Katie and Helen and sang to them, then when Elisabeth got too antsy, Marie took over and cuddled Helen until she was asleep. Jörn is generally out one or two bedtimes a week anyway, so that's not unusual, and Marie is a great help.

Tonight, however, Helen had apparently had enough. Four bedtimes in a row without Papa was too much. She actually told me to go away and that she wanted Papa to come cuddle her, and then said that she misses Lukas. Marie took over for a bit, then I went in again, and then it was Marie who finally got Helen to sleep, while I finally got Elisabeth to sleep. (She misses Papa, too. Last night she was crawling around the house saying "Pa-pa-pa-pa", and this morning when she woke up she sat up, grinned, crawled over me, stared at the empty other-side-of-the-bed, and burst into tears.)
Four more bedtimes to go...I don't know if Jörn was planning to go to the YWAM worship night this Friday, but if so, I'm going to lobby for him to take Helen with him.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


No, I'm not putting a photo of myself in a sunbonnet here. However, here's a photo of Elisabeth wearing the sunbonnet and the skirt that my mom made for my doll, Rebecca, to match my own sunbonnet and skirt.

And if you look close, you can see the tulip pattern around the edge, which my mother's cool sewing machine does. So not exactly authentic 19th century, but pretty!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"Little House on the Prairie", or "The Story of an Obsession"

I've loved the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder for as long as I can remember. Little House in the Big Woods and a picture book about a goose named Petunia are the the only books I can specifically remember being read aloud to me when I was little, although I know that my mother read to me a ton. (I didn't like being read to once I could read, and don't actually remember not being able to read, but I imagine at least the Petunia book must have been before I could read.) The Little House books are the only books that I've read aloud over and over myself. I read them to several babysittees as a teenager, read them to the children I nannied my first three years in Germany, read the first three to Marie when she was a toddler (I got SO tired of Big Red Barn and suggested Little House in the Big Woods when Marie was only 18 months old. Sometimes I only read a page or two at a sitting, but she would bring me the book and say "Read Laura!" It took over a year, I think to get through the first one, but I read all of it), read all of them to Jacob when he was about six, and am now reading them to Lukas and Katie. (We're reading The Long Winter at bedtime at the moment, and Farmer Boy during the day.)

With the exception of Little Town on the Prairie, which I had to replace about six years ago after it had a sad run-in with a child of mine, I have the yellow-covered books, which I got a few weeks after our house burned down nearly 30 years ago, to replace the ones I'd had before the fire. My grandma and I went to bookstore after bookstore before we found the paperbacks with yellow covers, as most of them were blue at that time. (Now they're different colored checks. If someone wants to send me a yellow-covered copy of Little Town on the Prairie, I'll send you a blue/yellow-checked copy in exchange!)

I remember a reading challenge at the county library when I was maybe 10 or so: read all of the books and then answer several pages of questions. I sat down and filled in the whole thing on the spot and got a nice red bookmarker in return. It's possible that someone could stump me with some question, but I bet I could find the answer within a few minutes, without using the internet.

Laura's life has always been a place for me to hang dates on. Just recently I was reading a biography of Hudson Taylor to the children and the date of June 1865 was mentioned, at which point I annoyed my children by saying, "Oh, Mary was five months old, and Laura wasn't born for over another year and a half!" But I will now always remember that Hudson Taylor was about 35 years older than Laura. The American Civil War ended when she was just over a year old. My great-grandma was born when Laura was 31 and Rose was not quite 12 and they were living in Missouri. Laura was nine when the U.S. celebrated its first Centennial. She was born 104 years, one month, and three days before I was, and died only 14 years before I was born. When I was little, when I realized that Laura didn't die until my mother was over six years old, I just could not understand why she hadn't gotten to meet Laura in person! (I'd figured out time, but not space, apparently. But my mom did get to meet Tennessee Ernie Ford, which is pretty cool.)

I've also read several different biographies about Laura and know about quite a few discrepancies between her books and her actual life. Although even her daughter argued that the books were 100% autobiographical, even Laura herself didn't claim that. She wasn't even consistent WITHIN the series with some things, such as the age differences between the sisters and when their birthdays were.

The irony that the silly illustrations on that bottom right-hand book, an actual biography, look more like the TV show characters than the real people is not lost on me. The least they could have done was made Jack a bulldog and given Pa a beard...

Here's some more of my Laura paraphanelia, including time-lines I wrote out as a child:

Although I love to complain about discrepancies in a movie or TV show based on a book (I'm the worst person to sit next to when watching something made from a book), I also loved the TV shows. I think it was on Monday nights, I'm not sure. Whichever night it was, it was the only night that I ever did my homework, since I couldn't watch TV until my homework was done. I was completely aware that the TV shows were made up, only very loosely based on the books in the early seasons, and not taking much more than the characters' names in later seasons, but as long as I knew that they were totally ficticious, it was easy to enjoy them.

Over two years ago, we borrowed the DVDs of the first season of the TV show, and still haven't finished watching them. I admit that I was struck with how very corny some scenes were, but I still liked them, even after not having seen them for probably 15 years or so. I used to watch them in Germany, with Norwegian subtitles. (I got pretty good at reading Norwegian!) Once while we were watching, Jenna, five or six at the time, said something that made me think she was a bit confused, and I said, "You know that those are just actors, right? That's not REALLY Laura, it's just a girl dressed up like her and pretending to be her." Jenna nodded and said very earnestly, "Oh yes, I know--back then, they didn't have color TV!" When I said that "back then", they didn't even have black-and-white television, her mouth dropped open: she was literally speechless with shock.

One thing I noticed was how often people cried, especially Pa. Practically every episode (maybe EVERY episode...), there's a scene with dreamy music and Pa with glistening eyes and a wobbly jaw. So it cracked me up while reading some trivia about the TV show that in Iceland, the show came to be nicknamed "Crying in the Cornfields" because of all the crying men.

In the last several weeks, I've spent far too much time reading about the books (didn't find anything new), about the real people (not much new-to-me information), about the TV show (almost all news to me), and about other movies (completely news to me). And then watching some of the movies.

The Michael Landon pilot of Little House on the Prairie was actually pretty good, I thought, not as different from the book as the later shows were. Some of the children watched that with me, over several days, in 13 7-10 minute slots on youtube. The Indian costumes were amazingly awful and I will never understand why Michael Landon didn't wear a beard (probably because then it would have been harder to see his jaw trembling in emotional scenes), but we liked it.

Then we watched a Disney mini-series made in 2005, also on youtube in lots of little bits (32, to be exact). I suspect that if I didn't know the books so well and weren't familiar with the TV show, I might have liked it better. But Laura's blonde hair irritated me through the entire thing (and they even had a scene during which she complains about having brown hair!!), she and Pa are constantly siding against Ma and Mary, there is a TON of added Indian stuff (including Laura playing ball with an Indian boy, but NOT seeing the papoose and begging for it), Mrs. and Mr. Scott were awful characters (especially Mrs. Scott), and to top it off, it ended all wrong with the soldiers actually coming and Pa saying that he wouldn't leave. The actress that played Laura seemed to be imitating Melissa Gilbert half the time, rather than being Laura. And there was no baby Carrie, which was accurate to reality, but then Mary and Laura should have been four-five and two-three (not around 10, which is what they look) and Carrie should have been born the day that the older girls went with Pa to the Indian camp. The wolves were better than in the pilot show, as were the Indian costumes, anyway.

And then I found Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Maybe it could have been a tiny bit decent if they'd at least left out that word "true", since it was anything but, but I doubt it. I guess the point was just that it was more accurate about Laura's life from the age of 15 or so than the TV show was (which certainly isn't saying much), and it was pretty awful. Okay, I didn't see all of it, only the highlights, but if the highlights are at all representative, it was terrible. Shortish, loose blonde hair, when the fact of Laura's brown hair is all through the books and when as a teenager, she wore it in a very long braid, until she was old enough to put it up. If her hair had never been mentioned in the books, fine, then the TV people can do what they like (although NO self-respecting woman in that time and place would have worn her hair loose in any case), but it WAS mentioned, quite a few times. "Laura" is constantly tilting her head dreamily to one side and then to the other, with a stupid "sweet smile" on her lips, and "Almanzo" was such a dorky looking wimp who couldn't figure out what to say that I was rooting for her to turn him down. Except that she was so awful, she deserved him. The only good thing I saw in the clips was Pa's beard, which was on the short side, but at least was existent.

So much to the movies. But I was wondering why I love the books so much. I love the descriptions (not one of the movies has Laura helping Pa build the door in Indian Territory--what a shame!) and the way the people relate to each other. I love it that Laura and Mary are so thrilled to get a tin cup AND a stick of candy AND a penny for Christmas, I love how Laura loves Charlotte and Ma helps rescue her. I was also saying to a friend recently, while trying to figure out myself why they mean so much to me, that they're a part of my cultural heritage as a United States-ian. I don't identify with my citizenship a whole lot (and generally refuse to say "American", as that ought to be a geographical term, not a political one), but I don't want to give it up, either. (And I could: I'm eligible for German citizenship, but only if I renounce American.) I'm descended from people who weren't afraid to go where nobody they knew had gone before, and they couldn't look it up on google earth before they went, either, nor skype with their relatives back home once they arrived. Part of that is part of who I am.

I've still never gotten to visit a single "Little House" site. My mom and my sister Ruth went to DeSmet some years ago, though, and Mom sent me a bunch of photos.
The girl coming out of this replica of the Brewster school is my sister. :-)

Incidentally, there are still arguments about who really wrote the books. Laura's daughter Rose was almost definitely involved in some way, but I totally disagree with the people who think she essentially ghost-wrote Laura's books. Laura had been writing for local newspapers long before she wrote the first book, so was already a writer in her own right. To me the biggest argument againt the idea that Rose actually wrote the books is that her own books are so very different. I only own one book (which my grandma got at a garage sale) by Rose Wilder Lane, Old Home Town, and have read one other, Let the Hurricane Roar. Let the Hurricane Roar is even loosely based on Laura's parents, but doesn't read anywhere near as "real".

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Denim, crazy glue, and no duct tape after all

Yesterday we had the first broken arm in this house. No broken bones, however, as Margareta doesn't actually have any bones to break. Margareta is one of my oldest granddollters, having joined our family by adoption (arranged by my parents) on Marie's second birthday. Unfortunately, I don't have any photo albums here in Cyprus from before 2000, so can't photo-document here on this blog that joyful day.

So yesterday morning, Margareta's Aunt Katie and Uncle Lukas were having a bit of an argument about who could lovingly care for this niece of theirs, and in the struggle, Margareta's left arm became separated from her body:

Margareta didn't put up any fuss, but Marie wasn't too thrilled. I did briefly look on-line, but sending Margareta to the hospital was a bit out of our budget (she's not covered under our health insurance), and Marie didn't want that anyway. It turns out that they wouldn't even have re-attached her arm--just given her an entire body-and-limb transplant. Marie pointed out that she really doesn't spend much quality time with Margareta anymore anyway, and besides, she loves her the way she is, because of all of the memories. It wouldn't be the same without ink on her legs and grundgy fingernails.

We discussed the options and Marie thought a cast would be cool. We considered a cast made of duct tape, or maybe taping her up and then wrapping white cloth around as a cast. Eventually, Marie decided that if I could actually repair her, that would be good. The strongest fabric I had available was denim (lots of worn-out jeans...), and I didn't have anything of any strength that was a more appropriate shade anyway. Of course, I could have gone and bought some fabric, but I know myself well enough to know that the reality would be that Margareta and her arm would end up lying in my sewing drawer at least until we next move, if not longer, so figured it was better to perform surgery sooner rather than later, with the materials at hand.

The first stage was to fit a cuff of denim and sew it closed, right sides together:

The morning we left the U.S. last December, I broke the frames of my glasses. On the way to the airport we stopped and bought some superglue (crazy glue, Sekundenkleber), the kind in a little jar with a brush, like nail polish. I figured I'd have more control of how much and where it landed that way, and it did make me a little nervous to be working on my glasses. It worked wonderfully (here it is four months later, and I haven't bothered getting new frames after all, and haven't had to re-repair them, either), and I've used this glue quite a few times since. I can highly recommend it. Yes, it was more expensive than in the little tubes, but it's still WORKING four months and at least a dozen uses later, which is more than I can say I've ever managed with a little tube.

Anyway, I used this cool superglue and painted around the edge of the arm, then slid the denim up and over the glue. For good measure I painted some on top of the denim, too. Then it looked like this:

I let it dry (long enough to put on a load of laundry and start some bread), then turned the fabric right-side out.

So far so good, but I hadn't tapered the cuff quite as much as I should have (like, at all), and had quite a time figuring out how to attach it to Margareta. I finally tucked it INside her body and used safety pins to hold it together:

I started sewing with pink-ish thread that more-or-less matched Margareta's body, but the thread kept breaking. Since the denim was a slightly less-than-natural color anyway, I figured the color of the sutures maybe wasn't that important anyway, and I had some good strong black thread, so used that for the rest. I'd thought I'd do a nice neat blind stitch anyway, but as it turned out, it was necessary to actually knot every single stitch to prevent them from pulling apart. Close-up, it doesn't look too neat:

However, it's strong, and whatever else happens to Margareta, it won't be my stitches that tear. From a distance she looks fine, even though it's a little unusual to have a denim-colored stripe in the middle of one's upper arm:

And with clothes on (and back in Marie's care), she looks as good as ever:

When I pinned her arm in place, I thought I had it straight, but once it was finished, we realized that her left arm is now raised more than her right. Marie said that now you can tell that she's Elisabeth's niece, always waving.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

More Greek

Last Wednesday I took a placement test to see if I could take the second level of Greek with a free program sponsored by the European Union. Since I didn't hear anything to the contrary, I showed up for the first class tonight. I don't know how many people were there last time, as I had sat near the front, but since I had Elisabeth with me this time, I sat at the back. Of the 13 people there, six were given the test to take, so obviously hadn't been there last week. Of the other seven of us, five received their tests back with a smile and a "good job", but the other two of us got independent little talks, encouraging us to please stay in the class if we wished, and ask all the questions we wanted, and we'd certainly soon be caught up.

I took the first level course in one of the villages, to accompany a friend (who then had to drop out), and my class met right after a second-level course at the time, which K, whom I knew from Tots, was taking. Last Thursday we chatted, and she'd taken the same test the evening before that I had, planning to re-take the second level. She said that the teacher, A, helped them and even "encouraged them to cheat", talking with each other and using the dictionary and so on, saying that he really wanted them to pass, and that he would catch them up. A was a nice enough teacher, but I think I understand now why I didn't learn quite as much in the first level class as I either should have or wanted to! I do think that this is going to go better with my new teacher.

Not that much happened at this first lesson...For one thing, half of the class was taking the test. Then the administrative stuff seemed to take forever, passing things out and signing them and correcting people who put their telephone numbers instead of their ID numbers and an explanation that as an American I don't HAVE an ID number, just a passport number, and no, I don't have a yellow slip OR a pink slip, etc. And it was a bit ridiculous just how many times the teacher had to tell people to stop talking so that she could be heard!!

45 minutes into the class, the first interesting thing happened: we were handed back our tests. I got 22 out of 30 points on the test, which surprised me, 4 out of 7 of those on the essay. We were going to go over the tests and talk about them, but because of the six new people taking the test at the same time, right there in the room, we couldn't, and we had to turn them back in, so so much for my plans to figure it out myself with a dictionary. Maybe we'll get to do that next time.

Then we were given a photocopied worksheet to review writing and spelling. The first section was just writing the letters of the alphabet, and the next was filling in vowels and consonant combinations, but we were given the letters to put it, so I didn't understand that point of that. The next section, however, was words with missing letters and we had to figure out (or remember or guess...) the correct letters. I was able to do about three-quarters of those, but the last section had me rather worried, as I didn't recognize one single one of the 16 words listed, which we apparently had to re-write on the line next to each word. The directions were all in Greek, so I stared at it for a bit, and finally just started copying the "words". It wasn't until word number 10 (I have the paper here in front of me) that I finally twigged: these were anagrams!! So no wonder I didn't know what "κλαρεκα" meant, as there's no such word: had to be (slightly) unscrambled to make "καρεκλα". (I can change the keyboard to Greek, but only know how to make accents on a German keyboard, so have to leave them out.) I was pleased to then be able to figure out about half of them, but when I got home and Marie was looking at it, she immediately spotted several more!

Anyway, doing that worksheet and then going over it took about 15 minutes (counting the teacher telling the people who were taking the test to stop talking...), and then we spent three minutes reviewing the vowel combinations. We didn't get books yet, as they haven't arrived. We're only going to take August off, in the hopes of catching up by the time classes start again next October--normally, they take off June through September. That's fine with me, because a four-month break seems rather absurd!

And that was it. Less than 20 minutes of anything approaching "lesson time" in the hour and a half, but again, I AM optimistic that it will be better. While I didn't necessarily need to review the alphabet, at least it was a short amount of time--not the six weeks my beginning class spent on it!

This afternoon I actually got to USE Greek, which is unfortunately a rare experience. I just heard yesterday that there is a shop in Larnaka that sells Birkenstocks, so I went looking for it. I've definitely been down that street before and definitely would have noticed it if it had been there before, so figured it was new. The lady in there either spoke very little English (as in less than I speak Greek, so VERY little) or wasn't confident about using and/or didn't understand my American accent. But I was able to point to the ones I like (Rio) and ask if they only had black and white (yes), ask if they have Bali (no), say that the children's sandals had much prettier colors (she agreed), and ask if the shop was new (yes.) They're getting more models in in another couple of weeks. So that was fun as far as the Greek goes. However, no success with the sandals, although it was kind of a relief that they didn't have the ones I wanted anyway, as they wanted €58 for the ones that are under €40 in Germany! I haven't checked if I can order them from Germany, but I'm sure I can, and that the shipping charges would be less than €18! In any case, I hopefully have a pair coming to me in a few weeks, as my friend Barbara can probably get me some (and discounted even from the normal price in Germany) and Jörn will bring them back with him. However, the duct tape on my fakentstocks is holding up just fine, so no hurry. :-)

Monday, April 4, 2011

I love Mondays

Monday is my favorite day of the week. Everything starts over again and it's just so nice not feeling behind on anything. It's also the only day of the week that no child has any outside activies. On Tuesday the little girls and I go to Sue's house in the morning and in the afternoon Katie has drama class; on Wednesday the boys go to Discoveries; on alternate Thursdays I go to Tots and Co. with the little girls and every Thursday Jacob has drama class; Friday Jacob has a guitar lesson and Marie has band practice, Bible study, and youth group; on Saturday Marie has her violin lesson and orchestra rehearsal; and on Sunday at least the three older children and Jörn go to church. That's not counting spontaneous get-togethers with friends during the day (as happened today), Jacob (and last week, Marie, too) going sailing, a friend of mine coming here with her 12-year-old son for an hour or so every other week, or things we do as a family such as house group and YWAM team dinners, nor evening adult-only-plus-Elisabeth get-togethers with Sue and Richard.

Life is busy. It's good and I'm happy with everything we're doing, but it's busy! So Monday is a nice break.

Homeschooling-wise, I print out a "record sheet" every Monday where I keep track of things that could be called school-ish, dated with that week. (So this week's says "April 4-8, 2011." Not individual days, much less hours.) I started doing that about eight years ago, in Germany, with the idea that if we ever ran into trouble I would have some written proof of educating my children. (As it turned out, they weren't interested in anything at all we had to say until we could fax them a letter from outside of Germany that we were no longer in Germany, but that's another topic.) I've kept it up since moving to Cyprus, though, because it's cool looking back and seeing when we read which book or just how many times Jacob has been sailing or when it was we went for a walk in the park with the new home-ed family, etc.

So although I do have a vague sort of plan for by when what maybe ought to be more-or-less finished, those dates aren't written down anywhere, so we can't get behind. The record sheet has a list of the books we're reading/using at the moment, and sometimes a blank space for a long time after a particular book does motivate me to think about continuing, but that's about it. Also, if the page is pretty much blank at the end of the week, then on the following Monday I just cross out the second date and write in the Friday of the next week, and voilá--we're no longer behind! Monday is cool.

Last night I was asleep before 10:30 (very early for me), and slept straight through until 7:00. I vaguely remember Helen coming to our bed and Elisabeth must have nursed, but those events didn't fully wake me up. When I woke up, I felt so refreshed and AWAKE, so crawled carefully out from under Helen and Elisabeth and got out of bed to a quiet house. By 9:00 I had had breakfast (well, I'd had breakfast by 7:10--a bowl of granola doesn't take long when I get to eat it all in one sitting, without holding anyone on my lap), read the blogs and forums I like to read, read my e-mail, started answering one (didn't get far with that, because once children woke up, I turned the computer off), gotten three people dressed (one being myself) and told four other people to get dressed, started laundry, started bread, made breakfast for four short people, printed the weekly record sheet (sometimes that doesn't actually get done until Tuesday or later), reorganized the "school stuff" table, and probably some other things. Sunday morning by 9:00, the only thing I had done from all of that was get out of bed, and that wasn't willingly.

The rest of the day has gone pretty well, too. I haven't had to rush around trying to get anything done before the next thing happens, because nothing else was planned. When a friend called to ask if her boys could come over to play with my boys, it was so nice just being able to say, "Yes, of course!" (I did enlist Katie's help to spend five minutes--by the timer--picking up whatever we could from the living room floor in that time, but that was the extent of my preparation.)

For the last several months, Jörn has been home Monday evenings, as well, which has been great. However, the prayer meeting that used to meet on Mondays and got changed to Tuesdays in October or so last year is probably going to be changed back to Mondays soon. That's good from the point of view of my Greek class (which, if I got into the second level class, starts tomorrow and is Tuesdays and Thursdays), but means that Monday evenings will no longer be totally peaceful, so that's why I thought I'd better post this (which I'd been thinking about for awhile!) tonight, a very good Monday.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Several weeks ago we visited the church that Marie attends because the youth group was leading the service, which included Marie playing the violin with the youth band. We also enjoy chatting with people we don't otherwise get to see that often and being part of the larger community, not just one little group. I did go there by choice, but not with the greatest of attitudes.
One of the songs was one I'd never heard before, and instead of paying much attention to the words, I was reflecting on the general "dumbing down of society" which includes the fact that music in churches is now virtually always only with the lyrics provided for the congregation. With no written music, only the very most musical people can sing anything but the melody, and it's not usually possible to sing an unfamiliar song until it's been played through a time or two.

One of my favorite memories of the church I attended as a child was sitting next to Sara Pink, an older lady in the congregation who always sang the alto line. With her next to me, I could usually manage the alto as well and there are still a few songs to which I have the alto line memorized. Which may or may not have much to do with worship, but it had a lot to do with making a joyful noise and enjoying fellowship with other believers and just being happy being where I was.

So this song started, and I started grumbling inside about not knowing it and not having the music to follow. Pretty quickly, I realized that the tune was so simple that it was easy to sing along before they'd even gone through the whole refrain once, so I changed my focus to being disdainful of the simplicity of modern songs. Really, anyone reading my thoughts would have thought I was at least 90 years old.

Still, the rollickiness (is that a word?) of the tune started to get through to me and I realized that I liked it very much, and then I started paying attention to the words and realized I liked them even more.

Teach me to dance to the beat of Your heart, teach me to move in the power of Your Spirit,
Teach me to walk in the light of Your presence, teach me to dance to the beat of Your heart.

Having already used too much Christianese in the post already ("make a joyful noise" and "fellowship with other believers") I'll risk a bit more, as it happens to also be true: I was convicted of my attitude.

Dancing to the beat of God's heart is not as complicated as people like to make it out to be. That's one reason I haven't been "going to church" much in the last several months, as I find all the complicated rules and little groups frustrating. Having a relationship with God is so much simpler than that, and so much MORE. Instead of being stressed out by trying to keep the little ones quiet or being bored by an hour-long monologue, I've been enjoying my Sundays. While those who are going to church are out, it's a special time for me with whomever has stayed home (always the two little girls, usually Katie, and once or twice Lukas and Jacob), as well as often meeting with our friend Sue. The time before those who are going leave isn't hectic, trying to get everyone fed and washed and dressed to leave at a certain time, and when they come home, I'm happy to see them instead of just wanting to go hide somewhere. Every other week we also go to Sue's and Richard's house in the afternoon for games and a meal (translation to Christianese: fellowship with believers).

This morning our family spent as scattered as usual on a Sunday morning: Marie went to the Community Church, Jörn and the boys to the house church fellowship, and the three little girls and I stayed home. (Sometimes Katie and I go to the Anglican church with our friend Sue, and once Katie even went by herself with Sue.) Last night I didn't sleep well, partly to be blamed on Elisabeth's second tooth, which she worked hard on from about 2:30 for a couple of hours. But it wasn't Elisabeth's fault that I didn't even GO to bed until a few minutes before she woke up. I no longer remember much of the night at all, but I do know that I worked out this morning that I'd slept for about three hours total, and that not all in one block. So this morning I was TIRED.

I do try to make a point of not having the computer on while the others are out at church, making sure that it's a special time together with the little girls. I read them a lot of books (well, that's the same as every day...) and we often go to the playground or for a walk, and Sue usually joins us when we do. But I was very tempted to turn on the computer and watch things on youtube or something with Katie and Helen. Knowing that I was tired, I was being very careful to be extra-patient outwardly, but I was very grumbly inside. And then I heard Katie bouncing (she always bounces) through the house singing, listened more closely, and it was "Teach Me to Dance." So instead of turning on the computer, I opened the piano and we played a five-hand version of "Teach Me to Dance." (One hand was mine, playing the melody, the other four hands providing accompaniment belonged to Helen and Elisabeth.) Katie danced and we all sang, and I wasn't tired anymore. Very cool.

So finally having the energy to text Sue about a walk to the playground, I picked up my phone...and at the same moment heard thunder. So instead I asked Sue if she'd like to come here. She texted back yes, but then it started to rain pretty hard, so she waited for it to stop. Still, we had a nice half hour or so.

The song still in my head, I made fried rice for lunch instead of just tossing some bread and cheese on the table, and even made it more-or-less to order. I took out a portion for Katie when it was just rice, egg, and cheese, and then added some chicken from yesterday. Then I took out a portion for Helen and added in some bell pepper for the rest, which I ate (and shared with Elisabeth--she ate chicken and bell pepper, too.) After lunch, after Helen and Elisabeth had gone to sleep, I did turn on the computer and Katie and I watched some bits on youtube from a movie of Little House on the Prairie made in 2005. Not one bit less corny than the original TV show (although the Indians were slightly better done), but fun.

At 3:20 Katie was just starting to get a bit hyper and Helen had just woken up, so it seemed a good time to go pick up the boys and Grace. (Oh yeah--Jörn wasn't feeling well and had come home early from the house church, leaving Grace and the boys there. But as he'd gone straight to bed, him being home wasn't relevant to anything we did.) When we got home, I cut up carrots and Katie cut up cucumbers and we packed the cheese and chicken pieces and headed for Sue's and Richard's house. Marie had come home for an hour to practice the violin and then gone out to basketball, and Grace didn't want to go out again, so it was just the five younger children and me.

More electronic babysitting and a big treat: Katie and Lukas watched "The Slipper and the Rose" (on an actual TV screen), while Helen and Elisabeth played with Lego, and Richard, Sue, Jacob, and I played Thurn und Taxis. A cool game we only recently learned, and I like it very much. (Didn't hurt any that I won, but I didn't exactly understand WHY I did...I think that was mostly the luck factor.) Dinner was fairly peaceful, amazingly, and after dinner the children finished the last bit of the movie while we tidied up and chatted. Elisabeth enjoyed eating cat food and cucumber and carrot and tomato soup and bread and cheese and chocolate cake, but I think her very favorite was the cat food, as she kept trying to get back to it. (We were wise to her and stopped her every time she crawled slowly to the corner, turned and grinned at us, and the crawled quickly around the corner towards the cat food.)

I'd expected to have Marie's assistance in walking home, thinking that she could take either the buggy with Helen in it, or Katie's hand, and Jacob take the other, while I take Lukas's hand (walking home in the dark, I don't like them running ahead, and they usually won't NOT run ahead unless we physically hold their hands), but Marie had called after basketball to say she was tired and going home. But for some reason, Katie and Lukas both calmly walked next to the buggy all the way home.

And now it's 9:30 and two children are asleep (Lukas and Katie), one more is in bed nearly asleep (Helen), one was just sent to bed (Jacob), one is reading somewhere (Marie), and one is falling asleep on my lap while I type (Elisabeth). Nope, now Elisabeth IS asleep.

Having that song in my head all day has very much helped me to "dance to the beat of God's heart", but He can keep the neither slumbering nor sleeping to Himself: I'm going to bed now. :-)