February 27, 2009

Odds and Ends

We've all been a little sick, Ben especially, who woke up night before last at 2 a.m. with a raging fever. It hasn't broken yet, but he's eating today (even though it's cinnamon toast and girl scout cookies), so things are looking better. The rest of us are popping Ibuprofen and making it through the day. Damn European bugs; I spent so much time at McDonald's when the kids were young trying to build up their immunity, and then my hubby scores a sweet job in Germany and I'm back to square one!

A bit of funny graffiti. I don't know who Bob is, but don't you wish you were him?

I understand that the drug laws in Europe are more relaxed than in the states, but isn't it a little dangerous to be hooking them so young?

Kegan, Claire, and Julia, the inseparables since the moment they met.

My girls, Joslin and Kim. They are keeping me sane during the week and drunk on the weekends. There's a rumor the three of us will be heading to Ikea next week (I know that some of you can appreciate this!), but my poor Joslin has done something to her legs (long story) and she can't walk right now. She's been stuck in her apartment for days, so maybe the thought of an afternoon at Ikea will speed her recovery.

A couple of very cold Sundays ago, we all gathered at an indoor playground called Gaudi Park
(as in "rowdy" but "gaudy" would work just as well) to let the kids run amok. One of the biggest attractions there was this giant whale that swallowed kids in its mouth about every five minutes. You could go down in his belly and come out his poop shoot, or just hole up in his mouth until he opened it again. Our kids liked to jump out of his mouth as it was closing. Even though there was a thick inflatable pad below, the drop was at least ten feet and I kept waiting to hear the crunch of breaking bones. This place was huge and fun and it would absolutely never fly in the states because of all the possible law suits. Kids are a lot more free over here.

And lest you think the grown-ups didn't have much fun at Gaudi Park, I present to you this picture of a little friendly slide competition amongst the scientists. Jonathan went for the aero-dynamic tuck that sealed his win, but since he IS the director we can't be sure the others didn't throw the race.

Plans are in the works for the island of Crete. Can you say Gyros on the Mediterranean?

February 24, 2009

Happy Birthday...

... to my father-in-law Ray. Even though it's mid-afternoon here, it's early morning back home, so our gift to him is to let him sleep a while longer before we wake him with our rousing rendition of the happy birthday song. The calling and the singing of the birthday song is a tradition he began quite a while back and no birthday in our family would be complete without it now. Look at it this way, your year can only get better after listening to our off-key serenade from across the ocean.

February 22, 2009

Just Ben, sweet gentle Ben

by Mark

Ben has been taking delight in being the focal point, and often says, "Papa, take my picture" at particularly scenic places. I suspect he is having so much fun in the moment that he wants to remember it or mark it's significance, because it is always at those particular moments when he seems most at peace.

February 19, 2009


Let's just say we've been getting up early enough every day to see the sunrise over Jena from our bedroom window,, well, that is when it's not snowing, which it has been doing a lot of lately. Consequently, we've been going to bed fairly early too and finding the time to edit pictures and post the blog has been challenging. Not having a thyroid makes me really tired sometimes and you can often find me in bed with a book around 7:30 pm.

My brother is here! We picked him up in Frankfurt on Wednesday and he's on the train to Prague tomorrow, the beginning of a two-month stint across Europe. Oh to be young and free!

Tomorrow night is Enchiladas (with corn tortillas brought from the states) and Dance Party at Jonathan and Kim's. Us adults drink lots of wine and spin vinyl and dance with the kids. They think it's a hoot and a few of them have some pretty nice moves! Last party I taught them the Hustle. Remember the Hustle?

February 12, 2009

Seems Like 40 Is The New 60 Around Here

Here is a carefree "us" kissing under some mistletoe last weekend at the botanical gardens here in Jena. I say carefree because we just learned yesterday that Mark has Celiac's disease. My poor guy. He has been having digestive issues for quite some time and coming to Germany made his symptoms go from bad to worse. Gluten in the food he's been eating has caused an autoimmune response in his body and then his body has attacked his own small intestines. It is quite serious and he must stop eating gluten immediately. Turns out he's had this all his life and there were many clues present which we never put together until very recently. He has suffered from strange blisters on sensitive skin areas for about the last 20 years, a distinct symptom of Celiac's, but one the doctors were never able to decipher. Drinking beer has always made him sick. He eats thousands of calories each day, but is always hungry and has lost 15 pounds since last summer. The disease has caused so much damage that his body cannot absorb nutrients and he is malnourished. He'll have to have injections of large amounts of vitamins for the next six months. The doctors here wanted to give him a colonoscopy and an endoscopic biopsy to take tissue samples, but he declined until we return to the states. Our health insurance here covers next to nothing and since those test results won't change the treatment plan, we've decided it's okay to wait. So we're going gluten-free. That means no wheat, spelt, rye, or barley, ingredients which are in just about everything, no beer, no bread, no bratwurst (gluten is used as a binding agent in sausage), and pretty much no processed food of any kind. Just rice and corn. This would have been inconvenient in the states, but it's almost a nightmare here trying to read ingredient labels in German! But we are relieved to finally have a diagnosis. He has not been feeling well for a long time but ignored his symptoms because my thyroid cancer kind of pushed to the forefront of our lives before we left. Seems like 40 is the new 60 around here with all of our health issues this past year. And of course the kids will have to be tested when we return; Celiac's is hereditary, but only a 5% chance. So if you know of good things to eat that are guaranteed gluten-free, feel free to pass the info our way. I'm searching the internet for new ways to cook and scouring the stores for ingredients that don't contain the offending grains. The kids and I won't let him do this alone, even if it means remembering to bring a banana for him to snack on while we eat at McDonald's!!

February 10, 2009

The Eis Cafe

Although I have made it abundantly clear my feelings on the friendliness of the German people, I have decided to overlook it, having recently discovered their ice cream. Baskin Robins has nothing on these folks. There are of course the regular old gelato stands in the malls with their brightly colored treats designed to lure the children in for a quick cone, and there are also a variety of cones and cups for purchase at the supermarket, which we've eaten occasionally on the way home from a shopping trip. But the cream of the crop is the Eis Cafe, the Taj Mahal of ice cream parlors if you will, at which we had the pleasure of snacking on a recent trip to Weimar with our friend Kim and her two kids. There are many Eis Cafes here, each sporting hundreds of ice cream concoctions on their menus, everything from a "simple" scoop of ice cream to masterpieces created to resemble lasagna.

The beauty in front of me is of course hazelnut and chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce, whipped cream, egg cream, and an amaretto fan cookie. Kim chose a tropical fruit confection mixed with ice cream and smothered with blue curacao liquer.

The girls each decided on the Mickey Mouse theme dish and there's no way any more candy could have fit into or onto poor Mickey.

Even our plain boy Ben, who chose a single scoop of chocolate ice cream, was amazed to find it covered in sprinkles and gummi bears and lollipops.

And even better, the Eis Cafes are open on Sundays! So the next time we find ourselves bored and hungry on a Sunday afternoon, we'll know where to go.

February 9, 2009

200 Percent

Yes, this is a picture of Claire this morning at 7:00 am as she met Logan and Kegan and they all headed off to their first day of German school together. She made this decision all on her own, a little bit to my dismay because I was looking forward to having my educational way with her, but when I asked Mark if he was 100% sure it was the right thing to do, he said he was 200% sure. How can you argue with that? She was released at 1:15 pm today and seems to be none the worse for wear, although she wrote her homework assignment in her notebook in German and now she can't remember exactly what she's supposed to do! German grades run by age, so she was placed in the 3rd grade, and the clencher for her attendance at school was really the fact that all the 3rd graders get to go swimming every Tuesday morning at the city pool. There are four 3rd grade classes here and I think the teachers are insane to put seventy 8-9 year olds on the tram, but hey, I'm American and what do I know? In addition to swimming, she has German, English, Math, Sports, Gardening (yes there's a school garden), Ethics, Social Studies, Handicrafts, Art, and Music. My plan is to keep going with my homeschooling and let the school thing be a grand adventure with no pressure for her to perform. That way if it's too much for her and she doesn't do well, she won't be held back from 5th grade when we return home. Because I shiver to imagine the wrath Mark and I would suffer at the hands of our daughter if this gig in Germany resulted in such an educational disaster.

February 3, 2009

The Business of Everyday

We're settling in a little more a getting a sort of rhythm to our days. I've figured out the washing of the clothes and the mailing of the post (it costs 1 euro to send a postcard to the USA) and the recycling of the recyclables.

Here's our morning crew for German lessons, sans me because I'm taking the picture and sans Ben because he hates German and refuses to go. Our teacher Sandra is in the middle.

Here is the elevator next to our high-falutin' grocery store in the mall. The kids insist on riding it of course. It is just weird to go to the mall to grocery shop, but it is by far the nicest place.

Here is a path by a nice creek that we sometimes walk when we're out and about. One thing that really bothers me about this city is the amount of graffiti. Believe me, I understand the need to express one's self and this is a nice stretch of it done by some talented artists, but everywhere you can find ugly writing and pictures, even on centuries-old houses. It is against the law, but it is not enforced. Yesterday when we were walking along this path we noticed that all the piles of dog poop (and there are many of them) had been spray painted hot pink. Joslin and I weren't sure if it was the city workers marking where the piles were or someone's protest against all the poop left by the poochies of Jena.

This is the cart outside of the mall where I buy my bread. I have been told it is the best one around and I would have to agree. They always have at least 2 very yummy choices of foccacia and the sun-dried tomato/cheese "brot" continues to be my favorite.

These lovely little gems are donuts with caramel inside that I use to bribe the kids for errand-running. I finally tried a bite the other day and let's just say my kids have superb taste and I'll be staying away from these, thank you very much.

Here's "meine mann" chopping green onions for gumbo in our "charming" loft kitchen. To use the only counter space available you have to bend your head to the right, which leaves a little bit of a crick in the neck. Needless to say, we're not producing many extravagant dinners, which is just fine with me. I did try my hand at baking some banana bread and found out that I have a convection oven, which cooks things about twice as fast as home. Luckily I checked it before it burned and we were able to enjoy it.

One of my great pleasures here has been seeing new birds. I was ecstatic to see this green woodpecker; the picture does not do justice to the green\yellow color of the feathers on its back. It was so bright I thought it was a parrot at first. Jonathon has loaned me his "Birds of Europe" book and I've been making a list of what I've seen so far. We were perusing the internet yesterday in search of our own copy and were delighted to discover that Amazon has a center here with a listing of English books, so we can order without the extravagant shipping and customs charges. Oh happy day!

February 1, 2009

Leuchtenburg Castle

Yesterday we borrowed a van from the Institute and our group of 12 headed out to visit our first German castle. It was a cold and snowy day, but our spirits were high at the thought of actually getting in a car and driving somewhere. Here's our first view from the road, a fairly impressive sight sitting atop the hill.

The castle was first mentioned in 1221. It's so hard to imagine what the lives of the inhabitants were like back then, but from the way the wind was whipping around the top of the turret yesterday I have no doubt that it was a miserable place to be in the winter.

Up until 1552, all the water that was needed for the castle was hauled up on donkeys. This proved to be costly at times of defense, so they decided to drill a well, quite an undertaking considering this castle sits 200 meters above the Saale River. In 1720 the castle became a prison and the old hand-operated crank was replaced by a large wheel which was thus operated by, you guessed it, prisoners. Here's our own little prisoners having their turn at being gerbils on the wheel.

We trekked all the way to the top of the turret via a very old wooden spiral staircase to check out the view of the Saale valley below.

Then we came back down and explored the grounds around the castle.

Of course there was a dungeon complete with torture chamber and the kids had a blast trying out the shackles on Kegan.

One of the most humorous aspects of the outside area was the medieval toilet, which was just a hole cut into the wall about 50 feet above the ground. We contemplated "pooping" on our enemies, and then the more unpleasant "what if your enemies caught you on the potty" and then the really unpleasant "who would clean up the whole mess".

We retired to the Castle Tavern for coffee, beer, streussel and ice cream, served to us by a wench in period costume. Then we drove back home and topped off the evening with some delicious local pizza, a good amount of wine, and some crazy dancing to old hits courtesy of Jonathon and Kim's album and CD collection. Making some gumbo to share with our friends for dinner tonight and being grateful for the quietness of Sunday in our new neighborhood.