Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Juist Segue

 Photo of Juist from the Wadden Sea, where the ferry arrived.

Outside our guest house. Oma joined us for the week. She's been having some problems with her knees. I think if Fritz and I had realized the extent of her mobility restrictions, we would have stayed in town. As it was, we were about 2 km from the ferry terminal, a little far for walking, given the considerations. But it was nice to surrounded by open space, especially when the tourist season kicked into gear halfway through our vacation. Within hours the town of Juist was packed! This is what a traffic jam looks like where there are no cars, only cyclists and horse-carriages:

There were so many interesting ways of getting around. I have a lot of photos of cleverly-rigged bicycles used to haul all manners of things. Noah got pretty adept at riding the adult tricycle we rented for Oma. I don't know why the two wheels are in the front. To be honest, I thought it made it more difficult to steer. But is WAS stable!

I guess this below is one of those times where you are glad something is NOT stable. The kids must have spent an hour entire hour sliding down this dune. I learned the amount of sand one can accumulate on his or her body dune surfing pales in comparison to the beach on a windy day.

The Strandkorb is great for protection against the wind. These beach chairs are iconic in German culture. But I'm not sure if I had ever seen (even a photo of one) before I lived in Germany.

You get the idea. The beach is very shallow. You can walk forever and the water still isn't past your knees. It also made collecting water for the sandcastle quite a hike.

I managed to drop my camera and break its lens for the second time in less than a year somewhere in all of this hiking. I was pretty upset. With the broken lens came the realization that I really do much better staying calm when I have a camera in my hand. You know how they say that having a camera removes you from the situation and keeps you from really being present in the moment? Well, sometimes, with three kids, I really need that distance that the camera gives me. From this point on, I usurped Fritz's camera. He is not a happy sharer, probably because I am holding onto his camera like a security blanket. Oh look! Here I let him take a photo while we went on a date with Trixie (she was holding onto me):

AND THEN, I started feeling all nervous without the camera, so I traded Trixie for the camera. (And it worked!)

We went back to the mainland by (a very small!) airplane, because of 1) mobility issues and 2) the ill-timing of high tide / ferry transit. Being in a small airplane was quite fun, but I'll confess I was also really happy to be back on the ground. It made a huge impression on the kids as well.

And that concludes the Juist portion of our vacation. Back to the car, kiddos.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Jet lag

I knew the kids would be jet lagged when we arrived in Germany. Germany is 8 hours ahead of Denver. I also suspected that it would take the kids about 5 days to get over the jet lag. What I did not account for is: 1) that our first three days wouldn’t really count, because our schedule would be so strange due to the wedding and 2) that the three kids wouldn’t experience jet lag in the same way. One kid might be awake until midnight, the other wants to go to bed at 6pm and the third fell asleep at 4pm for afternoon nap. It’s anyone’s guess when all three kids will be asleep at the same time. 

One week into our month long stay in Germany, my adrenalin has worn off and the kids are STILL jet lagged. What I really need is some kid-free time, but it’s not as easy to come by as I would hope. Trixie does a really crappy hand-off these days. By that I mean: nobody else is allowed to take care of her, unless they want to experience the hopeless task of peeling her sobbing body off the floor and trying to distract her with something. Even I am sometimes at a loss to get her off the floor, and I think I have quite a bit of experience under my belt. I’m most effective when somebody else has tried and failed. My mother-in-law thinks we need to just let her cry. I whisper at Fritz, this is not the time to change parenting strategies!

Over the years, Fritz and I have noticed that Noah has this peculiarity whereby the more you kid-friendly and fun activities we do over the course of the day, the more trying his behavior gets. This is not true of Mattias or Trixie (yet). This is a peculiarity that is very frustrating right now, because here we are spending our time riding bikes, going to the beach, flying kites and generally trying to do all sorts of fun things! But instead of seeming contented and satisfied with all the fun, Noah’s behavior is unwrapping like a ball of yarn and we, the parents, are wearing out faster than the kids. Why does this happen? A lack of school-like structure?? I suppose I should look to my own behavior as a sort of lesson – how did Noah learn to be this way? What can his behavior teach me about me? How about that I, myself, tend throw a lot of irons in the fire (so to speak) and then complain endlessly? Doing too many fun kid things is a child's equivalent to being overscheduled and Noah's crappy behavior is the equivalent of my adult complaining.  Stop complaining about your vacation, Ann!

I know, I know. But I can still want the kids to sleep at the same time, right? Because I'd probably feel a lot more gracious and forgiving if I had a little more kid-free time and sleep. And Noah, too, might be less crazy with some sleep.

Since writing this, we have left Juist and traveled to my mother-in-law's house. The kids have had one really good night of sleep. Here's to hoping that continues!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Wadden Sea

This week we were on the north coast of Germany, on the island of Juist between the Wadden Sea and the North Sea. The Wadden Sea is basically the stretch of land and sea between the barrier islands and the North Sea. Germans traditionally know this area as the Wattenmeer. The most direct translation of wattenmeer to english is “mud flat sea,” a name which is, frankly, a PR downer. I think "Wadden Sea" was appropriated relatively recently to save face. In 2011, it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2011. According to UNESCO, the Wadden Sea is “one of the last remaining large-scale, intertidal ecosystems where natural processes continue to function largely undisturbed” and it “encompasses a multitude of transitional zones between land, the sea and freshwater environment, and is rich in species specially adapted to the demanding environmental conditions.” 

The Wadden Sea is actually a pretty cool place, especially if you are fascinated by visibly changing landscapes. The sea stretches from the Netherlands through Germany to Denmark. On the outermost edge are barrier islands lined with fine, beautiful sand, then the dunes of the islands, then saltwater marshland, then mudflats that flood during the changing tide, and finally, the mainland. About 170 specially adapted animal/insect species live in the saltwater meadows and over 2000 different species of plants that have adapted living here. These species are non-competitive, meaning if you placed them somewhere else, they would be overtaken by the native species. They can only live, without competition, in the freshwater/saltwater land.

The barrier island of Juist (pronounced “Yoost”) has long been a vacation destination for Germans, although it is not among the most visited of the East Frisian Islands. Fritz visited it in 1976. He has always had such fond memories that I thought we should visit it with our children. Juist is reachable by ship only at high tide. (Otherwise, there’s not enough water for a boat and you need to take a plane.) There are no cars allowed on Juist, making it less popular and more remote than the neighboring islands, but ideal for visitors with children looking to avoid the worst of the beach crowds. All the transportation on Juist occurs by horse or bicycle. Fritz said it has changed a lot since the 1970s. It is my impression that tourism and development of the island are occurring VERY slowly and deliberately. To put it in perspective: 20,000 people visit Juist each year, while the neighboring island of Norderney may have that same number in a single day. I think the slow pace of development is very cool; it means Juist feels like an undiscovered secret, maybe like the Cinque Terre were before Rick Steves "discovered" them.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Facebook and Blogging

I finally broke down and got myself a real Facebook account a few months ago. I was tired of never knowing where to send Christmas cards; tired of trying to keep track of friends who use it as their exclusive means of communication; tired of feeling that I would know something if I were on Facebook. 

What I like about Facebook is that I really do feel more in the loop. I love getting everyone’s updates. I like that I can communicate with distant friends and relatives; especially those whose last email address was from 10 years ago. I like the expediency of these communications in Facebook. When my Grandmother slipped into a coma and passed away just a week or so after I joined Facebook; I was glad to be able to be updated quickly through Facebook. 

That said, it’s still not my preferred medium and I mostly dislike it. I can’t really see myself migrating to Facebook and abandoning this blog. I feel more "me" here, in spite of the pseudonyms. And as much as I love getting everyone’s Facebook updates, it’s no substitute for a telephone conversation, or a dinner and drinks, or even a great blog post. Not at all. There something inherently extrinsic about the feedback loop on Facebook. Here on my blog I feel like my motivations are more intrinsic, although maybe that can be attributed to the length of time I’ve been on Facebook versus blogging. I’m willing to concede I’m still a newbie and don’t really know how I will feel after the newness has worn off.

I get very little sense of closure or accomplishment from posting on Facebook. Maybe it could be motivating if I was – I don’t know – training for a marathon or something, but it seems like a dangerous precedent to use Facebook that way. I do get a sense of closure and accomplishment for posting on this blog. I think it has something to do with the amount of effort that I have to put into a blog post. On Facebook, I feel a sort of obligation to post something: if I want/love updates about my friends, shouldn’t I also post Facebook updates about me/my family? On this blog, posting is a lot more about the process, and not the quantifiable outcome.

Honestly, I wish everybody had a BLOG instead of a Facebook account, but I’ve finally settled for what I can get.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Church Wedding

Last Saturday was my brother-in-law’s church wedding (and party)! It was a really lovely and intimate group of people. It was also cold and rainy. A Chinese guest told me that rain on the wedding day is considered good fortune in China – it means money will rain on you in your life together. 

The kids mostly managed to hold it together. Not easy considering the run-up of events leading to the church wedding. There was the only one photo of all three dressed up* that I managed to take. Noah was the ring bearer. Mattias and Trixie were flower children. We had them all practice before the wedding. And, well, they kind of got it right.

After the church wedding, there were cake pops and a log saw in the plaza in front of the church. The log saw is a Bavarian wedding tradition. It’s also another German wedding game, because sawing this way with two people can be quite difficult. The trick is to only pull the saw, but not push. Fritz and I did a log saw at our wedding, too. Except I think our saw was significantly longer and more difficult to use. (It sounds sort of boastful to say that, but, it really was true. Although, on the upside, my own brother modified our log, making it easier to saw.)

There was a good amount of down time when we were just waiting around at the castle for the party afterward. I know, from experience, that this is NOT AT ALL how it feels for the bride and groom, who feel they are rushing from one thing to the next with no time to visit with anyone. My in-laws did an awesome job trying to combat the kid’s boredom. I think the kids might have received more gifts (while waiting) than the bride and groom. And there were these play-push vehicles that showed up in the castle courtyard. Fritz and I were biting our knuckles as their little suited knees skimmed over the top of the wet stones. GULP.

After dinner, there was a dance, pretty much like an American wedding. The kids were really pretty tired by this point, and Trixie fell alseep in my arms. (I transferred her to Fritz at some point.) I think we made it until about 10:30pm, and by then we felt like we could go back to our hotel and sleep without seeming too rude. Noah was disappointed to leave just as the cake was being served. But the newlyweds invited us to their home for coffee and cake the next day, so hopefully Fritz and I were forgiven (by Noah).

*I’ve learned a lot about boy’s suits in the process of getting the boys outfitted for this wedding. Here’s my advice if you are required to buy a suit for a boy: Appaman. Have you heard of Appaman? I hadn’t. Their suits are really good quality and really well-designed for kids (not adults), AND not so different in price from the department store. And now that you know Appaman is such good quality, you can just go straight to the second-hand store and save yourself money, time from trying on not-so-great suits, and all the associated protests from a kid who doesn’t want to wear his suit/change his clothes. Mattias’ suit is the Appaman suit; Noah’s is not. Mattias has asked if he can have another one because it’s “so nice and comfortable.” (!) It also looked consistently good in the photos.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Civic Wedding

Today was my brother-in-law's civic wedding. This is one of the ways that American weddings and German weddings are generally different: German weddings usually consist of the civic marriage, which takes place in the courthouse and is officiated by a public official, and then a religious marriage, which takes place in a church and is ordained by a religious leader. In the United States, a marriage license is granted by a public official, but the actual marriage takes place separately and the rules of who can perform a marriage vary greatly by state.  I, personally, like the idea of dividing marriage into civic and religious components. I like it because it seems to support the idea of the separation of church and state.

In some (cynical) way, I can't believe that the wedding industry never clued into this difference and pushed for something similar in the United States, especially with all the discussion about civil unions and marriage in the last decades. What if (all) Americans were required to get a civil union for state purposes, and then they got a marriage from their religious/spiritual leader? WOW! This was the wedding industry's chance: because what costs more than one wedding? TWO weddings!

Okay, so onto wedding number one, the civil wedding, where we were at today. If I were to guess, I would guess that I'm going to be a bigger fan of the civil wedding (today) than the church wedding (tomorrow). This is the first time I've been to a civil wedding in Germany. Usually, they are limited to immediate family and witnesses.

For this wedding we went to the Old City Hall (Altes Rathaus). I had to smile at this sign. It reserves a parking space for wedding cars directly outside City Hall:

This City Hall is only open for weddings on regular work days. For obvious reasons, Friday is a popular day to schedule the wedding.  I was told that there is only space for about 20 people in the room where the wedding is performed. The wedding before us, however, must have had 50 people in the room. Here we are waiting in the hall, outside the rooms for the wedding:

We were suppose to be quiet for the weddings that were occurring in the rooms before us, but I have to confess we were not particularly quiet. There appeared to be two weddings, in two separate rooms at a time. Most brides get a different dress, one for each wedding. Our turn for the wedding:

The sign by the door says "Trauzimmer" Wedding Room. Again, being unfamiliar with the custom, I find this very interesting. The public official is holding the door. She's probably embarrassed for me and all my photo-taking. Here's what a Wedding Room looks like:

White shears and red drapes. The wedding only takes about 20 minutes. Fritz says it is mostly bureaucratic. I missed it because Trixie was upset about something and we had to leave the room.

Afterwards, we went outside onto the pedestrian street. Even though each wedding is a relatively small number of people, there are a lot of weddings happening. So there's confetti and people drinking champagne, and brides and grooms everywhere. There are also random people from the city and tourists walking by, etc. It's like big informal party in the street. I love this! It's a totally different type of wedding atmosphere from anything I've ever experienced in the US.

The Germans I know really like to play games at weddings. Games are apparently not reserved for the party after the church wedding. Here's a game played in the street outside City Hall. The bride and groom will use itty bitty fingernail scissors to cut the heart shape out of this sheet:

And the groom carries the bride through the cut out:

Success! And maybe a little more challenging than carrying her over the threshold!

(I then asked if I could then use those little scissors to finish cutting my kids' nails.  Just kidding. You know I couldn't resist adding that!)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Preparations for Travel

On the advent of our transatlantic departure, the kids get super whiny. This is a common occurrence any time travel is coming, no matter how excited they are, there's just enough uncertainty, just enough nervousness that their voices to turn to whines. But I'm not crying! Mattias tells me. I'm talking in my sad voice! For Trixie, who is barely speaking, the whining is accompanied by writhing around on whatever floor is conveniently beneath her feet when the mood strikes. I pick her up off the floor a dozen times in a single afternoon. Noah and Mattias will miss approximately three weeks of school. For Noah, especially, missing the end of the year means a lack of closure. He breaks into tears one night in bed because he'll be missing Field Day.

While typing the paragraph above, Mattias comes to me, his face covered in black marker, Look what I did! I march him straight to the bathroom to clean it off his face before it becomes permanent. He's too old to draw on himself with marker. But he's too young to know what to do with all this nervousness. I should have been paying more attention instead of distracting myself with this blog. After scrubbing off the marker, I cuddle him on my lap while trimming his finger and toenails. There are so many things to do right now! I know Mattias needs the physical-ness of a cuddle; I need these kids with clean/short nails for the wedding in three days. Trixie is jealous of the cuddle time, she attempts to push Mattias off my lap. As we rebalance, I look up and out the window to see Fritz's retired boss walk past the window with his grandchildren. They look so idyllic and peaceful. I wonder if I look idyllic or peaceful at the moment. I feel anything but.

At bedtime, I dump the responsibilities on Fritz and go to Target on a last minute errand. I can count the number of times I've dumped bedtime responsibilities on Fritz on one hand. But on this evening, I just. can't. do. one. more. minute. with. the. kids. At the store I wonder WHY we do this to ourselves. Whenever we pull the kids out of their routine it's a special kind of parental torture. I can hear my mother saying that it's good for kids to do new things. I can hear myself saying that I've never been a complacent type; I've always pushed myself out of my comfort zone. But with the kids...I don't know how much fight I have left in me. After 8 years of little kids and their irrational behavior, I'm thoroughly, maybe even irrevocably, exhausted. I watch other families, with their seemingly quieter, simpler, more peaceful lives and I wonder if I'm addicted to creating chaos in my own life. I imagine telling my mother that pushing the child-me to try new things created an exhausting standard.

I sigh and try to see some personal advantage in our imminent travels. When the kids were younger – when there were fewer of them – visiting relatives meant I could fade into the background a bit. I'm not sure that's possible anymore. We'll see.

I think about Noah and Mattias's school and the way my life revolves around it. I consider that maybe my school-centric social circle here in Denver contributes to my exhaustion. I like every individual, but as a group.... The group is simultaneously wonderful and horrible for me. Sometimes the group identity feels stuck to my personhood like a temporary tattoo I'd like to scrub away. Maybe I just need some space from that school and the group collective. Slip into someone new, have a different context. Yes, I think, that might be nice.

Then I think again about how tired I am. But not so tired I can't type up a blog post! I remind myself. Because there was a time, about a year ago, when sitting down to type just wasn't an option. I remind myself to be thankful, because the exhaustion has been worse. Maybe I can type more blog posts after I've been able to shed my skin and blend into a new background...

When I feel deflated by motherhood – and frankly, it's frequent in the last few years – I tell myself that it will get easier. I believe this; I have to; otherwise I couldn't go on. The idea of all the kids being in school for several hours a day is a juicy carrot, hanging just beyond my reach, but not for long! When the three kids are together and in super-whine mode (like now), I'm interrupted with a new crises every 20 seconds. We grab dinner out and: Trixie throws olives on the floor. Mattias cries about the baby birds outside in the thunderstorm. Trixie gets her finer stuck in straw hole. Noah has to be reminded to sit in his chair. Trixie dumps water on the table. Noah wonders away to refill his glass. Trixie finds a mystery tennis ball under the table and won't let go of it. Mattias wants to know (through sobs) where the baby birds go when it rains. Noah has to be reminded to sit in his chair (again). Trixie squirts yogurt all over herself. And so on.

As I pushed my cart around the aisles of Target, cringing at the thought of Fritz back at home wrangling their whiny butts into bed, I promise myself that when they are all older and in school, I will do WHAT I WANT during their absence and dammit, I WILL BE HAPPY DOING IT. I'm totally invested in being here while they are young. But it feels like it's lasted about 3 decades and it's not really what I want to be doing full-time anymore and mostly it's only fun in retrospect. I will not mope around shedding tears about it being over. I remind myself to record these sentiments. Maybe they'll make me laugh some day. Or cry. But Today-Me wants to tell Future-Me: THIS TIME WAS NOT EASY! Don't be deceived by the way it comes across so cute and harmless in the photos. Or funny on the blog. The exhaustion runs deep.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Here's what we did this morning for Mother's Day:

Yes! That would be a snowman. Already melting. (Can you see the puddle in the sidewalk behind?) I had to bring the kids back inside quickly. The mud index was increasing exponentially as we worked.  The poor trees here in Colorado. I tell you, it's a tough life in the high plains.

Fritz gave me this for Mother's Day:

...that would be a mojito muddler. In my last (deleted) post, I confessed I'd rather sit still and drink a mojito than go on the upcoming trip to Germany.

Now, if only I can find some mint buried in all the snow mud.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Settling in to Go

We are really settling in to our new space in the Wyse house. It feels great. We finished painting the upstairs three weekends ago. Since then, we've been moving in. Turns out that moving back in isn't an insignificant process, either. We still have boxes to unpack and furniture to rearrange, but the basics are in place and functional.

Looking back, I have the feeling that we postponed – or weren't ready to make – a lot of decisions two years ago when I was pregnant with Trixie. Everything from transportation to sleeping to childcare support was in flux and undecided.

Fritz says that sometimes delaying is his strategy when he doesn't know the answer, or when he's not sure he'll like the answer that he'll arrive at. Maybe it was a subconsciously shared strategy for a few years. I don't know why we didn't buy a second family car sooner, or convert the loft space to a bedroom earlier, but now that we have done those things, it's a like the whole family has given a communal sigh of relief. Kids who weren't sleeping through the night now are. Grumpy parents have been replaced by more relaxed parents.

A few people have expressed their surprise that we renovated a 4 year-old house. I'm almost painfully aware of how crazy it sounds. It might even have something to do with why we employed the delaying tactics. As I've mentioned before, I suspect that moving to a new house because you had a baby sounds less insane than renovating a house while you're living in it.

Maybe renovating was an easier route for us to take because we had envisioned – even while the house was being built – ways we would like to change it. Our house came with about 200 pages of "options" or upgrades. But the options WE envisioned weren't always the ones that made it into the builder's 200 pages. Even when starting with an empty lot, compromises had to made. The most important thing for us as we picked out (or rejected) all those options was that we start with a house that had flexibility to change as our family changed. Thankfully it was a strategy that has worked out well. It also gives me some small opportunity to create and re-imagine, two of my favorite activities that repeatedly take a backseat in daily life.

I'm hoping to get some before/after photos up in the near future. This next week, I'm scrambling to get everything ready for our trip to Germany. I'm hoping I'll have some blogging time when I'm in Germany.