Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Way More Fun with German

In addition to spending our days in the classroom slogging through the language, we also have other opportunities to play with German.  Two such opportunities came about last month.

One day we had a field trip to the German Embassy. It was the best morale boost, chatting like normal people with Germans in German. The best part - they understood us! In German!

The second opportunity was a special module put together by one of the teachers for handling Consular work. We held mock consular interviews at mock consular windows (apparently called "counters" = "schalter" in German. Probably a linguistic thowback from the days before bulletproof glass separated us from the visa seekers.)

Mind you, my German is riddled with grammar mistakes and missing vocabulary I have to "paraphrase" around. But it appears to be more or less understandable.

It is a little hard to believe that six months ago I spoke no German at all!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Coddle Pasta

We've coined a new term tonight.  I knew I was making a meal the kids have steadfastly and continually failed to enjoy. So, I pulled out a bunch of the cooked pasta and left it out, untouched by any other ingredients. After the kids tried dinner and, yet again, failed to like it, I let them finish dinner with plain pasta saved from before. The "Coddle Pasta"; meaning the pasta that represents my coddling of the children. Heck yeah!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

McDonald's

We aren't really a fast food family. McDonald's is something saved for special occasions like being on the road, birthday dinners (kids', not ours), or when the grandparents have the kids and can do whatever they please.

Alex decided she wanted to use her coupon to pick dinner, and she chose the golden arches. There are two within 1.5 miles of our house, and I randomly chose one. And oh, what a stroke of luck!

Right upon the entrance when we walked in was a table loaded to the brim with coloring pages, crayons, craft supplies and who-even-knows-what-else.  I had to drag the kids away when their food arrived and they rushed back when they finished eating. There were balloons handed out.  There were craft projects made. They even each got a sugar cookie to decorate (complete with whipped cream, mini M-n-Ms, crushed Oreos, and a cherry for the top. Oreo seems to have changed its formula because it now has no dairy, so Alex could pile that on, and she finished decorating her sugar cookie when we got home). The ladies working the tables seemed to really like kids, they had good energy and a super relaxed attitude.

I asked what it was all about and they said they are doing "Family Night" about twice a month to better keep kids entertained.  I can say that although I doubt we'll head to McDonald's more often than before, we will certainly aim for that particular one when the next opportunity arises!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Memorable quotes

One of the kids, kicking a tree: Look, I'm a footpecker!

Terry to me, after he shared an article and started a conversation about the new McDonalds' Shamrock Shake straw design: The fibonacci sequence always distracts me when i see it in real life, and not just a recursion example.

Dinnertime rules we have been forced through experience to lay down: 1. No singing at the table until dinner is finished; 2. No dancing in the kitchen.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Fun with German

This may be the longest word I have learned thus far:  Geschwindigkeitsbeschr√§nkung
It means speed limit and has 28 letters. I have to imagine that on the Autobahn there is some abbreviation because I am not reading a 28 letter word while travelling at 200 km/h.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Fig Newtons vs. Bark Thins

Bark Thins Snacking Chocolate Dark Chocolate Almond with Sea Salt 4.7 ozEspecially because of Alex's milk problems, we have all become very dedicated label readers. Usually, finding something my kids will eat that is safe for Alex is the limit of my capabilities; worrying about chemicals, sugar, and other signs of (un-)healthfulness take a back seat. (And, a lot of non-dairy foods like cheeses and yogurts that replace dairy depend on various kids of additives/chemicals).

Today when I got home from the grocery store we were looking at the labels for the Fig Newtons I'd bought and the Bark Thins we had in the house.

Can you guess which one was better?

The Bark Thins had all recognizable, easy to pronounce ingredients. Less sugar, more protein. More fat, but looking at the ingredients it must be the butter and/or the almonds, neither of which worry us especially in terms of the kids (i.e. nuts are healthy and the kids are skinny anyway).

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Great Escape 2016

We try to get a night alone once a year, although it doesn't always happen [note: dealing with house construction or rehabilitation work in the summer does not count]. This time we left the kids with Terry's dad for the overnight and hit the road - to Philadelphia. We glutted on art and food.

When we arrived in the city we went straight to Italian Market. It was a bit smaller than we remembered. We popped into the local tourist info office on the main drag and ended up chatting a while with the women who worked there. Turns out, one of them has a brother in the foreign service who served in Kazakhstan about ten years ago. What were the odds?  The other woman recommended her favorite local pizza place, about half a block away. We have been eating bad pizza for years and had even forgotten how pizza is supposed to taste.  It was so, so good. We also stopped in a couple delicatessen to look and drool and ended up carting back to the hotel some fancy cheeses.

Next up was the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  They are doing a special exhibition about the Mexican art scene post-revolution (1910-1950). The exhibit seemed never-ending - really good, but also overwhelming. I could have stopped for a cup of tea and opportunity to digest mid-way. We hadn't been to an art museum since Russia, and realized how much we missed it.

After checking into the hotel we wandered toward our originally planned dinner at Vietnam - not to be confused with Vietnam Restaurant - the two establishments are rivals and across the street from each other. But, on the way we saw a ramen restaurant and that was that. It was incredibly authentic, right down to the seven item menu, six items of which were soup with a chunk of pork in it and the other being vegetarian. Terry was pretty happy with his choice.  Turns out, ramen is apparently a new thing because we proceeded to find about five more restaurants where previously there had been none.

We headed toward Penn's Landing, which we both realized we had never visited. There's a big ice skating rink right now but it was packed so we didn't take a turn. When we were later hungry again we went to the Franklin Fountain for ice cream, but the line looked about a half hour long so we went to Capogiro instead. Some day we'll try Franklin Fountain and find out whether it would have been worth it.

Next day we headed toward RTM (Reading Terminal Market) for breakfast so Terry could get his creamed chipped beef. Walking through the market afterwards we ran into our neighbors from Maryland! We did a self-guided mural walking tour around center city, which alerted to us to how much Philly has embraced its mural culture - the majority of the murals on the tour hadn't been there when we lived in the city. None of the ones on the list were any of my favorites. Back to RTM for the pretzels. I can't describe how delicious these pretzels are, except to say they you don't think a pretzel is such a big deal until you eat one of these.

I don't know if this is a year round thing or a holiday special, but our tickets to the museum were good for two days. As we hadn't hit the parts Terry wanted to see, we went back for more.  On our way back north we stopped for the one other must-eat on this adventure - Malik's!  As the restaurant was dark, we went and got takeout from the minimart. Still delicious.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy birthday to me!

My day started, unfortunately, around 4am when Zoltan had a nightmare. I managed to crawl back into my own bed an hour later. I did get to sleep until 8am, which is quite late in this house!  Opened birthday cards from the kids, made chocolate chip pancakes, and had a pretty normal morning.

We went ice skating and then back home for Terry to make my five hour duck for dinner. The duck was almost endangered - we couldn't find any in the stores - but the Allentown farmer's market came through for us and we brought dinner home from PA.

Happy new year to all, and happy birthday to me :-)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

German Language training Part III

Structured Learning
It's been about 12 weeks.  We have switched teachers three times.  We had our first assessment - a miniature/friendlier version of the Final Exam.  It happened to occur during my nadir of confidence and performance. I still did OK.  I have learned a lot about myself as a learner - stuff that might have been useful in my 20 previous years of learning stuff in a structured environment (school, university, graduate school).

My German is painfully slow and riddled with false starts and errors.  But it is 12 mere weeks of knowledge and I am unabashedly proud of myself. And I still have 2/3 of the course to go!

Last week most of us got all switched up - classes broken up and scattered to the wind - so not only are we all adjusting to a new teacher but also to new classmates.  I think we are getting into a groove, though, and am looking forward to more Deutsch lernen.

Outside of Class Learning
Our fabulous au pair is introducing us to aspects of German culture. One of which is the importance of Saint Nicholas Day - December 6 - where she gave the kids fabulous monogrammed stockings with little treats inside them. And she bakes cookies. Which we shared with our classmates (yes, we properly attributed her).

Also, we went to the Christmas Market held at the German School in Potomac a couple of weekends ago.  The lines for gluhwein and crepes were way too long but Terry managed to snag himself some sausage and the kids got cotton candy. We didn't use a ton of German but could hear it spoken all around us (as well as, to be honest, a bunch of Russian). The kids decorated and then ate cookies, and they got to play at the school's playground to burn off steam.

Our fabulous au pair also hand wrote these amazing little booklets for the kids with some simple "Hi my name is ... do you want to play with me" type phrases, basic vocabulary, and great drawings throughout. We got them bound at Staples and hope they will survive a couple of years of heavy use.

Wir haben viel Spa√ü! 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

What I love about FSI

FSI is like a college campus on reunion weekend, every day.

Where else do you find so many adults with jeans and backpacks?  I'm guessing nowhere. Ditto for people talking about homework and tests in the hallway, or rushing to get to class on time or talk to the teacher.

At FSI we also often run into people from our past in the cafeteria (for some reason it mostly happens in the cafeteria). On Friday we had lunch with a friend from our first post, someone we haven't laid eyes upon in eight years, because I happened to walk past him.  He didn't know Terry and I were in the USA and we didn't know he was in training. It was his last day in town. This kind of thing happens all the time!