Monday, November 19, 2018

Why do we buy them toys?

Each child has spent a large part of this evening entirely encased in a sleeping bag. First they wandered around testing out life as an inchworm/a caterpillar. Then of course they started bug battles that ended with my son suffering an objectively minor, but emotionally major, wound. This will not end well.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Epic Road Trip part 3: Wroclaw

From Saxon Switzerland, we headed into Poland. Although we stopped at Boleslawic for the night and a bit of pottery shopping in the morning, our real destination was Wroclaw. All we knew about it was that it was a little city filled with brass gnomes. You can buy maps at the tourist info center, or find maps online, or just wander around with eyes peeled. Gnome hunting was a highlight of the entire trip for the kids.


 It reminded me a bit of Boston's Freedom Trail, in that the gnomes seemed specifically placed in neighborhoods around the city that tourists might not otherwise visit, but that the city might benefit from tourists discovering. Once such location that comes to mind is a small network of back alleys that sheltered, in addition to the gnomes, some brass farm animals and a number of independent shops, cafes and souvenir stores.

In addition to the gnomes, the town center area is also quite picturesque.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Epic Three-country Road Trip, Part 2: Saxon Switzerland National Park

On Day 3 of the Epic Road Trip we left Pilsen for Saxon Switzerland National Park, which is not in Saxony nor in Switzerland, but instead in Germany near the borders of Czech Republic and Poland.

Kudos to Microsoft or whoever has that program of rotating beautiful places on earth as the logon background.  That's where I first saw a photo of the place a couple of years ago, with its spectacular rugged rock formations. By then I knew I was on my way to Germany for my next tour and I made a plan to get to it. It's a big pain to get to from Frankfurt, but it is a mere convenient waystation on the Epic Road Trip!

We took the usual tourist route across the Bastei Bridge, which is free although parking costs a little bit. The half-price fare (due to construction) to go into the space that was once an old castle was more than worth it, as it had several decent exhibits and signs explaining what used to be where. It also had some of the best views and closest approaches to the edges of rock. Imagining what could have encouraged people to try to live in such a harsh environment was a fun mental exercise.

We also got to watch a number of rock climbers try their luck against the sharply peaking faces. But apparently none of those photos met with Terry's critical eye because none of them appeared again after he finished editing everything.

 Iconic photo of Bastei Bridge
 That is not a person. It is a sculpture known as the Angel.
Terry and Alex hanging out in a cave while Zoltan and I rest elsewhere. It's hard being 8 when everyone else is older and stronger.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Epic Three-country Road Trip, Part 1: Pilsen

Terry came for the kids' fall break and we took a road trip - something we normally don't do. Something we probably won't do too much again. But as the title indicates, it was epic.

We started with a plan to get to Pilsen early enough for one of the last Pilsner Urquell tours of the day. However, they were sold out so we got a tour for the next day. And for good measure, we went ahead and bought tickets to the Pilsen Underground tour for the next day as well.


Terry and the brewery and a stunningly beautiful day

Pilsen has nice parks. The kids had a great time playing on a series of mosaic'd faces and animals they lay on the path between the town center and the Pilsner Urquell brewery.
I've got to be honest - we have gone on a LOT of brewery tours. This was without question the worst. I don't know if our tour guide was new and didn't know anything or if this was the norm, but we spent a lot of time just waiting for things or watching a movie or two. For comparison, the Guinness tour was a 100% electronic experience and they still did a better job of getting the tourists interested in the brewing process and the history of the brewery.


Tour highlights: riding in the Czech Republic's largest elevator - in the brewery - then eating lunch in the Czech Republic's largest restaurant - on the brewery property. Other highlights included getting beer mugs for each of us and letting the kids get theirs engraved because, as Terry noted, this may be the only time Zoltan gets a touristy tchotchke with his name on it.

After lunch it was time to head to the Underground tour, which was far more interesting. To be fair, tromping through a city's hidden world is always going to be interesting no matter what, and it was a nice touch to have signs marking which street corners now-closed passages to the surface would have opened onto. Apparently people kept many of their valuables in the underground passages, to include, for some, their livestock. I can only imagine how that worked!

Another stop on our Pilsen experience was to the Great Synagogue. It was absolutely stunning and a testament to the size and wealth of some previous Jewish citizenry.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Lisbon

We went to Portugal nearly a year ago, when Terry and the kids came to visit me last winter break. It took Terry a while to edit the photos.

After three days in Porto, we hopped a train down to Lisbon. There, we cashed in hotel points and stayed at the Marriott. It's a lovely hotel, but a bit far from most things.

On the day that was supposed to be rainy (but was in fact sunny), we went to the Lisbon oceanarium - one of the world's best aquariums. My family would definitely agree with the assessment, as we ended up spending the entire day there. Zoltan even spent allowance to acquire Oscar the otter to commemorate one of our favorite exhibits.
 Puffins!
 This guy doesn't even look real
 The otter was absolutely the highlight

The next day was supposed to have nice weather and rained all morning. Gloriously, as we approached our tour guide around noon at the appointed spot, the rain softened and dried up and we went on our "food tour" - put into quotation marks because it was so much more. Our tour guide, Silvia, was recommended by a friend who had been in Lisbon about a month before us and who also had kids.

She took us all around the city, introduced us to the city's "secret" street elevators, mounds of delicious food (and got our very reluctant kids to at least try more different dishes that Terry and I could have on our own). We had alerted her to Alex's intolerance so after bringing us to what she considered the best place to get Pasteis de Belém, she took us to a different bakery for treats Alex could try.In addition to all the food, she was a wealth of information about Lisbon's, and Portugal's history and some contemporary issues. I was so skeptical of some of what she told me I went and looked it up myself (yes, tempura, that Japanese delicacy, came from Portugal!)

 We took very few photos in Lisbon. This gem is of a comic depicting Lisbon's history, painted into an archway by a public toilet.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Kronberg

Friends invited us to accompany them to the "Apfel Fest" in Kronberg that boasted 100 different varieties of apples. Like Milli Vanilli, we'll blame it on the rain, but there were only two different stands of apples that included fewer than two dozen different types. Admittedly, within that much smaller sampling there were a bunch we had never heard of, much less tasted. And of course we brought home several kilograms of apples to eat fresh, make apple chips, apple crisp, and other delicious apple treats.

Then we took the opportunity to wander around the town. Absolutely charming. The kids gave out assignments: they handled scouting duties, I was the photographer, one friend was the "noticer" (noticing and pointing out cool things to look at) and the other friend was the all-around "helper."

I hope I fulfilled my duties sufficiently :-)

 Half-timber, but with brick
 Carving on the corner of someone's house. 
The guy who makes up the beam on the right has a flower covering his crotch.
 A Socratic quote someone decided to paint on their home. 
The real question is, why don't we all do this?

According to the slate numbers (look closely among the slate tiles), the house was originally built in 1456.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Single Parenting is Hard

Disclaimer: I am still happily married to the father of my children, who provides financial and emotional support as much as the six hour time difference allows, so I recognize I do not face many challenges truly single parents do.

I'm into my first month as a single parent. For three days in the first week I tried to get to the grocery store but by the time I got home from work, cooked dinner, fed the kids and myself, cleaned up and spent a few decent moments with them, it was their bedtime. I could have gone to the store then, and one night I did pop out for milk and bread, but generally the remaining hour before my own bedtime was filled with dishes so we had clean things to eat from in the morning, a bit of work I had brought home in returning for leaving a bit early, other chores and maybe a shower.

My work day is pretty solidly 8 hours, plus 1/2 hour lunch and the 20 minutes or so it takes to get there or back. My children do plenty of chores, from dishes to laundry to cleaning the bathroom on the weekend. On the evening that we came the closest to running out of food we just had sandwiches for dinner. In the world of actual hardship, mine barely registers.

And yet.

Single parenting is hard.

When one child is completely melting down and needs my full attention for an entire hour, dinner doesn't get made. The other child's needs are ignored. Lunches aren't planned, dishes aren't cleaned, and everything waits until the storm passes. The evening logistics become especially challenging because children have a relatively short window for all that must be packed in between coming home from school and going to bed, and generally the adult things need to just wait. The work day is crunched back into eight hours - for the last few months it had been expanding longer and longer - so now there is always a small anxiety that something there is being missed or forgotten.

Bless the people who do this without an end in sight. Bless the people who do this with younger children, unreliable transportation to work, erratic or long work hours, a rush hour commute.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Saalberg Roman Fort

On Labor Day weekend (not a holiday for the kids) we ventured over to Bad Homburg to check out the Roman fort. Having spent time in northern England, and from reading Rick Riordan books, we thought we were pretty well versed in all things ancient Roman empire.

The fort does a really good job with presenting what life must have been like for the Romans living in Germany. There were exhibits, for example, showing how they made shoes - from cutting the leather, to the kinds of thread used (boar bristle) to the nails used to attach the sole onto the upper.

There was also an exhibition and lesson of how to properly throw a spear. We would have been failed recruits of the Roman army, but it was fun and interesting nevertheless.

There was also this room of life-sized paintings where people could put themselves into the picture. And a trunk of "Roman" clothes for people to dress up, if they chose, while doing so.
Farming is hard


We stopped for lunch in the museum's restaurant, which had been billed as having traditional Roman cuisine. I think my mushrooms sauteed in honey and I forget what else, served with bread and a soft cheese loaded with herbs, was probably a relatively authentic option. The kids' schnitzel ... maybe not so much.

Zoltan had forgotten his fleece so he and I shared mine, so we may have cut the day a bit shorter than if we had all been warmer. The kids insisted on stopping at the gift shop, where each one procured a new implement for the arsenal.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Oh, and I got tenure on Friday

Other than teaching and the foreign service I'm not sure of too many other professions that have a tenure process. Essentially, it is when an employer agrees that it no longer holds the right to fire you absent seriously egregious behavior and sometimes not even then.

In the foreign service, generalists have five years from the day they start A-100 to be granted tenure. The first assessment is at the third year of service, the second assessment is about a year later, and the third assessment is 6 months later. If it's "three strikes you're out",  then by the five year anniversary the employee is heading to his or her "separation address" - which most of us consider the place we want the Department to send our stuff when we retire.

Roughly 40% of employees are tenured on their first look. There are certain requirements that must be met before a person can even be considered, such as language training and Consular work (or being in the process; for example one colleague of mine was tenured in her second month of consular work and I know people have received tenure when they have not yet completed their first experience with language training). I'd have to guess, but it is something like 90% are tenured on their second look.

It has become something of a tradition for these lists to come out on Friday DC-time-zone evenings, ostensibly for people to have the weekend to get over disappointment. The rumor mill had been working feverishly this time, with all expectations that it would happen the Friday before Labor Day.

And this time the rumors were right. So Saturday morning I woke to a few notes of congratulations, checked to  be sure and it was in fact true.

ol' Uncle Sam has saddled himself with me.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Rüdesheim

With the advent of the children, the tourism has commenced. Before Terry left we managed a trip out to Rüdesheim to do the usual "rundfahrt" or round trip: a cable car ride up to the Germania monument, celebrating the unification of Germany.




Then the 45 or so minute hike with lots of stopoffs for things to see ...


 ... then over to the chairlift ride down to the Rhine river and the town of Bingen, where one catches a ferry back to Rüdesheim.