Thursday, July 21, 2011

School's Out

School's out for summer.

It's been a long time coming, so many days of getting up at 6.30am and so many afternoons spent helping with homework, but finally it's the summer holidays.

There have been years in the past when I've dreaded the six weeks when the children are at home, driftless and the constant refrain is 'what are we doing today?' But as the children are growing up, so the necessity for me to provide entertainment is waning, they'd much rather play with friends than do something I've suggested and so at this point in my parenting career I'm looking forward to six weeks with no desperate need to be somewhere.

Quite why the schools didn't all break up last week is beyond me, they certainly haven't done any work in the last four days. At the high school they handed their text books back last Friday and then have been on a very reduced timetable - in at 9 (instead of 7.50) on two days & back whenever the teachers had had enough of them (maybe that's just how it seemed, there's certainly been no adherence to the timetable) yesterday they weren't in till 11 and then it was only in order to run as many 2.5k sponsored laps as they could in order to raise funds for the school beautification programme. The primary school has been equally lax this week, Jas reporting many lessons were 'playing lessons' and today her class went down to the the Eiscafé.

Anyway, another school term and year is done with, six weeks of doing very little to look forward to! Just hope the weather plays along, I don't want six weeks trapped in a house with a stinky wet dog and two kids who want to be outside!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Sunday was the Abschlussfest for Jasmine's class. It's the end of term and the year 4's leave to start their new schools, so with a mixed year group class the year 4's are saying goodbye to primary education and the year 3's to their classmates.

As a year 3 mom I didn't need to help out but I thought in the spirit of integration it would be good for me (and then maybe I can pick up tips for next year, when I will be expected to play more of a role). The party was due to start at 3pm so we were setting up tables at 1. All was going smoothly, tables up, benches up, paper table clothes firmly stuck down with duct-tape* due to the unseasonal gale like winds - at least we were in no danger of anyone getting heat stroke or sunburn. The kids (belonging to the parents who were setting up) were playing either tig (fang as it's called here) or football. Julian fell over and cried out in pain, and continued to cry out...there was nothing obviously broken, but his upper arm hurt - a lot. Half an hour, an ice pack and several cubes of sugar later the arm still hurt just as much and he was shipped off to hospital, to return an hour or two later with the arm strapped to his torso, broken.

The party started with the cake buffet, coffee (or tea) and cake, lots of mingling and small talk being made - well small talk anyway, in this kind of situation the parents tend to find their little cliques and stick together, fine if you've got a clique, tough if you don't. Fortunately Rebecca's son is in the same class as Jas, so I was not alone, in fact later on at the bbq we had our own little 'ausländer'* clique, there were the English, the French, Polish and Albanian.

After cake we had the entertainment, the year 4's sang a song written for their teacher, the year 3's had another song to say goodbye and good luck to the year 4's. Then there was an almost cringey song/rhyme from two of the leaving moms all about Herr B and how wonderful the children (and the parents) think he is, before the pièce de résistance, a short film of interviews with the departing students about their two years with Herr B. This was very cleverly done and copied onto enough DVDs that every child got a copy.

Then came the bbq and at last the wine was opened, a good job really seeing as the fest wasn't even halfway through. I got home shortly after 10pm, having spent the last couple of hours sitting on a bench in the school playground with a fire burning and a guitar playing.

It was a good day, but did it really have to last so long? The problem stemmed from the fact that the parents were allowing the kids to call the shots, none of the kids wanted to go home if their friends were staying and so all the adults had to stay. Last year I ducked out before the bbq started up, thoroughly annoying Jas at the time and further annoying her when the following day she discovered just how late everyone had been there and what she'd missed out on, so this year I'd agreed to stay till the bitter end. We were both wrecked yesterday, I was running purely on caffeine and Jas on sugar (and coca cola), thank goodness the fest is only once a year, I need my 6 weeks schulfrei! Role on Saturday.

* a word that in my head is spelt 'duck-tape', but I'm sure it's not.
** ausländer = foreigner

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Snaps 73

My German teacher went away for the week, this is me doing my grammar while she's swanning about in Sicily.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Quiz-ie Rascal

Last night was the 2nd Expats Quiz Night, sadly the turnout wasn't up to that of last months due to the truly crappy weather I'm sure, but that didn't stop us, we had enough for three teams of three and so the battle commenced!

Ian slaves all month long on writing the quiz (yeah, I don't believe that either, I mean, he does have a proper job afterall!) and delights in tormenting our grey matter. Here's a few of the questions we were taxed with:

What types of Disney animal are the following?
- Iago?
- Scar?
- Robin Hood?

Sport round;
- Sebastian Vettel won last years Formula 1 championship but who came 2nd?
- In what year did the Ryder Cup start? 1917, 1927 or 1937?
- Which is the first tournament of the year in the Tennis Grand Slam?

General knowedge;
- Name the secretary general of the U.N.
- Route 66 connects L.A with which other city?
- Where is the Gobi desert?

There was also a picture round, we had to name the car brands from their badges - a piece of automobile cake for J* and me, but the Luscious Lulus confused this:

for this:oops!

It was another fun, quiz night which has even won over Rachael, who "doesn't do quiz nights", previously declaring them to be too serious and dull...that cannot be said of Mr Quizmaster Hookham, who seems to have the level of our (un)intelligence and (lack of) general knowledge finely judged.

The three teams were very close, with the cheating** Yanks winning by 2 points followed by the Luscious Lulus and the United Nations both getting 19/25. We then screamed ahead to claim second prize by getting the tie breaker question correct:

In a worldwide survey the French were (supposedly) declared to be the nation which has the most sex, but how much do they get in a year?
J was ecstatic. He knew that, he declared, he'd heard it once and clearly never forgets a fact once he's heard first he wrote down 167, changed it to 168 and finally settled on 170. Fortunately for J (whose infallible memory was clearly suffering from 1 glass of wine*** too many) the Lulus guessed higher than us and as the answer was something like 130**** we then won 2nd prize. Gloat? Of course we didn't!

* a self confessed petrol head with a sad weakness for Suzuki Swifts.
** they admitted to cheating on at least one question.
*** this makes him sound like a raging alcoholic, when in fact, as he was intending to drive home (but not in a Swift) he only drank 1 glass of wine all evening.
**** I've tried to find the right answer online as the Quizmaster said it was a proper (Wiki verified) fact, but I've failed and really don't want to keep Googling 'frequent & sex'...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Don't forget your towel

Was Douglas Adams German d'you think?

This is the Douglas Adams of "Hitchhiker's Guide" fame. He famously wrote that towels were "the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have". They could be used to keep the hitchhiker warm, to lie on, as a sail on a boat, can be wetted for hand to hand combat, waved as a distress signal and even, if it's clean and dry enough used as a means to dry off.

The towel became such a symbol of the Hitchhiker books that every year on May 25th there is a "Towel Day" when fans of Douglas Adams commemorate his untimely death (in 2001) by carrying towels with them.

Germans are notoriously portrayed as towel carrying sun lounger hoggers, who plan with military precision their dawn raids on the best spots by the pool. As much as I shudder with embarassment at the foibles of my fellow countrymen when on holiday (the demanding of a cooked "English" breakfast everyday, the negligible use of sunscreen ensuring that days 2-14 are spent lobster hued and the necessity to drink lager at all times of the day) so Germans cringe when you mention the words "Strandtuch"* and "Sonnenliege"** in the same sentence. I have witnessed this in action and know it is not just hype, if you don't baggsy a sun lounger before breakfast then expect to spend the day either in full shade or next to the screaming action in the toddler pool!

Recently I've seen the German baggsy-ing method being used in the gym. A cross trainer standing completely idle but with a newspaper propped up on the screen, a full bottle of water and a towel draped over the side - but not a person in sight, and no-one claimed the machine for a good 20 minutes. I think the reason the guy didn't want to use any one of the other 15 cross trainers is because this particular one is right next to the floor to ceiling glass windows of the studio that was about to be used for a step class, I guess he wanted something to oggle when the newspaper got too dull. And then just today I was at the gym early (just after 8) and already in the aerobic studio there was a mat on the floor with a towel, 30 minutes later and there were two mats with towels, another 10 minutes passed and another mat with towel - all this for a class due to start at 9am, clearly positioning within a class is of vital importance. Fortunately this has no impact on me, with the machines I'm happy to use whichever is available and for my yoga class I try to hide as far at the back as possible, let the other Kettwigefrauen fight it out for the spots at the front under the teacher's nose, I'll just wobble along and over balance out of sight!

* beach towel
** sun lounger

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Shopping, but not as you know it

Do you remember "Swapshop"? It was a Saturday morning kids tv programme back in the early 80's with Noel Edmonds. The premise was that kids rang in with stuff they had that they didn't want any longer and wanted to swap for something else. I used to watch but never dreamed of joining in, althnough the temptation to ring in to swap my little brother's weird bionic man with his seeing eye must have been great.

Last night I had an invitation to a live swap, I had to be at Lulu's* at 7pm with 20-30 items that I no longer wanted.

Leslie tries to organise the event so that there are between 6 & 10 people, any fewer and there's not enough bargaining going on or choice of stuff, any more and the evening goes on until dawn - as it was I didn't get home till pumpkin time. Last night there were only six of us as a couple had cancelled a the last moment, possibly not a bad thing otherwise I'd have got even less sleep!

The evening ran as follows; everyone pays 10 euro and receives 10 coffee beans which are then used as swap currency. Everyone takes a turn to show something to the group that they want to swap, if you want it you pay 1 bean, if more than one person wants the item then they try to outbid each other. Not everything gets swapped, a floor length black leather coat was tried on by all of us but no-one quite had the swagger to carry it off (without looking like an SS storm trooper or a Rocky Horror fugitive) and there was a white jacket that was too tight on some people and completely shapeless on others. There were also items that almost brought people to blows - mostly footwear...a pair of wedge heeled green suede boots of mine sparked a bidding war so ferocious in the first round that we decided they had to be put aside and come back to - and even then a deal had to be brokered whereby both parties have access to the luscious boots. Then there was a pair of cream snakeskin (possibly effect, but they are American, so who knows) backless shoes that were so comfy and yet so 'WOW' I wanted them as much as Yvonne the end I let Yvonne take them as I'd thought to get the pair of cowboy boots (that I'd spotted waiting) coming up later, that plan backfired as Leslie (owner of both pairs) decided she needed the boots to go with a pair of jeans she's just paid a bean for...damn! I shall know better next time!

It was a successful evening for everyone I think, I got rid of shoes and clothes that I no longer wear and at the same time picked up some new clothes, a pair of pretty silver ballerina pumps and some new necklaces, and managed to come home 7 euro up!

Now I just need an invitation to a party so that I can wear the gorgeous strapless frock that I picked up for a single coffee bean!

* for those new here, Lulu's is almost my 2nd home, a small (but perfectly formed) bar run by a Manc & a Yank, our venue of choice for celebrations, commiserations and general socialising - we were there last Friday for Princie's birthday & are there again on Thursday for expats night.

Word of the day; to swap - tauschen

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Friday, July 8, 2011

Those that can, do...

...and those that can't, teach.

A very poor spirited proverb that demeans teachers, it always leaves me wondering about those that can't even teach? Like me for example.

I'm so child unfriendly that if I were a toy I'd be labelled 'only suitable for those over 18'. I can get on fine with my children (although they might disagree) and with other people's children (in small doses, although this does depend on the child...there are some I choose not to have in my house) but children en masse? In a schooling situation? No thank you. I'd rather stick pins in my eyes.

So quite how I found myself this morning, in front of a class of 22 ten year olds still escapes me.

The current topic for Jasmine's class is 'the body', a subject that when first mooted was supposed to include sex & reproduction, this has clearly been forgotten about (unless they're going to cover that in the next two weeks, which I can't see) as they've been backwards and forwards over healthy eating and vegetables and exercise and now they've all prepared a specific topic (Jas did the skin) to present to the class.

My first mistake: A few weeks ago, on a wet weekend, I finally gave in to Simon's unsubtle nagging about tidying up the study. I emptied all the shelves, re-ordered everything and created two bin bags of rubbish (Simon will so regret this, he'll never find anything, ever again) during my tidying I came across an old science kit of Ben's entitled 'Blood, Bones and Body Bits' and suggested to Jas that it might be useful for her current school project - silly me.

Inside this box was a heart, a red plastic (with gruesome vein detailing) heart and the instructions for demonstrating to children how blood flows into and out of the heart and the function of the valves. Jas and I took this to show her teacher, and I asked him whether he'd be able to understand the instructions (as they're, thoughtlessly, only in English) he said he'd get his daughter to translate it for him. And that was my second mistake. I should have gone along with the instructions already translated, because of course he didn't get round to translating it and so I said I'd come in to show the class.

My third mistake: Choosing a day and a time that he wasn't there. Herr B sloped off to a 'meeting', leaving me with 20+ children and a substitute teacher (this class is pretty wild, and Herr B does seem to be the only one who can get them to be productive).

However I survived. It was a terrifying ordeal though, standing at the front of a hot classroom, trying to demonstrate in a foreign language an experiment that I hadn't had the forethought to try out at home...

I'm so glad that I took some time yesterday to think through how the experiment would run and what extra words I might need ('cos I don't have the German for 'heart valve' or 'ventricle' in my day to day vocab) I also thought to take with me newspaper (to protect the desk - I'm such a Blue Peter girl at heart) and a large plastic bowl*.

We started by making the 'blood' (water + red and green food colouring) then we listened to each other's hearts, established that everyone was still alive (although it's quite likely some of the boys are brain dead) and the noise that the heart makes, and then things got messy. Taking the heart we connected the valves and then poured in the blood and squeezed. The bowl was definitely my best decision, catching all the blood that came out and enabling all the kids to have a go at squeezing blood out of a heart.

Hopefully it was an interesting lesson for the class, hopefully I didn't make a complete fool of myself, at least I didn't end up with red or green food colouring on my clothes which was my one worry, just red hands from all that blood!

* just before Christmas I bought what is probably meant to be a small baby bath for the sole purpose of soaking my turkey in it (a great recipe btw) but it has since been used for pedicures and now 'blood' collecting.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Whoops I dun it again

I am card-less.


Bank card-less that is.

When we first moved here four years ago I treated my sparkly new German bank cards with the same casual manner that I treated my English ones. Stuff them in my purse and forget about them until I need to flex the plastic. Never had any problems.

But it turns out that German cards are a little more sensitive and less hard wearing than their English counterparts. Maybe this is due to the credit based nature of English society requiring durable plastic, whereas Germany is still very much a cash based society, here visa is what you need as well as your passport to get into some countries, not something to use instead of cash.

My first Commerzbank card didn't last a year, I had to go grovelling into our local branch (had to make a note of their opening hours first, because they take an hour for lunch and some days they shut early in the afternoon) and beg for a new card.

The second card lasted even less time. They weren't amused. I had to undergo a full interogation as to how I had managed to knacker two cards in such quick succession. This interogation session did have a result though (as well as the new card) as I was informed that it was probably the magnetic clasp on my (new) purse that was ruining the bank cards (funny how it was only the Commerzbank cards that couldn't cope with a bit of magnetism eh?)

That replacement lasted until this week. I was running low on cash (not a sensible thing to allow to happen here in 'cash is king' Deutschland) and went to the bank. There are two machines, one's an 'in&out'* and the other is just an 'out'. I tried the one, it asked for my PIN and then the amount, thought about it, chuntered to itself, and then told me my card wasn't valid and to please use one that I tried the other machine and got the same reaction. I'd have gone into the bank there and then but just as the 2nd machine was thumbing its nose at me the staff went to lunch, leaving me to turn the air blue and walk away empty handed.

I went back yesterday, tried the machines again (just in case a miracle had occured) and then went inside to accost some innocent bank teller. I told him my card was 'kapputt' and I told him what had happened. First he checked the bank account (to make sure it wasn't empty) then after much umming and ahhing he got me to show him how it didn't work...He got quite excited when the card wasn't immediately rejected, trying to tell me that it wasn't kapputt, that it was working again. So I told him to wait and then the machine performed its trick for him and he had to confess that the customer was right and the card was indeed knackered.

20 minutes it took to get a new card ordered and still I have no cash - I'm reduced to borrowing from the 14 year old son (who usually has more cash than me) and begging off Simon.

Fortunately we have another bank account (with a different bank) so I do still have an active bank card (therefore shopping is not impeded) unfortunately there isn't a cashpoint in Kettwig that takes this card.

Another cloud on my horizon - each new bank card comes with a new PIN...and no opportunity to change the PIN either. Crap. I'm rubbish at remembering PINs, and the expired card had such a lovely PIN, I could remember it and now I have to try and wipe it from my memory and prepare a space for a new one. Bugger.

* the 'in and out' machine is amazing. You take along all your loose change (except Germans NEVER have loose change as they ALWAYS count out every single bean in order to pay the cashier the exact amount) and tip it into the hole in the machine, stick in your bank card and the machine then sorts and counts everything before depositing it into your account. A-mazing. The weird thing is though that it only takes x number of coins, anything over x gets returned to that must mean I'm supposed to count out the coins so that I deposit only the right number...not happening.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Busy Bee

I have had such a ridiculously busy weekend.

Normally my diary is a blank (for 'fun' things anyway, it's always full of stuff like 'German lesson' & 'Jas maths' & 'dentist') occasionally I'll get a weekend with a Friday evening outing or, even rarer, a Saturday one but this weekend? Mad busy!

It all kicked off with book group, 16 or 17 of us talking ten to the dozen, annoying all the Germans around us because we were so loud and they still couldn't eavesdrop because we were yakking in English and probably way too fast for them - sad. We (Rebecca, Emma & I) made the decision to drink red (as opposed to the pink which got us ruinously drunk last month) with the theory that we'd drink less that way, fortunately steered clear of the the bio tempranillo, which when drunk on a previous occasion gave us all really bad heads (and it wasn't anything to do with the quantity trust me) Kamesh and Muna forgot this vital fact though and apparently suffered the whole of Saturday for it. This month we have a proper book to read - Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth. This was on the recommendation of (big) Rebecca* who was shocked into almost speechlessness (not an easy thing to accomplish as she's American, only not talking when drinking, actually she quite likes a drink...) when we said none of us there had read it, we could live to regret this hasty decision as it turns out to have about a billion pages...I guess it'll keep me entertained on holiday.

Saturday we had an invitation to an American Independence Day celebration at Princie's. Princie and John rent an apartment down on the edge of the river so large amunts of party time were spent on the balcony, glass in one hand, other hand waving at nosey people walking along the river bank who would stop and stare. The party was good fun; good food, nice wine and good company, about half and half (Brits to Yanks) with the odd Kraut thrown in as well for good measure. The Brits took the dress code to be red, white and blue (see yesterday's blog for a pic) whilst the Yanks went for heavy accessorising - stars 'n stripes hats, red, white 'n blue flower garlands etc. this almost but not quite made up for the teensie weensie white shorts that were being worn. I know I sound bitter and twisted but that's because I am, the itsy bitsy shorts were accompanied by endless brown legs and long blonde hair - jailbait if ever I saw it, turns out the 2 girls were 13...OMG, and I nearly offered them a glass of wine each!

Sunday and we had a diary clash, Ben had his end of term do from 2pm at the canoe club up river, cake, bbq and canoe polo were on the menu, but at 3pm Jas and I had to be at her school for yet another performance of the Pied Piper (she's in it & I'm back stage) so after grabbing a piece of cake and squeezing in a bit of chat we had to dash back here. After the performance we had to take apart the stage and put all the chairs back in the classrooms and generally turn the gym hall back into a functioning gym hall. All I wanted to do yesterday evening was sleep!

I told you I'd had a packed weekend, I almost need a weekend to recover, but hey, at least there's only three weeks of school left and then we're off to Spain to relax in the sun, 19 days and counting!

* book group has two Rebeccas, one is about 2 feet taller than the other...

Word of the day; einräumen - to admit to a lie, or, to stack shelves

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday Snaps 71

Last night's festivities, helping American friends here celebrate American Independance Day.