Monday, January 31, 2011

QUINN'S CULTURAL QUIPS #4 - License to write

I bet you didn't know that all elementary school children - at least those here in Lower Saxony - have to pass off certain writing requirements in order to receive their so-called license to write. Write that is, with a calligraphy pen. Generally speaking, by Christmas of their second grade year, they have received notice that after Christmas they will start learning how to write with a calligraphy pen.

What does this really mean? First order of business is to find a pen suitable to the child's hand. I took Jeffrey at the first of the year to pick out his first calligraphy pen. There are of course many such pens to choose from, but as fate would have it, the store we went to did not have too many to choose from. On a positive note, it is good that they didn't have too many to choose from. As it was it took far too long in my opinion, but I was patient and supportive and let him make the decision himself. Jeffrey made it immediately into a competition between pens. He is really into competitions. He lined up the pens and then wrote with each one, each time elliminating the one he felt did not write as well as another until he had a winner.

Since school started back in session, the kids have been working hard to pass off the assignments to get their license. This has been intense for Jeffrey. We have fought over it almost daily. I have prodded, cajoled, begged, demanded, pleaded, bribed... you get the picture, for him to keep working on the assignments. He on the other hand, although excited to get his pen, has had other things on his mind - EVERYTHING actually other than doing the writing required. He has sneaked out, dawdled, daydreamed, lied, put off and done everything else other than write.

After me telling him he HAS to finish this assignment, he looked at me and asked simply WHY? That was a good question to which I have no good answer other than because the German school system requires it. Seriously, I just don't get it in all honesty. Why in the world would you give a second grader a pen that smears, breaks fairly easily, and is absolutely not erasable when they have not even mastered the art of writing. I BELIEVE in pencils for grade school kids. Maybe that is just old school, maybe kids now days (even in America) are allowed to write with pens or inkys or whatever, but I think they should be forced to use only a pencil until they are about in fourth grade. I think it is too much pressure to have to write mistake free. Kids learning to write should be allowed to make mistakes and learn to correct them without the poor teachers having to look at the mess that writing with a pen leaves behind on paper. I find that the assignments are such a mess of crossed out, blotted out words that one can hardly make sense of what was written. Neat papers should be more important than learning to write with a pen. I will not go on. Enough said. Jeffrey finally finished his assignment. I don't know if he finished within the allotted time the teacher allowed, according to him she gave two deadlines and he had it done for the latter. But at least he got it done!

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Right after New Years, we took our first trip of 2011. We drove 8 hours down to Filzmoos, Austria, a quaint little Austrian ski town in the Salzburg region. We had a little apartment and Benny’s parents took a hotel room from the same family. 

Every day we would meet at the main hotel for a wonderful European breakfast buffet of fresh rolls, cheeses and meats. In addition there was a nice lady who personally cooked you up eggs on an induction plate however you wanted them, scrambled, fried or as an omelet. From breakfast we would hustle back to our lodging into what is known as the "ski cellar". This is a heated room where the ski boots are hung to dry overnight and another room for the skis. After donning their helmets (safety first these days), gloves, boots and skis, they then lumbered up the block to the ski school for the first lesson of the day.

Unfortunately I twisted my knee cap out and tore some of the ligaments under the knee cap just 6 days before vacation, so needless to say, I didn’t ski. The kids and Benny (in the mornings only) all took classes and learned a ton - ok Benny probably didn't learn a ton, he was more into perfecting his style. I, on the other hand, was able to take some pictures and watch how much progress was being made each day. Since the older kids were all further up the mountain after the first day, most all my pictures were of Tyler - but he was so cute to watch, and funny! Watching the 3-4 year olds learn to ski is really quite comical. But not the native kids. It is pretty much common knowledge that in Austria the kids are put on skis before they learn to walk. Anyway, back to my story: All in all Tyler was probably the most improved since he had never skied before, but they all looked like pros by the end of the week.

Each group held a race and during the award ceremony the national anthem of the winners country was played and the flag hissed. (That's what Tyler is watching.) And as a side note, he only missed 1st place by .02 of a second. Not bad eh. Tori, Niklas and Jeffrey were all in a group together with a handfull of grown-ups - who didn't show for the awards since none of them won anything. Poor Tori had a snowmobile cut across her path during her run!???

At 12:30pm each day they had a lunch break, which was just long enough to deem going back to the apartment to eat a quick bite, but not really long enough to relax or get into that book Tori tried desperately to make progress in. It was actually a little stressful in my opinion - ok maybe even a lot stressful. After sitting down for half an hour, Jeffrey and especially Tyler were no longer in the mood to hit the slopes again. They would have rather vegged in front of the tube. The afternoon class was not without a struggle, but after we got them there, they were happy to head on up the mountain again. 

Evenings found us joining up again with Oma and Opa for a 4 course meal preceded by a short dip in the pool or a little bit of Memory played with Tyler who always wins of course. With the restaurant filled to the brim, and getting served several courses, dinner was not a quick thing. It was more like an event that took a new and interesting turn every night as we watched our children try new and exotic appetizers, soups and desserts that would not be found on our table at home.

This  was one choice of main course our last night, it was fried cheese fresh from the cows of the Alps with roasted parsley served with a sweet and sour sauce and lemon wedge. I personally had never heard of roasted parsley, but it was probably my most favorite new taste of the trip. Absolutely delicious!

We ended each night playing a game with the grandparents back at our place, but it didn't take long for the grownups' eyelids to start dropping, even when the children were begging for more.

It was a wonderful week, in spite of my not getting to ski, and a vacation I hope we can repeat sometime soon. The beautiful mountain backdrop and crisp fresh air coupled with a good dose of exercise each day was in itself a week of wellness that had Jeffrey questioning our decision of buying a house in Northern Germany and not down in the Austrian Alps.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


So here we go.... After not having blogged for over a year, (for main reason see previous post) I have vowed to give it another go. So even though it has taken me 21 days to start my New Years Resolution, I will not be deterred. You might ask yourself WHY? with Facebook seemingly taking over in the way of online communication, why would I be obsessed with reviving my dormant blog? My main reason is my family. With the drastic time change between the west of USA and Germany, it is fairly impossible for me to keep in constant contact with my family. Far too many important events and little everyday happenings go untold and undocumented. Reason number two is to keep some sort of documentation of our kids and our life. I enjoy blogging because I can add pictures and easily share what I have written with friends and family. Without further ado I'd like to begin with the beginning of 2011...

Per tradition, our New Year's fireworks would rival any 4th of July celebration - hands down. A little secret about my husband - that won't be a secret once I share it here - he a pyro at heart. His mom loves to tell the story of him setting the dumpster on fire at her dad's house, but that wasn't all. Now that he is an adult, he can really live out that childhood fantasy of setting things on fire.

 Here he is in action - the man of the hour.

 Everybody wanted in on the action. Tori and her friends (the Jensen girls) were somewhat content with jumbo sparklers.

 Meike, Martin, Mariella and Steffen came over to be the first to say Happy New Year and to watch the fireworks show.

 Niklas' best friend and old neighbor told his mom it wouldn't be New Years if he couldn't celebrate with Niklas, so of course Phil was here too.

Previous to our fireworks, we watched the traditional TV skit, "Dinner for One". I have to add this tidbit to this post as I have always wondered about this tradtion. I had never heard of this before coming to Germany and yet I cannot remember a New Years celebration where I haven't viewed it since living here. This is what Wikipedia gave me - I thought it was interesting:

Dinner for One, also known as The 90th Birthday, or by its corresponding German title, Der 90. Geburtstag, is a comedy sketch written by British author Lauri Wylie for the theatre in the 1920s. German television station Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) recorded a performance of the piece in 1963, in its original English language. This short comical play subsequently went on to become the most frequently repeated TV programme ever (according to the Guinness Book of Records, 1988-1995 eds.; later editions no longer have the category).
The 18 minute single take black-and-white 1963 TV recording featuring British comedians Freddie Frinton and May Warden has become an integral component of the New Year's Eve schedule of several German television stations, Danish, and Swedish national television, a December 23 staple on Norwegian national television, and a cult television classic in Finland, Faroe Islands and Austria; on New Year's Eve 2003 alone, the sketch was broadcast 19 times (on various channels). As of 2005, the sketch has been repeated more than 230 times. It is famous in other countries as well — including German-speaking Switzerland and South Africa. It is a New Year's Eve staple in Australia on the SBS network.

I hope you're still with me. I know that was more information than you needed about something you've probably never heard of, but I like to think that some of my readers are interested in German culture - including cult culture. So if you want to read about the story line or link to the sketch, here's the link: