Sunday, June 29, 2008


the patron saint of lazy Sundays at the lake. Today we went back to the lake in St. Leon-Rot. I had only been there once, last year, and blogged about it. B and the kids have gone a few times and always love it. Inveterate "beach" bums that we are, we went there before noon and got home a little before 20:00. Slowly but surely, the kids are getting old enough that we don't have to watch them like hawks (constantly anyway). Suffice it to say it was a gorgeous day spent doing some much needed unwinding. On Thursday, a good friend of mine gets in from the States. On Friday, he and I head to Amsterdam (another place upon which I have lavished praise in this blog).
Saturday, we went to a perennial favorite at the Prickril Compound, Strasbourg. The day was beautiful and we did a few things we hadn't before. First, we took the boat tour on the Ill (the river that runs through Strasbourg). I highly recommend this excursion. It lasted close to an hour and the city is impressively beautiful from river level.
After taking the water tour, Emily, Robert, Penha and I walked up to the top of the cathedral. The view is spectacular but I wouldn't recommend this climb for claustrophobes or people that are completely out of shape (I'm just mostly out of shape). The stairs just keep coming and it's quite obvious that 1.) space is at a premium when building a cathedral tower and 2.) folks in Medieval times were much smaller (I've read that The Plague and Smallpox do wonders for the waistline). Anyway, enjoy a few shots.
Channeling Curly...

Sophia is cool but is also a brute. Seriously. She's built like a tank and doesn't take crap from anyone. See
this video that would have made the Three Stooges proud. Notice how she (comically) tilts Emily's face up before she lowers the boom (also listen for that smack sound that only comes from kung fu master-like precision). I've always been amazed at how patient Robert and Emily are with her. Sophia has "freebirded" me a couple of times (there's typically no warning whatsoever) and I can assure you it doesn't tickle.

By the way, I've heard The Stooges only really appeal to American males. I can't explain it for the life of me, but I must admit I love them.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

National Velveteen...

Aside from the early onset of old age, not sure why I've been so wiped out on the weekends. Luckily, not much is going on so I'm not missing much while sleeping. We went to Speyer last Sunday. B put Sophia in an outfit that Emily has outgrown and never like anyway. The tennis look suits her well in my opinion.
On Tuesday, Cristina (B's Mom) headed back to Brazil. After having left a bit late to catch the airport shuttle at the Crown Plaza (taking folks to the airport is a three hour ordeal for us otherwise), Cristina discovered that she had left her ticket and passport at the ranch. Plan B (the letter, not my wife), a cab, turned out to be a 100 Euro kick to the financial solar plexus so B ended up taking her. What B and her Mom and Sister lack in organization, they more than make up for in total chaos.
Yesterday we got a call from a lady who gives riding lessons at a farm here in Kirchheim. B had gone there a few weeks ago to inquire about lessons for the girls but was told there were no open slots. The owner said she'd call if a slot ever opened up and, sure enough, she did!
The girls absolutely loved riding the ponies. Emily, of course, seems like a natural. They haven't yet asked for a pony of their own, although Emily's having picked a horse-themed birthday party makes me more than a little nervous. Just in case she's reading this, let me sneak in a preemptive "No!". If you know Emily and/or Sophia, please pass it on.
By the way, summer seems to have arrived (finally). It felt like it was about 110 degrees on the farm. The smell of fermenting manure wafting through the humid air is something I won't soon forget (all my trying aside).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Celebrating goals with decorum...

On Sunday we headed to the asparagus festival in Walldorf, the headquarters of SAP, Europe's largest software company. Under German tax law, this little town benefits mightily from its biggest corporate citizen. We'll be moving there in August (more on that in a future post). Anyway, the festival was fairly packed with folks enjoying the carnival-like atmosphere on a beautiful Spring-ish day.
There were plenty of rides to keep the little ones occupied while I sat back, watched a bit of soccer and had a few Hefes. See below a picture of my beer page, a German tradition older than the Reinheitsgebot itself. Sunday morning B and my mother-in-law Cristina took Marina to the airport. Rumor has it that the smell of absinthe had hardly faded from her breath. As they are all wont to do, they got there late and Marina almost missed the flight. She actually missed a flight when we lived in Seattle simply because neither she nor B bothered to look at the ticket! The showed up on the wrong day!

Anyway, Sunday was Germany's first game in the European championship. Having grown up in the US, I only discovered soccer fever when I moved to Rio, where I discovered true fanaticism. Games at the world's largest stadium, Maracanã, which can hold upward of 200,000 people, are part sporting event, part riot and part pagan ritual (and all mass hysteria). Take a look at this video to see what it must have been like to watch gladiators at the Colosseum. Live, it's enough to scare the whiz out of the uninitiated.
I'm not sure if the folks in Walldorf are just more sedate or if it's because it was just the first game of the championship, but the first goal Germany scored was met with hardly a stir. Yesterday, Germany lost its second game to Croatia. There was little joy in the salt mines today.

By the way, a lot of cities in this region celebrate the harvest of white asparagus this time of year. You may have seen pictures of the statue of the "asparagus lady" in Schwetzingen in this blog. The stuff is cultivated in deeply furrowed fields that are covered with plastic; seemingly square kilometers of it in some places. I prefer the green variety myself.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Robert & Emily (& Sophia) go to White Castle...

Saturday was Marina's last day in Germany so we wanted to do something special (but low impact). Via our typically semi-random but wholly irrational process, we narrowed our options to Stuttgart or Wissembourg (don't ask). Since I love Alsace, I talked Marina into choosing Wissembourg.
Wissembourg is a Francosized version of the German word for White Castle. Like Strasbourg, it takes about an hour to get there, but is actually closer as the crow flies as it is further away from major Autobahns (on which I can coax the family truckster up to around 100 mph).
We poked around a bit, took some pics, went to the cathedral and then had lunch. The champignon tarte flambée (Flammkucken in German) was out of sight. The red stained glass windows in the steeple gave off an eerie, quasi-evil glow.With much patience due to other tourists who seemed intent on seeing the church rather than respecting my artistic endeavor, I took an over-the-head 180° shot. If you use your imagination, you can summon what the cathedral looked like "live" (to Ken Kesey in his heydey). Although it's a cute city, I'm not sure we'll be back any time soon. I'd just as soon invest the same hour and end up in Strasbourg. That evening, Marina and I went to the Altstadt in Heidelberg to watch the Schlossbeleutung. A few times a year they illuminate the Heidelberg castle and have a small fireworks show (very small by the standards of New Year's Eve in Rio). We then headed to the Unterestrasse and imbibed a few glasses absinthe before heading home. I can't imagine her 3 hour layover in Lisboa the next day was much fun.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Weather only a Texan could love...

Those back on the other side of the pond may have never thought about it, but Germany (at least this region of Germany) has the type of Spring "toad stranglers" that makes an Oklahoma/Texas boy homesick. Sure, they don't have sirens that go off at the most inconvenient times imaginable or massive twisters that decimate entire cities, but there's something about torrential downpours and ear-splitting thunder that makes a guy (from the Great Plains anyway) feel right at home.
A week ago Friday, I saw it rain about as hard as I've ever seen it. The basement of our building flooded and all that lay between me and a flooded car was good ol' Oklahoman determination. Today it rained hard as hard as the dickens (the absolute zenith on the Oklahoma precipitation scale) and even hailed again.
The weather lately has reminded me of Gary England, a local meteorologist in Oklahoma City that garnered a modicum of notoriety outside Oklahoma with his appearance in the movie "Twister". Although he's saved at least thousands of lives during his career, there was a completely jaded part of me growing up that always thought there was at least a little fear mongering going on. A completely apocryphal recreation of a Gary England broadcast, cerca 1981 (you'll have to imagine the following delivered with a frantic Oklahoma accent), as "Murder she Wrote" is interrupted for a special meteorological report:

"Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is Gary England in the Channel 9 Storm Watch Center. Channel 9 radar shows we've got a mezocyclone forming a few miles South of Enid. We're already picking up rotation so this thing could very quickly develop into one of the most catastrophic storms in memory. Wait a second... Never mind. It's a flock of quail. Stay tuned to Channel 9." I'll bet a six pack of Stag beer there's a least one Oklahoman reading this post and chuckling.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Sophia's cooler than you...

Last weekend B and Marina took Robert and Emily to see a flick. Because "the man" discriminates against her based on age (the man is an age-ist) , I got to spend the day in the Altstadt in "H" town with coolest person I know: Sophia. Known as Sossô by hipsters from Paris to Rio, Sophia knows how to travel by Strassenbahn in style. Classic style.
Sophia loves to hang out at the park.
Sophia digs art, but only if it's deep.
Sophia digs flowers.
Sophia only chills with you if you're cool too.
Sophia appreciates the simple pleasures German culture has to offer. Her self-applied red marker tattoos are rad. Very rad. Yeah, Sophia's cooler than you...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Questions I never asked as a child...

Looking through my credit card statement after the trip to Paris, it occurred to me that our kids went with us. By the way, American Express online has a cool new feature that causes the screen to flash red with a siren blaring in the background when you've spent way more than you should. This morning, it woke up the whole neighborhood. Anyway, given the attention I've paid to inanimate objects in La Ville lumière in this blog, it's easy to forget that we lugged the little ankle biters along.
Speaking of our kids, having brought them to a foreign country a long way from family and friends, we sometimes find ourselves agonizing over our choice. Was it the right one?
Then something happens that reminds me that, although I had a great childhood, I spent 99% of it within a few miles of where I lived. The sensation that maybe we've done the best thing we could have for our kids when we moved is often the result of a mundane daily event. For example, we were returning from Lyon a few months ago when Robert asked "Are we still in France?" -- a perfect example of a question I never asked when I was a child; "What are we going to do at the beach in Turkey?" another. I could go on but (having shown the patience and fortitude to follow this blog) I think you get it. On a related note, this morning I've heard my kids talking to each other in three languages while lost in play (English, Portuguese and German)! I haven't figured out what causes them to "change gears", but they do it often and with an impressive fluidity. I hear the girls talking to themselves or each other in German every day now, a fascinating development over the last few weeks.
Anyway, in the interest of balance, I've decided to post a few of the many shots I took of our beautiful brood while in France. I can hear our relatives breathing a collective sigh of relief.
The shrubs outside Notre Dame (above) were overrun with little birds. Sophia was enchanted.