The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

My friend Renee and I are beginning to savor this upcoming moment in life: It’s almost Back to School time for the kiddos! We’ve even changed our ring tones to this:

It feels a bit like Christmas because we are getting the gift of time. As I write this, I have locked myself in my office and given myself the treat of Olga, our friend and babysitter, who I’ve appointed tonight’s chief of dinner and bath-time. Even so, I’m still getting knocks on the door ranging from the polite (Jack, age 4) to the demanding (Nora, age 8). Then, Me: “Is this an emergency?” Them: “No, but…” It’s at that point they are cut off and redirected to Olga. I hear faint screams in the distance now but I will not come out unless I have to.

It’s actually been a good summer despite the extreme measures I’m taking at the moment. We are among the Expats who have sold their houses in their home countries and live in Germany year-round. I say this because there are some Expats who kept their houses and return to that life every summer. Most of the latter group is trickling back now but a few others are waiting until the last moment before school starts. (That’s you, Allison!)

As we did last summer, the children and I (and Gary between work intervals) spent a few weeks traveling back in America. This summer tour included Raleigh, Chicago, South Bend (IN), and as always, the beautiful dunes of Lake Michigan (Holland, MI). At the Lake, there’s a strip of 5 cottages that houses everyone from my immediate family to the extended family including aunts, uncles, and first and second cousins. At our place, the routine goes something like this: Wake up when you feel like it; step over more sleeping bodies; pass the dining room which is dubbed the Conference Room because, in the morning, there are often up to 4 or 5 people typing furiously on their laptops; drift into the kitchen in search of coffee (tea for me) and food; discover gigantic mess left from after-hours kitchen raid made by elder nephews and nieces; choose to start cleaning the mess or ignore it; then walk, bike, or go to the grocery store; have lunch; go to the beach to dig in the sand, ride the jet ski, body surf, play paddle tennis, frisbee, and/or read. wander back up to the cottage for showers and cocktails for the grown-ups; prepare and eat dinner; watch the sunset; after that, the options include: patio discussion, Euchre, TV for those who need a break, and a bonfire. In between, regular visits from every other relative in the other 4 cottages as well as other drop-ins. It goes like that for two weeks and it’s great. In fact, I can still hear how one of the doors to the patio slams shut.

This summer in Germany started with great promise in the Spring. Then, Summer chose to skip Germany and just go to Italy and other warm places for the rest of the season. It’s been chilly and rainy but, by force of will, I’ve tried to make it summer here. Today started with apple picking at my friend Feri’s house and by mid-day we were making apple crumble; We’ve braved hypothermia in just about every swimming pool in the Taunus; lots of bike riding and also cookouts with friends; and there was even an afternoon of making clothes by threading together leaves from our garden.

It is fun but there are also days where I feel like a cross between Mary Poppins and a referee: “I’m bored….so and so hit me….” It’s those days I hear myself saying things like: “Well, if you’re bored I have plenty of weeds in the garden you can pull.” Or, the other chestnut “Nobody touch each other for the next 5 minutes!!” These are the moments where I’m tempted to refer to them as Thing One and Thing Two
P.S. I love you, Nora and Jack, Jack and Nora.

Our return from America always brings a very fun part: bringing the goods for friends. My friend Megan has brought a cache of goods for the owner of her favorite nail salon. The owner used to live in America and has trouble finding all she needs here to supply her shop. My friend Nadja’s son now has a couple items from Abercrombie and Fitch that fill out his ensemble of cool. In fact, his father tells me, they wish he would take those things off to give them a wash. The same goes for one of my Australian friends who I’ve gotten hooked on my favorite lip balm and a few other items. It’s not like we’ve moved to Saturn, there are plenty of good quality things to buy here in Germany. The thing is, America has a variety that is hard to replicate. The longer I am gone, the more I feel like Eddie Murphy’s character in “Coming to America.”
So many choices, such variety. I will find myself standing in ordinary but nice places like The Gap, Target, and Whole Foods loading up on items I can’t get here and examining all the new things I didn’t know existed yet.

That is the trade-off my German friend Eva and I discussed today. She has visited America once and was on the West Coast. She loved it and appreciated the vast, beautiful space that is ours, there. I miss that part and other things. But I enjoy what we have now: living in a smaller world with friends from all over that world; and, easier opportunity to travel to multiple countries and cultures.


4 responses to “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

  1. Hi Ellen,
    I can hear the door bang shut too. We too are experiencing “back to school”-Maggie taking 2 classes in Indy in preparation for grad school, Patrick is entering his senior year at St. Norbert College, Mary entering her freshman year at Indiana University and Michael who just started his sophomore year in high school today. Summer flies by and those precious days at the lake are some of the most important and peaceful of my year . Love you.

  2. Love your new ringtone! I, too, will be sharing in your enthusiasm for the kids’ return to school and our return to a normal routine. Loved seeing you guys this summer! Hugs, Michele

  3. Tina Donahue Hatch

    Hi Ellen, my first question is…were the faint screams from Olga? Just kidding. This blog is lovely and must be a great outlet. Keep sharing, it’s wonderful! Tina Donahue Hatch

  4. Nancy Leonard

    HI Ellen!

    And……I can hear that cottage door slamming today in South Carolina!
    Loved being with you! Enjoy the school year! Love, Nancy

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