Category Archives: April 2010

All the Signs of Life

Greetings from below the volcano.  Who knew that Iceland had volcanoes?  Who knew they could mess up air traffic so badly?  Despite the grief it’s causing (including the fact my brother Mike may have to cancel his trip over here this week) I still think it’s fascinating. It nudges my memory of living alongside several dormant volcanoes in Albuquerque.  Driving by them along the west mesa I would imagine—“what if?”

Tree leaves have sprouted and the calendar tells me it’s Spring but I am still shivering.  It was a long, snowy winter and we’ve been teased with a few days of warm weather but Spring in Central Europe is no rival to the fragrant, heated blast of Raleigh. The good part is, it only reminds me to dream of the humidity-free summers here that are filled with wildflowers.

Springtime here really means travel time.  Morning drop-off at school is full of chatter about trips done and trips planned. (Did that villa in Tuscany work out?  Malta has hardly any beaches!  Does anyone want to go to Normandy?)  The exchange of information flies at lightening speed.  Everyone is here to squeeze the last drop of adventure out of it.  Most are told their work assignment here will last 2, 3, 4 years and, that’s the way it happens. Others get the rug pulled out from under them when they learn their company is downsizing or changing direction.  That could mean a quick move back to their home country or a reassignment to Dubai.  So every Expat instinctively knows that time here is precious.

So far, I think we’ve been doing well in that department.  Skiing in Austria in January, Egypt in February, and Spain in March. I’ve also gotten short trips to Budapest and Paris. All this when Gary still needs to work (oh yeah!) and Nora needs to be in school.  Recognizing the Expat thirst for travel, the international school that Nora attends arranges several breaks throughout the year.  So that means we don’t start summer break until late June.  School starts up again in mid-August.

Now is also the start of many good-byes.  Every day I learn of someone else who is moving.  Most can stay until the end of the school year but their eyes are already turned toward their next journey, finding a home and schools, and building their next lives.  Those first friends of mine here will be missed.  You never forget your first friend.  I still remember the first friends I made in elementary school, high school and college.  Most of those people are still close to me and to my heart. Fortunately, other “first friends” are staying here at least for another year and, of course, a new crew of new families will arrive with friendship potential.

Nora and Jack continue to change in ways they don’t even realize. Jack’s kindergarten teachers tell me he speaks German with a native accent, not with an American accent.  Nora will claim she doesn’t know much German but then spends the next two hours playing with German friends and speaking German the whole time.  If we need to pass the time, like at a doctor’s appointment recently, Nora and I will pull out my German phrase book and test each other.

I haven’t applied myself to formal class work yet but I can get by here and I surprise myself when my instinct is to speak in German when we travel.  In places like Madrid, English helped me much more.  But Egypt is flooded with Germans and so many in the service industry there speak some German.  In fact, our Nile cruise ship was packed with, you guessed it, Germans! We were the only other nationality on that boat except for the Egyptian crew and an Indian couple who have lived in America for years.  However, Nora and Jack had the good fortune of being the only children on board.  The crew doted on them endlessly—hugs and kisses, candies, games, and milkshakes.  On Nora’s birthday (her 7th) the crew covered our beds with pink flower petals.  Besides a special birthday cake, the celebration at dinner that night included so much attention Nora was embarrassed at times and hid her face in my arm.

In other ways, Nora and Jack are developing as they would in America or elsewhere.  Nora spends much of her free time writing and illustrating her own stories.  Our girl has tales to tell…. and sometimes the artistic temperament to go along with it. So, don’t ever ask her about a story if it’s not completed yet! And, if Nora’s not writing, I often find her in the kitchen conducting scientific experiments involving eggs, tin foil, light bulbs, vinegar, and other innocuous things that combined, hopefully won’t blow up our house.  Jack, who often starts our mornings announcing “It’s a sunny day, Mama,” is usually armed with at least one or two swords, which he uses in battle with his toy dragon or the rest of us.  He loves to draw his own pictures (sometimes I can even tell what they are) and is an ace memory card player. At night, he needs a fleet of matchbox cars and Legos in bed with him.  This is in addition to Bunny, Puppy, and a bear so it’s awfully crowded in there.

After 10 months here, I’m no longer surprised by German social graces.  In fact, they’re actions are so predictable I’m usually immune to it. Like when a German woman dropped a flat of apples on the grocery store floor the other day. The woman stared at the apples around her feet while I helped the grocery clerk pick them up for her.  Strange, yes, but normal. I did get amused though yesterday when our next-door neighbors pulled up in their car and stopped for a chat with Gary and me.   They have nice smiles and looked like they wanted to hang with us for a while.  The only thing is, we had no idea who they were.  You see, a few days after we moved into our house, I delivered jars of jam and introductory notes to our 3 different neighbors on each side. (One neighbor rents their upper floor to a 90-year-old lady who drives a candy-apple red Volvo and who dresses every day like it’s fashion week in Paris. She is the bomb!)  Subsequently, we had nice visits with 2 of the 3 neighbors but never heard a word from the other.  It was even hard to tell if the house was occupied except I detected a car would occasionally move to different spots on the driveway.  Anyway, after few signs of life, we completely forgot about them.  Yesterday, they mentioned they had just gotten back from a few months in the South Pacific (nice!).  They didn’t say anything about the jam and I can’t help but wonder if it’s still sitting in the unused-looking mailbox where I placed it.

I thought you’d like to know that Dance Party is back!  This all started as Naked Dance Party (Nora only!) after Nora’s bathtime when she was a toddler.  Then it morphed into Dance Party after dinner as a way to cheer us up while Gary traveled.  Then, along came Jack, who joined us with gusto.  But, after the chaos of moving to Germany, Dance Party was lost….until recently.  Now, it includes square dancing that Nora has taught us and that she learned at Gym class.  So, have you ever danced the “Virginia Reel” to the tunes of David Guetta and the Black Eyed Peas? We have.