Good-Bye/ Tschuess Hannover!

Thank you, people of Hannover, for hosting us. It wasn’t easy in the beginning (two short years ago) but we’ve learned so much, done so many new things, and we’ll always think of our friends and our time here fondly.

I wish I could write this good-bye in German, but I’m not quite there yet. Vielen dank, Hannoverians, for listening to my broken German. What a shock that you actually understood me, and even better, that you wanted to understand me. Thank you for your patience—-may I be just as patient with every new English learner I meet.

I had no idea what a whole new world was waiting for me behind that language barrier. Thanks for opening the door wide when I so timidly began to knock.

It’s been exhausting saying good-bye to everyone, knowing that we can’t pop back over for a quick “hallo!“whenever we like. But I do hope we’ll be able to get back here.

I was reading Little House on the Prairie to my kids not long ago, and this passage from one of the last chapters (“Going Out”) really struck me:

“Then Pa hitched Pet and Patty to the wagon. Ma climbed to her place on the seat and held the lines. And suddenly Laura wanted to see the house again. She asked Pa please to let her look out. So he loosened the rope in the back of the wagon-cover, and that made a large round hole…

The snug log house looked just as it always had. It did not seem to know they were going away. Pa stood a moment in the doorway and looked all around inside; he looked at the bedstead and the fireplace and the glass windows. Then he closed the door carefully, leaving the latch-string out.”

Off to say some more good-byes. See you in America!

Wild Garlic, Witch’s Brew, and a Secret Hideout

The Eilen Riede (say  “EYE-len REE-duh”), Hannover’s huge city forest, is one of the top ten things I’ll miss when we move back to the States over the summer. The Eilen Riede  is twice as large as NYC’s Central Park and has 130 kilometers of walking and bike trails.

One of our favorite things to do as a family is to ride our bikes there. In fact, both of our kids learned to ride on the wide forest paths.

The little white flowers you see, according to German friends, are bärlauch, a wild garlic relative. I’m told people do collect and cook with it—you use the leaves, not the bulbs. Evidently there are several bärlauch items on restaurant menus right now, too.

Often we stop at one of the many playgrounds in the Eilen Riede, several of which have little snack bars—even decent cappucino in china cups! Last Saturday we found instead a few surprises in an unexpected spot.

This old stump was full of collected moss, perfect for a witchy potion.

And this tree fort seemed to have sprung up on its own:

I love the way the hideout is so simple, no fasteners, and it just blends into the landscape. I think we’re going to have to recreate this one in our American back yard.

And what would a forest trip be without yet another stick to take home? Ummm…yeah. Just what we need in our flat.

In other news, the weather is still quite chilly (by my Carolina spring standards) and I’m really hoping it will warm up soon. We’re still wearing insulated rain coats and scarves and hats.

Spain posts are still coming, I promise. Hope your week started out well!

*information about the Eilen Riede’s size and trails comes from wikipedia

Ice Party

The big news in Hannover this week is that the Machsee, the man-made rectangle lake in the center of the city (which is way cooler than my description), is officially frozen over enough to play on. For days the buzz everywhere was “How many centimeters? How many centimeters?” because the city officials have to measure it to decide when it’s safe for all that weight. It makes me think of Thoreau going on about testing the ice on Walden Pond.

When the Machsee ice isn’t yet thick enough, they actually have police going around to make sure people aren’t on the ice. If you are, you can be fined, and if you fall in, you’ll be charged for your rescue.

Wednesday was the first day it was thick enough—16 cm, I think–and the word on the street was “Der Machsee ist frei!” (The Machsee is free). The sun was out, it wasn’t too terribly cold, and it felt like a big party on the ice. People brought out their ice skates, their hockey sticks, you name it.

My son (4) rode his bike on it and also dragged around a big stick making drawings in the thin layer of snow on top of the ice. It was pretty great. One of those days when winter is really cool.

Here’s an airplane he drew below. He’s at this fantastic stage where his drawings are getting more complex and he’s still completely fearless about tackling whatever he wants. No “I can’t draw.”

In other news, it’s been a slow writing week, though maybe it’s an ideas week. I’ve been reading and mulling things over and finding little openings to take my story into deeper territory. Thanks for all your comments on the Less Meat post. Have a great weekend!

Thrift Haul

I lucked out on a recent thrifting trip.

I’d been looking for awhile for something cool to add to the hall art gallery. Our apartment has a long, long, bowling-alley-like hallway that is just begging for more artwork. Since it’s a hall, you can’t help but stand fairly near the walls, so it’s a good place for groups of smaller pieces that need a more intimate setting.

I found the birds and flowers at thrift shop #1. I love the way the black backgrounds make the colors pop. Somehow it makes them look more modern to me, too. I’ve considered painting the frames aqua or something like that. What do you think?

I found the little house piece at thrift shop #2. There’s just something about it that’s so sweet but not sugary.

Actually I don’t know if I’ll ever get to hang them because the kids want two for their own (girl wants birds, boy wants house). I’m stuck on the hallway idea, though, so we’re kind of in a deadlock over it.

Here’s a detail on the birds. The handwork is really impressive.

Next up: a platter, a Christmas tablecloth, and two skeins of cotton yarn.

I’d been looking for a platter like this for a long time to go with but not match our china (see it here). This one is perfect except I wish it were a little bigger.

The yarn is for our little weaver, and the Santa cloth—-well, I just couldn’t resist. It’s kind of a funny size, but I figure we can use it as a runner or as reuseable gift wrap.

All this loot for 7 euros 50 cents!

Weaving Fever

Here’s another reason why I love living in the city center. Right in our neighborhood is a yarn shop with not only gorgeous skeins and buttons but also a big mama loom where the shop proprietor/ artist-in-residence sits at the window and weaves.

The weaver is very friendly and enjoys having the children come in to watch. When I say “big mama” I mean the loom is the size of a four-shelf bookcase attached to my dining room table.

My seven-year-old daughter decided she wanted to weave something herself, and luckily the Waldorf kindergarten (where my son goes) had a loom for her.

My daughter, the chattiest of Cathies, will actually sit quiet and weave for 45 minutes at a time. It’s pretty astounding. Hasn’t she done a beautiful job?

Speaking of the Waldorf kindergarten, check out this wheelbarrow my son was playing with the other day:

Even the wheel is made out of wood. I think if I’d handcarved this puppy I’d have it on a display shelf somewhere, but my lucky little guy gets to put dirt and grass in it and wheel it around.

This week he’s been completely gaga over the simple bows and (blunt-end) arrows they’ve been making with string and green twigs. His first one broke, but I’ll try to get a pic of the next one.

In other news, I’ve been trying to focus on my revision, which is why you haven’t seen me here much this week. Speaking of which, I should get back to work! Have a great weekend.

Strawberry Season/ Waldorf Bazaar

It’s that time of year again, when little huts like this pop up all over the Hannover. I love the way seasonal produce is so easy to find. No trouble locating this vendor. Often an erdbeer-hof also offers spargel (asparagus, usually white) since it’s in season as well.

Along with strawberry season comes the annual Waldorf school bazaar. This time I was a contributor to the crafts table, and a salesperson, too. I was pretty proud of myself for handling a few simple transactions, considering that I had to speak and count in German plus make change in Euros. Simple things, but put all together it was a little challenging. Sorry the picture is a little backlit. It was hastily taken with the cell phone, as a lot of these were, since it doesn’t seem to be the norm to snap a bunch of pictures at Waldorf events. I wanted you to see a bit of the arrangement, though. I can’t  take any credit for it, but it makes me want to buy the entire menagerie every time I see it.

That crazy blue thing in the upper left of the picture will be explained later.

Below are some of what I made, in addition to the little Waldorf men I blogged about earlier.

Hot sellers, these little bunnies.

They are made of felt, blanket stitched and stuffed with actual wool, with needle-felted tails. I had never needle-felted before and always sort of regarded it as a craft that must take a lot of training to do properly. It’s really easy, though, at least to do bunny tails. I was shocked. It almost seems like magic. Below are some more felt animals and figures, not made by me.

And here is my needle-felted doll, my first needle-felt project. The blue thing hanging from the top in the earlier picture is also a felt doll.

Here’s a little of my delicious Waldorf lunch from the bazaar. No Waldorf salad. Ha! There were bratwurst, too, but the salads were really the star of the show.

And here, an only slightly-related photograph, of the kindergarten classroom’s laundry that it was my turn to wash. I decided to try impressing the teacher with my mad line-drying skills, and then the set up looked so pretty I couldn’t help snapping a picture. This is a typical German line dryer.  

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Simple Kid’s Hat from T-Shirt

For a mom from a warm climate, learning to dress the kids for northern Germany has been an education. Luckily, my son’s dear kindergarten teacher is more than willing to educate me. You may remember the story about the silk-wool undershirts. In addition to undershirts and of course a jacket, he is expected to wear (until it’s absolutely hot) leggings under his pants, a scarf, mittens, and a hat. Every day, even when it seems a little overkill. Rainpants are a whole other story.

Overdressing is the preferred mode, and with Hannover’s weather as changeable as it is, it does make sense. A common refrain around the kindergarten: “Wo ist deine muetze?” Where is your hat? Meaning: put it on!

This has become so much a part of our morning routine that the other day, when we were in a hurry, my daughter (6) scolded me for not having mittens and a hat for our 3-year-old. “Mommy, what will Frau X say?” she said.

The only problem with all this gear is that it’s hard to keep up with and easy to get lost. I decided to take matters into my own hands and whip up several spring-weight hats from his old t-shirts. These take literally about five minutes to make. Maybe less. This way, if we lose a few hats, it’s no big deal.

There are plenty of more sophisticated hat patterns out there on the web. For these I basically traced a hat he already had which is made from just two pieces shaped like little hills. I stitched them together with a zigzag stitch.

My favorite t-shirts to use are his old pajama tops, since those are not only super-soft but also stretchy.

I had a bit of a dilemma with this one because I wanted to use both the cute little applique at the top and the nice finished hem. So the hat is a little long and funky, but it can scrunched or folded, and really, who cares? He’s three.

Bonus:  He’s been proudly showing off his hats and (in German) bragging that his mother made them. I know this kind of pride in mommy-made items probably won’t last, so I’m just going to savor it.

5 Tips for the Would-Be Expatriate

Lately I’ve been getting emails from friends and friends of friends who are moving to Germany. They’re curious as to what they should do to prepare for the move. I’m no expert, but here are a few tips I shared about what to do before you go:

1) Run, don’t walk, to a language class.

If you’re moving for a job, this would often be covered by your employer or your spouse’s employer. Having some language skills under your belt when you arrive is so worth the time and trouble. When you arrive, you’ll be busy settling in and may not have time to study again for awhile. For me, the better my German skills, the more at home and independent I feel here.

2) Read up:

Learn something about the culture you’re entering and the expat experience. You can’t avoid culture shock, but you can prepare yourself a little bit.
The Expert Expat : Soooo worth reading!
Culture Shock! Germany  : This series includes books for many countries.
First Thousand Words in German : It’s a kids’ book but great for the visually oriented—a cross between a picture dictionary and Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever in German. Also available in other languages. It seems to be out of print, but I’ve linked to a used book site above.

Reading books and watching films that take place in your host country can also be very instructive.

3) Clean out your closets.

It would be almost unheard of to have closets here in Germany, and the wardrobes they use instead are way smaller. This was the hardest thing about fitting our things into our new space. The more you get rid of, the easier this part will be. I imagine this is a helpful step no matter what country you’re moving to.

4) Get an internet phone service.

Do this while still in the U.S. and bring the box with you. Yes, Skype is great, but there will be times when you need to call businesses (or have them call you) and times when Skype just isn’t practical. Also, this way, friends and family can call you without having to pay for an international call, and without having to leave your computer on all the time.

5) Think through electronics.

Some will work in your host country with a transformer (blender, sewing machine), some will not or may be a little risky (tv, dvd player).

Before we came, we bought a dual-voltage TV so the TV would work when we bring it back to the US. It was also much cheaper than buying one in Europe. If you’re moving with a firm, you’ll most likely get an allowance to buy things like large appliances. For the most part, it will make sense to buy them in your host country, but it’s worth thinking this through before you go.

We’re celebrating one year in Deutschland today! What a wild and wonderful ride it’s been.

Also, NEWSFLASH! Spring has arrived. I’ve switched from my parka to my wool coat (yes, it’s THAT warm!), the sun has been making appearances, and  flowers are popping up. The best part is that we no longer wake up and come home in the dark.

A Peek into Our Kitchen

With all that’s happened and is still happening in Japan, it’s been difficult to think about blogging about small things like crafts and writing and whatnot. It’s one of those moments where you feel the need to say something profound or nothing at all, and I’ve been sticking to nothing.

I still don’t have anything profound to say, but if you’re looking for ways to help financially, NPR has compiled this list for us.

A blogger I read, annekata, wrote this post with some other creative ways to help.

The picture above is from our kitchen here in Hannover, just to give you a little peek into my surroundings. It always looks like that, with fresh flowers and teacups and no mess. Ha! Totally untrue, but still, it is our kitchen.

The fabric wood block print on the wall, a favorite, was purchased in the community center of a township outside Cape Town. I bought the plates because they reminded me of some from Puebla, Mexico. Our china is a vintage pattern called “Blue Onion.” You see lots of variations of it here in Europe. I just love blue and white china. I bought a lot of it at a tag sale at my old church in Florence, South Carolina. The rest were wedding gifts (we registered at Replacements, Ltd).

Daffodils courtesy of the bulb season beginning in the Netherlands. Cheap daffodils everywhere! And I believe the vase, a gift from my mother-in-law,  is from Simon Pearce.

Makes me want to settle down with a nice cup of my favorite Rooibos Caramel tea. Still reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and I picked up an old favorite, Lorrie Moore’s short story “How to Become a Writer” last night. It’s infinitely quotable, so much so that I can barely stand to read it silently.

I’ll leave you with this quote from it, suitable for describing the events in Japan:

“About the last you write nothing. There are no words for this. Your typewriter hums. You can find no words.”

Magical Mystery Beasts

My love affair with all things Waldorfy continues. I’ve been smitten for a long time with these animals in my son’s classroom. Unfortunately, replicas are not for sale at the spring bazaar. I wonder how they were made and if I could learn to make them, because I think they’d look awesome in the living room. And oh yeah, the kids might like to play with them, too.

The kids in the kindergarten love to tie up the animals into a team and then tie them to chairs, creating a kind of buggy.

When I asked the teacher who made them, she said, laughing, “Your grandfather, probably!”

Here’s what they tie up the beasts with:

It’s called a schneckenband (snail band), and they have a whole basketful in the classroom. They are hand-crocheted. When my kids received one as a gift, at first I thought, what on earth?

But then I saw them in action. As usual, the simple, open-ended toys are the best. The kids use them as animal harnesses, belts, fire hoses, and even to wrap “wounds” like this:

Here are some other beasts (wildschweine, or wild hogs) from the playground in the forest near our house:

Oh, and here’s some homemade jelly I bought at the Waldorf playground the other day. I think it’s student-made. The students have a little cart with various seasonal items they bring out once or twice a week. Most of the stuff seems to be from the school’s large garden in the back.

The label reads, in English, “Grape Jelly with Mint.” It’s got this lovely pink color, which I thought was kind of strange until I stopped to think about it. Is it really natural for grape jelly to be as purple as a crayon? In this case, anyway, no. Germany, believe it or not, does not approve of artificial colors or flavors. I think they’re actually outlawed.

It’s been a slow few weeks creatively. I had planned to get a lot done but sicknesses have intervened. Thankfully we’re all feeling better now.