Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Back to School in the USA

We interrupt this Luxembourg Wrap-up series to bring you the news that Daphne and James have now started school in Oregon. The elementary school is just across the road from our old house and it's where Daphne attended kindergarten four years ago. James was just four back then.

our friendly crossing guard
supply drop-off and meet your teacher day

hot chocolate and donut holes on the first day
I'm pleased to report that they had a good first day. James was impressed with how nice his teacher is ("She promised that she never yells!") and with the class set of iPads, and Daphne approved of her teacher's numerous classroom management tricks. They've already been on computers and websites and apps and watched videos and played lots of games. Pete said to James, "Looks like you've traded your fountain pen for an iPad." James said, "What on earth does that mean?"

Welcome (back) to American school, kiddos.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Luxembourg Wrap-up: Drawing Contest

Each year in Luxembourg, a bank sponsors a drawing contest for all the public school children in the country. Every child must submit something--it's not optional--and they all have to complete a detailed rough draft first. It's serious business and they spend a good deal of class time on it. The contest is quite long-standing, because teachers and parents I've talked to remember entering their own pictures when they were kids. Prizes are awarded by grade/cycle, and students are assigned a different theme every year. This year's theme was "Heros" and for Daphne's cycle the sub-theme was "Anyone can be a hero." 

Daphne drew her dad running into school with a library book she'd forgotten at home. (Aww)

In May, we received a letter home from the bank and a call from her teacher explaining that Daphne's drawing had won 2nd place for Luxembourg City for her cycle this year! The picture would be automatically entered in the final contest for the whole country, with prizes like iPads and bicycles at stake.

Meanwhile, were invited to the local bank branch to collect Daphne's preliminary prize for the city contest. We showed up for a sweet-but-very-awkward meeting in a conference room with two bankers, with treats on the table and other prize-winning drawings from other grades displayed around the room. 

After a few minutes staring at each other across the table in mostly uncomfortable silence, they told us we should take a photo of the drawing because we probably wouldn't get it back.

looks remarkably like her actual hallway at school
Then they presented Daphne with her the prize--a backpack--and were apparently immediately overcome with guilt that her little brother got nothing, so they ran to the cupboard and pulled out a small puzzle game for him as a consolation prize. And then they must have felt even more guilty/awkward, because they ran and fetched one for Daphne as well.

Not knowing what to do next, I snapped a couple more pictures of the drawing just to be sure I captured it, and then we excused ourselves from the room. I'm fairly certain I missed some cultural cues along the way of what we were actually supposed to do in this little award ceremony, especially because there was food there. That part always throws me off in Europe; it's hard to know to what extent to partake and how long to take partaking. But we eventually escaped.

The winner and her prize backpack.
We never heard back about the results of the national contest (nor did we expect to, really). And although Pete was disappointed he didn't get to keep his daughter's drawing of his heroism, he did use the photo as his desktop background.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Luxembourg Wrap-up: Music!

Hi, everyone! We are alive and well and back in Oregon. I guess I'm going to need to change our blog header!

If you're curious about how the move went, how we got ourselves and our stuff back across the ocean, the various mishaps along the way, what this last month of adjustment to the US has been like, and what the heck Pete and I are doing now for work, not to worry. I will catch up on move stories later, after I catch up on a couple Lux wrap-up posts.

Music was a huge part of our lives in Luxembourg. Pete and I led the music program at church for three and a half of our four years living there, and I was eventually hired part-time. We spent nearly every Saturday morning rehearsing and every Sunday setting up, playing, and tearing down for services. By default, I became the percussionist, taking up a type of box drum called the cajon. And with a shortage of available bass players, we convinced Daphne to pick up the bass guitar. It wasn't long before she was singing background vocals and playing most weekends with us, and James even joined us a couple times on background vocals. But we officially became a family band in November 2015 when we played a set at the Christmas market, nicknaming ourselves The TitteringTones. Throughout our time overseas, we met and bonded with other musicians over rehearsals, performances, and casual music nights in our home or at the park. Music was a way of life for us in Luxembourg.

So it seemed fitting that in lieu of a a going-away party we should host a farewell concert, to show our love and appreciation for our friends and adopted family in our adopted country.

I made a Luxembourgish flag-themed flyer
We put together a set of some of our favorite songs, including three Daphne + Pete originals.
I asked Daphne to write a song about leaving Luxembourg
Here is a video of the resulting concert, mistakes and all, held in our church building. We had a nice little crowd of church members, coworkers, and friends in attendance. James and Daphne's teachers even came along.
(click through to the post if this does not show up in the email version)

Our friend, Almyra, took some photos:

And we even had the privilege of collaborating with a couple of musician friends on some songs.

In May and June we wrapped up our time at church, including playing for our international potluck service.

In June, the outdoor pianos returned to Luxembourg City.

This year we decided to enter the city's contest to win an iPad for recording a video at one or more of the pianos, since we'd spent so much time practicing for our farewell concert anyway. For the added cuteness factor, we chose a song that heavily featured the kids.

(if you read this in email, the video may not show up unless you click through to the post)

And lo and behold, we won (tied for?) 2nd place! The winners were invited to a reception at city hall. It was all in Luxembourgish so we didn't quite catch everything that was going on, but Pete and the kids were unexpectedly asked to reprise their song for the assembled crowd along with the other winners.

And then we appeared in the Luxembourgish national newspaper!

By the way, do you see the woman in the bright blue blazer next to James & Daphne? She presented the awards, and I had a nice chat with her after the ceremony. After we spoke for awhile, we had the following exchange:

Me: So what exactly is your role here?
Nice Woman: I'm the mayor of Luxembourg City.
Me: Oh! Wow. I'm so sorry, I should have known that. How embarrassing! 
Nice Woman: Yes, I was already the mayor for 18 years from 1982 to 1999. And I became the mayor again when Xavier Bettel became prime minister in 2013. You can see my photo with all the other mayors on the wall over there.
Me: Cool, um, I'll go look at those!

Whoops. But did I mention the whole ceremony was in Luxembourgish!? As are all political posters!

So anyway, we got to meet the mayor our last week in Luxembourg! 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

James in "Küss den Frosch" (The Princess & The Frog)

(Moving updates to come - we leave next week! - but meanwhile...)

James had the good fortune to participate three plays in three different languages during our four years in Luxembourg.

His first role was Simba in his 1st grade class' production of "The Lion King" in Luxembourgish. Then this past spring, he and Daphne were in the young chorus of a English community theatre production of "Oliver!" And then this week, his 2nd grade class put on "The Princess & The Frog" in German. His amazing teacher adapted the 2009 Disney movie's screenplay set in 1920s New Orleans. James was the Narrator, and also the wedding officiant/MC.

Daphne & James designed the playbill
As the narrator, James had his own mini stage in the middle of the auditorium, where he awakes at the beginning of the play to set the scene:

Then he pops up every once in awhile to give shorter transitions, and eventually makes his way to the stage to officiate the cut-short wedding, and then back to his post to officiate the real wedding.

watching the action on stage
Great costumes all by a parent. Gotta love the balloons on the fireflies!

James on the regular stage

Then after his closing monologue, James introduced the cast:

The cast and their teacher/director

So a big thank you to Luxembourg for introducing this little guy to theatre!

Great job, James!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Change of Plans

We're moving to back Portland, Oregon. Not to Seattle, Washington.

It was a complicated decision that took weeks of tossing around ideas, making plans and changing them, checking in with each other's thoughts, calculating risks, exploring worst case scenarios, and searching our souls.

In the end, the decision came down to two main things:

  1. We've been away from our families in Oregon a long time. If we're going to go back, we should go all the way back.
  2. Pete has some projects and business ideas he'd like to explore. This only really makes sense if we're back into our old, paid-for house.

And, in the end, it actually came down to one thing: following our instincts and our hearts. This feels right for us, and right for right now, so we have to do it. We can't not do it.

So, we're coming to Portland. See you there.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Italy: Milan (+bonus)

On the way home Friday, we stopped in Milan for a quick lunch. 

The Milan Cathedral is gorgeous, but we didn't have time to tour the inside.
Milan is a fashion and design capital. Shops representing most of the Italian brands you'd recognize are contained inside the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuel II next to the cathedral. Versace, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Armani, Gucci, and the like are all lined up side-by-side in this covered shopping mall built in the 1800s.

not your average mall
Pete and the kids in front of Versace
True to fashion-capital form, we were even ushered out of the way for a photo shoot in progress...
bridal dresses perhaps?
the photographer mostly took photos of the trains against the lovely tile floors
We hunted down lunch, even though the gelato was tempting as always...
extra fancy
Although we originally headed for McDonalds rather than brace ourselves for a full European style event-meal, we ended up at a super cheap but yummy fast food pizza joint called Spontini.
standing room only inside the restaurant, so a windowsill will do
And with that, we were headed back toward Luxembourg.

A fun side-note before leaving Italy, though: Pete and Daphne were reading through the Percy Jackson book series before and during our trip. They read independently but check in with each other to discuss and keep on approximately the same pace. Apparently in one of the books, a character becomes addicted to an Italian snack food called Fonzies while the demigods are all in Italy, and even manages to pay road toll with them at one point. Pete stumbled across some in a grocery store and it immediately became our snack of choice for the road. They're basically a less orange, slightly more natural-tasting Cheeto.

On the way home, we stopped in Germany overnight under the guise of needing a break from driving, and then announced Saturday morning that we'd be spending the day Europa Park. This was actually our second attempt at surprising the kids with a trip to Europa Park (you can read about the first time here). This time went better, although they were still mostly just confused.

So here are a few photos quick of that to close out the post:

fittingly, we got the Italia car of the bobsled ride :)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Italy: Cinque Terre

Hey, is that a little village on a cliff down there?
Why yes, yes it is!  Welcome to the Cinque Terre!
Pronounced "cheen-kwuh teh-reh" and meaning "five lands," the Cinque Terre is a series of five picturesque villages built directly into the steep rocky coastline. The area surrounding the villages is a national park. It's is one of those spots that Rick Steves--and apparently the equivalent travel guru from every other country--loves and made famous the world over, so it's pretty overrun with tourists. But as we were a short train ride away in Moneglia, we decided to spend one day exploring the area.

We rode to the nearby town of Levanto from Moneglia and then purhcased the Cinque Terre Family Card, which gives you unlimited access to all trains and trails in the region for the day.

Moneglia to Levanto, and then the Cinque Terre are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza (not picutred), Corneglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
A train ride from one end of the Cinque Terre to the other only takes about 15 minutes (mostly through tunnels inside the cliffs), with a stop in each town along the way, and there are hiking trails of varying difficulty between each village. Driving's a big no-no, so people end up doing some combination doing of walking and train-ing during their visit. Boats and apparently buses are also a possibility.

From Levanto, we took the Cinque Terre Express all the way to the farthest village, Riomaggiore, and figured we'd make our way back toward the other end by whatever method felt right at the moment.

As Pete always says, the best thing to do when you arrive in a town jam-packed with tourists is to immediately head up the nearest hill, path, steps, etc before claustrophobia/panic/indecision set in. Logic dictates that generally speaking, the higher you go, the more tourists are eliminated by the difficulty of doing so. So we walked up to an overlook in Riomaggiore straight away.

The main and easiest trail right along the coastline is the SVA (a.k.a the blue trail). This trail was damaged by storms and flooding back in 2011, and the two sections connecting Riomaggiore to Manarola to Corneglia have been mostly closed since then as far as I can tell.

closed SVA leading out of Riomaggiore
Anxious to make a little bit of progress right out of the gate, we took the train straight to the next village of Manarola.

Manarola.  Even going slightly up this road cleared us away from the throng.
From here we decided it was time to hike. We made a basic plan to head up the hill and over to the next village of Corneglia via the 506, 586, and 587 trails, bypassing the last closed section of the SVA. Then, once we got to Corneglia, we thought might try the open SVA trail to Vernazza if we were feeling up for it.
The red section of the SVA coastal trail is the closed part between Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Corneglia. Then it opens up and is shown in green from Corneglia to Vernazza, and continues into Monterosso. So we went up the hill on 506 from Manarola, northwest on the 586, and down to Cornelia on the 587.
here we go up 506

The trail got pretty tough for awhile - seemingly endless steps up a mountain. We were thankful to be hiking in the spring rather than the middle of summer.

Break time. But they did really well!
But soon the view starts getting amazing, and you wonder if maybe the SVA trail wouldn't be as cool anyway with its lower vantage point.
There was a little pit-stop town at the top of the hill called Volastra, where we refueled on focaccia and restocked on water, and continued on the 586.

continuing to Corneglia
Corneglia down on the cliff below

approaching Corneglia
lunch and well-deserved gelato in Corneglia
It took about 2 and a half hours or so to hike between Manarola and Corneglia. By the time we had a rest and some food, we felt ready to tackle the first open section of the SVA to Vernazza - the green section in the trail map above.

leaving Corneglia

This part of the trail was definitely easier and took us about an hour and a half.
approaching Vernazza
coming into Vernazza
By the time we reached the Vernazza train station we were pretty Cinque-Terrr-ed-out and decided we'd better head back to home base on the train. We skipped Monterosso altogether, since it seemed quite similar to Moneglia except more touristy. But I'm sure it's beautiful!

Although we didn't spend much time in the villages themselves except for snacks and a quick break, we were satisfied with our literal "overview" of the Cinque Terre.

One more Italy post coming up!