Monday, September 15, 2014

First Day of School 2014-2015

It's a big day for the Ts.  The kids go back to school after summer break.  Pete goes back to work after 3 1/2 weeks off.  My mom arrives in Luxembourg.  And our 3-week-old nephew is having heart surgery back in Oregon.

The truth is, I'm behind on posts and may or may not go back and catch up.  Yet I know from blogging here for 6 years that I need to just start from today and see what happens with the back-posts.  If I wait until I'm chronological, I'm doomed.

So meanwhile, all my best to these 4 loves today (+my mom)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

French Schoolwork (2nd Grade)

Here we are for another mind-numbingly boring (strangely fascinating?) post on the wonderful world of Luxembourg schools.  The new school year begins for Luxembourg public schools in two weeks, but I'm attempting a quick catch-up on last year in the meantime.  

Another degree of difficulty was added the second semester of 2nd grade, as Daphne began learning French.  This was on top of Luxembourgish, German, and continuing her native English at home.

Here's a quick recap of the public school system as it relates to language learning:

Cycle 1:

Age 3-4: one year of optional preschool
Speaking: Luxembourgish only
Reading/Writing: minimal

Age 4-6: two years of mandatory "play school" (kindergarten)
Speaking: Luxembourgish only
Reading/Writing: printing the Luxembourgish/German alphabet

Cycle 2:

Primary School Year One (like US 1st grade)
Speaking: Luxembourgish + German
Reading/Writing: German

Primary School Year Two (like US 2nd grade)
Speaking: Luxembourgish + German + French (intro'd 2nd half)
Reading/Writing: German + French (intro'd 2nd half)

And here's what our kids have completed thus far:
James: 1.5 months of preschool, 2 years of play school (completed Cycle 1)
Daphne: 1.5 months of play school, 2 years of primary school (completed Cycle 2)

She likes to study her French vocabulary words by covering up one side, just like for German
In contrast to German, which was fast and furious from the beginning of first grade, French is added to the mix at a much slower pace.  This makes sense, since the kids are continuing their concurrent work in German.  The French vocabulary is added topically versus alphabetically, and the approach seems a bit simpler, less intense, and even more "fun."

Perhaps it just seems fun because I'm comparing it to my own French classes (not so fun).  But that's a story for another day...

Her textbook was a thin paperback, with a younger, more basic feel than her first German texts.

It's from 1986.  Her teacher told me she had the same one when she was Daphne's age

Initial vocabulary topics include food, clothing, toys, and school items.
 There is quite a bit of cutting and gluing involved.

Which toys are feminine and which are masculine? Daphne calls this "doing the der/die/das in French."  Crazy, right?
classifying nouns
cats and mice are a theme
And they memorize songs and short poems, just like for German.
tra la la
days of the week
She especially liked this little rhyme because she's been to Colmar!
Throw in some preposition work and they're getting close to full sentences....
on, in, under, behind, etc.
And here are a couple of writing samples...
Making sentences with "c'est" isn't too difficult.  It's remembering to pronounce it "say" not "sest" that's tricky when you've been learning to read in German and English!
unscramble (aka thank goodness for pictures)
Anyway, so far so good for Daphne in French, but we'll see how things go this year when the pace picks up.  As it turns out, all of Daphne's classmates already understood and/or spoke some French before they began officially learning it in school this year.  French is the most commonly spoken language in the city, particularly among foreigners (which most of Daphne's classmates are!).  This does make me wonder if all this "kiddy French" is a bit boring for the rest of the kids.  Still, if there's one thing Luxembourg schools do well, it's teach multiple languages to multiple nationalities.  So we'll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

In theory, I can actually help my daughter with French.  But we all know the way these things go; it won't be long before she surpasses me.  Ah, to be eight years old again.  Can't I just go to her class???

Here are some other nerdy-school posts:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Merl Park

Parc de Merl is a block and a half from our apartment, and when someone in our family says, "let's go to the park," we always mean here.  We may be counting down the days until our vacation in Oregon, but today we were walking through the park and I decided to take a moment to savor the beauty of where we live.

We happened to be walking quite early in the morning and it was mostly empty, so I took the opportunity to take some photos of the very wet park.   A couple of huge rain storms have just passed through, and temperatures are hovering in the 60s Fahrenheit.  Sadly, summer in Luxembourg is apparently already over.  But we did have a beautiful spring.  You take what you can get.

I also realized that although I've posted numerous photos of this park, I've never done a complete post on it!

The best thing about Merl Park is there is something for everyone.  I regularly see adults and couples of all ages, with and without children.  As is typical of Luxembourg, the park is meticulously maintained.  Dog-walking and sunbathing (again, you take what you can get) are among the most popular adult activities.  The main feature of the park, aside from the playground, is the small artificial lake in the center, home to many a duck and freakishly-large goldfish.

A café, La Pavillon, sits on the lake.  Menu here, partway down the page.

And there is a spendy but delicious ice cream stand.

A lovely network of paths takes you throughout the park, with something pretty to look at around every corner.

And here are some photos of play equipment.  Granted, deserted playground photos tend to be a bit creepy, but they're easy to take!

odd but extremely popular basketball "court"

bring your own paddles
large variety of play equipment
zip lines
Luxembourg signature giant tube slides
and free, monitored-by-the-city trampolines in the afternoons during the (theoretical) summer months
By this afternoon the park will be swarming with visitors.  But it's still a very pleasant place, even when it's full, and there's always a quiet spot available to lay out a blanket to picnic or read a book. 

And if you want it mostly to yourself, you can always visit first thing in the morning.

Friday, July 25, 2014

We're Calling it Farm Park (but so is everyone else)

Last spring I wrote about the new castle-themed park near our neighborhood.  It turns out Luxembourg City is in the process of creating/upgrading at least 10 playgrounds in this wooden/whimsical-themed style over the next few years.

This country doesn't have one of the highest GDPs in the world for nothing, I suppose.

We were among the first to know about and visit Castle Park, judging by the flood of "WHERE IS THIS???" questions prompted by my post.  This time we're a bit later to the party; there's been some serious mommy-buzz about the new Farm Park for months and it finally opened a couple of weeks ago.   James and I decided to check it out yesterday while Daphne was otherwise occupied.

But just in case someone in Luxembourg hasn't been (which I doubt, because I think we were all there yesterday afternoon) I can show you exactly where it is.  The secret's already out this time!

It's in the Gasperich neighborhood
better to to come at it from one of the streets to the south, not sure if you can walk up from Rue de la Déportation
This park has plenty of shade, and the structures are spread over more space than at Castle Park.  

official entrance - and the name on the sign is "English Garden"
It's sad to admit that it won't be long before our kids are too old for these parks!  Daphne actually complains about bumping her head a lot in the main structure at Castle Park, and this one is of similar size.  But I think we can still squeeze a couple more years out of them.  James quite enjoyed the little obstacle course.

notice he's climbing between giant stalks of wheat
hooray for large motor skills
And, like Castle Park, all the lovely wooden details make for great atmosphere.

terrified *oink* (*quiek* in German) 
*no idea*
And you're never too old for swings.

The next theme-playgound is slated for 2015 in the Cents neighborhood.  We'll be enjoying Farm Park in the meantime.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

End of 2013-1014 School Year

end of year party
Well, another school year in Luxembourg has come to a close.  The public school session runs from mid-September to mid-July.  This past week, James finished Cycle 1.2 (kindergarten) and Daphne finished Cycle 2.2 (2nd grade).  This means they've completed 2 full years of school here, plus the month and a half at the very end of the 2011-2012 school year when we first arrived.  

As such, this was our third year for the end-of-school talent show and party in the courtyard.  The first year it was all quite a mystery, the second year we knew the drill, and now it just feels normal.  Well, almost.  I'm not sure we'll ever fully adjust to kids-singing-and-dancing-to-pop-music-in-English-with-questionable-lyrics-at-a-school-function-but-they-probably-have-no-idea-what-they're-saying-so-oh-well-I-guess-who-cares (?)

I try to lend a hand at these parties if I can (they have a smaller version around Christmas time as well), since it's a good opportunity to interact with the other parents and be generally useful.  This year I actually joined the parent planning committee.  I felt like a bit of a burden because I'm still pretty darn crappy at French, and I didn't want the parents to feel obligated to switch to English for the meetings on my behalf.  But on the encouragement of my Luxembourgish friend/president of the committee, I tentatively joined.  We had a couple of planning meetings, which were a mind-boggling mixture of probably 4-5 languages, including English.  Like in many of my interactions in Luxembourg, I walked away from these meetings feeling like an idiot, but I figure it's better to be a somewhat-useful-sort-of-idiot than a just-plain-idoit.

So I volunteered to help with face painting.   This was a safe bet because 1) I can understand kids pointing at pictures 2) I can copy a simple design and 3) I can recognize the names of the basic colors in French, Luxembourgish, and German.  If you're mildly impressed by that last one, don't be. It still puts you solidly in the idiot camp in this country.  

But for a point in my favor, I printed off a World Cup logo to bring along at the last minute, which was quite popular.  Yeah, the World Cup is kind of a big deal for the kids here in Europe (so, all they've talked about for weeks).

must have done at least 20 of these
By the end of the night, all princess and super-hero designs were abandoned in favor of the logo and special requests for native country flags (thank you, Google-images-on-smartphone).

And according to what is now The-Ts-blog-tradition, below are a couple clips of the class dances.  Not surprisingly, both Daphne and James' class performed songs related to the World Cup.  Americans, you'll have to tell me if these songs were heard anywhere back in the homeland during the World Cup.

The two kindergarten classes and the précoce performed together to "Magic in the Air" by Magic System from the Ivory Coast.  James is in the back at the left of the screen in a red shirt and grey pants, and holding a large Brazilian flag.  You'll need to click through to youtube and make it full screen to have any shot of seeing him.  And you might be able to hear that except for the title lyric, the rest is in French.

Daphne's class danced to Shakira's "Dare (La la la)."  The class found a youtube Zumba video and copied the moves.  Daphne's on the right/back of the screen, in a light purple shirt. 

As you can see, her hips don't lie.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Diekirch Military Museum

Luxembourg's National Museum of Military History has long been on our list of places to visit.  It's located in Diekirch, a small toward the north end of Luxembourg which we've driven through many times.  We finally paid a visit with Pete's parents when they were back in Lux on the very last leg of their trip.  

a great outing for a rainy day
To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive.  I hadn't researched the place thoroughly, but had heard it was worth seeing.  Awhile back I'd seen couple of photos online of the life-sized dioramas, which are the main features of this museum.

Something about the images of the dioramas creeped me out.  Maybe I have a subconscious aversion to the blank stare of a mannequin?  Who can say. I'm also not a history nor war buff by any stretch of the imagination.  Embarrassingly, if you ask all the countries that fought on each side of WWII, I have to really think for a minute.  My brain just doesn't store that kind of information well long-tem.  

At any rate, my expectations were that the museum would be interesting, but not really my sort of thing.  I almost stayed home, but when looking up how to get there I came across the Tripadvisor page and reviewers had raved.

You can probably tell by now that my initial expectations were wrong.  I found the museum completely fascinating and not creepy at all.  For one thing, I think images of dioramas are probably creepier than dioramas in person.  Secondly, they were very tastefully done, not cheesy or tacky at all.

except I don't remember what was happening in this one...
We rented one English audio guide on an iPod.  After the first couple of rooms, we realized that the word-for-word transcript was available on the screen.  From that point on we took turns reading it aloud, which allowed us to better pace ourselves and skim over bits, easily stopping to point things out to the kids without messing with buttons.  The museum was quiet and uncrowded, so I don't think we bothered anyone by playing tour guide.

The museum covers general Luxembourg military history, with a large section devoted to the Battle of the Bulge (which took place in this area of Luxembourg), and the liberation of Luxembourg with the help of US forces in the fall of 1944.

River crossing during Battle of the Bulge.  Lots of snow.
"Luxembourg is free!"  I immediately recognized the font at the top because this is the same newspaper I now read every day, in English and online.
We enjoyed reading all the names of the weapons, ammunition, and vehicles.
I don't know if you can see the white print, but this one's called "Hitler's Headache"
The one thing you have to be careful about at this museum is becoming overwhelmed.  There is SO. MUCH. STUFF.  Not only scenes and artifacts, but thousands of photographs.  It would take you hours upon hours, probably even days, to see it all.  We made it only about a 3rd of the way following the audio guide, and then just casually wandered for the next 3rd.  The last 3rd we barely peeked in on.  If you want to see it in one day, pack a lunch and take a break part way through!
Could they fit one more item into this case?  Seems doubtful.
easy to get lost in all the interesting details
In addition to the Luxembourg and US displays, many of the uniforms, artifacts, and first-hand accounts that were used to reconstruct scenes were given to this museum by Germans who fought in WWII.  Considering the focus of the museum on Luxembourg's relationship with the Allied Forces and the United States in particular, I found this interesting and quite moving.  I enjoyed seeing the German counterparts to many of the scenes and soldiers.

And as we walked passed some of the displays, Pete's parents could point out a type of soldier and tell us which relatives of theirs had fought in that capacity in WWII.

We Americans don't see images of Nazi flags on our home soil, places we recognize.  It was striking to see even just a painting of Nazi flags at our little Luxembourg train station.   
And just when you think you must be reaching the end, a hall opens to a giant room of military vehicles and scenes.  There was actually even MORE to see after this room, but we left it for another day.

Daphne's favorite was this German "Schwimmwagen"
looking quite patriotic
And speaking of patriotism - the US just celebrated Independence Day this past weekend.  I know I've said this before, but generally speaking, the number of moments I'm embarrassed to be an American greatly outnumber those I'm proud to be one (think obnoxious American celebrities and politicians and news headlines and TV shows and stereotypes and you get the idea).

I'll go head and tentatively count this museum visit in the "proud moment" category.  Proud to be an American and also proud to be living in the amazing little country of Luxembourg, home to a wonderful military museum - small but packed with cool stuff, just like the country itself.

Happy Belated 4th of July to the USA and Happy Belated National Day (23rd of June) to Luxembourg.