Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Great "Creche Vivante" Adventure

Around the beginning of November, the following flyer came home from school with Daphne:

A "creche vivante," we deduced, is a nativity play.  The local Catholic church was presenting a nativity play for its parishioners and inviting the elementary school children to participate, with four rehearsals and a performance.

Daphne actually received the same flyer last year, but she and James were still adjusting to school in Luxembourg.  My French and Daphne's Luxembourgish were extremely limited, so we decided to pass.  However, we thought that this year we'd see if she'd like to give it a try.  Daphne is now conversant in Luxembourgish, and she loves all things nativity.  We'll always remember the year she orchestrated her own nativity play, asking the whole family to join in as we "played Mary." Her little 4-year-old-self had a very specific directorial vision, as became clear when things didn't go according to plan (such as James wheeling the "manger" off stage).

Video from 2009:


Daphne and I showed up the first day of creche vivante practice to find two nuns/missionaries and a handful of assistants running the operation.  It turned out the nuns were Italian, spoke almost no English, and not a lot of Luxembourgish either.  Rehearsals would be conducted in French.  The majority of the local school children in our part of town speak some French, but I realized I was now Daphne's translator for this endeavor.

Poor Daphne.  Me = your French translator = not where you want to be.

The nuns proceeded to ask for volunteers: angels, shepherds, magi, Mary, Joseph, et al.  Pretty much all the little girls' hands shot up for angels, and the assistants took them aside for measurements.

One of the nuns then took the angels to a separate room to practice some songs in French and German as I watched through the glass doors.  Daphne said afterward she recognized one or two from her religion class at school. 

The second week, the other nun took them back to practice.  I soon noticed that she was doing a lot more taking than the first nun did.  Daphne looked confused and worried, so I went inside to help if I could.  I broken-French-explained to the nun that I didn't speak much French but that my daughter spoke none.  She didn't seem to mind me sticking around.

They sang their German and French carols, and then she introduced one in Portuguese.  Yeah, by the way, most of the kids at Daphne's school speak Portuguese too!  From what I could tell, it was just for fun, and not necessarily for the performance. 
Daphne frowning at Portuguese
Still, Daphne and I were not prepared for yet another language to face.  But I really wasn't prepared for what happened next.

The nun turned to me, out of the blue, and told me to sing a song in English.  She was very, very sweet, but it was not a question; it was an instruction.

Now, before I explain my response, I need to supply some background.   I take French class four days a week, but I am still a beginner.  I am attempting to learn French so I can function in daily life here without feeling helpless and ignorant, and perhaps even get a job eventually.   Between French class and my daily life around Luxembourg, I spend a large portion of my time and mental energy trying to understand and then follow instructions as best I can in French.  Listen, decode, follow the instruction.  Try not to seem like an idiot.  It's what I do.

So, all that to say, when a nun instructs me in French to sing, I sing.  Listen, decode, follow the instruction.  Done.

I had heard them practicing "Angels We Have Heard On High," so I went for a verse in English.  The "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" part transcends countries and languages, so the kids all joined me.  The nun indicated for another verse.  Listen, decode, follow.

And before I knew it, from what I could understand, the nun was telling me I was going to do what I just did during the performance, and the kids would join me on the Glorias.

Uhhh.....   All I could come up with was, "peut-être."  Perhaps.

The angels soon joined the rest of the kids in the main room and they all sang through the songs together.  And then, the nun hands me a microphone.

I'm telling you, it's really hard to say "no" to a nun.  This is true in any language, I'm fairly certain.

So I sang it again, and that was that.

I came home afterward and wondered what on Earth I'd gotten myself into.  I begged Pete to come accompany me on guitar or something--anything, so I wouldn't feel quite so out of place.  He finally agreed.

The third week, a friend took Daphne to practice because we were finishing up our Thanksgiving party.  I hoped that perhaps the nuns would forget the whole incident or give up on me.  But upon returning from practice, Daphne announced, "They told me to tell my mom to make sure to come to the next practice to sing the Gloria song!"

Well, shoot.

The final Saturday before the performance, I got Pete to come along so we could talk to the nuns about the guitar.  He wanted me to ask if they had a keyboard instead.  The nun said she could bring hers, but I was unable to get her to tell me how many keys it had.  I didn't know the word for that and hand gestures were failing me.  I'm not sure she knew the answer anyway.  After stepping aside to speak with the other nun, suddenly she was telling us that he would play all five songs in a reprise after the play, along with the kids and congregation.  Then, the plan changed yet again, and he'd be playing them both during and after the play.

At least I thought that's what they said.  Pretty sure.

They gave us a copy of the songs, most with unfamiliar notation (they used the Do-Re-Mi system, called "solfège").  We looked up the titles on youtube and Pete played through them at home.

We later told our friend who plays with us in our church band our "funny story about the creche vivante," and less-than-half-jokingly suggested he come play guitar along with us.  He didn't say no.  We took that as a yes.  We are quick students of the nun technique.

Fast-forward to the Saturday of the performance.  We all showed up early for the dress rehearsal and, sure enough, there was a keyboard with about three octaves. Serviceable.  

Seriously, what good sports!
The angels were outfitted.

D on on the far right.
And, we were ready to begin!

I sat down next to Pete and our amazing friend and musician, Martyn (who does speak a little French), so I could follow the script and tell them when to come in.
most of the "musique" was canned tracks while the action was taking place
Seemed simple enough. (Ok, so not really.)  But it was about to get even less simple.

As the first song began, it immediately became clear that synchronization was a problem, as the kids had never sung with accompaniment before.  To complicate things further, the room was echoey, Pete and Martyn couldn't see the kids, and the words (in foreign languages) and tunes were relatively unfamiliar.  Not to mention that some of the keys weren't great for kid voices and needed changing, and they were reading off that weird solfège notation.  And how many choruses are we doing of that one again?  And how will the introduction go?  When will the kids come in?  And wait, I think they just changed the order of those two songs??


At that point I was recruited to liaise between the musicians and the kids, to try to coordinate the mess.

And that, my friends, is how I became the children's choir director of Creche Vivante 2013 at the dress rehearsal.  In French.  

Now poor Daphne really was lost.
My view from the director's seat.  Pete could kind of peek at me from time to time over Daphne's head from behind the huge pillar.  Poor Martyn couldn't see me at all.
And, we did it.  The kids sang, I sang, all with accompaniment.  I honestly don't know if we made the whole thing better or worse.  Perhaps they all would have been better off without our involvement, logistically and otherwise.  But, Daphne was in her first "real" nativity play, and we tried our best to help and do what we were told.  Our little overheated brains 'bout near exploded in the process.

Daphne's head's peaking up over a wing on the far right.
Life is pretty weird, isn't it?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Daphne Turns 8

Happy Birthday, Daphne!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Scenes from a Luxembourgish Thanksgiving

British turkeys (that are small enough to fit in a European oven)
source of British turkeys
American cranberries found at regular grocery store
French bread
American chef in tiny European kitchen
American co-host introducing British girlfriend to Thanksgiving (by roasting and carving a British turkey)
other nationalities and the yummy foods they brought, including French, Scottish, Polish, German, and of course American
Luxembourgish alcohol
American Tecmo Superbowl (for when you don't live in the US and don't own a TV)
brilliant photo props provided by American guests
American (first-time) hosts
 ping-pong table courtesy of (Germany)

And not to be outdone by his sister...

Song about a cat in Luxembourgish.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

German Schoolwork: Fall/Winter, 2nd Grade

Sentences Daphne copied directly from her "Mila" textbook.  Copying text and taking dictation is a big part of the German curriculum.
As Daphne was close to finishing kindergarten when we left the States, she had begun reading and writing in English.  She could write very simple sentences with near-correct spelling, and enjoyed stringing together little stories with mostly-incorrect-but-intelligible phonetic spelling.  I'd also say her reading ability was above average for her age.

When she started learning to speak Luxembourgish in 1st grade, and then to read and write in German, her English literacy progress gradually slowed.  Her English spelling morphed into an odd mix of phonetic English and phonetic German, and she currently struggles to spell simple words in English.  Aside from continuing to provide her with books in English, and reading to her in English, we have not "worked on" English literacy skills together since moving here.

So, while her English reading skills have progressed to some degree since kindergarten, this has likely now leveled off at somewhere around average or below for her age.  Her spelling has most definitely declined.

Meanwhile, Daphne's German reading and writing has made slow and steady forward progress, building in part on that rudimentary English literacy she brought with her to Luxembourg.  But by nearly midway through second grade (almost a year and half of school in Lux), we hadn't heard her read or write more than a simple sentence or two at a time on her own in German.

But back to English for a moment:  call us academic snobs, but it feels a bit uncomfortable when you realize your kid can't spell simple words in her native language that a nearly-8-year old "should" know.  You can't help but cringe when you see it.

From a poster she worked on in Sunday School (our church is in English).   Of course, in German, the "w" makes a  "v" sound.  Don't ask me where the "n" came from.

However, I think it would be hard for any parents to watch their child's skills decline while waiting for other skills to catch up.  We're in an in-between period.  It's expected, normal, and gives no cause for alarm, but it's still uncharted territory for us.  Her peers back in Oregon are plowing through chapter books at grade level and above, while our daughter is only reading simple sentences in German--certainly not complete children's books.  If she had stayed in the US, her English literacy would have likely continued to track at above average, whereas now it has plateaued at best, and significantly declined at worst.

Again, it's not bad.  It's just strange to watch, and to think about the hypothetical, alternate-reality Daphne who is progressing nicely in English along with her friends.  Add to that your own inability to help your child because you don't know the language she's learning, and it gets pretty weird.

But I'm writing this post because there are now signs that she's turning a corner, and we're about to witness a period of rapid growth in her German literacy.  

The other day Daphne popped out of school and couldn't wait to show me a sheet of orange paper.  On it was a story; one she had written herself, in German.  As I mentioned, Daphne often wrote and illustrated very short, simple stories in English back when she was in kindergarten in the US, just as many small children enjoy doing as they discover and develop new writing skills.  During this transition period in Luxembourgish school, she hasn't had the ability to write stories in either/any language.

Anyway, back to the orange paper.  It's a simple narrative with a predictable plot.  No screenwriters are banging down our doors.  But it's a story, nonetheless.

To summarize: A lady is grocery shopping. There's a burglar in the store who steals all her groceries.  The cashier calls the police and they catch the burglar, who goes straight to jail. 

I'm sure there are spelling and grammar errors but I certainly can't tell the difference!
And then, she read this story aloud from her textbook the other night:

Sure, they'd already read this story in class together.  Yet to see her sit down and read with relative fluency is new, exciting, and very encouraging.  You start to feel like this whole crazy experiment is gonna be worth it.

The point is, we're proud of this kiddo!

Of course, just when she starts getting the hang of German, they've now started learning French too...

To be continued!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bruges (Brugge), Belgium

The Venice of the North!  Well, a Venice of the North
Well, we had our first snowstorm here in Luxembourg this week, which reminded me that fall is practically over, which reminded me I need to get these fall pictures up!

While Bruges was gorgeous and we had a lovely time, Pete started referring to it as EuropeLand.  You know: cute, crowded, expensive, with little evidence of any "real life" happening besides tourism.  A bit of a canned attraction.   There are lots of places like that in Europe, I suppose, and it's the eternal paradox of tourism in general.  There's nothing really wrong with it, but perhaps we're just ready for a more off-the-beaten-path holiday next time around.  Variety is good.

Anyway, rapid-fire photo tour of our Bruges trip!

Train was way cheaper than renting a car (+gas+parking) for 3 days.  62€ total for all of us, round trip.
Settling in...
inexpensive apartment just outside the city
kids' room
Poor Daphne brought her homework
local beer, the Bruges fool
Market Square...

yay, bikes
the classic postcard shot
bell tower leans about 4 feet
Climbing that bell tower...

explaining the complex carillon
some of the 40+ bells
view of a canal
Canal boat ride...

in line with the other tourists
on the boat

evidence I was, in fact, also in Bruges (first pic of me in 3 posts on it)

Church of Our Lady
Swans, swans, everywhere...

Miscellaneous around town...

giant bike lanes!!
lace shops
convent courtyard
bridge on our walk into town
I don't know what this is but it's probably my favorite photo.
Where we stayed
End tour.