Sunday, February 26, 2012

Helau! & Cousins

This year was our first Karneval in Düsseldorf (last year we were in the US). We didn't really know what to expect, but were very excited to be experiencing it with my sister Kate and my nephew Dylan. They arrived on the Friday of Karneval, and were quickly swept into the festivities.

Matching Mario and Luigi costumes for the cousins - so cute! Of course they wouldn't wear their mustaches (why even bother including a stick on mustache for a 1-2 year old?), but they were adorable!

We went to our friend Dre's house for a Karneval brunch, and then headed down to Königsallee for the children's parade. Dylan dozed while Simon jammed to the marching bands. A big thing during Karneval here, besides costumes, is the candy. They throw loads of candy out at the spectators, and sharpest elbows win. We were next a group of 8-9 year old boys who had no shame in stealing candy from a baby (literally) and their parents looked on (approvingly, I would say). Gotta love the German way. (But no worries - we still took home some good stuff!)

On Sunday Kate and I headed down to Königsallee again while the kiddos slept at home with Uncle Martin. For this day, Königsallee turns into a street festival, with food and beer stands and loads of people dressed up in fantastic costumes. Many people had group themes and pulled their own wagons loaded with beer to keep them well supplied for the day. We hit it early enough that it wasn't just a bunch of sloppy drunks, but I can imagine that that was the direction it was headed.

On Rosenmontag, which is a regional holiday here in North Rhein-Westphalia, we went to the big parade that involved a lot more candy and much larger floats. Again, we left the kiddos at home and enjoyed some time on our own (also left the camera at home, unfortunately).

Unfortunately, just as Dylan and Kate were adjusting to life in Düsseldorf, Simon got a high fever which he couldn't kick, and eventually resulted in an ear infection. This meant that Kate and Dylan took a solo adventure to Bobolinos along with my friends here for their own little play date. Dylan loved it - and Simon got some rest.

On Herwig Sister's Day, we even got a babysitter and had a nice afternoon out on the town. We went to Flingern, a cute little neighborhood with some small shops that just aren't that conducive to browsing with strollers. So it was pretty much new to both us. (Sisters Day started 2 years ago when on February 22, 2010 I went into premature labor with Simon, Kate found out she was pregnant with Dylan, and Marie got officially married at the court house in LA before their big wedding in Mexico.)

It was so great to be able to spend so much time with my sweet little nephew (16 months). You would hardly know that he and Simon are cousins - as they couldn't be more different. Dylan's hair is as straight as Simon's is curly; Dylan picks through his food as Simon shovels it in his mouth; and Dylan is constantly on the move, as Simon quietly reads his book or play with legos. But differences aside, they had fun together. Neither had spent this much time around another kid before, and it was really fun to watch them pick up each other's habits and language. By the end Dylan was whispering Pappa (as Simon inexplicably likes to do) and Simon had picked up Dylan's fish noise, which is kind of like a bubble popping.

On our last day together we went to Maastricht, a cute town in the very south of the Netherlands. We met up with an old German Macalester friend, and Kate and Dylan enjoyed their first trip to the Netherlands.

We were sad to see them go this morning, but excited that we will see them in June in Charleston. I am so grateful that they made the trip over. I know it's hard traveling alone with kids, and it's not really a vacation. It's exhausting, and it's really hard to get a break, especially with time zone changes. But it means to much to be able to spend time with my sister and our little boys all together. No doubt they won't remember it, but I will never forget it!

Check out the pics here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Crafty Day!

By the end of last week, I was itching to get some things done. I had projects to do. Gifts to make, a birthday party to get ready for. I wanted to craft. Creativity was oozing out of my veins...Well, not exactly. I 'm not that crafty, but I had been hoarding ideas from the internet and I put them to use. Here are the results:

Simon's birthday crown. Yup, turning 2 in just 2 weeks! (Got the idea here.)

Child's apron. I have been making a bunch of these lately as gifts. I love that the neck is elastic and the waist closes with velcro - small children can put them on and take them off by themselves. (Pattern here.)

And I even made something without a pattern - a cute little taggy blanket for a friend expecting #2 in March.

And Simon is getting a kitchen for his birthday (which we're building - don't even get me started!!), so I am working on a few accessories, but still need a trip to the fabric store.

I enjoy crafting, but I don't actually consider myself terribly creative. I started crafting in Kentucky (and let's be honest, I don't even think I knew crafting was a verb). I was looking for new friends, and my boss's daughter invited me to a crafting night that she had just started with a few other girls. I didn't have a craft, and at the time maybe it was all knitting. So they taught me how to knit. I made some ugly scarves, bought lots of yarn, and crafted intermittently throughout the years.

Then a few years ago my mom got me a sewing machine. And a year later I even used it for the first time. A lovely retired woman, whom I met at a sewing class, invited me over to her house to teach me how to sew a tote bag. And so it began. I find sewing much more interesting than knitting. It's more forgiving, and fabric is way more fun than yarn. And the internet is full of great ideas...Plus, it feels great to give homemade gifts.

And my Kentucky crafting gals? Still the greatest ladies on Earth. Now we are all crafting for little ones. It's so much fun.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Fog of Kita Frustration

In December 2010, I wrote briefly about the hunt for a Kindergarten/Kita for Simon. I had learned that they were very tough to get into, there were long waits, and you had to think ahead.

Well, the fact that I did not understand the system or the language lead me to really drag my feet on this one. But in the end that was ok, because Düsseldorf changed their Kita application process to an online system that should make it easy for everyone. So in November I went into the iPunkt office and had one of the employees help me with the application. I kept it simple and applied to all Kitas near me with options for 25 hours/week. I was put on the waiting list at each school, and will find out in March if we received a spot.

But it's not that simple. Here's what you need to know:

  • Children age 3 and over are guaranteed a spot in a public Kita (for free!!)
  • There is only enough space for less than 10% of children under age 3 (not free, but greatly subsidized)
So, you do the math, and it's pretty much impossible to get public childcare. Add to that there's a priority system with single mothers and working parents being at the top. (Not me).

But how do they choose? Well, that's an interesting question and everyone seems to have a different answer. There are literally hundreds of applicants for just a handful of spots...Some parents recommend visiting the Kita so that they know you and that you are really interested. You might even send a thank you card. You might call the Kitas weekly or regularly to ask them how their selection process is going. Recently, a friend of mine was touring a Kita and when she asked when they would make their selections, the Kita employee responded that if she wants a spot she can just say so and she will get her in. Nevermind all those other people waiting patiently in some online queue. It's infuriating to say the least!

Of course, there are private options. But they are very expensive. And there are Tagesmutters, which is essentially in-home childcare which very common for children under age 3. This can also be quite expensive. I spoke to someone at the iPunkt office today and I believe she said that there are Tagesmutters that are also subsidized by the government, but I couldn't figure out if both parents have to be working or not.

So wish me luck on my Kita search! I am not optimistic, but I know that we will find something for Simon if this whole charade doesn't work out. I'll keep you posted.