Sunday, March 29, 2009

Y2W44 - Eggsibition

We got home from Ireland really late on Monday night and jumped right into school and making the girls "Eggsibition" Projects the next day. We only had Tuesday evening because they needed to be handed in by Wednesday morning. This year at least we talked ahead of time about what the girls wanted their themes to be. What I didn't realize is that this year they all wanted to make their own project. Unlike last year, when my egg blowing out exercise was making me sick (because I was pregnant with Lleyton), this year I vastly improved. Below are some pics of the final projects. We were so tired from our trip all week that we didn't do much other than what was required.

Saturday, after Bailey made us some green eggs (we didn't have any ham) we were going to just chill but ended up shopping downtown Bonn in the morning, then the girls got their much needed Spring haircuts, and in the afternoon it was downtown Bad Godesberg shopping for us. So much for taking it easy.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Y2W43 - Dublin, Ireland

Ellyn says that it is important that we note that Lleyton recently past the six month mark. With that is mind, Bryn is 3 years 5 months, Avery 5 years 7 months, and Bailey 8 years 5 months. I guess I get it with kids younger than a year. Here are a few pics of Lleyton.

With Ellyn deep into the production of the 'Christensens – The First Year in Deutschland' blog book, I am once again making a guest appearance. I’m starting to feel like Jay Leno when he sub’d in for Johnny Carson only he seemed to be on as much or more than Johnny himself.

Anyhow, this weekend we fired off to Ireland for a visit to Dublin and the surrounding area. Having not spent any time in the city on our visit last year, we couldn’t resist the 280€ airline price for 6 people. The trip was one of the more challenging as we dealt with bladder issues, spilled milk, foot injuries, and stomach queasiness. Through it all we persevered, and as the pictures indicated there were plenty of moments of happiness intertwined with the trials. Note the pictures of Avery and Bryn taken approximately 10 minutes apart.

The weekend included a tour of Trinity College and a viewing of the Book of Kells, shopping on O’Connell and Grafton Streets, walks through St. Stephens Green, strolls through the Moore Street and Blackrock markets, and visits to Christ Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedrals, and Dublin Castle. Additionally, we drove out to the Powerscourt Estate and Gardens, and attempted a trip to the Wicklow Mountains before the queasy stomach got us.

One of the best parts of the weekend was the energy surrounding Ireland’s attempt to pull off the Grand Slam in the Six Nations Cup – Rugby Championships. It had been 61 years since Ireland had run the tables and beat England, Scotland, Wales, Italy and France in rugby until they pulled it off Saturday evening. We had dinner in the Temple Bar District of Dublin, and the streets and squares were alive with fans packing the pubs to watch the match. We joined them for a brief period after our meal as a couple establishments had turned their TV’s out on the street so people could gather around. It was a brilliant opportunity to surround ourselves in a little Irish enthusiasm and culture.

It was good to get back, and despite some of the challenges, we were able to see some great places and enjoyed learning a lot about Irish history. A little 'you have four kids!' dose of reality has to be expected.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Y2W42 - Rheinfels

Monday at swimming class, I was watching Bailey do the backstroke and it was quite good. I have been so pleased with the progress she is making. No fear of the water anymore. She has been jumping off of the diving board without any kind of water flotation device. This week she was learning how to dive. It was truly one of those moments where your heart smiles. Look out Michael Phelps! Avery has taken these five weeks off of swimming but when she saw that they were learning to dive, she is thinking of re-signing up for the summer class.

Wednesday was Avery's Class Assembly. Her class theme was Water and how important it is. She had to memorize the sentence, "We need water to wash our hands." She did a great job of speaking slowly and clearly into the microphone. Here are a couple pics.

We took the opportunity to drive to Koblenz on Saturday and South along the Rhein River to Sankt Goar and the Rheinfels Castle. The girls are getting a bit desensitized to the cool castle thing. While Greg and I are always up for a cathedral, castle, small village, the girls are becoming accustomed to these as if they are everyday things. But, they always find a way to entertain themselves. We try to encourage their interest and remind them that this stint in Europe is fleeting and pretty soon we will no longer have some of the opportunities that we do here. We are more than ever trying to see everything we can so we have no regrets when it is time to leave. The only little damper that was put on this glorious day was when Bryn accidentally pinched Avery's finger and gave her a blood blister. Avery was having a hard day forgetting about her finger and just enjoying the day. We plowed through and despite her ailment, I think she still had fun running around the castle.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Y2W41 - Bryn ist in die Schule

It's true. I have officially three kids in school now. Bryn started Kindergarten (pre-school in the US) on Monday. She was slightly unsure at the beginning especially since two other children were crying uncontrollably. She gave me a look like, "Where are you leaving me?" She did fine the rest of the week and she is loving it. I am loving the lunches we have when she gets home as she tells me about her day. What humorous conversation!

I also have some potential time to myself depending on if Lleyton takes a morning nap or not.

This was Book Week at school so it seemed like everyday there was an event. One day they took books to swap with their classmates. One day they were able to dress like their favorite character. I am feeling bad about the fact that I didn't get a picture of them in their costumes. I will just tell you what they were...Bailey was Roald Dahl's Matilda (Bailey's teacher had a picture that I borrowed off of their website), Avery was Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, and Bryn was Tinkerbell from Peter Pan. It was quite the ordeal to decide on a character and then find the appropriate costume. Somehow telling them that this isn't going to matter twenty years from now lends no help to the situation. Bryn was a little confused as to why the next day she couldn't be Sleeping Beauty, and then the next day, Cinderella, etc. I'm not sure starting school on Book Week is the way to go for 3 year olds.

I also had a Church event at my house that night for the younger RS sisters. It was nice and we ended the evening with Banana Splits, you really can't go wrong there. No pictures for this either. I am such a slacker.

We were all so tired by Friday and the girls had done such an awesome job of helping me around the house to prepare for the event that I let them choose a movie on i-tunes, and I bought it for them. Oooohhh, big spender. I know but when you don't have the option of picking up movies at the store (in English), the girls are so excited about what they can pick out on i-tunes.

Saturday, Greg went to the Temple. The girls and I did some shopping downtown. It was such a beautiful day. After raining for three or four days in a row, it was a nice reprieve. I am extremely sick of all of the rain. I am ready for Summer.

I can't remember exactly which day it was but Greg made waffles for breakfast. Avery announced she would not have waffles and instead had shrimp with cocktail sauce. It was all I could do to watch her eat that for breakfast! So Gross!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Y2W40 - Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon

We just returned today from a fantastic trip to the Southern Regions of France. From our home base of Avignon, where we rented a house, we did a lot of driving whilst visiting ancient cities, mountainous regions, and the French coast. Our spirits were further buoyed by sunny skies and warmer temperatures (mid to high 50’s).

A quick shout out to the girls (and Lleyton) as they were enduring travelers both by plane and car. Due to either earlier flight schedules or ambitious day trip plans, they were asked numerous times to change bed/wakeup times -- they were always game.

Secondly, for those of you who are interested in how we pick different sites once in a region, here are a few ideas from our experience. First principles - I’m a big proponent of thorough trip research prior to departure. While I try and leave the day to day decisions of what venue we will actually visit to a bit of flexibility (weather and kid permitting), we definitely leave with a plan.

The first place we consult is our collection of Eyewitness Travel books. I like them for their presentation. The pictures and diagrams you get in the books are first rate. We’ve also had good luck with their lodging recommendations. The house we rented in Avignon was found off of a website recommended in the travel book (Gites-de-France).

Recently, we’ve been taking a look at Rick Steves' website. His recommendations highlighted a few ‘out of the way’ places that are typically included in your travel book but not highlighted like the more popular sites. As his ideas appear to all be driven by his personal favorites and experiences, not a team of travelers and investigators, he doesn’t cover every nook and cranny of Europe, but typically has more depth about the places he does recommend.

Lastly, always look for advice from friends and family who might have previously been to your place destination. So far, it has worked well for us. I often float ideas by colleagues at work to get an endorsement.

In the case of Southern France, I was the family member who had been there before, and as a result had a few sites in mind that were ‘musts’ for El and the girls (Lleyton doesn’t venture an opinion at 5 months… neither does Bryn for that matter, but Bailey and Avery certainly like to voice their ideas).

Here are the highlights of the trip…

Aix-en-Provence – city of fountains and home of Paul Cézanne. We strolled the large boulevards and narrow shopping districts. The kids enjoyed riding the old merry-go-round near the grand fountain on the Cours Mirabeau. They also enjoyed visiting Paul Cézanne’s studio located north of town and his garden. His studio is preserved with the original furniture and design. While we tried to emphasize the art history, Avery refers to the experience as the ‘garden exploring place‘.

Luberon – Rural area east of Avignon along the Montagne du Luberon. We visited the town’s of Isle-de-la-Sorgue, Gordes, and Rousillon. The market at Isle-de-la-Sorgue was crowded even for a chilly February morning. We bought an expensive/giant hunk of cheese and enjoyed seeing the 19th century waterwheels that have powered industry in the town for over a hundred years. Gordes is most impressive viewed from afar as it rests on the top of the rocky hill. We stopped for a longer visit in Rousillon. The home of one of the largest ocher deposits in the world. The red, orange, yellow, even purple sand was used throughout history to make an array of colorful dies/paints. The houses and structures bear the results. We hiked through the canyons amazed by the views. A real favorite of mine for the trip, but not for Bailey as she came up with a strange yet minor eye swelling issue that was with her for about 24 hours.

Arles – City of Roman-Gaul and Vincent Van Gogh (also movie ‘Ronin‘ – JR).
The sites of Arles are well chronicled – Roman Amphitheatre and Arena, Saint Trophimus Church and Cloister, and Van Gogh sites including Café la Nuit. While I think that Ellyn did actually view all the sights, every time I turned around, she was standing still, her head tilted back, eyes closed, facing the sun. Its been a bit cloudy in Germany lately. Lunch at a quaint French café provided a excellent break and an authentic meal.

Cassis – Mediterreanen sea port city surrounded by high cliffs.
In Cassis, we ran/walked on the beach, ate ice cream in the sun, looked at the boats in the port, and drove in the mountains along the Route des Crête. While El and I didn’t get ice cream for ourselves, we did plenty of “let me clean that up for you Avery/Bryn, it looks uneven... type of licking“.

Carcasonne – Medieval Cathar castle city.
One of our longer days of travel, this Cathar Castle resides in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. After frequenting so many castles, you’d think that we would have had enough, but this place has been restored several times throughout history. Once again, Bailey got fired up at Ellyn and me because we skipped 4 or 5 stops on the 25 point-of-interest audio tour. She absolutely believes that we do ourselves and the historical site a disservice when we miss any portion of the tour (this is not the first occurrence and surely won’t be the last).

Pont-du-Gard – Grandest/Largest/Greatest Roman Aqueduct.
The Pont-du-Gard can’t fully be appreciated until it is seen in person. It spans a large gorge standing 160 ft high as part of a 31 mile long water delivery system that operated for approximately 500 years. It was constructed 2,000 years ago.

Avignon – Palais du Papes.
The highlight of this town is definitely the Palace of the Popes. In the early 14th century pope Clement V decided to move the papal court to Avignon and for the next 100 years the Church leadership resided in France. The palace/fortress still stands on the banks of the Rhône river. The Palais Musee and the 12th century bridge – Pont St-Bénézet (popularize by the song Sur le Pont D’Avignon – apparently known to all Montessori Music Teachers) were visit highlights. While some might try to hype you up on the more hip/modern Avignon, we’ll stick with the 12th to 14th century version (maybe it had to do with the fact that it was Wednesday morning in late February).

Our last stop on the five day adventure. We skipped the Roman archeological site and went to the St. Paul-de-Mausole hospital were Vincent Van Gogh spent the last year of his life. Despite 4 major mental breakdowns/seizures, he completed 150 paintings while a patient at the hospital including Bailey’s favorite: Starry Night . The pictures here are a bit poor in quality (you have to hate it when your camera battery dies at the end of your trip and you're forced to rely on your cell phone camera).