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Little Visitors

July 23 through August 9
Written as it happened

Dear Friends and Families,

Most of this diary is about the grandkids' visit, but I'll throw in a couple of pictures just to keep up with our summer.
Beer keller with friends, a great part of German summer.  Dale's brother Tony found a small friend who's name was something like "Killer".
One "last" visit to the antique store in Rimbach.  Almost bought a standing desk ... almost.

Ava and Sam's Great European Vacation - Part One, Germany

This diary is dedicated to Ava and Sam.  We hope that, years from now, they will be able to look through the notes and pictures and remember Gigi, Opa, and a special couple of weeks in Bavaria.  We know we will.


The big visit started July 23rd when Ava, Sam, and Gabby arrived after a very long flight from San Francisco.  Despite such a long trip, they all seemed to be in pretty good spirits, even on the two-hour drive back to Pommersfelden.

The next morning, we started out with chores.  Sam was particularly taken with watering the garden.  That was followed by a walk through the courtyard of our neighboring palace, Schloss Weissenstein.  We were on our way to Burkhard's Bakery, always a good place to rest and recuperate.
After that, we visited the only playground we know about, in Limbach, just a 3-minute drive away.  Kids seem to understand playgrounds in any language.

Thursday, the 25th, was a quieter day. We needed to let the jet-lag thing run its course. We walked in the neighborhood, visiting the horses a few doors down and Farmer Zurl's dairy cows just a few houses past that.  The smells probably convinced the kids Opa and Gigi really do live in farm country.

We also visited our more sophisticated neighbor, the palace called Schloss Weissenstein.  At last we visited the large park behind the 18th Century castle.  It was fun, enough, but our little visitors were still feeling the effects of the nine-hour time change.  That's their story and they stuck with it.

On Friday, we went up to Bamberg to try to find if we could take the horse carriage ride around the old town.  Unfortunately, the horses and their driver have retired, so all we managed was walking around old buildings, not something very interesting to four- and two-year-olds.  Later, mom and Gig took the kids to a grocery store, more interesting and more familiar.  Not sure that's good or bad.

Saturday was the biggest day yet!  After breakfast, we headed over to the Schloss Thurm amusement park.  This was a real hit! 
We started with a horse carriage ride even better than what we had tried in Bamberg the day before.
From there it was a pirate boat ride.  I'm not sure about Gabby's future as a pirate boat driver.
In the Western Village, we just missed the big gun fight, but settled for an ice cream snack instead.  Seemed to be worthwhile.
And then Mommy took her turn at driving the kids around the car track.  She was doing OK, but then Sam wanted to take over.  He did just as well.
Then there were train rides and car rides and lots more walking.
After a few hours of this exercise and excitement, we grabbed some lunch and headed home, with two sleeping kids in the back seat.
However, the day wasn't over yet!  After naps, we set up the pool and the young folks made the most of it.
And THEN there was a bar-be-que.  We had invited Marilyn and Dieter and Knut and Winnie for a spur-of-the-moment cook out and it worked out great.  They brought part of the fixings, including the all important ice cream, and we all enjoyed the shade and relative coolness of the barn.
d130727_80_crash.jpgAfter such a park-pool-BBQ day, the evening ended with our band of travelers relaxing with a quick movie.  From here, everyone managed to stumble up to bed and sleep through the night.  Jet-lag seemed to be conquered.

Sunday held another excursion, a visit to the Bad Windsheim "living museum". I had my doubts about mixing history and little kids, but it worked out just fine.  I'll let pictures tell the story.
Bad Windsheim is a collection of old farm communities, with most of the buildings brought here and reconstructed.  A great place to walk with grandkids
Animals were everywhere, from these huge oxen through small chickens, not to mention stinky pigs and goats.
We even managed a quick open-air lunch, just next to the local brewery.
After lunch, there was practice with 100-year-old farm games.  No made-in-China plastic here!
A highlight was the procession of old-time farm transport, led by a band of the type still popular in Bavaria.
The parade also featured members of the local militia, from officers to irregulars.
But a highlight was the collection and parades of old tractors, many "Bull Dogs" from the old Lenz company.  All the ancient machines were very LOUD.
There was also a working thresher machine, driven by a steam boiler.
At the end of all this, the whole family was pretty tuckered, especially after our long walk back to the parked car.  On the 45-minute drive home, the littlest farmers took naps, probably dreaming of big animals and noisy machines.

Dinner was pizza at Bei Gino's again.  The toys and play space is a major attraction, since it allows Mom, Opa, and Gigi to recover from a long day.  A nice long day.

d130729_02_walkers.jpgMonday was a quiet day.  Opa wrote these diaries, instead of walking on his bum foot. (Tendon injury from too much tourism this year.)  The kids played at home, when Gabby did not have them exploring our little village.  Marianne went to Erlangen to be poked with pins and needles (acupuncture) and the afternoon included naps, shopping (G and G), and discussion of the now-pending house offer. 

This first offer was low and we countered with just the smallest discount.  Even if this offer falls through, it's a reminder that our Bavarian time is limited.  A melancholy thought.  Oh well, we'll enjoy the family visit even more, knowing it might be the last.

Tuesday weather was a mix of sun and rain, so any big outdoor excursions were out of the question.  We started slowly, with the first goal another medical appointment for Marianne at 11:30.  Retirement means "early" appointments are sometimes mid-day.  The whole crew drove down and we enjoyed some park time while Gigi (aka: Marianne) enjoyed her therapist's poking and prodding.
We stopped for lunch at McDonald's, a rare treat for both the kids and the adults.  This is so rare, that we really didn't have any idea what to order.  Gabby ordered from memory, from an American memory, and discovered that, while the double-arches logo is the same there and in Bavaria, the menu isn't.  Gigi and Opa were also lost, especially when the helpful cashier kept trying to sell us specials.  Her heart was in the right place, since the specials really were cheaper, but trying to understand it all in a foreign language wasn't easy.  At least the kids' chicken nuggets and french fries looked familiar, even if they had different names.

From there it was home to naps, while the adult girls went next door to visit Marion, the neighborhood jeweler.  Reports have it that they were successful in ordering Gabby's birthday present. 

After naps, Ava's normal one-hour mostly-quiet time and Sam's two-hours out-like-a-light time, we left Gigi behind and walked around town.  Sam said hi to the horses in the neighbor's barn, we all said "phew" at farmer Zurl's dairy cows, Sam was amazed when a big tractor drove up the alley right passed us, and we also managed to be kicked out of the kindergarten playground.  I guess school grounds are not public around here.

Our last stop was a chat with Gretel, our 80+ year-old neighbor, who was out cleaning her flower garden.  Folks here compete on having the nicest flowers and Gretel's is always very nice, despite the obvious back pain she endures while trimming.  Four-score years of farming isn't an easy life.

Sam was cute when we introduced him, running over and hugging "Mamo", calling Gretel by his own great-grandmother's name. I hope the smile on her face erased some of the back pain.
By evening, everyone was worn out ... again.  Big sister was fed up with little-brother harassment, little brother was tired of his two-year-old's jabber always being misunderstood, mom was tired of continuously trying to be positive and creative, and Gigi and Opa were tired just because that's what we are in the evening.  Despite that, a cute family.
Who knows what tomorrow brings, except the weather forecast for rain continued.

Wednesday.  Yep.  Rain.  Not a lot, but enough to keep us away from big excursions like the zoo.  That will wait.

d130731_02_UglySign.jpgThe house-selling process continues.  There is now a big (ugly) "zu verkaufen" (for sale) sign on our front fence.  Apparently it is unusual in our area to put out signs, but it did attract one "potential", a neighbor from Limbach who will have a walk-through on Friday afternoon.  Meanwhile, the potential whose offer we countered last weekend is thinking about an improved "best and final" offer by Friday.  We may indeed be on the way back to America.  Meanwhile, we have been looking at Fresno house listings.  Plenty of potentials, since Fresno has yet to climb out of the housing bubble, unlike much of California.

But, back at grandkids!  To tire the kids out before nap time, we did what all parents do: take the little people out for a walk.  The rain held off enough for a fun half-hour out in the farm fields behind the house.  It seemed to work the trick at getting Ava and Sam hungry and tired enough to follow through with lunch and nap.  Me too.
d130731_20_bag.jpgd130731_22_KoffeKuche.jpgWhile we were napping, Gigi and Gabby when shopping for old things over in Rimbach at Döllinger's Antiques.  Marianne passed again on the (too-tall) standing desk, but Gabby liked the old grain/flour sacks that were on offer.  All that work made them hungry enough to stop at a bakery for the traditional "Kaffe und Kuchen".  Excellent sampling of local culture.

After naps and shopping, it was more playing around the house.  After a week in Germany, the little travelers seem to have recovered from the change from California time and routine to Pommersfelden time and routine.  It's nice they have a long enough visit for the recovery, and we still have over a week to go!

On Thursday and Friday we will have a couple of birthdays and we will see if our house sells.  It's also getting hot and sunny again, so we will return to the explorers activities.  Stay tuned.

SPECIAL EDITION - Some more pictures I stole from Gabby's camera.  For similar work, see Rielle Photography.

Thursday, August 1.  The day started with Ava giving me (John) a hand-made birthday card.  Pretty special.

After that, it was our normal slow start, despite goals to get out early.  But get out we did.  The first stop was the Mülhausen windmills, the newest landmark in our little valley.  The four towers are visible everywhere and even little kids seemed to appreciate their size we we get up close. Gabby was in charge of pictures, since I was carrying Sam, and I'll add those when I can.  She also used a nearby sunflower field to frame the kids, but they were much more distracted by the bugs that fields hold.
Gabby's pictures
d130801_12_PumaShoe.jpgFrom there, we started shopping, first to the Puma store and its big shoe.  Then we went to Murk's, our all-purpose clothing store and found the two "football" jerseys we were looking for.  (Bayern Munich - world champions!) We ended the Murk visit with a standard Franconia lunch: bratwurst and french fries.  I think the kids would prefer American hot dogs, but they are learning to go along with whatever close is offered.

That was enough activity to warrant naps by one and all.  A good idea I learned from the kids.  After nap, it was back to the Limbach park and, finally, over to the Kellerhaus for my birthday celebration.  Ava and Sam both managed to have dessert before dinner, in German birthday party style, and then ice cream after dinner, in standard US order.  They ate most of their "pizza" in between.  A nice birthday party.

The evening ended as they all do now: kids' baths, a story for Ava, and two very tired kids asleep, hopefully dreaming of desserts.  The grownups use the quiet to sip a beer or wine and have time to talk.  It all ends up a nice birthday for Opa.

And, tomorrow, there's ANOTHER birthday.

Friday, August 2.  Gabby's birthday.
Not many photo ops today.  We had our standard morning of at-home breakfast.  Everyone gets up at different times, so we all eat a bit differently.  Nevertheless, we all end up in the kitchen to plan the day.  Today's plan included house and yard work to get the house ready for another showing at 5pm.  (In the end, the people canceled, but we ended up with a clean house.)

While Gigi and Opa were doing chores, the visitors enjoyed the local swim "club".  They came back with all sorts of positive feedback and barely enough energy to stumble into bed for naps.

d130802_08_traffic.jpgAfter naps, we headed to the beer kellers at Kreuzberg.  The Brauhaus Friedel there has the best playground and, even if it was Gabby's birthday, kids remained a priority.  The trip over was uneventful, except for a few miles crawling behind a grain harvester.  That's not unusual this time of year in our part of Franconia.

At the beer keller, the kids got yet another dose of exercise. We met friends Christiane and Thomas and some of us managed a beer or two -- even the birthday mom.  It was a real birthday party.
It ended up a late evening for the kids, but that made the nighttime bath very very quick and there were no young objections to going to bed ASAP.  The older folks again used the quiet to chat a bit before we too crashed after another exciting day in Franconia.

It's Monday and it's time to write the weekend diaries.  Sunday, with a trip to the zoo, is easy to remember, but what did we do Saturday?  There was the walk over to the traditional Saturday breakfast at Burkhard's bakery, after an earlier breakfast at home.  The walk had to include saying hi to the two local horses and farmer Zurl's barn full of stinky diary cows.

d130803_02_homePlay.jpgAfter that, it was mostly a day at home.  The kids were fully recovered from jet lag by now, and recovered from the disruption of a new place to be staying.  All morning, they played together, doing little more than creating stories while climbing on their favorite chair and windowsill.  All this time, Ava made up the play-pretend stories, but two-year-old Sam understood it all and made own his imaginative contributions.  Looking back, it was the magic of an ordinary moment that I wish I could have bottled up and saved for future recollection.  This note will have to be the best I can do.

After naps, we had a barbecue dinner.  Ava and Sam had pork ribs for the first time and seemed to get the hang of chewing meat off bones.  It must be natural, including the messy, greasy hands.  The day had been pretty hot,  so the kids also managed a quick trip to the backyard pool before going in for real clean-up, tooth-brushing, vitamins, stories by Gigi, and a sound sleep.  During the night, there was a major thunder and lighting storm, with some hits so close there was little discernible delay between flash and noise, but our little visitors noticed nothing.  They definitely had gotten comfortable with their temporary quarters and surroundings.

Sunday's main excursion was to the Nuremberg Zoo.  It is a big place and I'm not sure we saw even half, but it was a full day for us nonetheless.
Wagon loaded and we were ready to start
An early stop was the tropical house, with humid air and bugs.  Not too different from the yard back home right now.
After that, it was the aquarium.  Sam stared at the manatee before we headed up to the seal and dolphin show.
Then it was more trudging and photos and explanations from teacher-Gigi.
The lunch stop proved to be a highlight, before we took the long walk to outside the iron entrance gate.
The 45-minute ride back was pretty quiet.  Sam and Gigi slept and Ava and Gabby dozed.  The driver stayed awake, but barely.  At home, naps for kids continued and the adults had time for independent study.

d130804_40_pancakes.jpgGigi treated everyone to a special treat for dinner: pancakes and peaches!  Ava thought this was not a normal dinner, but had no objections.  The adults made it more dinner-like by opening a bottle of local Müller-Thurgau, a pleasant summer-sipping wine.  Treats all around.  After that, it was more time in the little wading pool, bathing suits not needed.  This was the right freedom for a warm summer evening.

After the kids' normal washing, brushing, story telling, and falling-asleep, Gigi and I reviewed our future house options in Fresno, yet another time.  It's hard.  Fresno is not such a wonderful California-dream community, but we know it and we can afford housing.  Sort of a devil-you-know thing, but also a case of having faith that we can make our own environment.  Homes on the California coast approach a million dollars, an expense that would eliminate the flexibility we want in retirement.  If our Pommersfelden house really sells this week, this return-to-California decision-making will get more real.

Monday will include another round of house cleaning for a potential-buyer visit, during which time our little family visitors will be banished to the nearby swimming club.  They are all for it!  Who knows what else?

Monday, August 5.  The day went as planned, mostly.  Marianne and I worked on getting the house clean enough for another house showing.  It was the first couple coming back with their parents, hopefully to convince the older generation that the purchase is worth a bit more money.  No word yet (Tuesday morning).  I know we had said it might take months to sell, but we both admit now that this is stressful and we look forward to the sale completion so we can go on with the rest of our lives.

Meanwhile, the little family did go to the swimming club over in Hochstadt an der Aisch.  I dropped them off and went on errands, before going home and joining Marianne in the house preparation business.  Then Gabby called with an emergency.  Sam had fallen while running and smashed his upper lip and she was worried about tooth damage.  Gigi rushed over to find a concerned mom and a small boy with a very big lip.

Everyone came home and we made another plan for the day.  Pommersfelden does have a dentist, but his lunch break would not end for another hour and a half. We needed lunch somewhere and decided that going back to the swim club might be our best bet.  Adults ordered salad and kids ordered pizza.  We watched Sam as he chomped on the tough pizza dough with his dented teeth.  Everything seemed in order, even if his lip was still pretty puffy.  By the end of the meal, we had decided to offer the kids some more pool time instead of a dentist visit.
After the post-pool snack of cold pizza, we left the pool, with Sam running as usual.  And falling on his face again. Ouch.  He cried a bit, but was consoled by Mom and eventually progressed from  a snoozy car ride to a solid nap at home.  While he napped, I took Ava to the local market to sample liverwurst.  Somehow, she had become convinced that she would like such a strange-sounding food, and, besides,  trips to the local market always include a piece of candy at check out.  Back home, Ava discovered she did NOT like liverwurst, but we praised her for trying new things anyway.  Maybe next time.

Tomorrow's plan is for a trip to the Playmobile amusement park.  We had gone earlier with nephews Adam and Spencer and looked forward to another active day.  We just have to get Sam to run a bit more carefully.  Yeah, right.

Tuesday, Playmobile Day
Another warm day in Bavaria and what better activity for kids than a trip to Playmobile Land?  We thought so anyway, and so did a zillion other parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  At the beginning, the crowds were off-putting, but once Ava and Sam were treated to pretzels and ice cream, they got into exploring.  They milked cows.  They rode horses.  They played in beach sand and mud.  They played with a huge assortment of Playmobile toys and figures.  They developed ideas for Santa for later in the year.

d130806_50_dinner.jpgd130806_52_dinner2.jpgOnce everyone was exhausted, the drive home was quiet and the following naps well-deserved.  For dinner, we went over to Bei Gino's, our local Italian restaurant that also has a great little
play space.  Unfortunately, a summer storm hit Bei Gino's at the same time we did, and outdoor play was impossible.  No matter, we all needed to eat and everyone seemed to enjoy pizza (kids) and beer or wine (Gabby and me -- Gigi was the designated driver).

From there it was home to a last half-hour of play ("mother may I" under Gigi's direction), baths (Gabby's direction) and good-nights (all).

No sooner had the kids been put in bed than the doorbell rang.  It was the young couple who have been looking at our house, wanting to chat a bit.  While a bit unusual, it was a pleasant encounter.  They clearly love the house and we would like to transfer our pet project to them, but there is still the question of price.  Unfortunately, we can't go down a lot and, it seems, they can't go up.  We all agreed to think some more.

There were no plans for Wednesday.  The morning was stormy, so started as an inside day for sure.  Eventually the skies cleared and the whole crew headed over to the small park in the village of Etzelskirchen, ten minutes away.  Ava and Sam had their new "FC Bayern Munich" football (soccer) jerseys on, giving them even more energy for running.  That energy drain worked to make appetites for lunch and incentive for good naps.  We are getting into this kid-schedule thing.

After naps it was a snack and then a walk around the neighborhood.  The walk's highlight came when farm-equipment neighbor Mr. Beck unlocked his new tractor for Ava and Sam to sit in.  Sam was pushing buttons within seconds.
From there it was a movie session (to calm down for dinner), dinner, bath, stories, and good night.  I think we are all getting used to the routine and I'll admit, it is a nice routine to be in.  We will miss the little family when they are gone in a couple of days.

d130808_02_havest.jpgThursday was the last full day with our guests.  Ava and I started our day early with a trip to the vegetable patch for pickin' and diggin'.  We had to get there early because the area is prime bug bite territory once the day warms up a bit.  In fact, we had not visited for several days and the zucchinis and cucumbers had grown dramatically in size and number.  We also dug up three of the last four potato hills, earning a whole bucketful of spuds.  I'm not sure the eating will be as fun as the morning chance to get dirty.

After breakfast, Gigi and Gabby took the kids to the shopping mall in Erlangen where there were "horse" rides set up.  These mechanical ponies turned bouncing in the saddle into real hose-leg movement.  Pretty cute and reports have it that Sam was excellent.  I can imagine anything that capitalizes on kinetic energy is his sort of thing.

Unfortunately, in the excitement, Gabby's iPhone was stolen, probably picked from her pocket as she was redirecting one child or the other.  As anyone who has suffered a theft can vouch for, it's a real bummer, not to mention all the complication that come nowadays with loss of one's cell/mobile phone.  So, the horse ride excursion was cute short and all the posse returned home to a nap (Sam), "quiet time" (Ava), and phone calls to service desks (Gabby).

Before dinner, we opened some local "champagne" (sekt) and celebrated Marianne's and my 21st wedding anniversary.  This was followed by dinner bedlam and some quick baths and bedtime stories.  There is no extra time for extraneous celebration with two- and four-year-olds.  Besides, it would be an early wakeup on Friday.

That early wakeup was at 0430 (military time seems more appropriate for wee hours.)  We were out the door about an hour later, wondering what the A3 autobahn might hold.  It is nominally a two-hour drive to FRA, Frankfurt Airport, but traffic jams can hit at any time and add an hour or more to the trip.  The little family had a 10am flight to catch, but we had some margin.

In fact, the traffic was as light (and fast) as I can ever remember.  We sailed along at 90 to 100 miles-per-hour much of the way.  Just about the time we were thinking we would arrive way early, Sam brought us back to real life by throwing up, requiring an unplanned stop.  After cleanup, we hit the open road again.  And Sam lost his breakfast again.  Poor kid.  There was more cleaning at stop #2, but our traffic luck held and we arrived at the airport with plenty of time.  We even discovered a short-term parking lot just in front of the departure gates.

d130809_02_checkIn.jpgd130809_04_goodBye.jpgInside, we made use of special Lufthansa check-in facilities for families with babies.  A great service, as we handed over two big bags, a car seat, and a stroller.  Then we headed for concourse B, via the ladies room and a coffee shop, for pretzels and panninis.  Hopefully, this break allowed Gabby to steel her nerves for the  whole process of taking two kids alone through security, onto the plane, during the two-hour flight to Dublin, off the plane, and, hopefully, into Mamal's arms.  (Assuming his flights from San Francisco, Chicago, and London all worked out.)

Marianne and I headed back down the A3, in a very quiet car.  Traffic was heavier, but the trip was uneventful and we arrived back to our very quiet house.  We already miss the little voices, soft or loud, and the continuous activity.  We hope they miss us too, although they will be enjoying attention from plenty of family at Lily and Alan's Irish wedding and may not notice.  We will remind them on our next Skype date.

So, that's it.  A quiet house.  A last family visit to our 18th Century palace.  Part of turning pages to another chapter.


John and Marianne


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