"One day it occurred to me that it had been many years since the world had been afforded the spectacle of a man adventurous enough to undertake a journey through Germany on foot. After much thought, I decided that I was a person fitted to furnish to mankind this spectacle. So I determined to do it. This was in March, 1878." Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad


International American Wive's Club goes to Darmstadt

Allow me to introduce you to the founding members--oh, and the only current members--of the International American Wive's Club--IAWC for short. (I apologize for the millions of snowflakes obscuring their cute faces, but we were in the middle of a snowstorm at the moment of the picture-taking.)

Stephanie, Cheryl, Beth, and Me (the one holding the camera)

You see, all of us gals were brought to Heidelberg, Germany for a year or more because of our (dear) husbands. While our husbands toil away at their work, we women decided it was only right to have some fun of our own. And so began the IAWC. Usually this involves getting together for coffee or tea at a Heidelberg cafe, but last week we decided to stretch ourselves and travel to Darmstadt. Truth be told, the real reason we chose Darmstadt was because the discount store T.K. Maxx (British version of T.J. Maxx) had just opened there--and who doesn't enjoy a bit of discount shopping? But to make it our first official IAWC trip, we decided to throw a bit of German culture in the trip's itinerary.

Cultural Stop #1: The Residenzchloss (that's German-speak for Castle Residence) of the Grand Dukes of Hesse and Rhine

The castle gardens (after some encouragement from the camera woman to pretend like they're having a good time freezing snow)

Penelope emerges from her plastic snow cover

Cultural Stop #2: Mathildenhoehe
The reason most people visit Darmstadt is to view the Jugendstil, the German version of Art Nouveau (and you thought it was to visit T.K. Maxx). Queen Victoria's grandson, Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig, was a great patron of the arts, and because of him the artist colony Mathildenhoehe was established here in 1899.

A grove of plane trees, the Platanenhain, stands at the entrance. (In the middle of a snowstorm in January there is not much to look at, but I'm sure they're nice in the summer.)

Close by is the very tall Hochzeitsturm (Wedding Tower), the city's wedding present to the Grand Duke in 1908.

Side view of the Hochzeitsturm (if you squint hard I guess it looks like a cake?)

The tiny but ornate Russische Kappelle (Russian Chapel), built for Ernst Ludwig's relatives, the Russian royal family.

Stephanie at the front entrance of the Chapel (unfortunately closed on account of the snowstorm).

There are several other large buildings in the colony that now mostly house museums of the artists' work. We went to the Museum Kuenstlerkolonie. It wasn't incredibly impressive, but it did feature the work of the the main Jugendstil artists and give a little history (in English!). Besides architectural design, much of their work was in the form of furniture, dishes, and common household objects, like a letterbox or teapot. The point was to make art a part of every day life.

Armoir featured at the museum

Cheryl, Me and Beth--very serious museum-goers. Penelope preferred to sleep.

Stephanie took a picture of this chair, thinking it was part of the Jugendstil items on display. It was in fact just a chair to sit in. (No wonder the museum guard looked at her funny.)

Many of the Jugendstil artists (Peter Behrens, Otto Eckmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich, to name a few) built and lived in homes within the Matildenhoehe artist colony. Here's one of the houses that sits just below the museum. Due to the snowstorm (did I mention we went to Darmstadt during a snowstorm?), the picture isn't so great.

And that concludes our Darmstadt photo tour.

After wandering around a bit in the blowing, freezing snow, we finally found our way to T.K. Maxx. After taking a moment to rejoice in the low (for Germany anyways) prices, we explored the store and made a few purchases.

And now to plan our next IAWC adventure. (I think we'll check the weather channel this time.)


Oral Hygiene

Look at that sweet little mouth. It's the proud owner of two of the cutest pearly-whites you ever did see.

Being a bit isolated from other mothers of infants, I occasionally find myself not "in the know" about baby do's and don't's. For example, it was recently brought to my attention that I should have been brushing her teeth after her last feeding of the night. Who knew that the moment the teeth made their appearance they were already in danger of tooth decay?

As soon as I found this out, I went in search of a baby toothbrush. Little did I know that Penelope wanted this particular toothbrush so badly that she became the youngest known shoplifter. Yep, that's right. Shoplifter. After I gave my sweet little girl this toothbrush to keep her occupied while getting the rest of the groceries at the store, she proceeded to devise a plan to steal it. Penelope expertly hid the toothbrush in the depths of her stroller while we were in the store. Only after paying and loading the stroller down with groceries did I discover her little misdeed when I was putting her coat and hat on. The impish grin on her face was a dead give away. (Don't worry. I did promptly march back in the store and pay for it, scolding her all the way.)

As you can see, Penelope is very proud of her new toothbrush. In fact, when I bring her into the bathroom at night and pull it out, she immediately perks up and breaks out in a smile.

She loves watching herself in the mirror during the process. Sometimes she can't help but giggle in delight when the bristles rub her upper still-toothless gums.
And, of course, she is only too happy to hold the toothbrush herself and give it a whirl.

Let's just hope this love affair will last!


Whatcha lookin' at?

After a particularly nasty diaper rash, a bit of fresh air was prescribed.

Penelope was only too happy to oblige.

After all, what baby doesn't loves to play around in their birthday suit?



Thanks to our Finnish friends I now know exactly one word in Finnish--heihei. It's a very versatile word as it means both "hi" and "bye." And today we must say goodbye to Nina and Juha and their son Martti as they are moving back home to Helsinki tomorrow.

martti, nina and juha during a very serious game of "kimble"

Nina was the first English-speaking person I met when we moved to Heidelberg--and she has such impeccable English that when I first spoke with her I didn't detect an accent. We met at a children's event at the Guesthouse, where her family was also staying. The conversation went a bit like this:

Nina: How long have you been in Heidelberg?

Me: About a month.

Nina: Us too.

Me: What brings you here?

Nina: I'm on a grant to study at the University.

Me: That's the same as my husband.

Nina: What is he studying?

Me: Theology.

Nina: Oh, really? Me too. What specifically?

Me: Something having to do with Paul.

Nina: No way! Me too.

martti takes out his papa

As it turned out, Nina and the Father had been working a few feet from one another in the Theology library during the previous weeks without knowing it. In fact, the Father had actually read an article by Nina in a new book without knowing that the very author of the article he was reading was sitting right across from him.

Since then, we've enjoyed hanging out with Nina and her family and learning lots of tidbits about Finnish culture. For example, did you know...

--children don't start school until they're seven
--Finns don't like Russians
--but they love Martin Luther
--they report one of the highest qualities of life in the world
--Nokia is from Finland
--they think Americans are incredibly unhealthy for eating the largest meal at dinner time
--they looove their saunas
--Santa lives in Rovaniemi, Finland

a present for penelope!

We will miss our fine-feathered Finns, but we're planning on visiting them in their homeland in the Spring!


First Snow Lesson

A baby's life is oriented around 'firsts.' First tooth. First word. First steps.

Two weeks ago we took Penelope out to play in the snow for the first time.

She got to experience her first snowball.

And learn what freezing water tastes like.

She wasn't impressed.

Sometimes life's little lessons are hard to swallow.

She quickly recovered, and the snow was soon her friend again.


Before the Melting

Today was the first day I have seen green grass in the past two weeks. Funny how you get used to the surroundings looking one way, only to have them change overnight. Although I was getting tired of the dirty, slushy snow along the sidewalks and of coming home with a salt ring on my boots, after digging up these pictures from two weeks ago from when my family was here, I am secretly hoping for another snowfall. The locals tell me, don't worry, the winter isn't even close to being over just yet.

from an opening in the castle wall

our little family from the castle balcony

penelope contemplates the white stuff

gals in snowland (Aunt J, Penelope, Me, Grandma)

lovin' it up atop the city

Uncle M a-frolickin' in the snow

a snowmouse(?) we claimed as our own in the castle gardens

just the 4 of us

heading up the mountain on the funicular (take note of the fingerprints on the bottom windows)

Aunt J and Uncle M (and don't forget Baby R!) on top of the mountain

wandering in the woods at the top of the mountain (looks like someone had a tad too much coffee that morning)

can you hear our chattering teeth?

back down to civilization

dashing across the old bridge in search of something hot to drink

jackpot! hot, thick, liquid chocolate at Chocolaterie St. Anna


Skating into the New Year

(As you can see, I am still playing catch-up from when my family was here over the holidays.)

My brother and his wife left Heidelberg at the crack of dawn on New Year's Day (and had to fight for a taxi to the train station with a bunch of still-drunk-and-beginning-to-be-hungover partygoers on their way home). That left my parents and sister and her husband to celebrate New Year's Day with us. Everything in the town was closed except for the last remnants of the Christmas Market, which included the outdoor skating rink. And you're never too old to strap on a pair of skates and give it a go.

Aunt J and Uncle M in Karlsplatz, in front of the remaining market stalls and the skating rink

the four of us ice skating/ice standing

ice dancing (shhh! don't tell the obstetrician the patient is skating)

navigating our way through the gobs of little kids (one of whom decided it would be fun to throw snow balls in the father's face)

Grandpa and our little cheerleader

the cool old couple who had better moves than we did

and there's nothing like a hot mug of gluehwein and a bratwurst to keep you warm afterwards