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Friday, January 19, 2018

Plans for 2018

I have a theoretical new plan for 2018 regarding this blog which includes me posting at least something (as short at it might be) everyday except when we travel.  I am not sure how this will hold up in reality!

Our plans for 2018 so far include adenoid removal and tonsil reduction surgery coming up next week, trip to Portugal in February, 2 new schools in August, many so-far unplanned trips- we might revisit some old places but definitely want to see new countries.  Anton has been asking to go to Paris :)I am sure there is a lot of things that I am not currently thinking about (Friday night after a long week).

Regular weeklies will still include 2 speech therapies, 2 Kumon lessons, reading therapy, ergo therapy, acrobatics, cub scouts (fun but very time consuming), English school, swimming club, art class and a chess class.  We pulled Ilya and Andrei out of English school which will make our Saturdays a lot easier but the current plan is for them to work on their English at home which I still have no plan for but have looked into 4 different homeschooling curriculum's - Fix It Grammar, All About Reading, Institute for Exceptional Writing, and the Logic of English. 

One of the weird things about renting in Germany is that we are required to make upgrades to the house every so often and Chris has decided to modernize and Americanize our house.  This will include getting an American-style refrigerator which will have water feature, vegetable crisper, and a freezer that will be able to hold more than one frozen pizza box (only a slight exaggeration).  He is also looking to upgrade our washer and dryer which will make my life so much better!  A very small cycle should not take 2,5 hours - 50 minutes to wash, 1,5 hours to dry :(

So that's our life for now and hopefully I will be able to keep to my plan of posting once a week.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Review of 2017

It has been an interesting year (to say the least).  To start - as I type this - sitting in our home in Germany we weren't even supposed to be here by now.  Our plan was to go back to the United States during the summer break.  However, even though life here is not always easy, it wouldn't always be easy in Pittsburgh either. We love the opportunities we have here and we are really trying to optimize them.

I tried to write up a summary of our year but it was a bit overwhelming since I haven't kept up the blog and have probably close to 1000 unsorted pictures. 

So here is the short summary - we have definitely traveled around Europe to see nice new sights which included Darmstadt, Hamburg, Copenhagen, original Legoland, smaller cities in Netherlands where we biked for kilometers on end, Bratislava, Zagreb, Vienna, Budapest and many more. 

We also had a great 5-week trip to Pittsburgh, Outer Banks, and Pawley's Island where boys got to have all kind of American experience which included riding the yellow school bus and eating lots of corn dogs. 

Overall, it was a great year and we are looking forward to 2018.  Spoiler alert - I do have a plan for this blog so stay tuned :)

Monday, December 18, 2017

First grade - here we come ... maybe

First of all I have to admit that very often I have a choice - do I sit down and write something or do laundry or fill out some endless paperwork or even spend some time learning German.  As you can probably guess blog does not always win that battle ...

This, however, I feel like such an epic disaster of various proportions that I have to share.  In at least Pittsburgh (and probably most places in USA) when a child turns 5, you go to your local elementary school and sign him (her) up.  That pretty much sums up the process of getting a place in a school.  Yes, you have to fill out an application and probably provide some medical records but overall fairly straight forward.  At least that's how I remember it.

Fast forward 4 years, change a location to Germany and get ready to pour yourself a drink :)  Getting Anton into a school has been almost as painful of a process as finding Andrei the next school, and he is only 5 going into first grade.  I do have to say that his speech is still FAR from perfect and he has some other difficulties but they are undiagnosed and nobody so far has been able to tell us why he has those difficulties or how we can overcome them.  Those difficulties, however, would not cause that many problems back in America.

He goes to Vorlaufkurs which is German for foreigners in the last year of kindergarten and it's actually held at the near by elementary school with a real teacher and it been pretty awesome.  She had suggested that Anton goes to a school which in theory concentrates on kids with speech problems. I say "in theory" because I have a friend whose son goes there - according to her stories they really don't do anything special for kids and in fact the speech therapist didn't start until after the fall break.  Other than that they follow a regular Hesse curriculum.  That would be option #1.

Ilya's school is pretty much out of the question because of various issues which do include a constantly changing teachers but also they are absolutely not equipped to handle any kind of issues. Option #2 - out of the running.

Anton's speech therapist suggested getting his hearing checked to rule out any speech issues and despite the fact that he had ears checked several times by the pediatrician, we went to a super duper specialist who found some issues and suggested that maybe a school for children with hearing issues might be a good idea - option #3.

Option #4 - our regular neighborhood school but they have to accept him based on the interview, trial lesson and note from the doctor.

Every 5 year has to go to a special doctor who checks their readiness for school which is funny because school starts at 6 (in most cases) but this special doctor might tell you that the child is not ready and then if the child is deemed not ready, he goes to a yet another special school which has an American style kindergarten - aka first year of school where the kids work on some stuff but not as much as in first grade. From what I heard, the answer is always given on the spot as to whether the child is ready or not.  Anton (and I) went today and the nice friendly lady doctor was at a complete loss as to what to do with Anton.  He is clearly very ready in some ways (like fine-motor skills) and yet completely not ready in others.  She told me that she has to consult the principal of our local school as well as some other doctors to decide where to place him and will get back to me at some unknown time!  Seriously???

Stay tuned for continuation of this story which has to end by August of 2018 :)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

German education system

German educational system is not for the faint of heart.  Andrei is in 4th grade and we have truly loved his teacher and his school but next year he has to go a different school and we are currently in the process of trying to figure out what that school is.  There are several tiers:
  • Hauptschule (main stream minimal education and no future)
  • Realschule (medium level from which you can either transfer to gymnasium oberstufe or get Ausbilding) and
    • Gymnasium oberstufe is the last 2 years of Gymnasium and it can be hard to adjust to the level of work required after Realschule
    • Ausbilding is the education that is required for most hands-on jobs (hairdresser, carpenter,etc.) 
  • Gymnasium (highest level of education).  
  • There are also two types of Gesamtschule.  
    • First type called IGS (Integrative Gesamtschule) seems to be the most similar to American middle/high school where all kids learn together but get separated into 2 levels for subjects such as math and English.  
    • The other type of Gesamtschule is where 3 schools are together yet separate.
This is not an easy choice as your child's future kind of depends on the school you choose.  In reality (for us), the choice is between 2 schools - IGS and gymnasium.  There are pros and cons to both.  Biggest pro and con of the gymnasium is kind of the same thing - it's an extremely challenging environment where a lot of pressure is put on the kids with not a whole lot of support.  IGS, while might at first seem like a good idea, also has pros and cons.  Pros are that all kids are together and at least for now there is no tracking.  Cons is that the kids are all together and there are a lot of social and behavioral problems in the classroom.  Many people advise us against that.

In addition to selecting the type of school we also have to select the actual schools themselves.  Gymnasiums have various tracks - modern languages, ancient languages, humanities, STEM, sport, music ... I am probably missing some.  We are going to have to pick 3 schools and then wait for their answers.

So here we are at crossroads ... I have a meeting setup for next week to meet with Andrei's teacher to see what she thinks.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Halloween 2017

This year was the first year we actually did something on Halloween.  It just so happens that I am not a big fan of this particular holiday so I can’t say that I missed it over the last couple years.  We moved to Germany 5 days before Halloween.  Anton was just 2 and a half years old so has no memories of this fun-filled night at all, other boys remember the idea of walking around and collecting candy.  Halloween is not a German holiday - there are very few people trick-or-treating on the streets, and most of the costumes in the stores are scary as opposed to fun.

This whole introduction now actually leads to a story.  We live about 30 minutes away from the American military base (and a rather large one at that), so I decided that it’s about time Anton gets to enjoy Halloween how it’s meant to be in the States.  Andrei and Ilya refused to go without giving me any reasons and even after some persuasion they still opted to stay at home.  Anton, however, was super excited by the prospect of walking around and getting candy so off to American housing we went.  Mind you – we changed the clock a week before Halloween so by 5:30 it’s DARK outside.   Trick-or-treating is from 6 to 8PM and it just so happens that in the morning Anton woke up with “sudden muscle spasm” and we started out the morning with the trip to ER. 

From what I heard the crowds this year were one of the biggest they’ve seen in a while at the particular housing complex we went to but as I was pulling up, I realized that it WILL be an experience for him.  It’s hard to explain it and I tried to take a picture but I am not sure it really shows the true picture of the crowds.  Absolutely insane crowds, lots of decorations, and lots of extremely friendly candy givers. Kids, teenagers and adults were all dressed up.  Note on decorations - it was kind of funny to see because as soon as you cross over to the German side, not a single light on any lawns or in any windows.  To be fair, however, there were many Germans trick or treating as well.  Anton and I didn’t hit every house, in fact we probably went to less than 50% of the homes but he was still super happy.

P.S.  Andrei and Ilya said they want to go next year.  Chris handed our less than 1 little bag of Hershey kisses .


Thursday, November 02, 2017

Random update

Unbelievably I have had no time to write here at all because life has been extremely exciting and busy.  Bullet point version as a quick update.

  • Andrei and Ilya joined Cub Scouts and it has definitely added a new level of complexity to our life but they are enjoying it. Andrei went on his first camp out and a night time hike (with Chris) which went from 9PM to midnight.  No flashlight in the forest! 
  • Part of the scouting does involve a fair amount of paperwork but I am almost caught up on that.
  • We are busy trying to navigate secondary schools for Andrei because it's that time of the year when open houses are happening and application will have to be made soon.  Chris seems to be having a hard time understanding that now is the time when we have to pick Andrei's track which will be STEM. I'll try to write separately on that because it's actually an interesting topic which deserves its own topic.
  • The amount of tests and homework is slowly getting a bit overwhelming and we are trying to figure out how to handle it.  Andrei has German and English tests today, music test next week and for music he has to know notes (half, quarter,etc), their notations and pauses plus Beethoven's biography.  Ilya has English and social studies next Wednesday.  That's in addition to weekly German and math quizzes that he already has.
  • Ilya knocked out his tooth on vacation and we have several dental appointments.  
  • Andrei was getting allergy shots on weekly basis, now it's monthly.  Thank god!
  • Anton had "sudden muscle spasm" which has been incredibly painful and we ended up going to ER for that because he was crying in pain.
  • Speaking of Anton - his schooling for next year will deserve a separate post but for now let's just say that I have no idea where he is going to end up next year.  In ideal world that will be our local elementary school but they might be of a differing opinion.  
I am sure lots of more things are happening but for now this is good. My plan is to update this at least once a week, hopefully twice from now on because well ... life is happening and we are not going to remember it in some time unless we write it down.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Ireland, Cliffs of Moher

The most amazing time we had in Ireland was on the Cliffs of Moher. 

We opted for a guided tour through Doolin Cliff Walks and did not regret it one bit.  The tour included 5 of us and a young American couple.  The guide was amazing in helping to coral and guide the boys, even holding their hands when it was getting bit too close to the edge. (The Cliffs rise between 120  meters (390 feet) to 214 meters (702 feet) above the sea level so it's a bit high!) There is really no words to describe the walk but it’s spectacular. 



When you turn away from the water, you see this







Picnic time- after the guided tour, but still very much on the top