Monday, August 17, 2009

The animals we got to pet

Knowing my dad & his love for the zoo, why does it surprise me that we went to three different animal-themed places during our two week trip to Canada?

We visited:
-the African Lion Safari in Toronto, where you drive through the first portion, then get out and see even more animals.
-the Toronto Zoo.
-Marineland in Niagara Falls

I don't have pics of ALL the animals we got to pet and ride, but here are some of them.

Here are the kids riding a camel at the Toronto Zoo.
From 2009 August


You'd like a video of the camel ride, you say? Just click the picture below!
From 2009 August


This is also at the Zoo. This Kimono Dragon was a very popular photo spot for all the kids.
From 2009 August

Unfortunately, Merani became the keeper of the dragon and didn't like anybody else to have a turn. Actually, we had walked away from the dragon and were moving on to the next exhibit. But Merani was throwing a fit b/c she loved that darn dragon so much! So, I finally agreed to walk back to the dragon with her while the rest of our group moved ahead. She & I sat there by the dragon for probably 30 minutes while everybody else saw other animals. She would sit on there until another kid came along for a photo opportunity, then I would suggest that she come near me so that they could have a turn, but I often had to pull her away against her will. As soon as they were done, she would sit back on the dragon until another kid would come 1 minute later. It was a trying 30 minutes, for both of us. :)

We had brought walkie-talkies, so we could meet back up with our group afterwards.

This next one is pretty cool. The zoo had a special stingray exhibit - and we actually got to pet them! You can't actually see them too well in this photo, but there is one there that you can see in the water in front of Jacob. Some of them seemed very friendly, flapping their fin up along the side of the pool so that you could pet them easily. They were really soft & smooth. Jacob says they felt slippery.
From 2009 August


At Marineland, we paid extra for the kids to have the chance to pet and feed a Beluga Whale. Here are a couple of pics from that.

First, Erin, Jacob, & Merani next to the trainer.
From 2009 August


And Jacob having his turn to pet the whale.
From 2009 August


If you'd ask Merani about feeding the whales, she would probably tell you that she got to feed them fish that were dead. Then she'd ask why the fish were dead. All day, she wished she could feed them fish that were alive. When we saw some that were alive in a pond elsewhere, she wanted to bring one to the Beluga Whales.

Also at Marineland, they had a Deer area. Yes, they branched out from just marine animals. Here's Merani petting a couple of deer.
From 2009 August

From 2009 August


I don't have pictures of it, but at the African Lion Safari, they had pony & elephant rides. Merani rode a pony. I walked along beside her, and when she was done, she wished that I hadn't walked along next to her. She wanted to go again to remedy this, but I couldn't justify the price for that. :) Jacob initially wanted to ride an elephant but changed his mind later. They also had a small petting zoo area there, with goats and alpacas. Merani fed the goats lots of grass and loved the soft feel of the alpacas' heads.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Our Trip to Canada

Another trip - another reason to blog!

Not that I had caught up with the last trip or anything, but... well, I guess I'll work on both simultaneously. :)

The kids & I went to Canada to visit my sister Erin for two weeks. I've got lots of pictures and stories to share. She lives in Waterloo, and we visited Toronto & Niagara Falls as well.

I'll start with the lobster story. We went to a grocery store, and they had an aquarium of live lobsters for purchase. I pointed them out to Merani, and she wondered why they were here. I explained that some people eat the lobsters. She asked why they eat them. Erin & I laughed, since she & I are both vegetarian (and even before I was, I was never a fan of seafood anyways). We told her that Joe likes to eat them, and we took Merani to Joe to ask him why. But when we got to him, she asked him this question: "Why do you like to eat the hamsters?" Haha! Whenever we talked about it that week, she usually forgot and called them hamsters instead of lobsters!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Escúchame hablar en aleman.

Listen to me speak German. (I wrote that title in Spanish though - cause that's what I can do better. haha)


video

Nate's house

From 2009 May


Here are Nathan & Merani in front of Nate's house - #34 - and van. You can see that it is connected to the house next to it. It's the same way on the other side; I'd say there were about 10 houses all connected in one building. Each one had a one-car garage too. We loved their house (as you can see by the excited looks on their faces)!

Their doorbell cycles through a bunch of different songs when rung. One day, they noticed that I was humming the German National Hymn. I don't know the German National Hymn, so I'm quite certain that I must have heard it from their doorbell, but they claim that it is not one of the tunes! Who knows where it came from!

We also love their windows and patio doors. They all have three directions you can turn the handle: if it's down, then the window is locked/closed. If it's horizontal, then you can open it like a regular door. If the handle is upwards, then you can tilt in the window/door from the top. I'm not sure if I'm explaining it that well, but I like it! And I love the built-in shades too.

The front door is tricky to open (even with the key, which is required). I learned that one day after I had walked back to the house alone with the kids and couldn't get in. Of course, I didn't bring my cell phone b/c international roaming would have been quite expensive. So we just sat on the step and waited.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

So many stories to tell... and I'm not keeping this going as well as I'd hoped!

The least I can do is link you to the pictures of our trip that I got uploaded to our Google Picasa site. So here they are!


Maybe I'll just go through and explain the pictures to you.

From 2009 May


From 2009 May


These first two pics are of Merani holding Mystique - Nate's family's cat. They have two cats - Mystique & Beguira? I have no idea how to spell Beguira's name! That's how I'd spell it in Spanish, but I doubt it's correct. I think it's a name from some book or movie or something. Neither cat was particularly cuddly with us, but Beguira was especially shy. I say shy, but perhaps I should say bothered by us! Anyways, Merani doesn't mind. She loves all animals and wants to hold them all in her hands. If the animal happens to be slow enough, then she gets her way for a bit.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Ich sprechen Deutsch

I can speak German. Well, kinda. I'm not even sure that I spelled that title correctly. But I'm not going to proofread any of my German - that wouldn't be an accurate depiction of how well I learned it.

Somebody mentioned on Facebook that they are curious as to how well I learned the language. I had been trying to learn it (crash-course style) the last few months before we left. I tried using the Tell Me More! program, which was available to use online free through a local library. It seemed like a neat program, but I felt like I was going through learning lots of vocab without really understanding any grammar. It's supposed to be similar to the Rosetta Stone, but I haven't tried that, so I can't compare.

A couple of days before leaving, I frantically tried to learn some last-minute stuff. I watched a bunch of youtube videos aimed at teaching german called Learn German with SpeedyConKiwi. For example, here is one teaching some basic conversational stuff. One of my favorite ones, which I thought was quite useful, was her Pronunciation Guide. Unfortunately, when I was explaining some of it to my sister Erin (who is fluent in German), I apparently mis-remembered it and told her some things that were not accurate. So she wasn't impressed with the videos, but looking back at it now, I think that the video was right and I was just not a good student. :) (Check it out Erin, and tell me what your impression is now.) I also really liked this video, and the song was in my head lots while in Germany!

I also signed up for LiveMocha, which is great. You create an account and fill in details regarding what languages you speak and what languages you are learning. Then, you are part of a community of people who are helping each other learn languages. There are lessons, which I've enjoyed, and when you do some of the writing and speaking "homework", then you can have them be reviewed by people who are fluent or experts in your target language. You can also chat with people who speak the language.

Anyways, I had lots of great resources, but I didn't really start in enough time. I could say some very basic things, but never really had much of a conversation in German.

Here's some of my best work (and I am disregarding the umlat for ease of typing):
Die Frau ist klein und dunn. = The woman is short and thin.
Der Mann ist alt und arm. = The man is old and rich.
Die Madchen ist jung und dick. = The girl is young and fat.
Der Junge ist gross. = The boy is tall.

Really impressive, no? Well, while in Germany, I played Guess Who? with Katy. You remember that game, don't you? I had it when I was a kid. So... I asked Katy to play it with me IN GERMAN! So, I learned how to say things like:
Hat die Frau brille? = Does the woman have glasses?
Hat der Mann auchen grun? = Does the man have green eyes?

While in Germany, I logged in to LiveMocha a couple of times and learned a few more important sentences:
Die Haus ist rot. = The house is red.
Der Auto ist schwartz. = The car is black.
Das ist gelben. = This is yellow.

Unfortunately, I found no opportunity to embark in a real conversation with a German person using my limited vocabulary. I did say "Ein stille wasser, bitte" a number of times (which means: "uncarbonated water, please".)

I was able to use the words for "left" and "right" a few times while we were going places --> "links" and "recht". That was exciting.

But usually, my conversations with Germans went like this:
Them: Hallo, blah blah blah blah.
Me (apologetically): Ich sprechen Englisch.
Them: blah blah blah blah
Me: Englisch??

In one instance like this, a woman later told the rest of the family that I didn't remember her from before. I DID recognize her! I just couldn't say anything of value!

I also found that when my brain was trying to tell my mouth to speak in German, my mouth only got the message that it should use a foreign language, so Spanish would come spilling out. That wasn't very helpful. Although, with strangers, it would probably be better so that I can pretend I'm a Spaniard rather than an American. ;)

Jacob learned a bit too. He can proudly tell you "Hallo" and even "Nein!" (which means "no")

Perhaps my title should've been Ich sprechen keine Deutch... :(

Monday, June 8, 2009

Speaking of water...

Let's have a poll.

Do you think Jacob is on a water slide?

If so, are those swimming trunks, or just his normal clothes?

(By the way, this pic is from our time in Spain.)

Post your answers in the comments.

Should you drink the water?

Warning: this post might not be suitable for people who are not yet parents, as they may be too easily grossed out.

Check out this cool playground! This is near my brother Nate's house and right behind the building where they held the party for Bryce's confirmation. So, we were up there a LOT, while adults were up preparing for the party, then during the party, then cleaning up from the party. (I'm talking DAYS. Set up & clean up is not just a couple hours for a party this huge.)

So, Nathan & I were impressed with how natural it is. Just plain wood. Not all plastic-y like most American playgrounds. We liked it.


But actually, this blog post is not about the playground itself. It's about the day that Merani had diarrhea on the playground. In the pic on the left, do you see there where Katy is peeking out? Merani was up one level from that (and thankfully, Katy was not down there below her at the time). I wasn't nearby when it happened, but I was summoned to come down and help. Poor thing; the diarrhea had gone all the way down her pant leg and into her shoe. I was stressed out since we hadn't brought a change of clothes with us. We weren't far from Nate's home, so we did our best: cleaned her up in a big bowl of water, wrapped her up in a towel, and walked her home to take a bath.


Of course, when something like this happens, you try to figure out what went wrong. Was Merani sick? Was she going to be infecting all of the other kids at the party in just a couple of days? Or was it just something she consumed that disagreed with her? Which leads us to the title of this post. There are some who would choose to blame the water in Spain. But that makes me laugh. Let me tell the whole story.

Before leaving for Europe, one beloved member of my family warned us to make sure to bring money for bottled water, as we should not drink the tap water in Germany. What?!? I know I've heard the warning for Mexico before, but not for Europe. Especially because I don't recall having specifically avoided the tap water on previous trips to Germany. I'm aware that you aren't usually OFFERED the tap water. They mostly drink the sparkling kind, so if you don't want that, you have to ask for "still water", and then you'll receive bottled water. But I didn't have any reason to think that I couldn't drink the tap water if I didn't want to.

When I arrived in Germany, I confirmed with Nate & Adrienne that the water was fine to drink. In fact, I was assured that it was excellent water because of the well in town. However, I was warned about the water in Spain. Well, skeptical me... when we arrived in Lleida, I asked our host Xavier, and he assured me that the water was perfectly fine to drink. In their household, they put water from the tap through a filter (like a Brita pitcher) to drink. (Side note: most Europeans don't drink their water cold either. There's never ice cubes, and even the water pitcher in Lleida was left in the cabinet, not the fridge. It's better for your digestion that way.)

So... we drank the water. In Spain, definitely. And in Germany occasionally too (although bottled water was usually provided.) So, did that cause our dilemma? I'm inclined to think no. We had been drinking the water in Spain since we arrived on Friday May 15. The diarrhea incident didn't occur until Thursday May 21, the day after we arrived back into Germany.

On the other hand, even if Merani did get diarrhea from unfamiliar bacteria or whatever in the food or water from Europe, I prefer to think of that as a good experience for her body. A strengthening experience. I'm just sad that her shoes never completely recovered. :(

Friday, June 5, 2009

Top Ten Tips for Visiting Barcelona with Young Kids

10. Don’t drive in. We got a rental car in Spain, but we only saw one single empty parking spot in all of Barcelona. We found one single gas station at which we could stop and let our poor son use the toilet. All the streets are one-way. All the motorscooters whiz around your vehicle mockingly.

9. Don’t use public transportation. Especially if you’re from Kansas City and have not taken an advanced class in how to read those ridiculous “maps” that attempt to show you where the trains/buses are going to take you. You may end up sobbing in Spanish to strangers late at night as your train flies past the stop where your hotel is and your daughter asks you: “Mommy, do you need your mommy?”

8. Don’t look for souvenir t-shirts. You’d probably want to find something with words in Spanish on it, since you are visiting Spain, after all. But you’d be disappointed to find that all the t-shirts have English on them.

7. Buy a Barcelona map. And buy it from me. I’ve got one here to sell you and it’s barely used. It didn’t really help us very much at all, but I’m sure it would make a nice souvenir, at least.

6. Stop by an ice cream shop. But be sure to grab lots of napkins, because there are no tables to sit at in the shop. And those inviting tables just out on the sidewalk are not for you; they are for customers of the outside café there. And you’ll end up sitting on the sidewalk next to a tree, but you’ll need those napkins when you realize that you’re basically sitting in a city ashtray and your daughter has cigarette ash all over her hand. You’ll probably want to prevent that from getting on her ice cream cone.

5. Don’t expect your knowledge of Spanish to assist you in Barcelona. Don’t you realize that Barcelona is in the Catalonia region of Spain, and hence the main language there is Catalan? I’m exaggerating; the people really do all speak Spanish in addition to Catalan, but it’s true about the street signs.

4. Visit Guell Park. It’s a beautiful place with playgrounds and lots of awesome art for you and the kids to enjoy. But don’t expect to be able to follow the signs leading you to it and actually park in there. No – that parking is only for tourist buses. They will turn you away, disregarding the hours that you drove around trying to find the darn place. And if you do ever get there, please take pictures for me, because we never did make it in. And say hi to my sister Erin if she's still waiting for me there.

3. Consider visiting the Aquarium. But figure out how to say aquarium in Spanish if that’s what language you’ll be using. Because, even though the official name of the place is “L'Aquàrium de Barcelona” , the train ticket lady will be thoroughly confused if you throw in that phrase (which I guess is in Catalan) in the middle of your Spanish sentence.

2. Don’t expect to find a couchsurfing host there. I highly recommend couchsurfing in other areas, but apparently, Barcelona is a really busy place, so most of the couchsurfing hosts there are bombarded and don’t even respond to your messages. I recommend Hotel Sidorme in Mollet. It was nice cheap.

1. Go to Lleida instead. Yeah, if you’ve got young kids with you, it’s actually a really dumb idea to attempt Barcelona. During our hours and hours of wandering Barcelona (by car and later by foot), I realized that we were the only tourists idiotic enough to try it. All other children I saw were either infants in strollers, or teenagers. If you want a relaxing vacation, go to Lleida. More about that wonderful place in a future blog.

Red Hot Chili Peppers

On one of our last days in Germany, Nathan was going to make enchiladas for my nephew Bryce's birthday. He couldn't find all of the ingredients that he is used to using here in the States, including chili powder. So, adventurous guy that he is, he decided to make it himself. He found some little dried red chili peppers at the store and bought a package for only 1.99 Euro - for a lot of peppers! I was going to help him prepare them, so my assignment was to slice them open and take out the seeds, then he was going to blend up the rest into a powder. Merani came in to help me as well.

We knew that the seeds are the hottest part - that's why we were taking them out. But apparently I have not been sufficiently warned about how careful you need to be with those suckers! When working on the first pepper, I had sampled one seed and just a small speck of the pepper. A little hot, but manageable without any liquids to drink. So I didn't think they were any big deal.

Merani was playing in the bowl of seeds while I worked. After doing 10-15 of the peppers, I was noticing that my nose was starting to burn. Like, my nose was running just a little, so I was doing a lot of sniffing, which was bringing this burning sensation up farther & farther into my nose.

Before long, things were way out of hand. We were trying to get Merani & I out of the kitchen and cleaned up before Merani touched her eyes or anything, but we were apparently too late. Her eyes were burning, and both of our lips and noses were burning. We both drank some water (which yes, I remember hearing now that you're actually supposed to drink milk instead of water)... and we were advised to rinse our hands with lemon juice, which we did. And it was suggested that if Merani could just keep her eyes shut, that would help the most. Luckily, it was late anyways, so I decided to just nurse her down to sleep. I'm sure the nursing was comforting for her mouth & throat, while it also allowed her to close her eyes and heal before morning time. I also got a cold wet washcloth that we both held onto our burning noses. :(

That night, taking my contacts out burned just a bit (since there was still a bit of oil on my hands, I guess), and I wondered how it would be to put my contacts in the next morning. Well, if there's ever any question, I'd recommend AVOIDING trying it! Since I didn't have an extra set of contacts, I rinsed my contacts well both at night & morning. And of course they soaked all night long. And I made sure to wash my hands well again in the morning. But sure enough, as soon as I put the first contact in, I was screaming my head off and trying to scrape my eyeball out. I couldn't keep my eye open long enough to remove the contact! Oh, the torture!! I finally got it out and someone brought me a wet washcloth and later, an ice pack. I shed lots of tears, pitched those contacts, and decided I'd be wearing my glasses for my last couple of days in Germany.

The enchiladas turned out great though - not too hot at all. It was all worth it in the end. Especially to provide an awesome Happy Birthday dinner for Bryce! ;)

The Overview

I'm hoping to create a series of blogs detailing our recent adventures in Europe. Hopefully, we'll be doing more traveling, and we can continue to add to this blog.

Here are the people who'll be mentioned:
Nathan, Nikki, Jacob, & Merani - that's us, of course! "I" refers to Nikki, unless otherwise specified.
Erin & Joe - my sister and her boyfriend, who flew over from their home in Canada.
Mom - that's my mom. She flew over too.
Nathan, Adrienne, Bryce, Katy, & Jared - that's my brother, his wife, and their three kids. They live near Frankfurt and are the main reason we all traveled to Europe! I'll try to call this Nathan "Nate" so as to distinguish him from my husband.
Josh, Laura, Hannah, & Wyatt - Josh & Nate were best friends growing up. He & his family (wife & two kids) flew out also.
Xavier, Magda, & Aneu - these are the people that we stayed with during the highlight of our trip to Spain. We met them through Couchsurfing.

Here's a brief itinerary of our time in Europe:

May 13 - We flew from Kansas City to Frankfurt. We arrived the morning of the 14th and had that one day to spend on our own with Nate's family.
May 15 - We flew from Germany to Spain and attempted to spend the day in Barcelona, but it didn't happen.
May 15-18 - We stayed in Lleida, Spain with Xavier & Magda.
May 18-20 - We stayed in Mollet, Spain at a cheap hotel.
May 20 - We flew back to Germany to spend more time with Nate's family and the rest who were either already there or arriving shortly.
May 24 - Bryce's confirmation (the main reason for everybody's visit)
June 1 - We said goodbye and flew back to Kansas City.