Monday, May 21, 2012

Just an Update

Here's what's coming up on our calendar in the next month: Move to a shiny new house, have 6 house guests, travel the world, and throw an epic 3rd birthday party. Those mega tasks all overlap, and I really can't prepare for much of it. It's not like I can make the cake in advance. The moving guys will pack everything, so I'm not boxing things up. And because we won't move into the new house until the day half of our guests arrive, there's no sense in scrubbing the guest bathroom to prepare. So basically waiting is driving me nuts. But I guess that's better than saying "there is so much I have to do!" We're getting acquainted with our new town. (the one we're moving closer to) Yesterday we went to church there, and during confession I taught the very elderly priest how to use an iPhone app. Afterward we tried out a restaurant nearby. Daniel asked Bella to taste the "Kraut Salat" and then she shouted "MM! I LOVE CRAP SALAD!"

No, even with impending chaos, life goes on as usual. One steady ritual we have, that I enjoy very much, is listening to Daniel tell stories to Isabella at bedtime. Jonah and the Whale is her current favorite, and she usually tells it to him.  But Daniel decided to switch it up a few nights ago and tell her the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. You remember the story. With the troll? "who's that tromping over my bridge?!" Yeah, that one. Anyway, like a typical three year old, any new story is interrupted by a "why? why?" about 487 times. Which leads to Daniel explaining tons of stuff that has nothing to do with the story, really. So he starts the story about the billy goats, and he pauses to make sure she remembers that a goat is "kind of like sheep, but with horns" or something. She says yeah, and he continues the story. About two minutes in she says thoughtfully "daddy? Goats are fatter than mommy." Daniel pauses for a second and is like, "uh, yeah. Yeah they are"
They sure know how to make a girl feel nice.

Isabella has some tricks up her sleeve. Some might call it "manipulation" but we figure it is sheer brilliance and call it "bargaining." She has pink, round cheeks, and ginormous blue eyes. She gives hugs and kisses and pops off an "I wuv you mommy" at all the right times. I think most toddlers are probably pretty good at that stuff. She is trying to master the art of compromise with things like "Ok, but how bout I stay in the bath just one more minute, then I get out?"  It's a fair question, but unfortunately she has no idea how long one minute is, being not even three years old yet. Sometimes she will offer such a fantastic explanation of why she has done something she knows not to do, that our heads are left spinning as we grasp for some way to salvage a learning opportunity (aka discipline) out of it. Her fool-proof method, though, is to do something bad while looking very cute, and right as we catch her, make us laugh hysterically. You might remember this story. It works every time. Sometimes, when we're about to give her a talk, she'll just quote a movie. One of her favorites is a line from the movie Rio. "look, I know you're just doing your job" she'll say. Serious moment ruined. I'll give you another example. We have lots of rosaries, and Isabella LOVES jewelry. But she knows that the rosaries are not toys and are not to be played with. She is still often tempted to play with them. So a couple of days ago we were all in Daniel's office, playing with the dog and chatting, when Bella suddenly leaves the room for several minutes. When she returned, she was wearing every rosary in the house. And nothing else. We stifled some laughter and I was about to say "Isabella, you know you may not play with those, and why are you naked??" but right as my mouth opened she broke out into the most wild dancing. She was trying to make the rosaries swing back and forth and it looked like some crazy pagan moon dance. It was literally the most hilarious thing I've ever seen. We completely lost all composure. Daniel finally managed to remind her that rosaries are for prayer, not for hip thrusts.

So that's what's going on here in Germany, just enjoying our family in this gorgeous spring weather. We also went to Cologne recently and it was SO beautiful. I got a few pictures, but I'll probably just throw them in with my next travel post. Happy Monday!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pilgrimage to Trier!

The best part of being stationed in Europe is (obviously) the fantastic travel opportunities. We live in an awesome location because so many of the places we want to visit are in a reasonable distance, and we plan to knock lots of great places off of our list when my parents visit next month. So far, though, we've only visited a little of Germany and France. Which is nothing to sneeze at. Whatever that means.

This weekend we went to one of our favorite cities in Germany, Trier. We've been to Trier several times because it's very close and very cool.
 A few fun facts about Trier: Trier is the oldest city in Germany, founded in or before 16 BC. Several reminders of its time as an important city in the Roman Empire remain such as the Porta Nigra, which is the huge Roman city gate, as well as the ruins of Roman baths, which you can tour. There is a fabulous Roman museum with all sorts of fascinating artifacts and art from the time. Unfortunately, the city was hit hard during World War II but is nevertheless a beautiful city today. Trier is also home to a monastery where you can visit the tomb of Matthias (as in, the Apostle.) One of the popular sites is a basilica built by the emperor Constantine, which still functions as a church. (I should totally get a job with the City's tourism department, don't you think??)
The City Square. Here you'll find European treasures like McDonald's, Starbucks, H&M, and  Subway. 

Porta Nigra, The Roman City Gate

This is the tomb of Matthias

Replica of the city after World War II :(

Bella, at the top of the Porta Nigra

Terrible photo of the inside of Constantine's Basilica.

Anyway, one of the coolest things about Trier is that in the beautiful, ancient cathedral there is a tunic, said to be the robe of Christ. You know...this one:

23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.
24 They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. (KJV)

Yeah, that one. Now, legend has it that St. Helena (she was the woman Constantine the Great referred to as "mom") traveled to the Holy Land to find the cross. Not only did she find it, but she found the seamless robe, which she gifted to Trier in the year 327ish. (along with a piece of the cross, which is now in that monastery I mentioned earlier.)

For a long time, nobody could view the robe. It was (and is) kept in a reliquary. We saw the reliquary on our second trip to Trier and it was like, "oh, look, a box??" but exactly 500 years ago, the robe was put on display for a short time. Since then it has only been displayed 16 times (I got that tidbit from Wikipedia), at very sporadic intervals. Millions of pilgrims have traveled from all over the world to view the robe on the rare occasion that it is displayed, and to mark 500 years since the very first pilgrimage of the robe, it was put on display during April and May 2012.

 So, back to Trier we went. Our priest had mentioned something along the lines of standing in line to see it, in the pouring rain, for like six hours. When we arrived, I knew he wasn't exaggerating. The crowd was massive. A huge line of people, chatting, laughing, praying, and singing. It was worth the trip to just see the crowd. However, in typical Heather fashion, I started to panic a little. "How would the babies handle waiting in line so long? What if they had to pee? What if I had to pee? What if Sophie pooped in her diaper??! What if we ran out of water?" and in typical Daniel fashion, Daniel said "chill out babe, it'll work out." So we got in the back of the line.
About 2 minutes later we were approached by a nice man wearing a lanyard and tag to denote his position as an official event worker who informed us that there was a special line for strollers and wheelchairs. So we followed and he led us straight into the Church! To a very small line! We ended up only waiting about 45 minutes to view the robe. Sophia sent a group of elderly nuns into a fit of giggles by showing them her grumpy face. I didn't get a picture at the time, but it looks a little like this.

I think she was trying to get them to be a little more serious. We were in a church, after all. That's old ladies for you, though.

 Anyway I got a few pictures of the tunic. 

Doing a pilgrimage was a really interesting thing for me. Having been raised protestant, where we put zero emphasis on relics, and now being a very new Catholic, I was sort of looking forward to the six hour wait to work out how I felt about the robe, or relics in general. Do I think this is the real robe? Does it matter if it is the real robe? What is the significance of it, for me? For all of us? Alas, turns out I only had 45 minutes to contemplate such things, during most of which I was breastfeeding an infant and chasing a toddler. So before I knew it, bam, there it was, and we were off. One of the guards told me that Sophie "must be one of the littlest pilgrims we've seen!" 
So I wish I could tell you a more interesting story, with deep thoughts and profound meaning, but not today.
 The robe is seamless, "woven from the top throughout" and was not divided among the soldiers. This fact was a fulfillment of prophecy and also a lovely representation of a unified Church, don't you think?

Tune in at the end of this month for MUNICH and VIENNA! (I may throw in Augsburg before then, if the children nap excessively!)
A very small glimpse of the crowd as we were leaving. Thousands of people were outside.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dear Jesus

Sunday at church, Isabella suddenly got out of the pew and got on her knees, hands folded in front of her. As usual, she forgot to whisper, and said "MOMMY! Pray with me!" So I got on my knees and folded my hands. I whispered to her "Would you like to thank God for your mommy, daddy, and sister?" she stared at me. So I offered "maybe we can ask Jesus to help us be good today?" she stared, blinked and said, "Mommy....just...pray with me."
Oh. Sorry. My bad.

So we bowed our heads, closed our eyes and Bella began to pray. "Dear Jesus," she said in a tone that certainly must have warned Him to brace Himself for disappointing news, "there are no toys in here."
Then she got up and got back in the pew.

Well, now He knows.

Baby Sign Part Two

In my previous post, I went over "What is Baby Sign?" (it's not learning a second language) and "Why bother?" (uh, because it is super fun.)  So now that we've had a recap, I'm challenging myself to be brief and to the point to talk about how to go about signing with your cute little bundle of joy.

I'd like to mention again that besides first hand experience from signing with two babies, most of my information comes from this book.

Whether or not babies have the memory required to learn signs very early, I don't really know. But it doesn't matter because before around 6 months, they just don't have the strength and control required to make signs with their arms and hands.
So you can start signing earlier (like I did with Sophia) but don't expect them to start signing back until at least close to 6 months. (Super Sophie started signing "milk" and "potty" just shy of her half birthday)

If you do wait til 6 months like I did with Isabella, you still can't expect baby to sign back immediately. It takes baby a while to figure out what the heck mommy is doing with her hands. I think Bella was signing back around 7 1/2 months, but I don't really remember. Bell got really good at it really fast once she figured it out, whereas Sophie is really just now getting into it (she just turned 8 months) which is probably because now that I have two kids and a puppy, I'm just not as good about signing to her as I was when I only had one baby.

Once baby starts realizing that a certain action follows a certain sign, and that you respond appropriately when they sign, they will be eager to learn more.

So here's how to do it: You it.
Using an American Sign Language (ASL) dictionary, (or just find out signs onlline) Pick 2 or 3 signs at a time, and do them every time you see that thing/action, and also SAY the word. For example, when you're feeding the baby, you might say "Milk! Baby is drinking Milk, do you like Milk, baby?" and be sure to do the sign every time you say "milk."
 If you see baby noticing a picture of daddy, sign daddy, say "daddy" etc.
You can even do the sign "on" baby. Meaning that for signs like mommy and daddy that involve touching your face, occasionally sign it on baby's face.
I don't add more signs until baby initially starts signing back, (which, as I said, may take a month or so in the very beginning) but once Baby has the general idea, you don't have to wait until they're great at every sign to add another sign or two.
You should, however, only add a couple of signs a week, for your own sake. You need to be consistent, and it's impossible to remember to sign everything if you add too many at a time as you learn them yourself.

It is also really important, especially in the beginning, to make an effort to do what baby asks so that they will know that signing works, and that you understand. So let's say baby signs "milk," be quick about letting her know that you understand what she wants. If you don't respond to her signs, she won't bother to do them. Of course, you can't always "obey" when a child demands something, but just let them know you understand. Maybe your 10 month old keeps signing "outside" and it's way past bedtime..You can say/sign "outside" when you say "mommy sees that you want to play outside. See the window? It's dark now. We will go outside tomorrow." Kids are smart. They understand these things.

So really, that's it. That's how you do it, but here's a few more tips
  • You should stick with official signs using whichever Sign Language is used in your country. Sure, you can make up your own signs, but what if you forget what sign you used for "ball" and you can't just grab your sign dictionary to remember what it was? So sometimes it's ok to make up your own, but I wouldn't recommend doing it for everything
  • To keep baby interested, when you add a sign that YOU want baby to learn, be sure to add a sign that HE wants to learn. So some practical/convenient signs for you might be hurt, milk/nurse, potty/diaper, more, eat, mommy/daddy. Babies seem to love everything about outside, and some of Bell's favorite signs were: Book, ball, dog, cat, tree, outside, moon, car, hear, see, airplane, hat, glasses.
  • Be sure to make sentences once baby starts learning. "more cheerios" or "see cat outside?" are some possibilities.
So, I failed miserably on the brevity thing, but oh well. That's how you do baby sign.