Monday, July 28, 2008

Quick Getaway

Last Monday, my parents and I took the two little boys to Inverness for a couple of days. It is one of my favorite drives, because to me it has a little bit of everything: some east bay, a nice bridge, some quirky Marin, rolling golden hills with oak trees, some redwood forest in the Samuel P Taylor state park, and then you've arrived in Inverness, with Tomales Bay on the one side and the Pacific just over the hill.
Here is Sebastian, lavishing affection on a cement mixer left at the house. He took it down to the beach and put shells in it and rolled them around for a while. He was a great sport even though the three adults he was with were pretty dud playmates, and went running up and down the beach trolling for objects worthy of attention. He found several rocks he thought were geodes, but he calls them GeoTrax like his trains at home. Then grandma discovered a three foot snake that was sitting on the toilet seat in the bathroom (which picture I have spared you, unlike the Freudian toilet lids of the alps) and that was quite a bit of excitement. He finished by throwing tortilla chips to some seagulls, who loved him for it.
Joss was against the whole enterprise from the get-go. He doesn't like travel, he doesn't like change, he doesn't like sand, he doesn't like to be too wet, hot, or cold. He slept horribly both nights, and both days I walked around bumping into doors and forgetting the word for every noun I wanted to say.
The last day we went to Limantour, a beach on the Pacific. My family came here first when I was a teenager and I loved it. I brought back my siblings a couple of times (when it's too hot in the bay area it's just right here) and my friends, and it was one of my very first dates with Rob as well. This was the first time any of the kids had come and Sebi loved running in the waves and squealing his barbaric yawp. Unfortunately the beach was not Joss's scene, and he and grandpa stayed in the van while Sebi and I got numb in the surf. And when I said it was time to go, Sebi really, really wanted to stay, but he left without a tantrum which is one of the traits I love about him best. He transitions very well, even when it's a great Thomas the Tank Engine table he's playing with and he'd like to stay for another two hours.
Sebi and I decided here that we'd like to be marine biologists.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

(From Rob) Goodbye, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

Our last day in Austria--and it snowed in the mountains. On the 23rd of July, mind you. We made the best of the weather and managed to keep everybody happy and active today. A quick run down, because we have to catch our train in an hour. We fly tomorrow morning.
First, the Kids played in a kids' club run by the local hoteliers. Check out the potties in the Kids' bathroom. Freud came from Austria, you may have heard mentioned.

Then we caught the ski lift and headed right up near the snow line. If you can't beat 'em, join em.

The ride up defies description. So I won't try...

We hiked about half an hour and found the Wenger Alm, another mountainside farm/restaurant.
We ordered Schnitzel, and I had a Tiroler thingy with potatoes, bacon and a fried egg. Oh, Ja! Ja! JA!

Maddie is always chipper, but despite his spatte of bad luck, even Will was a Wonnepfroefchen. We ate, played cards, laughed, and maddie nearly slid off of the mountainside when she went down a childrens' slide on her jacket and went flying.
The hike was pleasant but rainy, just enough to make us feel like we accomplished something today.
Cows are much better when they have bells. You can't take a bovine seriously when they are ding-donging at you.
There he is, our Will-O that we know and love. We got back on the tram...
...and I packed while the kids watched "Spongebob Schwammkopf" for the 3,000th time since we got here.
They deserve some down time, especially with the hellish flight awaiting us tomorrow. If we should drop into the Atlantic, we sign off and send all of our love. We are out of our minds with anticipation--we see Mama, Sebi and Joss the day after tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

(From Rob) A Good Day to Turn Ten, a Rough Day to Stay Seven

Maddie enjoyed her birthday today. We made sure she had presents, cards, a cake, candles, a lighter for the candles, and all fo the logistics that go along with these things in a hotel room in a foreign country. She kept saying " I don't feel different now, but I am a double digit!Will helped me to sneak around and get everything wrapped, signed, etc. If only I could report that teh weather had played along. Instead, it was raining every other five minutes, with a few blessed but short lived sunny minutes. The swimming pool was closed for inclement weather.
The pool closure was the beginning of a streak of bad luck for Will (here seen with his patented corkscrew lollypop holder). It is hard under the best of circumstances to be the brother of the birthday girl. He held it together admirably until he fell and split his lip (see the mention of the skating ramp from yesterday, only add more rain so that it got slippery). Then his Kinder-Egg had a girlie toy in it, he spilled his lunch on his pants, his consolation present turned out to be a book he already had, he got a serious case of the trots and he pulled a leg muscle.
Poor Will-O had just about had it at lunch time, so I let him veg for an hour in front of the tube.
Later, We convinced Will to come on a treasure hunt that involved a cemetary, a gardening supply store, two old churches, and oversized ice cream cone and a huge chess set.
As you can see, this did not quite finish off the bad mood. But Maddie and I had a great time, and Will joined us eventually.
We stayed on and played a great game of chess, which both kids agree would have been even better without my helpful hints.
Somehow we all got out on the road for another bike tour, this one about 5 Kilometers round trip. It was freezing cold and somewhat rainy, but we managed to get back alive.
We had gulash for dinner, and then opened presents and lit up the cake.

Maddie made a good haul of books and a nice charm bracelet and HSM2 Barette from Will. She was gracious, cheerful and excited, and even Will had a great time this evening. We finished things off by watching "Mr. Bean." The kids were asleep in about 4 minutes flat.

Monday, July 21, 2008

(From Rob) Maddie Turns Ten

Our Maddie Lou turns ten today. Wa Hoo! It is sad that Mama and Sebi and Joss are not here, but we are doing our best to make her the queen of the day.
Will and I wrestled with Maddie, and then we brought her breakfast in bed. Then she and Will took off to Schlecker to buy some present-wrapping tape and who knows what other abomination from the candy aisle.

When I turned ten, I was sad that I would never be just one digit again. Not Maddie. She says she is looking forward to teenagehood. Oy gevalt.
However, let it be made very clear: I hope that each of you, gentle readers, has a Maddie Lou in your life. This is a girl who is nearly perpetually up-beat, who makes sure that everyone is happy and getting along, and who is excited about anything that you are doing. She loves as easily as most people sweat--it just happens. She is ultra responsible, creative and a goofy, funny, lovable chick.

Happy birthday to our happy Maddie! We can't believe we have had a decade with her. The first week of her life, we never knew if she would last another day. We are glad she decided to stick around and bless our lives!

(From Rob) The Hills are Alive with the Sound of McFarlands

Today was a drizzly, cool day in Dorfgastein, and for a moment I panicked this morning. What do do with the kids? They, of course, had a full schedule planned. They headed off to Schlecker, the village drug store, and bought candy (the first of three visits today). They also wanted to watch TV. I asked if they would like to take "a little bike ride and a hike" that would end with a Krapfen, their favorite Austrian piece of deep-fried love slathered in home-made berry jam and dusted with powdered sugar for good measure. They new that the best Krapfen can be found at the Almoser Alm, a little old hut on a steep, green mountinside several kilometers away from Dorfgastein. They love the place, but they have only ever been up there in a car. I had them. BUA HA HA HA. It was still not raining, so off we went... We pedaled down the valley to the next dorf. Despite some bickering (Will always has to be first) and some tears at not being able to make it up a steep stretch of road, we got into a good rhythm and had a great bike ride on our Haus Tirol bikes.
After finally making it to the village of Unterberg, we ditched our bikes in a barn. I was not sure how the kids would take the news of a steep hike after a long bike ride, but they headed up the trail. I bit my lip and looked at the darkening sky. This is what it takes to get kids away from the tube?

We were immediately taken in by the cool, damp, green scenery, and enjoyed the view during our frequent panting rest stops. After a grassy rise, we headed off into a pine forest that turned out to be the best part of the trip.

There, poking up among the fallen branches and mossy pine needles were the quintessential mushrooms out of a fairy tale: red with white polka dots. Maddie immediately began telling stories of the wee folk who lived there.

Will took a stick and obliterated the first mushroom he saw. Then he was penitent and joined in the search for the fairy houses. It made the steep climb into a big game, and it hadn't really started raining, so we just ran from one toadstool to the next. As we got higher, we reached some of the pastures belonging to the Alm. Maddie and Will, of course, laughed every time they passed by a cow pattie. I hope that turning 10 tomorrow inspires Maddie to rise to a new level of humor. There were a few drops of rain, and the cow bells went dong-dong-thunk.
Things got a little steep at the end, but by now the kids were laughing and enjoying each others' company. I hung back and let them entertain themselves. How often does that happen?

Finally, we were there. Believe it or not, this is the place where we spent our afternoon. This is the Farm Hut at the Amoser Alm. It is Shangri-La except for the flies (the cows share a roof with the farmers). As you come to the door, damp and exhausted, a cheerful woman whisks you in, gives you warm things to drink and stokes the fire. Her family has owned this place as long as there have been records kept. We wiped off our feet and--no exaggeration--the clouds emptied all of the rain they had in them. We sat next to the wood fire in an old stove and stuffed our faces, as the heavy rain continued for nearly two hours.

We were a bit damp, so I dried the kids jackets by the fire. When I returned, the Alm-Goddess had given the kids fly swatters. They hunted down and smaked flies for 45 minutes or so, squealing with glee. Tonight, Will thanked the dear Lord for letting him swat flies at the Alm. That is what he took away from all of this. Well, whatever milks your goat...

We sat and played "Uno" and had a milk tasting: Like a wine tasting but with big white mustaches afterwards. Their milk tasted just like the wet grass and flowers we had passed on the way up the hill. This place makes its own cured pork, its own cheese and its own bread.

When the rain started to let up, the kids went out and chased the rabbits, pigs, goats and sheep. We made it back off of the mountain, and rode our bikes home with nothing more than a few drops of rain. When we had put our bikes back, I somehow knew what the kids wanted. I handed them each an Euro and sent them off to Schlecker. They came home with their treats, wiped off their feet, and we sat on our balcony and watched the rain pour down again.

That is what I thanked the dear Lord for in my prayers tonight. And for the fact that no one hit a car with their bike or needed to be hunted down by an Alpine search party with a St. Bernard with a cask of Brandy on his neck.

(From Rob) "It Takes a Real Man To Wear Lederhosen" or "Horseshoes from Hell"

Will is showing off the Alpine version of horseshoes, made to be thrown by men in Lederhosen who drag trees up the mountain and kill wolves with a dirty look. They are called, in typical understated Austrian fashion, "Plattn" or "platters." In reality, they are heavy little rings of death with spikes in the bottom of them. Object of the game--to throw them closest to the "Hasen-Ei" ("Rabbit's Egg"), a little wooden block. Only problem: The block is about 65 feet away. And to make sure they don't just roll away and scalp a neighbor kid, you have to make sure they have a high arc and land flat. Oooof.
Here is the owner of the Haus Tirol, Harald Bukovics. He is showing me the techniques involved in hurling one of these little death-savers. He invariably dropped the heavy little metal thing with a satisfying "Thud" a few centemeters from the block. He played on a local team for years, and is something of a legend around here. Never, never make him mad and then run away. Harald always makes the spikes land downward.
Here is the Haus Tirol on the left (our room is the one right under the peak of the roof). Harald has just hurled the Plattn. If you look above the mountains, you will see a fleck. That is the little spiked ring'o'murder about to drop like a kilo of lead a few inches from the block. It looks, however, like it is about to take out some hapless singing nun running down the hills (now THAT is how you solve a problem like Maria!)
No, I am not flipping off the lonely goat-herd. I have just hurled the Plattn. After a few very embarassing attempts ("No, We really were'nt going to use our rhubarb plant anyway"), I actually made two spectacular hurls (out of about 50). One landed only about 12 inches away from the block, and I swear on a stack of black cats that I hit that wooden block 65 feet away from me and it flew like a bat out of Salzburg. My arm will hurt until I am 43. Alps Schmalps--the boy from the Wasatch Mountains could, with practice and divine intervention, turn into a Plattn Playa.
Maria Bukovics kindly invited us to dinner, and we ate unbelievabley good grilled trout that Harald and his 11-year old son Josef had probably pulled out of a freezing mountain stream with their bare hands.
Meanwhile, the Kids stayed wisely out of Plattn-danger and chased the rabbit, played on the swings and in the sand, and picked some of the Bukowics' thriving berries.
Black Currants are an acquired taste. There is something almost like meat when you first bite in. Sugar helps.
While Will falls firmly into the "Kirplink, Kirplank, Kurplunk" category, and eats all of berrries right away in a very Sal-like fashion, Maddie is a master picker. All of this goodness goes onto our cereal tomorrow, with "Landliebe" Yogurt from a glass jar that tastes like no joy you have ever felt and clogs your arteries while still on your tongue. Servus!