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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Venturing in Judaism

I don't usually write posts like this and this is not a rash decision, but I felt like I kind of had to do it. 

We are definitely not religious people, but our kids went to Catholic daycare that had nuns as care givers in their first years of life, then Ilya went to Jewish preschool which was a great experience for him and for our entire family as we made some really good friends at the synagogue.  We are open to religion and religious institutions.

Last fall, we looked all over Frankfurt and its surroundings for schools for Andrei for next year.  The search did include private schools as well as state-funded ones.   All the schools we saw were nice and friendly even though it was clear that some of them were not the right choice for us or for the school, but then we shook hands and left.

One school, however, was down right nasty when I meet with them.  When I came across the school online, it seemed like it might of been a good match with offerings of extra German classes if needed, informatics class and extra-curricular Russian classes as well as many others.  I set up an interview with the director, explaining to her in advance that we have 3 kids and looking for spots for all of them.  She asked me to bring in the kids last report cards.

I arrived at school a couple of minutes early, went through the security and then wondered the hallways because nobody would help me find the correct office.  Eventually I found this hidden door that led to her office on my own but the first couple of minutes were pretty not welcoming.  Once we met, I asked the director if we can speak English (instead of German) and she tells me that she would prefer German.  That's pretty weird because everbody with a higher education speaks English but I let it go.  Then they look at Andrei's report card which has good grades but also a note that he is in special German class and within 5 minutes, she tells me that her school is not a good match for our family.  She never inquired about the other kids, she never asked me any real questions, she just looked at that one note and decided that we are not good enough for her.  The meeting lasted approximately 5 minutes after which she stood up and made it clear that we are done.

A couple of days later I met with a woman whose children go to that school and who also have some learning difficulties and she told me that she had nearly the same experience until the director heard the child's name.  After the child's name was announced all over sudden all the difficulties were ignored and the family was welcomed.  The family was Jewish and the names of the kids were Jewish as well.

The school's name is I.E. Lichtigfeld Schule.   If you would like to click on the link, then the welcoming picture is that of the unfriendly director.  It is the only Jewish day school in Frankfurt and it is the only school in Frankfurt that made me feel like we are not good enough ( and I am extremely happy that I attended the meeting alone and Andrei was never made to feel that way).   

P.S. I also made a phone call to the Jewish community to see if we can join them, the response was to come to next years open house in 9 months.  Other than that they are not interested in new members.  I am thinking it's pretty safe to say we are done with Jewish institutions in Frankfurt.
Andrei in front of his new school


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Our little town - Bad Soden

Last year Andrei studied Bad Soden am Taunus and it means we ALL studied about it to help Andrei get ready for his test, I thought I would share the information we’ve learned since it's kind of neat.  We really do enjoy our area with everything it has to offer.

Brief history:
1191 – first mention of Soden anywhere
“Sode” means salt/soda production and for extremely long time the town was known for its salt/soda with the main purchaser being Frankfurt.  In 1812 the salt production shut down since Frankfurt went elsewhere to shop for their needs and the fire broke out in the factories.
1701 – Frankfurt doctor discovered spring water is good for health and Soden became known as a spa town.  At this point (2018), we unfortunately do not have any spring water pools but we do have an awesome pool.
1839 – Wiesbaden and Frankfurt train line was created.  Wiesbaden in the capital of Hessen and is only about 30 minutes away from us by car
1843 – train station in Bad Soden was built due to the spa popularity
1922 – name change from Soden to Bad Soden

I think it’s absolutely crazy that our little town has been around longer than the United States of America exists.  I am also extremely happy that we found Bad Soden – we have 2 elementary schools, however, no upper schools (grade 5 and up) so kids will have to take public transportation or a bike to wherever it is they go.  (We do know where Andrei is going next year - yeah!) We have dentists for all of us within walking distance from our house, we have regular doctors (as well as some specialists) for adults and kids also within walking distance, we have at least 3 pharmacies, train that goes directly to Frankfurt’s main train station, all the supermarkets, etc.  One of the largest malls is also within walking distance but is easier with the car :)

We have 4 parks, numerous playgrounds, many restaurants ranging from German (obviously :)), several Italian places, Thai, Indian, etc. + of course Lieferando (delivery service).

We have several festivals every year - Christmas is a fun one that only goes for one weekend but has Gluhwein, train rides for kids, and several sellers who sell both food and fun stuff.  Last week we had Weintage Festival and it seems crazy but so much fun.  Our local park sets up several (probably around 8) winery booths plus food booths and the entire town spends more or less every evening at the park.  The kids usually just run around while the parents enjoy the wine.  The pours are fairly generous for about 3 euros.  We are going to have a summer festival in August which is all about kids with lots of fun rides, swings, etc.  We also have music festival in September and I am sure there are many more that I can't think of right now. So yeah - come check Bad Soden out!!!


Look at the size of the pretzel
Tons of kids at the wine festival!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Toledo

Last part of our Spain trip with my friend was Toledo.  It was highly recommended by many people as a must see when in Madrid.  As with many other things - things did not go exactly according to plan!  We did not buy tickets in advance because when we looked online, it seemed like the trains were going nearly every hour so we figured we'd just show up and buy tickets.  We did show up,  but buying the tickets was much harder as the train station has several different ticket offices and it took us a while to find the right one and of course by the time we found it, the train we wanted to take left and we had to wait  for the next one.  We decided to grab some brunch and nearly missed our train because the platform was pretty hard to find (as stupid as that sounds!).

The train trip was nice and short and when we got off the train, there were several tourist busses from which we picked one that seemed the best for us and took us to the scenic parts of Toledo and then left us in the center of the town (more or less).   After that we wondered the streets, and it was truly wondering because the map that we had was completely and entirely useless!  

Impression of Toledo - cute, small town but was it worth all the hype?  To my friend and I - not really.  Maybe we are spoiled by our travels, but I would say that Toledo is not "a must."


Live turtles in Madrid train station


Main cathedral
Main view of Toledo

Just a tile on the ground - Toledo used to have large Jewish population


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Running a "marathon"

For the 3rd year in a row boys participated in Lauf für Mehrsprachigkeit a couple of Sundays ago.  Thankfully the weather was pretty nice this year and Ilya's school while sponsoring the event, did not participate in the entertainment section of the run.  In the past years they played on flute, danced and singed and while it was fun, it was pretty long and the stage is a bit small and gets crowded.

Last year Anton participated in the Bambini run which was 200 meters but this year he got upgraded to the elementary school-age run which is 900 meters and he ran that together with Andrei.  Ilya got upgraded from 900 meters to 3 km.  The upgrades for both of the kids were my decisions and I have to say that everything was successful.

Andrei and Anton run together and I told Andrei to keep an eye on his brother in case Anton has problems with breathing.  Anton ran most of the way but told us that he walked a little bit in the middle.  Running is not Andrei's thing AT ALL so putting him in charge of his brother was also a good plan.

Ilya, however, is a runner.  Moreover, he is a long-distance runner and he was the only kid from his school that ran 3km and out of 91 kids (many much older than him as) he came in 45th place.  It was really cool to see his best friend meet him when he had about 500 meters left to run and run with him.  His best friend, by the way, got 2nd place among the Grundschule kids (1-4th grades).

Here are results for this year: Anton (5,5 y.o.) finished in 5:43, Andrei (10, 5 y.o. )5:40, Ilya (9)18:12
Last year - Ilya (8 y.o.)  4:55, Andrei (9,5 y.o.) 5:11
2016 -  Ilya (7 y.o.) 5:49, Andrei (8,5 y.o.) 6:20


Andrei walking, Anton running and Ilya is cheering his brothers!

Kid in blue is the friend

Friday, May 04, 2018

Barcelona

Prior to Madrid, my "undisclosed friend" and I went to Barcelona (short and easy flight for me).  We stayed in hotel which had great reviews and great location, but the room itself was extremely dark despite a window.  It was also lacking WiFi.  My friend did not take appreciate that :) 

I arrived kind of late at night so we just grabbed dinner and it was delicious!  The pictures are a small sample of what we got - tapas and easy to share.  Sangrias were had as well and they were huge!



The following day we starting exploring Barcelona and started with a walk through the Food Market and grabbing a bag of salami-style meats for morning snack.


After that we decided to wonder the streets and look at Gaudi buildings.  Gaudi buildings are hard to miss in Barcelona because 1) they are odd-looking and 2) there are crowds of people standing in front of them taking pictures.  We, of course, joined those crowds :)  We only went inside one of the buildings and honestly, the cost of admission seems a bit outrageous unless you are a big Gaudi fan which we were not.  (Also we did not find it to be that interesting - I am not sure if I am allowed to say that and still come back to Spain as Gaudi seems to be a huge deal there)

Parc Guell was a pretty experience because the weather was wonderful so we wondered around and enjoyed Art Noveau - lots of mosaic architecture.  Fountains covered in mosaic, buildings covered in mosaic, some cave looking things also covered in mosaic, you get the idea.  But again - it was a park which was overcrowded and felt over-priced.



Sagrada Familia is the most famous church in Barcelona.  It is huge, it is tall, it is very open and bright and it is still under construction.  It will actually be under construction until 2030!  The difference between 2 sides of the church is stunning.


Light stone is the new construction.  Construction cranes are also kind of a give away

Cascada Fountain at the Park de la Ciutadella was an accidental find to be honest.  As was the Arc de Triumphe.  I did mention that we wondered the streets of Barcelona a lot!  

We saw a lot in Barcelona  - we walked a whole lot every single day, we ate delicious food every single day, we really enjoyed our time there but we also both agreed that Barcelona does not have that magic appeal to us that some other cities do.  Sorry Barcelona and Barcelona lovers...

Friday, April 27, 2018

My week- URGH

This week has been rough.  Chris was away in Iceland so I am on my own and while it's usually not a problem this week has been a bit rougher than normal so here is a break down of what happened.  Needless to say no pictures :(

Monday - I had an appointment with Ilya's Russian teacher at 7:30 in the morning which went well.  Ilya is doing a pretty good job in the class, he understand verbal communication but it's hard to find him books to read because his vocabulary is still lacking.  Anton has German class every Monday where I have to take him to the class at 9:35 and pick him up at 11:15 at which point he goes to kindergarten. During the class I took Chris to the airport.  Andrei had an eye check up and we waited for over an hour and then left because we had to go pick Anton and Ilya up.  That got rescheduled for another day in May but overall I need to find another eye doctor for the kids.  The receptionist did apologize which was nice because it's so no a German thing to do.  After that disaster Andrei and Ilya went to try out for the water diving team.  We are trying to find a new sport for them since they are both done with swimming.  They both did not like it at all and it's ok,  it was important for us to try and this was pretty much the only day they had trials for a long time.

Tuesday was also a bit crazy and it started out with dropping Ilya off at school by 7:30 so Anton and I can get to speech therapy by 8AM.  After I dropped Anton off at kindergarten, I had about 45 minutes to eat breakfast and throw in some laundry (in case you didn't know the wash cycle takes 45 minutes, the dryer is about an hour and a half so laundry is a time-consuming event with many things actually needing ironing because they look awful).   I had to pick up Ilya from school early because he had a chiropractor appointment about 30 minutes away from his school.  That appointment took a while so after that we came back home to eat some lunch and get Andrei to go to Kumon (math tutoring program).  Ilya had a mini-break down because he did not fully understand one of the concepts but he worked through it and now understands it - yeah :)  After that I picked up Anton and took him and Ilya to the local playground with Anton's friend.  We then had to run to the library to return some movies we borrowed and were due back and Ilya wanted to pick up some books on Titanic.  By 17:30 Ilya had a dermatologist appointment.   45 minutes later we were out WITH a prescription for my child's sensitive skin and quickly ran to the pharmacy to drop off the said prescription and to the drug store to pick up vitamins.  We got home around 19:00 and were completely exhausted.  I just boiled some pasta for dinner.

Wednesday was another brutal day.  Ilya woke up with some kind of a headache that only hurt when he had to look down and his left eye was red so I kept him home because in school he has to write which involves looking down a lot and I wanted to take him to a doctor.  Andrei woke up sounding horrible from his allergies so he went to school but I pulled him out of the last lesson again to take him to a doctor.  So after keeping Ilya home and sending Andrei off to school, I had to take Anton to his German class.  My plan was to come home and spend some time with Ilya; however, there was a massive water line break in Bad Soden so traffic was horrible so all I was able to do is come home, kiss Ilya goodbye, grab my purse and go back to pick Anton up and take him to occupational therapy.  This was his first time with this therapist but Anton loved it.  Eventually by 11AM, Anton finally made it to kindergarten just in time for me to grab Ilya and Andrei so I can take them to the regular pediatrician.   After 45 minute wait, Andrei's allergy medicine dose was increased and he got additional nose spray.  Ilya got some eye drops and was told that the headache is viral and should resolve itself.  He also got a referral to an orthopedist but that's a whole other story that I am not ready to share yet.   As fun as my morning was, by 3 o'clock Ilya and I had to go to special dentist to check on his tooth that was knocked out during our fall break.  That appointment resulted in scheduling another appointment for root canal.  I am not sure how many 9 year olds get root canals?  I wish day was over at that point but Andrei still had his dyslexia tutoring which lasts an hour and a half.  While I waited for Andrei I went to home improvement store to buy a broom (since I broke our old one a week ago) and to the pharmacy to pick up the medicines that the doctor prescribed earlier.  I got lucky this time and the pharmacy had them all available.  We got home a little bit after 6 and I can't even remember what I made for dinner but I know it was not anything complicated.

Thursday was finally an easier day.  I dropped Anton off at kindergarten at 7:30, Ilya was in school by 7:55 and I was home around 8:15 and was able to eat breakfast and finally clean up  a bit.  I had a meeting with Andrei's dyslexia tutor which lasted about an hour and was really good. We agreed that he made a lot of progress and what the goals are for the next couple of months.  After the meeting I came home and was able to clean up some more, answer emails, go through lots of paperwork, etc.   At 15:00 I picked Andrei up from school and took him to his Russian class.  While Andrei is at Russian, I usually pick Ilya up from school and Anton up from kindergarten (class lasts an hour and a half).  After Russian, I finally went back to the pharmacy to pick up the medicine that we ordered on Tuesday (from dermatologist).   After the kids went to bed, I sat down to write a letter potentially withdrawing Ilya from his school.  School is most likely moving to a new location but that location is still undisclosed and while we would love to stay with them, we do not want to spend an hour plus driving him to school. 

This brings us to today - Friday.  Usually another parent takes Anton to his German class on Fridays but today I volunteered to help transport the kids.   Transporting the kids means another mom and I bike with 6 kids from kindergarten to their German class.  Well, on the way from our house to kindergarten I crashed!  Badly!  Besides physical harm, there is bigger damage - my phone fell out of my pocket and the screen got smashed.  Thankfully the phone is still working but it's really smashed.  The good news is that I have iphone 5S which is really old and has pretty much no battery life in it and is overall pretty much ready for an upgrade but bad news it that does not mean that I wanted it broken! 

Our adventures in scouting

Since I have not had the chance to write anything about scouting, this seems like a good time since Andrei just transitioned from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts.  We originally joined Cub Scouts because our friend worked it out so both boys can attend on the same day and because we thought it would be a good idea to get the boys into an American activity with American boys.  Ilya joined Wolfs and Andrei joined Arrow of Light so Ilya is the oldest in his den and Andrei is the youngest. 

Ilya is really enjoying the Cub Scouts.  It really seems that getting the badges the the belt loops is a great motivator for him to read and do the assignments.  The requirements are very structured and organized so Ilya can do most of them on his own with a little guidance from me and an occasional drive to things like botanical garden.  The Wolfs have 5 requirement adventures and they include things like learning about American flag, learning about God (very open vague adventure), physical activities, obviously camping and more.  Then as a den they also did 3 additional adventures like learning about germs, paper airplanes and dinosaurs.  Then to add on top of that - Ilya choose 3 additional activities to do on his own where he grew a plant, visited botanical garden, learn about coding and air dynamics.  He also got a Russian and a German translator strip.  It seems like a lot (and it kind of was) but from the very beginning I told Ilya that this is not something that I will fight with him about, it is not something I will argue over, it is something that is supposed to be fun!  I had to remind him that a couple of times when he had trouble understanding a requirement and that I am happy to explain something to him as long as there is no whining and/or frustrations.  He choose a summer time activity that is definitely pretty involved and he can't do all of it on his own (includes hikes, learning about some outdoor activities, swimming) but looks fun and he might also choose to do some science activities that are also a bit busy so summer time might be a good time to do it or at least take an in depth look and understand whether Ilya has interest in those.  So in summary - Cub Scouts have been a very good match for Ilya!

Andrei joined AOL which is the last year of Cub Scouts so he had to make up some stuff to be able to join Boy Scouts.  His assignments were harder and he had to spent more time working on his projects; however, this past weekend Andrei transitioned from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts and as part of that transition he went with his den/patrol to Luxemburg.  Originally, we all planned on going but when I looked at the proposed schedule I realized that Anton and I would spent all the cool activities in the hotel either sleeping or doing something on our own.  The actual transition ceremony started a bit after 9PM and went until midnight.  Looked fun but not realistic to keep Anton awake for so long (not was it really necessary).  Camping was next to the American cemetery and the boys had to clean the grave stones The absolutely worst part of that trip was that camping ground is right under all kind of birch trees and neither Chris nor Andrei could easily breath because of their allergies.  (Side note: allergies are absolutely horrible this year!). While we have Cub Scouts somewhat figured out, Boy Scouts is a whole new beast with different rules, adventures but Andrei is excited.

Andrei (red pants) with his new troop

Chris and Ilya watching the ceremony

Smallest kid in the crowd

Chris attempting to pin the Arrow of Light