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150. Come meow

My uncle and aunt gave the kids little plates for Christmas last year, and my kids love them. The plates have a painting of the "maneki neko," or "beckoning cat" on them, a Japanese symbol of good luck.

I told Emi, "The cat is saying, 'Come here' with its paw."

After a moment Emi said, "Daddy the cat says, 'Come meow!'" And motioned like the cat.  

For a moment I couldn't believe it.  

But it really was a joke. I roared with laughter. "Emi that is awesome! Your first real joke in English!"

And she grinned and laughed with me. 




149. "Wild" life in our backyard

My apologies for the lateness of this post! I wrote it on my phone and for some reason the Blogger app didn't sync properly, and I lost my work. 

I was mulching tree branches that had been collecting on our compost pile the past two years, using a fast mulching machine. Thomas was helping, and over a week we chopped up most of the branches.

I climbed the pile to pull one of the few remaining big branches out when I saw something move in the hole I had made.

Looking closer, I saw it was a family of frogs: a large one, medium one, and two babies. They were trying to escape as I tore apart their home.


After I showed Thomas where the frogs had been, I also saw a bird's nest that had been hidden behind the branch pile, and was now exposed. It was beautifully woven together, with bits of moss and twigs. I wondered if by exposing the nest,  I had caused the birds to escape and find another home.



The brush pile was getting unreasonably large, and I was happy I had cut it down, but I felt terrible for destroying an animal habitat accidentally. The best part of caring for our yard is seeing all the animal life in it.

148. Notes on a model boat race

We designed and built boats to race at the summer festival at the kindergarten. The route was a 30 meter stretch of the Schrote, a little creek running next to the kindergarten. 

The rules:

1. 30cm X 30cm X 30cm size limit
2. Only 20 corks allowed

We were able to use as much cardboard and tape as we wanted, within reason. We were observed by a chaperone who ensured we didn't break any rules. 

My design ideas: 

1. Minimize air and water drag 
2. Minimize weight
3. Minimize water penetration of materials
4. Maximize buoyant material use
5. Ensure the hull structure was stiff enough so the boat could bounce off of contenders or foreign objects, and minimize potential for hull deformation. 
6. Create a clear identity and aesthetic. 

I used 20 corks, taped them underneath a board just big enough to cover them, wrapped it with tape, and placed figures of Emi and Thomas on board.


Sneaking glances at contenders' boats, I saw sails to capture the wind, underside fins for stability, large and small surface areas. I don't think anyone besides us used more than 5 corks. Some used none. 

We started nearly last in a field of about 7 contenders since our boat was grounded on a shoal. Others were hung up on underwater grass because of their fins. The start line chaperone freed all of us eventually, but it was a false start.

As the race continued, we proved immune to the whimsies of wind that rammed a sailboat into a shore. We skimmed over the grasping tentacles of underwater grasses that snared another boat's fin. 

Then we were two, on the home stretch. We were gaining on a sailboat to our port side, but a shoal stood in its way. The boat smashed through a standing wave the shoal was kicking up, grounding itself with its momentum. Our humble raft glanced off that wave, then flew across the finish line alone, under a bridge where parents and kids cheered, gaped, or cursed and gnashed their teeth. 

I took Emi onto my shoulders. "E-mi! Tho-mas!" we cheered on the walk back to the kindergarten. Eventually I placed Emi on the ground. I wanted to show her celebrating was OK, but I didn't want to overdo it. Although World Cup shows them differently.

I am so looking forward to other competitions with my kids. On the other hand I need to let go, because that day I was the parent who built the whole thing, and didn't try hard enough to get the kids to partake. I did try to get them to help me, but they had wandered away, sucking candy.

However, now that they saw how fun it was, I hope they'll be more excited about the next competition.

151. Yoga and diving

In my first scuba diving class three weeks ago, I kept thinking about the paramount rule: always breathe. This was not so easy at first: my mask slowly leaked because I had not placed it correctly, it was difficult to keep my body vertical because of the bulk of my buoyancy control vest and tank and lead weight belt, a total of 20 kilograms or so. 

Then I recalled breathing in yoga. I have been practicing yoga once a week for the past two years while living in Germany, and my teacher P emphasizes breathing much more than the teachers in New York, where I did yoga on and off for another two years. 

The first year of yoga with P was very helpful. After a session I could sleep extremely well for the next two days, countering the sleep debt I was incurring because of Emi's consistent waking and shrieking at night. 

Recently though I began wondering if perhaps it would be better if I did something sportier, to build myself back up because I've lost a lot of muscle the past five years. 

And while I was in the water, it clicked: I started breathing slowly and evenly just like in yoga, and relaxed, and had a much easier time. 

I realized that, although yoga may not be sport per se, it trains me in how to breathe well, so I see it as a foundation for not just sport, but simply for life, because breath is life. 


147. Bike theft

I went into the cellar to fetch some garden shears when I noticed our door was ajar. The padlock was still locked, however. Why would I do that? I wondered. 

Then I noticed my bike was gone. That's weird, where did I put my bike? I wondered. I always placed it in the cellar and locked the cellar door. 

I was about to go upstairs to ask Sara about my bike when noticed the door latch was cut and twisted apart. If they wanted they could have unscrewed the latch from the door since they are exposed. 

It turns out three bikes including mine were stolen, two from the cellar and one from the courtyard. The thieves took advantage of Pfingst weekend to work. 

The officer a the police station was very understanding; she offered Thomas a chocolate and paper and pen. The questionnaire I filled out asked if my bike had been taken feom my cellar. 

As I vented to neighbors over my stolen bike, many had similar stories. Our wine seller neighbor heard from his friend, who was a cop, that there is a gang with a truck in the 'hood that steals bikes. 

If thieves have the appropriate tools they can get in anywhere. Hence cellars are not really safe for bikes. From the people I spoke with, the quality and strength of the bike appears to have been a deciding factor in whether or not their bike was taken. Some expensive bikes that were in the courtyard, but locked with a quality lock, were spared. 

Watch your bikes' backs. 

146. The Chase

There is a teacher named Musik M. at Emi's kindergarten. He is a prankster, and last Thursday afternoon, with a wicked smile on his face, suggested some of the older kids chase me, for no good reason.

I played along and started jogging around the vast garden, across the concrete patio, leading screaming kids behind me.

Soon the rest of the kids leapt up from their places at the table where they were dining on snacks, and joined up, about twenty five in all. Then I had to run quite hard to stay away from their pudgy and cute, but filthy, grabbing hands.

Eventually I saw a yellow scooter lying on the ground and tried to mount it and escape, but it was far too small for me, and soon the tide of children, turned nearly feral in their exuberance, overwhelmed me.

On the drive home, I couldn't stop smiling at how much fun I had during the chase. And for some reason, I didn't want to admit it to anyone.

145. The Geometry of a Car Crash

Last Sunday afternoon, I was driving with the kids north on the highway (the Tangente) to a kiddie birthday party. I pulled onto an off-ramp.

As I turned left onto the road (Mittagstrasse, near Hellweg), I saw a car out of the corner of my left eye barreling at us. I had no time to react. There was no sound of screeching tires. He nailed the left front of our car and spun us half around.

The airbag popped open and acrid fumes filled the car. Cursing, I looked around and the kids were screaming, but they looked OK. Dazed, I unbuckled myself, stepped out of the car, unbuckled the kids, and carried them to the sidewalk. We were uninjured.

Cars exiting the highway drove to the left or right around our wrecked car. I thought about how much I had grown to like our car.  

A wiry man ran over to us to ensure we were OK. He had been in the right lane next to us. He said, since our light was green, if we had not been where we were, the car would have hit his car. When the police arrived, he gave a statement.

I noticed the world was blurred, and returned to my car to retrieve my glasses and outerwear for the kids, because it was possible they could be in shock.

The driver who had crashed into us had gone left, coming to rest against a guardrail. Later, I watched him being carried on a stretcher into an ambulance. He was drunk, with a blood alcohol level of more than 2.0. It turns out he had not been badly injured.

His son had arrived very soon after the accident on his bike, wearing a helmet, which almost no one does in this city. From his slight build, I think he was around 14 years old. He spoke with the police, took care of things.

As he passed me on his bike, probably to go look after his father in the hospital, he looked at me and said, "I'm sorry."

We made it to the birthday party.