March 2014

Anthering 2014

We left the hotel and took a quick car tour of Regensberg, though Everett protested because he wanted to see Sophie and Anna as soon as possible. In fact he wanted to skip breakfast in the hotel in order to get to their house faster. When we asked Everett his favorite thing about Germany he replied “Sophie and Anna.”

On the way to Anthering Everett got sick once more. We have a theory that this was partly caused by high speeds and narrow, winding roads. Anyway, this time we were able to get him an intact bag in time.

We arrived at at Schloss Haunstetter, the youngest castle in Europe, around midday. That afternoon Chris and Armin took the kids and Polly to a nearby park.
The rest of the trip was a bit of a blur, and the best we can do is try to reconstruct it from photos. We note that transformations often occur while travel, and with that in mind here are a few observations:

-The babies spent lots of time sitting upright and playing. It also became clear that for them to be happy they needed both sleep and awake quiet time. Without the latter they seemed to get overstimulated.

-Sophie and Anna often take showers before bed. As soon as Everett realized this he announced that he wanted to take a shower by himself at bedtime. He later explained to me that it’s part of growing up. A couple days later he asked if he could brush his teeth in the morning. Um, yes!

-A couple days after we arrived in Anthering Gwen had a farm toy in her mouth when she seemed to wince in pain. Chris saw it, but she recovered quickly and he didn’t think any more of it until later that evening when Melissa noticed there was blood coming from her mouth. Gwen is getting her first tooth! Her bottom left front tooth is just breaking through the gums.

-The babies are starting to handle and eat their own food such as biscuits and crackers, though they move like sloths when they grasp and manipulate it. The two of them have also been able to sit up and entertain themselves for periods of time. They can’t get upright on their own, but if we help them up then they can usually stay that way. We piled blankets around them for when they topple over. For a few days they have been fascinated with the farm play sets at Carrie and Armin’s house.

-Teddy is almost a different kid. He is still fussy, but he cries much less than he did at home, and he is just delightful to be around. He can now spend extended periods of time entertaining himself. He often looks mischievous.

-Gwen is getting very wiggly, much like her brothers. Before this trip she would often lay on her back for long periods of time. Now she rolls over quickly and is moving almost as much as Teddy. Both of them have very strong trunks and are good at performing alligator rolls when we try to hold them still.

-Everett got new shoes in Austria. Chris asked if they were speedy-go-fasters (the term he used when he was that age), but Everett prefers to call them tennis shoes. Either way, we discovered that they perfectly match the colors of his coat.

-On Thursday we pushed things harder than we ever have before with the twins: we went on an entire day outing with no naps at home. We left the house about 9am and drove to the bakery in Anthering, then to Burghausen to see the longest castle in Europe (about 1km long).
Burghausen Panorama
The twins slept a little bit in the car but it wasn’t a normal nap. After we arrived we walked the length of the castle and back, making several stops along the way to explore. On prior days we have noticed that the babies don’t like to be in their stroller seats for extended periods (and we don’t entirely blame them), but we really didn’t have an alternative for them. Today we thought ahead and brought a blanket so that they could have some time to move around. After the castle we walked down the hill to the old town and had lunch. A woman asked “Bub and Mädchen?” Bub is apparently a local term for boy. Next we drove back to Anthering, and all three kids fell asleep in the car. We regrouped and then left again for Mostheuriger, one of our favorite restaurants in Anthering. We ate dinner, and it wasn’t until we were packing to leave that the babies got really upset. However, halfway up the mountain they were calm again, and they were able to get in a little more play time and another feeding before bed. Great work babies!

-On Friday we went for a hike in the morning near the house, and in the afternoon we went into Salzburg and hiked the Mönchsberg. The original plan was for Carrie and Melissa to spend some time together while Chris and Everett went hiking. However, those plans changed because Sophie was feeling sick and came home from school early. Instead, our family went for a hike and later we all met at the Augustiner for dinner. Everett had a sausage on a bun, followed by a pickle, a pretzel and an ice cream cone. During the hike we asked Everett to take a picture of us. We setup him up with the camera, got in position and he stood there for a moment without doing anything. When Chris asked if he was going to take a picture he replied “Um, hello? Could I have a little romance here?”

-Sophie and Anna have recordings of several popular songs such as All the Single Ladies, but sung by chipmunks. Some evenings the girls and Everett would have a dance party in the kitchen while listening. After the last dance party on Friday night Everett announced “I love chipmunk music!”

We woke up Saturday at 4am, loaded the babies and the remaining luggage, said goodbye and headed to the Salzburg airport. Chris dropped the family and luggage off in front of the terminal and then went alone to drop off the rental car.

The first wrinkle in our travel: Even with no wait at the ticket counter it took a long time to get us checked in, though we aren’t really sure why. They wanted to check our stroller through to Chicago, which we didn’t want to do because we anticipate needing it in the airport. So we had her check it to Berlin and then we went through security. We are now the family that you don’t want to behind in the security line: we have infant twins, a stroller that won’t fit through the x-ray machine, a five year old, jars of baby food and enough bags to fill the entire length of the conveyor belt. We got to the gate with almost no time to spare and discovered a couple things: 1) we had to get on a bus to the plane; 2) AirBerlin doesn’t have family boarding. Chris packed the stroller as quickly as we could, but then we realized we couldn’t carry it. Two German women saw us and offered to help, so they carried the stroller to the bus and then dropped it on the tarmac. We arrived in Berlin and took another bus halfway around the airport, picked up the stroller at baggage claim, went through customs and walked to terminal B. There we had to get some kind of special stamp on our boarding passes before we could go through passport control and security.

To remember for future trips: Bring fewer bags. We already knew this but really need to cut it down even further. The problem is that there are several bags we can’t seem to travel without: Chris brings his laptop bag and camera; Everett brings his frog suitcase; Melissa has her diaper bag; we almost always end up with a bag full of snacks (also knows as the feed bag).

The final question is: would we do it again?
Chris: Yes
Melissa: Yes

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Sunday: We arrived on time and went through passport control and customs. Soon afterward we found a taxi minivan and completely stuffed it with luggage and people. We went straight to the hotel and thankfully were able to check in immediately. Our room is in the northwest corner of the Estrel Hotel on the 9th floor. We have a fantastic suite with views of the city and two bedrooms, one of which has a large open area for the children. We slept until about 2:30 or 3pm.

Monday: We got out of the room by about noon and took the bus to Potsdamer Platz, then walked by the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. 
We have recently noted that Everett’s body is growing faster than his coordination and he has become uncharacteristically clumsy: while running through the memorial he tripped and skinned a knee, both hands, his cheek and his forehead. It took him a while to get calmed down, then he limped for a while, but by the end of the day he was back to his normal self.

After the memorial we walked to Brandenberg Gate,
then through the Tiergarten
and finally to Sony Center for a stop in a cafe before we headed back to the hotel.
That night the babies staged a revolt: around their bedtime Gwen started screaming and wouldn’t stop. Eventually she woke up Teddy, and then he wouldn’t stop screaming either. Chris took both of them on a long walk. Then more screaming. Then we got Gwen down but Teddy wouldn’t quit. Chris took him on another long walk and finally in desperation we put him on his carseat on the bathroom floor with the shower water running. We got to sleep around 3am. Rough night for everyone.

Tuesday: We went on a day outing to Humboldthain and then to the Berlin Wall Memorial.
Then a picnic and a visit to a nearby cafe for a warm treat. We stopped at a park before heading home so that Everett could get a few extra wiggles out.

Wednesday: We went to the Lego Museum
and then to the Victory Column in Tiergarten Park.
Chris had a work dinner that night and got home late.

Thursday: This was a work day for Chris. We ran into Chris’s colleague Jens at breakfast who remarked “You look tired.” Chris gave a talk around lunchtime, then had meetings the rest of the day. We note that the hotel does not provide irons, but does provide a single room that is set aside for ironing. Based on the size of the room and number of ironing boards (only two were visible) we are guessing that these guests iron about as often as the Barbers!
Friday: we packed our things, picked up the rental car and left Berlin about midday on our road trip to see Carrie and Armin in Anthering. Our families have now grown so much that we can’t all fit in one car together. And we eventually determined that the best way to get to Anthering was to rent a car in Berlin and return it in Salzburg. We debated whether to drive the entire distance in one day, but eventually decided against it. In retrospect this was a wise choice for two reasons. First, it takes much longer than usual to travel with three children. Second, it turns out that Everett is starting to experience motion sickness. We discovered this about mid afternoon when he told us he wasn’t feeling well, so Melissa handed him a plastic bag in case he got sick. He successfully used the bag, but we didn’t realize there was a giant hole in the bottom of it. We had to evacuate the car for about 15 minutes to get things cleaned up. Both babies were screaming, all the doors of the car were open, and Everett was changing clothes in the parking lot. It was quite a sight.
We were pretty worn out by the time we got to Regensburg that night. We ate dinner in the hotel and had a great hotel room for our needs – plenty of space, pack-and-plays for the children, and a kitchenette for feeding the babies.

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Travel to Berlin

We are in our seats on a flight from Chicago. Chris is giving a talk next week at a conference in Berlin, so we are taking the whole family there until next Friday and then driving to Anthering to visit Carrie and Armin and Sophie and Anna. We decided to fly from Chicago in order to get a nonstop flight on AirBerlin.
We arrived at the ticket counter three hours early, then to the gate about two hours early and were in our seats on the plane about an hour before takeoff. All smooth so far. We bought four seats at the bulkhead in order to sit together and accommodate the bassinet, like this:
Everyone in the family has been fighting colds for the last couple weeks. And not just a cold, but a series of them that keep morphing into different symptoms. Currently all three children have nonstop runny noses. It’s not an ideal time to be traveling overseas, but when is a good time in our situation? We have both acknowledged that this trip is pushing things pretty hard, even by our standards, and we don’t know if this will be a good idea in retrospect or not. We will evaluate once we get home in a couple weeks. We did our best to prepare beforehand: we limited ourselves to two rolling suitcases for the entire family; Chris practiced packing the stroller and car seats into duffel bags; Melissa prepared small bags of pre-measured formula to make four or six ounces at a time. We realize these might look suspicious when we travel and could attract attention from TSA. Not sure how much these bags might sell for, but based on the price of formula it can’t be a small amount. In fact, we might be under NSA surveillance for even writing this. To minimize this possibility I am posting this blog entry as unencrypted text, on the reasoning that unless it’s encrypted they won’t even notice it.

We were among the first people on the plane. Teddy was asleep in his carseat during takeoff, while Gwen was nursing. One of the flight attendants gave us a special seat belt to anchor Gwen to Melissa. Soon after takeoff they brought us the bassinet, which latched into the bulkhead in front of Melissa. All of us were overheating during the flight, especially the babies. They were confused about what time it was and where we were and why we weren’t in our regular beds. The flight attendants tried to help by offering several more blankets than the four we started with (none of which were being used). We used one of them to block the light over the bassinet, and added the others to the pile.

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This week Chris resigned from the Medical College of Wisconsin, effective June 30th. This has been a very difficult decision, and one that we have been discussing for some time. We have not yet decided where we are going but will hopefully make a final decision soon. We love it here and don’t want to move. Things we are thankful for:
-Working at MCW has allowed us to live in Wauwatosa, which we have loved. And Kavanaugh is likely the best neighborhood in Tosa. We couldn’t ask for better friends and neighbors. In particular, Al and Lori (our neighbors to the south) have almost adopted us as one of their own. They are frequently bringing us food, watching our children, offering to help and just being great people. Shirley and Betsy (our neighbors to the north) have always been thoughtful and generous, and have taken delight in our children. The Marx’s (two houses to the north) have helped us in too many ways to count.
-Chris has been able to bike to work everyday (or walk if needed), and for the last two plus years he has been able to take Everett to school on the bike.
-Everett has been raised here and has gone to a great school.
-Gwen and Teddy were born here.
-At MCW Chris has met a handful of great leaders and scientists, and it is been a privilege to work with them. In particular, moving his lab to the Biotechnology & Bioengineering Center was the best decision he made. The BBC is a unique environment with great leadership and many high-caliber people.

We explained the situation to Everett but didn’t quite anticipate what would happen next (though in retrospect we should have): he started telling everyone. He and Chris were at the grocery store when he told our pharmacist (and fellow Spokesman) Brian “My Dad? He just quit his job!” We quickly contacted his teachers so that they would hear it from us first. And Chris quickly sent some emails to friends for the same reason.

Everett keeps a journal at school which provides us with remarkable insights into his thinking. This entry says it all:
“Soon my Dad is quitting his job and we are moving and we are not prepared for that.”

Lastly, here is a pictorial way to express Chris’ reasons for leaving MCW. This is especially appealing because it is an a Dr. Seuss book narrated by John Cleese that seems to have a message for everyone. Jump ahead to 5:18.

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are by MistyIsland1

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