Monday, December 29, 2003

After a weekend without DSL, I have several items to post.

Item the First

The plants on my kitchen windowsill continue to flourish. I'm especially pleased with how well my amaryllis is doing. The primrose isn't doing so hot. I almost wonder if it wouldn't be happier outside.

Item the Second

I would like to announce the winner of this year's award for Worst Christmas Gift on the Planet: Pocket Neopets: Kougra on Mystery Island. I am allowed to say this, because (1) I am the fool who bought the stupid thing in the first place and (2) Annabelle--the recipient of said awful gift--agrees with me. In fact, she hasn't finished composing the review she plans to send to Amazon, but it goes something like this: "Congratulations on selling a toy that made me cry."

Basically, you have to care for the cute little critter and cater to its whims. It likes to be awakened at 7 a.m. and put to bed by 9:30 at night. It needs to eat 3 times a day: at 7:30, 12:00, and 5:30, or something like that. You play games to win points to buy its food and toys, and you have to take the time to play with it. If you don't do these things, its happiness is diminished and its health declines.

Annabelle went for her very first sleepover at her friend Rebecca's house Saturday night and took her new Kougra buddy with her. Imagine her distress when she opened it up and saw Kougra hoisting his knapsack and walking off into the sunset on the digital screen. The little bastard ditched her!

Rebecca's mom dealt with the situation like a pro and convinced Annabelle that this is all part of the game and that Kougra didn't mean anything personal by it. The next morning though, I offered Annabelle cold hard cash to part with the offending toy, and she gladly forked it over.

At least this has given me a glimpse into the future so that I can see how I will react the first time a boy dumps her. It seems I will pack his sorry butt into a very small box, turn him over to the United States Postal Service, and write mean things about him. And he'll be lucky he didn't get flushed down the toilet!!

Oh, and the second worst (or at least most useless) Christmas gift would have to be the scratching post that Fred bought for the cat. The cat has made it clear that the $10 scratching post from the PX is a sorry substitute for the tapestry chair he is intent on dismantling thread by thread.

Item the Third

On Sunday we went to Speyer with Rebecca and her parents to see a museum exhibit celebrating 30 years of Playmobil. In case you haven't heard, Playmobil specializes in creating sets of a bazillion teensy little pieces that go to particular themes: castle, dollhouse, cowboys and Indians, city life, etc. The pieces are not as painful to step on as Lego, but you haven't lived until you have hand-tied the rigging on a miniature pirate ship on Christmas morn.

The exhibit itself was great! They had lots of big representations of the Playmobil people. Here are Mike, Annabelle, and Rebecca hanging out with a big Indian in front of the museum:

And here they are with the Playmobil dragon (as well as some German dude who did not care if he was in my photo or not):

They had a huge room that they had turned into a Playmobil-themed playground. One of the highlights was the pirate ship:

More amazing than seeing the sets as Playmobil intended them to be was seeing what private collectors and designers had done with them. One fellow had created the two towers, from Lord of the Rings. My favorite though was the opera house that was made out of at least a half-dozen fairy tale castle sets. I assemble that castle every time we move, so I am in awe of somebody who can build something that huge and elaborate. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of that with the digital camera, so we will just have to cross our fingers that the film shots turn out well.

There was also some Playmobil art, which was nothing if not strange. I guess that's the mark of good art though. Wouldn't you love to have one of these beauties hanging over the sofa?

After we finished looking at the exhibit, we went to a Konditorei for coffee, hot chocolate, and a variety of cakes. It was very cozy and quaint, not to mention yummy. Afterwards the kids horsed around in an empty fountain:

while I took pictures of yet more ninja Santas attacking a building:

Item the Fourth

Today we took the kids (and Rebecca) to Lampertheim to play at Kids World. It's an amazing place--they took an old indoor tennis facility and converted it into a Discovery Zone type place. It has several bouncy-castle type contraptions, such as this one:

and this one:

It also has a couple of areas that are wall-to-wall trampolines, as well as tons of scooters (that go really, really FAST) and things like these giant blocks:

It's much wilder and crazier than anything you've ever seen at Discovery Zone or Chuck E. Cheese. As Mike and Annabelle say, "The only real rules are don't kill yourself or anybody else." Nobody walks around saying, "Don't run!" So kids are tearing around willy-nilly, zipping through the crowd on scooters, and just having a marvelous time over all.

There's not an insurance underwriter in the States who would ever cut a policy for a place like this. Imagine bouncy castles set up on hard concrete. The trampolines alone are enough to get any PI attorney drooling! But the Germans have not sucked the fun out of childhood in the name of safety as we seem to have done so effectively in the States. They also don't seem to have as many overweight kids, and the kids have a refreshing air of self-assuredness. Coincindence--or not?

In very un-Germanic fashion, the play area at Kids World is nonsmoking, which is a nice change. But their restaurant is basically a bar/observation booth/smoking zone, which is a change from your usual Chuck E. Cheese pizza party.

They do have food for sale, but they also don't mind if you bring in your own. We saw people with picnic baskets and lunch boxes. One family even had a bottle of champagne! So it was not the orgy of bad food that these places tend to be back home.

Best of all, there were no video games spitting out tickets that we then had to exchange for overpriced garbage toys. Nope, we left there with empty water bottles and exhausted kids. Nothing more, nothing less.

Item the Fifth

I have just received clearance to publish what has been unbloggable for the past 8 weeks. Just before Halloween Fred came home from work with the news that he might be going to Iraq for 6 to 9 months in the spring. For nearly two months it's been a real rollercoaster--he's going, he's not going, he's going again. Fred didn't want me to say anything publicly until it started to look like we had a final answer.

We think we have that now. Latest news out of DC is that he probably will be going, but it won't be until the summer and it will be a year. Sucks, eh? The kids and I will stay here in Germany and try to keep things as normal as possible.

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