Thursday, December 25, 2014

Holiday Update

McFarlands Month by Month: 2014 edition


January: Rob gets a nose job, surgery # 1 of 6 for the year (Roto-rooter on the nose plumbing). Barely out of his nose patch, he then meets with other film professors for a working weekend in a swanky cabin. He and MA attend the Sundance Film Festival. Mary Ann makes a graceful exit from the film industry after a year of playing Mom to a film crew. Joss gets a cookie-as-big-as-your-head for learning all of his phonemes.

February: Will and Sebi rip up the slopes at Sundance ski resort, and later participate in a wicked “Hunger Games” contest up Rock Canyon.  The odds are not in their favor.  Maddie fares better at a ballroom competition.  She and the waltz were made for each other.  Joss is at BYU and Wasatch Kindergartens; most days he has lunch with his buddy Zinnia in Dad’s office.

March:  Mary Ann takes over in the presidency of our congregational women’s society, looking after the temporal and spiritual welfare of a group of remarkable women. Sebastian turns 10, invites his friends on a wild intergalactic mission at the space simulator.  He saves the day by ramming into an enemy starship and thrusting it out of orbit.  Renegade! Scoutmaster Rob and Life-Ranked Will camp with the scouts in the West Desert, facing their claustrophobia head-on in an elbow-powered, harrowing trip through Antelope Springs cave. 

April: Rob and Mary Ann barricade themselves in a hotel in Salt Lake City to madly write online German courses for BYU.  Romance is not dead, evidently.  Joss contributes the following line to a class poem at BYU Kindergarten: “And the Crocodile, he say: OW!  That hurt me biscuits!”  Rob and MA combine forces to celebrate their 46th and 44th birthdays, respectively: a 90th Birthday party to remember!

May: Maddie trains for and begins work as a lifeguard at the Provo Recreation Center. Hanging out with college boys in a swimsuit and talking to EMTs was more intense than we remembered our first jobs, but she seems to love it. Joss parties like a pirate with a great and dreadful treasure hunt; the Honey Bucket nearby has been referred to as “Ye ‘Ole Poophouse” ever since. The family spends Memorial Day weekend camping with friends in Canyonlands. The kids of five families run wild over the sandstone hills and cliffs. All of them survive. 

June: Rob flits over to Vienna for a conference and an opera and theater binge. Rob, Will and the scouts then go to Goblin Valley. Joss joins the club swim team. “He’ll be fine if he wears his fins” says the coach with a wink. Mary Ann sits at the deep end for the first few months to watch him as he paddles away, sure that he’s going to go under. But he doesn’t. He somersaults and dives and plays tricks on his coach as soon as her back is turned.

July: The whole family heads out to California to celebrate July 4th at the Piedmont parade, a beach reunion in Monterey, and Ron and Nedra’s 50th wedding anniversary with family and friends. It is wonderful to see siblings and spouses and cousins cavorting. Back at home, Maddie celebrates her Sweet 16 with 40 guests at a pool party, then heads to girls’ camp, and dates loads of dudes in quick succession. We buy a sweet (old) red Acura named Stella.

August: Rob and Mary Ann spend 10 fantastic days eating French pastries, exploring Switzerland, and settling BYU students into their Tübingen classes. Sebi and Grandpa hunt down Consuela the Tamale Lady and change the radio presets to mariachi bands, country western channels, and preachers. Joss begins his Mandarin immersion program with a week full of paper plate pandas and “umpteen million” friends. The kids return to school, and Maddie and Will begin commuting between Provo High for ballroom and swim team, and Maeser Prep (or Hogwarts Without Wands, as they call it) for the balance of their classes.

September: Labor Day weekend begins with a hike, and ends with a strange ailment that bedevils Rob’s shoulder and neck. He spends the month trying to keep classes afloat while juggling pain meds and doctor appointments. He loses 20 pounds and gets down to his mission weight—a number he thought he’d never see again. Joss loses his first tooth. Finally, our neighbors who are doctors get Rob the right diagnosis: an abscess in his clavicle and a resulting blood clot in his right arm. He spends a night in the ER, six days in the hospital, and has five surgeries over two weeks. Maddie attends her first PHS date dance with “SuperAbs” from swim team. The grandparents fly back up to manage the kids and their breakneck schedule. Thanks to Ron and Nedra, we all survive a scary and unsure time in our family.

October: Rob begins to recover once his surgeries are over. He has amassed an impressive amount of medical jargon, knowledge, and equipment: about 10 doctors and specialists, two incisions, a wound vacuum, a picc line, JT drains, IV antibiotics, and blood thinners. The boys are overjoyed that Grandpa and CheezWhiz are back in the house so soon. Grandpa does all the driving and shopping while Grandma cooks and cleans and checks the kids for emotional scarring. Neighbors and friends take over carpools and bring food and treats and mitzvahs of all kinds. Will starts spending his Saturday mornings at rocket club where he finds his people and his calling in life. Rob begins to take back his classes and reassure the freaked out students; his stitches come out just in time for Halloween. Our dressed-up kids--a go-go girl,  a zombie hunter, an afro-ed disco dancer, and a warmongering hippie--didn’t get a single picture.

November: Maddie and Will start high school swim meets—tornadoes of noise and excitement as the team gets closer and closer to breaking the PHS school records. At this writing, Maddie’s relay team is 13/100ths  of a second away! Will turns 14 and is ordained a teacher (the next office in our church’s lay priesthood). We celebrate Thanksgiving with a renewed fervor, Mary Ann making sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts, Rob and Maddie doing pies. 


December: We’re starting with our gingerbreadapalooza so we can watch it congeal into inedibility enjoy it all month. We will celebrate the 40th annual Adventsingen with the local German community. Sebastian and his pal Tomas are going to sing a solo with the men’s chorus, and the whole family is dressing up in their Trachten outfits. Will and Sebi are looking forward to breaking in their season passes at Sundance. We’ll attend some parties, exchange some gifts, but there may be some rough edges and traditions left undone. It’ll be just fine. We’ve got our most treasured gifts by our sides: our friends, our family and each other. We are so, so thankful for the help we’ve received this year: prayers, fasting, Facebook comments and messages, hospital visits and meals and long distance phone calls. Through a crazy experience that upended our existence, we were buoyed up by the number of dear friends we had pulling for Rob all over the world. We are so grateful for that love. May you have a wonderful holiday and may you feel our love and friendship as well.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Monday: Tourist Training in a Hatchback

 After the students got checked in, we met up with them in Tübingen and set off to do some area sight seeing that we didn't think they'd get otherwise. Unfortunately, we couldn't get a car big enough to hold them all. We took the ladies and sent the men on the train, which worked great getting from Tübingen to the Bad Urach waterfall.
 We stopped in the town of Bad Urach and looked around. We saw the church, the water wheel, the town square where we had come in 2011 with the boys. Having come here before is what helped us know what to the options were with the students. We had tried out the hike with little boys, we knew what we could fit in a day, and we had other options (Sigmaringen or Ludwigsburg or Waldenbuch) for them to choose from.
This is the huge advantage of having a scouting trip like Switzerland, where you can get the lay of the land without 30 students at your back waiting for you to figure it out. 
The ladies bought some lunch and were heartened that they were able to order and be understood (that's always a good moment when you speak and someone gives you something to eat. Yay! I won't starve!).
We picked up the guys and did our little hike.
 It was as beautiful and green as I had remembered. We could have gone on a longer hike, but the students were in the throes of jet lag and we decided to take it easy.
We came back down and tried out the Kneippanlage. This is an idea by one Sebastian Kneippe and it is his tuberculosis cure. You have to walk around this pool repeatedly, being certain to lift your feet all the way out of the cold water.
Then you submerge your forearms in more cold water.
But you don't towel off! You walk around on this tretwiese (a walking meadow) to dry off. My theory is that it was probably good for them to get out of all of their uptight clothes of the period. Certainly it felt great after the hike and my feet were much happier to be back in my shoes.

At this point, we set the guys back on the train to meet us for the next leg of our adventure. But then we found out it was going to take them 90 minutes or so to catch up with us, so we tried to find them at the neighboring town of Reutlingen. Reutlingen is to Tubingen as Orem is to Provo and they have a rivalry about which town is better and whose wine is worse. I told the guys we were waiting for them here at this "cute tower" and they mocked me until they saw it. Then they conceded that it is a cute tower.
We had a heinous time finding our way to Schloss Lichtenstein, made worse by construction, a detour and having all five students in the back seat of our peugeot. They were uncomplaining even though it was NOT a short or simple ride.
The castle was even better than I had remembered it (since last time I was wrangling a Joss). It's really an amazing setting and some of those rooms are magnificent. We got everybody back to Tübingen, and then Rob and I were ready to crash!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Settling in Tübingen

We came to Tübingen to get BYU students settled in this program for the month of August. We drove up to the airport in Stuttgart, to the program's office, to the apartments and back to the office twice, and then did it again at the train station. But we were happy to be able to do this for the students--arriving in Europe tired and disoriented is always the best time to have someone you know show up and soften the landing.
 Once they had dropped off their stuff and showered, we took them shopping at Rob's favorite grocery store, drove them to church, took them out to dinner for some regional specialties (we went to the Neckarmüller this time and it was good food and of course has a magnificent view of the river). This is part of the castle in Tübingen. I found out this time that in the kitchen here in the middle of the 19th century, acid was successfully extracted from the nucleus of a cell and called nuklein. They went on to discover that it contained all of the genetic material and double helixed DNA in it and that began the study of genetics. Way to go Tübingen!
 In addition to having a really significant university there, Tübingen is also a great place for students because it is small and manageable in size, and meant for a walking (or biking) student population. Goethe visited Tübingen and Hermann Hesse worked here in a bookshop. This is right on the market square.
 The great renaissance clock tower on the city hall!
 I love this -- the produce market sets up in the lee of the church with this profusion of flowers. I think this would do all BYU students a world of good. Come here for a month and learn how to live and eat and shop like a european. Also how to plant excellent window boxes.
 This is just another view of the same stand, but I turned and looked and the buildings alongside were just as winsome. I love the Tübingen.
 Is it just me or is this place not preposterously beautiful? This time around I found out that fuchsias were named after a resident of Tübingen: Leonhart Fuchs, a physician and botanist of the 16th century. Mrs. Jones from down the street gave me a fuchsia when I was in the fourth grade -- probably my first plant.
And these five get to enjoy it for a full month of language training and advanced German classes. They are so ready and are such good sports. Daniela and Hanna and Tanya take great care of the program participants at events like this opening social and field trips to the Bodensee. They'll have a great experience!

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Swiss National Day

After chasing alpine views on Thursday, we decided to race around a third of the country trying to celebrate Swiss National Day on August 1st (essentially their July 4th). We'd already made our itinerary and booked our hotels by the time we found out we'd be in Switzerland for their national holiday, so we had to make do. Except that after doing some internet research, we discovered that where we were on Thursday, they were celebrating on Friday, and where we were going on Friday, they would be celebrating on Thursday! What's a tourist to do? We charged out of Fluhli and drove straight to Zurich.
 This is what we found. A lovely swiss choir, all wearing their traditional costumes, 
 the Zurich city band, 
 even spectators in their traditional finery, 
 an excellent flag waver, 
 this darling woman whose mother was from Bern. She said even though they were in Zurich, her mother would never wear the Zurich colors (blue and white, like BYU) and she always wore her Bern costume. Now she does too.
One of the things Rob needed from this trip was pictures for his classes on campus and online. He has plenty from Germany and Austria, but hadn't been to Switzerland in 22 years. So this chance to see everyone decked out and doing the ceremonial traditional thing was an absolute gift. I'd been dragging the zoom lens around all week, and it finally came in handy! These soldiers were even wearing little leather backpacks with bedrolls (see below).
 And then they shot off their guns. I love that several of the mothers had brought big headphones for their kids!
 I just love this photo.
 Then the alphorns began to play, and men danced and tossed the swiss flag in time with their music. As an aside, the alphorn sounds fabulous when it's outside. This was mellow and beautiful even with all these people blasting away right at us. They usually make me wish I had headphones when I'm in a concert hall with them.
 They are a pain to carry! Makes a cello look easy, right?
 And more and more beautiful traditional costumes. Some of these dirndls (are they dirndls in Switzerland?) had more jewelry on the bodice than I have in my whole jewelry box.
Here I am with a few members of the choir.
 These flag-bearers all represented different guilds.
 And this woman, with her fingerless gloves and beaded headdress and silk flowers tucked in her bosom was a personal favorite of mine.
 While all of the official stuff was going on, there was plenty happening behind. They had booths set up for each of the Cantons, or provinces, of the country. These two men are singing in Romansh, the fourth language of Switzerland.
 And people were eating all kinds of good food from wurst to saffron risotto. I don't know the significance, but I loved the fact that women like this one all had fresh flowers in sprays, baskets, and nosegays. We took in all that we could and then decided to explore a little more of Zurich.
 But wherever we went, the fashion forward were celebrating August 1st.
Ein Herz für die Schweiz!

Friday, August 01, 2014

An Interlude on an Interlaken Lake

 Coming down out of the Lauterbrunnen valley, we were cruising along the highway, mostly in a long, dark tunnel. Switzerland seems to shunt lots of its traffic through the country this way. It's very efficient, but when the GPS is showing you a famous lake to the left, Rob and I get antsy to see it. So we took a detour. Helga (the GPS lady) got very concerned, but we're able to ignore her voice quite well by now. We parked in Brienz. Here is what we knew about it: it's the other lake by Interlaken; quieter thank Lake Thun; it looks like everyone oversaturates their pictures of Lake Brienz on Pinterest--crazy turquoise water.
First, we had to stick our feet in the water. This stems from our theory-in-progress about how to interact with places you visit. Rob's initial theory was that you had to eat somewhere or take a nap there to feel like you've been to a spot. Through the years we've seen students and tourists try all sorts of things to feel like they've "been there, done that": shopping, taking pictures, trying on crazy outfits, religioiusly following tour guides, seeing the whole thing through a camera lens, having a quest or contest (StrudelQuest of 2009, or Exotic Flavors of Fanta 2002 are just two examples). Changing a diaper has long worked for me. St. Florian in Austria is still reeling from the effects of my visit there with Will in 2002.
Anyway . . . this is why we stuck our feet in the water. Also, it felt great after all that hiking. But it wasn't enough. We wanted more.

 So we rented a pedal boat. This place seemed to be run by three grandparents and three active grandchildren, helping out and getting underfoot in equal measure. It turned out to be just the right thing.
 First, we got to see all that unreal water up close.
And we were able to check out the ritziest lakefront properties from our fine Swiss-made boat. Sun in our faces, wind at our back and cruising around the lake. It made us definitely want to return to Brienz. We're thinking a week here to play in the lake and use as a base camp for the alps.

Alp Peeping, or Where Have All The Mountains Gone?

 Having outwitted the weather on Wednesday, we had placed our bets on Thursday. When we woke up, we could only see our garden, a tree, and the roof below us. We ate breakfast, packed our stuff, and hoped it would all burn off like so much San Francisco fog. But when it was still there at 9:00am, we came up with a new plan: we would do our hike backwards, with an extra uphill leg at the beginning, giving the sun time to warm up everything and shake off the clouds.
 This is what it looked like. Beautiful, with lots of cowbells ringing and water falling. Speaking of cowbells, why is it that American cows didn't seem to get bells like these in Europe? It seems like it would be a great idea to know where your cows are when you're ranching in places like Canyonlands and Capitol Reef. My theory is that there are more predators in Utah, but Rob thinks there might be more to it.
 Rob got seriously happy because first he found wild strawberries that he picked down next to a creek (excellent movie! he says. Love Bergman! he says.). Then he found ripe huckleberries. This had the potential to derail the entire trip, because we have seen in the past that Rob can pick huckleberries with the best of them. But knowing that there was no oven waiting to bake them into pie tipped the balance in favor of the alps. We pressed on. I turned into a puddle. I took off everything that was decent and mopped myself with my scarf. My poor scarf! We decided to catch the train up at the 2/3 point, Wengeralp. We got on, and there was a little opening in the clouds that let us see this:
 The Monch! (In case you are like me and have no idea of your alpine geography, this is a triple-peaked mountain we're trying to see: The Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau which means the Ogre, Monk, and the Maiden. The monk in the middle is protecting the maiden from the ogre.)
 But this was what a lot of our trip was like: an Alpine striptease with little tantalizing glimpses of peaks behind clouds. This is the Wetterhorn. We saw it several times thinking it was the Eiger, but it's off to the side and looks a lot lower.
 Up on Kleine Scheidegg (a great huge train station of a town), we saw this sweet guy. A St. Bernard complete with cask! I am in love! We aren't going to the Bernard pass this trip, but they say that there was one dog who is credited with saving something like 40 people from freezing in snowstorms.
After fortifying ourselves with homemade plum cake, we set out on our hike. We'd been watching and hoping, and then when we sat down on a bench to have our lunch . . .
 We saw the face of the Eiger! Pretty magnificent, huh? It seems far away here, but it felt overpowering on the trail. Lunch was great, munching on braided bread and cheese and turkey. We moved on when the mountain had hidden itself again.
 Once we were almost to Mannlichen, we saw this lady in our path. We used two brave American boys as meat shields to make sure she wouldn't gouge us with her horns.
 Then we introduced ourselves. This one was really mellow. She didn't even flinch when four dogs greeted each other loudly on the trail. I had wanted to go to a farm where you could see cheesemaking, ride cows, and even sleep in the straw, but Rob wasn't sold on it. So this was my cow encounter.
Rob made friends with this cow who had a beautiful brass bell. I admired the bell, but I like the brown cows better with their soft brown eyes. So pretty!

 We waited in Mannlichen for another half hour, willing the wind to pick up and blow away all of the clouds, but it just didn't happen. In the end, this was our ultimate alpine picture: meadows and buttercups and cows and a peak in the background.
And then we boarded the lift and came down to Wengen. In two minutes. Rob and I don't think of ourselves as daredevils, but we both thought we might orphan the children when we looked out this window. I was once again glad for those Swiss engineers! And the Alps will remain on the bucket list for now. Neither one of us is done with the Lauterbrunnen Valley and its tall neighbors.