Friday, 22 December 2006

Christmas Plans 2006

Heading for our second Christmas north of the equator and it still has a movie-like feel about it. Having grown up with Christmas during the summer time -- and all the wonderful things that means -- a northern hemisphere Christmas seems a bit like living in a movie. You know, you've seen many things in movies and if you ever experience it -- say you get the opportunity to stay in a high-class hotel after having only ever seen them depicted in movies -- then so many things that you know about but have never experienced suddenly become more real. The full-on winter clothes, everything spiced with cinnamon, snow, Santa actually needing a fur-lined suit; these all make a little more sense now.

So having said that, we decided last year that we felt we'd like a break from the cold (mostly Gaynor) and are heading to Spain for a week just after Christmas. Thanks to a generous benefactor we'll be shacking up in warmer climes, along with my brother who is flying over from the US. Gaynor notes that with his arrival here all my siblings (barring Alistair) will have visited Europe.

So in light of the trip Gaynor has decided to "go easy" on the Christmas feasts. She listed the menu the other day and I'm not sure exactly what she means by the term but I'm looking forward to it! We are also going light on the presents -- something I personally prefer anyway -- due to the move at the end of July next year. More on that later perhaps. (No, we don't know where we are going yet).

So we wish you a happy and joyous Christmas time and of course, all the best for the New Year.

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Blogger Hiccup

Google have released an updated version of Blogger -- the site and software which power this blog. During the change over many articles were 're-published', so to speak, when we applied the new labelling system [1]. So if you subscribe to the blog via the Atom or FeedBlitz newsfeeds (see down the left-hand side of this page) then you will receive notification of all the 'new' articles. Feel free to ignore them or re-read them, as you wish. Just pay attention to the date at the top of each post so you know if you are getting something fresh or a history lesson!

[1] You'll see any applied labels at the bottom of each post. You can click on it to get all the articles so labelled.

Monday, 27 November 2006

Summer Holiday 2006

OK, so we are a little behind in reporting some of our trips, including Bavaria, Paris and our summer holiday to Croatia -- in reverse chronological order. So first one first let's go through our haul over to Croatia.

The purpose of this holiday was different to last year's summer excursion. Last year it was all about getting to one of our most-wanted-to-visit places (Italy) and also get in a little bit of relaxation as well. This year the ideas were different.

The drive to Croatia was broken up with a stay overnight at Augsburg -- no sightseeing, only somewhere to stop, eat and sleep. We reached the campsite mid-afternoon the next day with enough time to set up tent, make some dinner and meet the neighbours. The people next to us were very friendly, greeting us in German (since they saw the car's plates) and then switching to English when I explained in German that my German wasn't so good. Turns out they were Slovak and were very kind and friendly to us our whole stay. Both the mother and father also spoke Croatian -- which turned out to be very useful later in our stay -- and the wife also spoke Hungarian! These Europeans!

Pretty much from the next day the name of the game was do as little or as much as you liked. Gaynor, of course, had a book or four she'd bought to read. "Holiday" is a synonym for "book reading" in Gaynor's language. Gaynor also enjoyed a swim in the bay first thing most mornings and considers it a great way to start the day. The children spent time in and out of the expansive pools of the campsite and various trips down to the bay shoreline for swimming as well. They had a great curly waterslide with water pumped out of the bay and this was an especial favourite of the children. Unfortunately not too many photos from around the camp as most of us were too busy with nothing to do but, to View over the baythe right here, you can see an example of the sort of sunsets we had to put up with.

We did manage a trip or two into the town of Rovinj itself, working our way to the church and up the church tower. We seem to climb these whenever available with Gaynor staying at the bottom with Bryna and the other children coming up with me. Churches themselves don't cost to go in but the towers usually incur a charge. The attendant did warn that the stairs were a little worn in places. I passed this information on to the children along with instructions to step on the outside of the stair if it looked a bit dodgy. I knew Elijah was listening carefully since I had never seen him move so slow when awake! He placed his foot gingerly towards the outside of every step as though it contained some volatile explosive. In the end I had to hurry him along, even though the stairs were pretty worn.




As well as the seemingly obligatory visit to the church we also patronised a couple of restaurants, one of which -- Figarola, as seen in the picture -- is now our new favourite restaurant in Europe. We highly recommend it to you if you are ever in the area. Apart from the wonderful views, Gaynor was particularly impressed with the seafood risotto with all the of seafood sweet and tender, not overdone like so many other places. It was creamy and well seasoned with fresh herbs that rounded out the flavour to perfection. Other delicious servings included a pork schnitzel with a special seasoned crumbing (Fenton), grilled chicken breast in a creamy sauce (quite a departure for Mara from her standard spaghetti bolognese) and a pork and prawn kebab (Joshua).
We really enjoyed a wonderfully relaxing time only wishing it could have been longer. The drive home included a couple of multi-hour waits through the mountain tunnels of Austria and another overnight stop in Augsburg. This time though we took in the town centre and the cathedral, which is home to the world's largest and oldest stained-glass windows. We didn't stay too long but still another pleasant memory to add to the trip.

Monday, 13 November 2006

Recent Birthdays

This time of year is always busy in our family with birthdays. Children recently on the receiving end were, in chronological order, Mara (the 19th of October), Bryna (the 30th of October) and Joshua (the 9th of November). They clocked 10, 3 and 13, respectively.

Mara wished to get her ears pierced. I offered but she claimed something about infection and had Gaynor take her into town to a slightly more reputable place. She's been asking for a couple of years for this particular kind of pain and, in principle, I didn't have a problem, happily agreeing to 25 as the correct age for this procedure. Gaynor pointed out that she herself had holes put in her ear lobes on her 7th birthday. She seems to have turned out alright and so I acquised. Here is a photo of Mara with a few of her friends who came for a sleepover party.


Next up was Bryna whose only real birthday wish was Nanna, Poppa and a birthday cake with candles on it. We knew this was her real wish since she repeated it many times over the course of about two months. We are glad to report we came through with the goods -- special thanks to Nanna and Poppa for doing their bit (travelling half the globe). You can see the cake that showed up in the photo.


Finally, Joshua made it relatively unscathed into his teens. He actually voiced few birthday wishes but when pressured finally came up with a couple of sporting goods and a DVD. Some happened, others didn't but he also had a sleepover party with a couple of friends -- staying up quite late (and then also getting up quite early) to watch movies and play video games. You can see a snapshot from this event below.


Of course Gaynor provided her usual scrumptious birthday dinners (menu by request) and wonderful cakes. Though they don't seem especially so now I'm sure the children will thank us in the future for the delicious food their mother generated and the genetics that allowed them to enjoy these delights repeatedly.

Thursday, 5 October 2006

Paranimf-in'

A little while ago two PhD students at work graduated from their respective Dutch universities. I had had a small hand in helping both of them with their theses -- mostly editing (thanks be to Brett), English and some thoughts on layout. I attended the graduation ceremonies of both and they are somewhat different to my own in Australia.

Firstly, the generic Australian version. Usually the protocol is to write the thesis, submit it to the univeristy who -- with the preparation of you and your supervisor who have invited them -- send it off to the examiners. There are rules about who can and cannot do this but in general it is three or four people who know enough about your work (hopefully) to say if it's rubbish or not. They prepare a report on the work and then recommend one of a few possible outcomes[1] This then goes to the University who generally follow through on the advice they have received and a bit later on you (optionally and usually a few months) head to the official graduation ceremony where you, along with a few hundred others (mostly undergraduates), are presented with your scroll of paper. At some universities they read out the thesis title of the graduand before handing over the parchment and other places -- like my own at ANU -- they just print it in the program.

The differences with the Dutch system include, for starters, it takes more the form of a formal thesis defence. The candidate having previously published and submitted his thesis to the examining committee, then comes before them in a formal ceremony and is grilled for a designated -- and strictly controlled -- time period. Work colleagues, friends and family typically attend the ceremony. To support the grillee -- though pretty much only in a moral sense -- two assistants are asked and they are known as the paranimfs. I don't think there is an strictly equivalent word in English. Anyway, I was recently invited to be a paranimf. This pretty much involved wearing a dark suit, walking in the processions, standing in the right place at the right time and sitting still during the Process-O-Grilling. I thought it might also entail coming quickly to one's feet and calling 'Objection!' or stopping the candidate running from the room but I appear to have been mistaken. Overall the ceremony went well.

At the end of the Grill Fest the examining committee retires for its deliberations and upon return (usually) grant the degree on the spot. Usually then the candidate's "promotor" (the academic who officially is putting him forward as a candidate) says a few words about the candidate (now Doctor) and their efforts. The ceremony is concluded and friends, family and colleagues adjourn to a reception room to partake in drinks, hors d'œuvre, congratulations and possibly even some gift giving. Then it's all over bar the posing.

The Man of the Moment with family members and flanked by his two Paranimfs.


[1] Generally and broadly they are: conferral of degree with no changes, conferral of degree with minor changes, rewrite and resubmission of thesis and denial of degree.

Tuesday, 19 September 2006

German Driver's Licence

This post is part vent, part information. So, the time has come for me to obtain my German driver's licence[1] and there are a number of rules governing the use of foreign licences here. For starters the most infuriating part is the sheer bureaucratic and almost arbitrary nature of which licences are easily exchangeable. Once you have moved here the rule is all licences should be converted to a German licence within 6 months. Since I only 'moved' here at the beginning of May[2] I must change over by November. There is a list as to which countries can simply exchange their licences and those whose resident's must take theory and/or practical tests. The list is generated using the rule: "Whoever Germany has made a formal agreement with". And that seems to be the only rule as far as I can find out.[3]

That means that all countries in the EU are fine to just exchange, since Germany as an EU member has agreed to this. The list gets a little stranger the further away you go. So Japan is free to exchange as are South Korea and Canada however Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are not. The list gets, in my opinion, positively crazy when some states in the U.S. can simply exchange -- such as Utah and Virginia -- others must only perform a theory test -- such as Missouri and Oregon -- and still others, such as poor Texas, must do both a theory and practical test. Australia, NZ and South Africa also fall into this category of having to do both tests. If you hold a current licence the requirement for a certain number of instructor hours is waived.

In addition to the tests one must also present documentation for a first aid course, eye sight test as well as a translation of any current licence. Of course each of these cost money and money also goes to pay for the tests, the licence itself and the driving lessons (enough for the instructor to determine that you are competent enough to pass). All up for Gaynor the cost was around the 400€ mark and I expect it will be a little cheaper for me, though probably not much. To keep this in 'perspective' one should realise that a first-time licence getter will pay a minimum of 1500€, most of which goes in lesson time to meet the required number of hours standard.

The craziest part of the licence exchange (f├╝hererscheinumschreibung in German) is that legally it's ok for you to get off a plane from Australia -- having driven your whole life in a right-hand drive vehicle and on the left hand side of the road -- and do 200km/h down the autobahn. And you can keep doing this for 6 months not having a clue about the road rules or being able to read German to know them. After that however, they really view you as a danger on the roads since you don't have a valid licence!

On the plus side you do end up with pretty decent driver training and they really do seem to take their social responisibilty to be a good driver very seriously. In addition, the German driver's licences are valid for life. You only have to do this once and they never need to be renewed. And -- and here is the part I like and will miss soon enough -- you can keep driving on the autobahns. :D


[1] Gaynor's time has already come and gone and she successfully completed the transfer last April. But since she hasn't blogged about it, I'll have a go.
[2] Actually didn't blog about that piece of minor news though it was alluded to in our post about our visit to Amsterdam.
[3] Bit more information on driving in Germany at How To Germany.

Monday, 21 August 2006

Sickness

We have had two sick people in the last week me and Ariana. I'm still sick so I get to stay home from school. It realy hurts. At scool I've got three new subjects History,physik and French. French is cool.
Elijah

Thursday, 10 August 2006

Back to School

I remember in Australia the new school year was always a time of excitement and a little anxiety about whether the children would have the right teacher and the right friends in their class. Well this feeling is greatly exaggerated when the system and the language is unfamiliar (or barely familiar). To further compound this feeling, Mara started high school today and she is not yet 10. She seems so small to start high school though in other regards she is well equipped as she is fluent in German, is quite studious and very determined. Still, I don't like the idea of her travelling home alone a couple of days a week.

One off the joys of the system is that children finish at different times so lunch can last 2 hours. In addition the first child home will have finished all their homework, jobs and piano practice before the last child is home. This means they are asking for screen time before the others have even had lunch (for me this is a logistical nightmare).

A little whinge: The parents must supply all the equipment but unlike the book packs you can buy in Australia the primary school gives you a comprehensive list down to colours and sizes etc, that you normally can find everything by visiting 2 shops. The high school doesn't manage to form a list instead requests trickle home via the children over the next couple of weeks, but normally with the plea that I must have it tomorrow (fat chance) we don't know whether the urgency comes from the teacher or the children only telling us at the last minute. This is also difficult to budget for and by the end of the period I'm loathe to hand over any more money. End of whinge.

Joshua is in year 7 and will be learning Latin this year which he is very excited about. Elijah has the same teachers as last year which is a bit of a concern. His German teacher is antiquated and his English teacher said that nothing is more important than school work. Elijah replied that family, church and sport were more important than school (and we mostly agree with him -- which is not very German of us).

Ariana is in the 2nd grade and has the same teacher as last year who is very nice. Ari is really good at math but, we must help her with reading English and German. She sounds out everything but has no fluency or much comprehension yet. I think it will all come together soon.

Bryna started Kindergarten -- or as she calls it "garten schule" (garden school) -- this morning and she looked so little with her "princess" backpack on her back. When I asked her what made her backpack heavy she replied "Essens" (which is an English plural of the German for food. Good Denglish!). She didn't want me to stay (she doesn't need me any more :( -- pass the TimTams) and she was very quite when I picked her up. So I asked her how it was and she answered "spass gehabt" (had fun). This evening Mara said "I have maths tomorrow" and Bryna replied "I have garden maths tomorrow". I asked, "What do you do in garden maths?" and she answered "Count blatte" (leaves).

I hope the children have a good school year. I am looking forward with a little trepidation to mornings all alone, as this will be an experience I haven't had for 13 years. I have a list 1.6 km long of what I hope to achieve in my 3 hours a day. :D

Bryna's ready for her first day at kindergarten. Yaay!

Friday, 4 August 2006

Broadband Comes to Town

Even though I knew the village we were shifting to was small I thought that broadband internet access was available everywhere in Germany. Unfortunately that wasn't true and even the largest company (Deutsche Telekom or T-Online, T-Mobile etc) had few options[1]. All I wanted was something that meant the phone could be used at the same time and had no time limit. All phone calls are timed in Germany and so there is no such thing (that I have come across) as a dial-up internet 'plan'[2].

Anyway I was all set to sign up for a UMTS internet account (UMTS is basically internet via 3G mobile telephony) when a flyer arrived in the mailbox announcing a small company who were offering a phone and DSL package to our village. Yaaay! I called them a few days later and, after a couple of questions, signed up. So we are now humming along with relatively fast access at home.

This all means that I think the world can now expect a bit more of a digital presence from Gaynor and the children (especially Elijah!) and possibly even some more frequent blog posts.

[1] Among them, ISDN (only a little faster than a dial-up modem) and Satellite 'DSL'( which receives via satellite and uploads via modem or ISDN).
[2] You just dial up a company, use a publicly available login & password and you pay from there with the requested payment coming with your T-Com bill.

Saturday, 15 July 2006

Holiday Plans: Summer 06

Unfortunately our time away this year will be a little less than we would like, due mostly to being book-ended between my experimental preparations at work and the children returning to school. Joshua also has a week-long excursion with the youth at church (see our online calendar for more 'when' details on these things). So not to make Donovan jealous but we are heading to Croatia -- specifically Rovinj -- to camp for a week or so.

We strongly considered Britain as an option but, in the end, decided we couldn't risk 'wasting' a summer there, given the definite possibility of rain (and we'd be camping). So we opted instead for a virtual guarantee of sunshine and warmth with a toss-up between the south of France and Croatia. Ah to have such options! In the end Croatia got the nod since the children wanted another country in their passports -- they also get Slovenia -- and it's supposedly cheaper.

Logistically it's about 1100-1200km away and while most of that is on the German autobahns our van typically sits only at about 120-125km/h. So we'll probably break the trip up with a stay overnight somewhere. While the weather here has been beautifully warm the last two or three weeks, we are definitely looking forward to extending that streak and complementing it with some fairly decent Do Nothing(TM).

Thursday, 6 July 2006

Amsterdam

13/4/06
We have previously posted a few reports about trips we have made as a family. Many of these give a glowing report and generally depict a happy time with enthralled visitors. So that our readers don't receive an unbalanced view of our travels we feel compelled to include our recent trip to Amsterdam.

The official reason for the trip was work related. My (Fenton's) Dutch residency paperwork was finally completed a couple of months ago and the next step to finally move (officially) to Germany was to get permission (a visa, stamp in passport) from the German embassy in the Netherlands. I called the embassy and arranged an appointment, 11am the next day. Gaynor had wanted another family trip and so it was decided to combine the two. Amsterdam is about 2.5 hours away and, after battling a little bit of traffic, we arrived just little late. (I mean, you really should not too surprised hmm?) A security screening and a short waiting room stint later, I was told by a quite apologetic embassy worker that, being Australian with promised employment, I did not need a visa to go to Germany. She apologised for not asking my nationality when I had called the day before. I wasn't too upset as it meant I didn't need to provide any money or copies of official documents -- including passport photos with biometric data, whatever that means exactly. So anyway, what it really meant was that the rest of the day was ours.
At The Dam in front of the old Royal Palace
Gaynor promptly returned with the children in the car. They'd been circling since there wasn't really anywhere to park. We set off to find somewhere to park the car with the idea to catch a train or tram right into the city centre. Unfortunately, at this point the car's exhaust system had the idea that it was tired of holding together in the middle and promptly stopped doing that. I'd known for a number of weeks that there was a hole in system, still its departure was sudden. The dramatic increase in both exhaust sound and metal-dragging-on-the-ground sound was enough to convince us to quickly find a parking place. Assessing the damage led to confirming our initial fears. We firstly called the ADAC (the German equivalent of the NRMA, RACQ or AAA) to find out we didn't have on 'international' policy. They agreed to upgrade us for next time. They said they would notify the corresponding Dutch organisation, who would call shortly, however after a half hour wait of nothing I decided we weren't going to hear. Our pre-paid mobile phone had run out of credit (pay for incoming international calls I expect) and with no way to replace credit we were on our own. We are, meanwhile, feeding a nearby parking ticket machine (and they are very hungry in Amsterdam!) with the belief we may be leaving soon. After it becomes clear we are not, I take a walk to a hardware store and purchace some strong wire and cutters. A short while and a wiring up of the errant exhaust pipe later we decide to take lunch at a nearby pizzeria, determined to make the most of the time we have and press ahead with most of our plans anyway.

Though the weather up to this point hadn't been brilliant it had been holding out. Now, however, a light drizzle had started to set in. By the time our tram had made it into Central Station it was getting heavier. Nevertheless we pressed on, walking to the main city square, known as The Dam. The photo -- at the Dam in front of the old Royal Palace -- shows a wet, cold sorry lot barely holding position. Don't let the few faux smiles mustered for the photo fool you. Joshua couldn't even bring himself to be seen :) (Note Elijah's extra hat).
Mara and the South Church Tower
From there we headed to the Historic Museum, which had been a highlight of my trip here in 1999. Now our fortunes were about to improve. Not only would we be out of the rain but we wouldn't be charged the full admission price for the final hour they would be open. They had a fascinating and extensive exhibition concerning Anne Frank, including one of her diaries and a letter written to her father towards the end.

After they kicked us out we wandered to a few places of interest, including the South Church, and taking in the atmosphere of the place -- which given the chill and drizzle didn't come across with the greatest of impressions. Hey, it happens.

Eventually we decided we'd had enough 'atmosphere' and decided to call it a day. Tramming back to the wounded van, we loaded up and *cough* enjoyed a rather loud trip all the way home. We've thought about a return trip -- one with a non-self-dismantling car and in nicer weather -- but chances are Amsterdam has blown hers. Still we chalk it up to experience/character building/needing my residency sorted anyway and it was still nice to spend time together as a family. :D

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

Fire Targa

Though I'm usually in favour of the separation of Church and State, if it comes at the cost of losing many of the religious public holidays we have recently enjoyed here I'm not so sure :). In reverse order, we have recently had days off for Fronleichnam[1], Pfingsten[2], Christi Himmelfahrt[3], Ostern and Karfreitag[5]. Another religious-type holiday later in the year is Allerheiligen[6] -- which I've always thought was much more (spiritually) justifiable than Halloween :) Of course Maifeiertag[7] is also a public holiday and on top of this, if a public holiday falls on a Thursday (Christi Himmelfahrt and Fronleichnam this year), the research centre has an agreed day off on the Friday. Rest assured, though, that despite this hectic schedule of free days my commitment to acheiving my usually small output of work has not wavered!

By the way, the title of this post, when read in English, is roughly how you pronounce 'Feiertage' -- German for 'holidays'.


[1] Corpus Christi Feast. Celebrated 15th June this year.
[2] Pentecost. Celebrated 4-5th June this year.
[3] Ascension. Celebrated 25th May this year.
[4] Easter. Celebrated 16-17th April this year.
[5] Good Friday. Celebrated 14th April this year.
[6] All Saints. Celebrated 1st November.
[7] May Day. Celebrated umm ... I forget.

Saturday, 29 April 2006

Spring Sights

As I mentioned last year, the switch to spring seems to be very fast here. True, we have had a bit of a lingering winter but on the whole I am only slightly less amazed this time round at how quickly the new leaves appear, flowers bloom, festivities kick-in and something approaching warmer weather arrives. Seeing the sun out and the hearing the birds twittering, I wandered our gardens for a few snapshots.

Ornamental Pond FlowersOrnamental Pond Flowers

Two twin bulbsTwo twin bulbs

Magnolia Tree and DetailMagnolia Tree and Close-Up

Apologies to all those south of the equator who are heading into colder weather! Still hard to work up much sympathy for the Brisbanites though ...

Tuesday, 18 April 2006

One Year More

My employer, Stichting voor Fundamenteel Onderzoek der Materie (FOM), has offered me a contract extension of one year. Several difficulties have arisen in completing my project to the previous schedule (current contract was due to expire the end of July) and they have asked me to stay on to finish these experiments and to help out somewhat with others that are being developed. So we (the family and I) have agreed to the extension and will now be here until the end of July 2007. In many ways (financial & stability-wise, mostly) we feel this a good thing. A further extension is very unlikely and as to what is next, who knows? Feel free to post your outrageous suggestions or fervent wishes in the comments section and we'll consider including them in our pipe dreams. :D

Wednesday, 29 March 2006

Frankfurt & Prague

Here is a blog about a trip we made last October:

Immediately after Fenton's trip to the US we took advantage of the opportunity offered by the Autumn holidays (Herbstferien) to travel to Frankfurt and Prague. We left late as usual (to be fair Fenton had arrived back only the day before, and the weather had been particularly wet making getting washing dry (we have no dryer and the heating wasn't yet on) particularly difficult). We got to the Temple in Fredricksdorf in the early evening. Spent the next day alternating between attending the Temple and entertaining the children, which included teaching them how to knit. Saturday afternoon we went and met my Aunty Shirley and her partner Gerhard. We spent the afternoon with them at Saals, a recreation of a Roman fort. Bryna was particular taken with the 'pretties' -- jewellery and coins that had been found there. The rest of the children seemed interested without being carried away.
Photo of everyone at Saals

That evening we had dinner at Shirl's and met my cousin Krista, for the first time, and her boyfriend Mike. A very pleasant evening. Krista speaks a little English with Mike and Gerhard really speaking none at all and so it gave the children a chance to use their German and Fenton an opportunity to strangle the language.

The next day we had lunch with them at a pleasant Greek restaurant after which we departed for Prague with Joshua throwing up immediately before departure. We arrived in Prague late that night where we stayed at a hostel we had previously booked. Clean and basic.

The next morning got a few things organised (e.g. food) and caught a tram to Prague Castle arriving just in time to catch the change of guards. There is a cathedral inside the castle walls which was quite interesting and Fenton and the older four children climbed to the top of the tower (297 steps, though Mara counted 298!) giving them a fantastic view over Prague. View from the Church Tower at Prague Castle This castle was the home of Good King Wenceslas (though he never was king, but he has been sainted) and is the patron saint of the Czech Republic. Another impressive sight inside the castle was the Great (or Horse) Hall, so named because they used to hold indoor jousting tournaments as well as the usual balls and receptions. Inside the Great (or Horse) Hall of Prague Castle. As you can see in the photo it has beautiful late Gothic vaulted ceilings and the open doorway on the left leads to the Riders' Staircase -- a staircase designed to admit a knight mounted on a horse into the hall. A doorway at the end of the hall (opposite end to the one the photo shows) is the room in which the Second Defenestration of Prague (1618) took place sparking off the Thirty Year's War between Catholics and Protesants. You should try to use defenestration in a sentence at least once this week.

Shortly after this, being about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, we decided lunch was in order. As the prices inside the castle were exorbitant we proceeded to a restaurant, recommended by our 'Lonely Planet' guide, where we enjoyed and Indonesian meal. We then planned on catching the funicular railway for which we marched the children to the top of the hill only to find that it was shut that day for maintenance. We then enjoyed a pleasant stroll down the hill (denied by Joshua, 'We are lost again in a strange city') with great views of the castle lit at dusk. We then caught a tram from the bottom of the hill back to our hostel.Prague Castle at dusk.

Our last day in Prague included a visit to one of the four St. Nicholas churches which was full of chubby Baroque cherubs and gold-plated saints. Mozart had played there once which had most impressed Joshua. We then walked slowly across Charles Bridge (see the tourist-posed photo) with the children enjoying souvenir shopping and then onto the old city centre. Tourist Pose on Charles Bridge, Prague. We saw buildings which had played parts in the First Defenestration of Prague, the declaration of Communism in Czechoslovakia, the declaration of the end of Communism, the declaration of the end of the Second World War and the end of Czechoslovakia and the beginning of the Czech Republic. As well as this the city centre has many different architectural periods and styles interestingly juxtaposed. A personal favourite was the art nouveau buildings and the one nicknamed the 'dancing building' (post-modern, see the photo). The 'Dancing Building', Prague A stroll back across the river and a quick play in the playground before we returned to the hostel for some dinner and to prepare for the return trip the next morning.

Gaynor's Linguistic Note: It's surprising how well you can get around without knowing any of the Czech language.

Saturday, 25 March 2006

Poster Accolade

Followers of the newly published calendar (link to the left) may have noticed a recent two-day event, the 18th NNV/CPS Symposium. It's a small conference run by the Dutch Physical Society (NVV) primarily as a forum for PhD students. I presented a poster (pdf file, 1.8MB) entitled Detection of Relativistic Electrons and Positrons in a Tokamak which won the 'Best Poster' prize. :D The prize was accompanied by the gift of two books, The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos both by Brian Greene.

Friday, 17 March 2006

More Gruesome Details!

In the wake of popular demand I have decided two things with regards to this blog. Firstly, I solemnly promise to further harrass, cajole, poke and pout other family members into posting more frequently. It won't be easy to increase my already virtually intolerable high output of these Encouragement MechanismsTM but it's a sacrifice I am willing to make. I hope other family members are willing to make it too. No reward will be too expected to be withheld and no legs will be fast enough to get away if a negative reply is received furthermore to my oft-heard plea, "Hey you should write a blog post about that.".

Secondly, as a growing family with many diverse and interesting engagements we have started keeping a calendar. Actually it's more like a calendar system. My handheld computer synchronises with the family laptop from which two A3 pages are printed -- the current and the proceeding months. These pages go on the fridge door (sometimes even technology bows to time-honoured traditions, plus it's the most frequented place in the house) so the comings-and-goings are clearly visible and new appointments can even be added by the children. Once a month we have a sit-down and go through the upcoming month. Changes are made and the process repeats producing two new fridge calendars. It seems to be working so far though of course a fridge door with a touch screen interfacing to a central computer would probably be a better solution. But hey, you've got to work with compromises sometimes!

The short of this calendar system is that now it is simple to publish to the web our family calendar (exactly as found on our fridge door, less the children's pencil additions!). I've placed a new permanent link on the left hand side called 'Comings and Goings' so go on, try it out now :) The default view is for the current day, though I like to look at whole months myself. What this means further is that if you see an event that interests you, drop us an email or leave a comment and we'll be happy to give you even more gruesome details.

Wednesday, 8 February 2006

One Year Here!

For those that have not been watching their calendars recently, we have been in Germany now for one year! Though we said goodbye to some people before Christmas 2004 we didn't arrive here until the 5th February 2005. To celebrate this small milestone we had a small party with a family who were very helpful to us soon after we arrived (and continue to be so!). Unfortunately no photos from the 'One Year Here' party but a good time was had by all.

We feel like we've certainly been living in interesting times these past 12 months and -- at this time of reflection -- want to express again our deep thanks to all those who have lived them with us.

Monday, 23 January 2006

Gaynor's 35th

Gaynor receives a yummy present from her children.

We just completed a two day celebration marking the end of Gaynor's 35th revolution around the Sun. The actual anniversary of her birthday was on the 19th and on that day she received presents from her kindly husband and children -- as graphically portrayed. Of course she had been receiving gifts and well wishes from all corners of the Earth-sphere for a number of days but took time out to personally accept those from her immediate family.

Friday evening included a Fenton-prepared meal -- Shepherd's Pie (a speciality) and Devil's Food Cake with Blood Orange Icing (apologies to sensitive souls for the Satanic references) -- with some friends followed by a fireworks show in honour of her marvellous achievement of staying alive. Viva le Gaynor!

Thursday, 12 January 2006

Weihnachten (Christmas)

It snowed late on Boxing Day but on Christmas the sun was actually shining. It looked a little more like Christmas but it didn't feel like a proper Christmas. We went sledding a couple of days later but otherwise we mostly played inside. We did have a snowball fight with one of Joshua's friends. Bryna says it is very cold and she doesn't like cold feet. I cleaned my room just before Christmas so that Mum would feel happy.

We had a real Christmas tree and it was spiky. We put some lights up in our windows with about one hundred in each window. We also had candles burning as part of decorations. We didn't have many decorations at first but we made some for the tree and the windows.

We ended up doing some German traditions this year and some Australian ones. We opened the presents on Christmas Eve and had St. Nicholas come. Instead of putting out stockings you put out shoes for St. Nicholas and they get filled with sweets. St. Nicholas comes on the 6th of December so you have enough stash to get through to Christmas. We still put out our stockings on Christmas Eve and they got mostly filled. We didn't get any mangoes though.

We had some missionaries and two friends over for Christmas dinner and we sang some Christmas carols. The Christmas dinner was really yummy with roast goose, roast potatoes, chestnut stuffing and vegetables. We got to try a new Italian dessert -- pistachio panatone -- brought by a Sicilian missionary. Mum also says we had a salad of smoked salmon, rocket and mascapone cheese for starters and a palate cleanser which was a pink grapefruit sorbet.



Where to start on what people gave? I made cool keychains for everyone out of scooby-doo bands (like plastic string). Ariana painted noni glasses (small ones) for everyone but Elijah's broke before he got it. Josh made bookmarks out of paper, then he burnt them a little and wrote a Hitchhiker's Guide something on it. Elijah gave us blank books with our names and 'Gosple Notes' on it (Yes, that is how he spelt it). It's for writing down things we hear in church. From Mum and Dad I got a Bugel Bead Kit (it's craft beads that you make into a pattern or picture and iron it together) and a ballet CD. Elijah got an mp3 player and a calendar with cars on it. Ari got some Little People(TM) and some Ello(TM). Bryna also got some Little People and a soft bear with a bag. She calls it 'Teddy mit Tasche'. Joshua got a game called 'Abenteuer Menschheit' (Adventure Mankind) and a cartooning book.

Saturday, 7 January 2006

New Year Greetings


Though the blog has been a little silent lately we have not. Christmas and New Year's kept us quite busy and a good time was had by all. If you did not receive an email with our digital Christmas card this year firstly, please accept my sincere apologies (I tried to get everyone!) and secondly, please find it in this post.

We have almost completed a DVD of our past year and if you would like to receive a copy please let me know. You can just leave a comment to this post (including your name) and I'll get it. Of course there is no cost but you should be the kind of person that would like to browse our family photo album since that's basically what it will be. Unfortunately, all immediate family members (Gaynor's and my siblings and our parents) will be receiving an unsolicited copy. We like to pretend you are interested enough not to object ... well not too strenuously anyway.