Saturday, April 5, 2014

Who wants to go to IKEA?

I am so tired but feel I must journal my trip to IKEA for my descendants.  Laura Ingalls Wilder may have crossed the frozen Missouri river in a covered wagon, while the ice groaned and cracked in protest, only a wagon wheel away from a frozen watery grave, but I shopped at IKEA.

I know there are those out there that love to feel the fluorescent lighting on their cheeks and frolic through two football fields of, I don't know, stuff. Lots and lots of stuff.  Plastic stuff, wooden stuff, metal stuff, woven stuff, fluffy stuff, flat stuff but I sadly, am not one of the frolickers. I know this with the same certainty that I knew after watching a Patriots football game, that I would never cross the divide that separates football fans from those that well, aren't.

The trip should take 30-40 minutes. It took over an hour. Google maps. A 12 year old navigator. Take your pick.  The twelve year old tried.  The car's GPS died. It's been begging for a battery replacement but I've chosen to ignore it.

We arrive. I've only freaked out about four times and threatened to turn around twice. The only reason I didn't turn around was because I had no idea which direction that might be. And I needed towels and pillows for guests arriving in seven days.  Towels here are very expensive. I just can't figure out why. I mean I haven't passed any cotton fields, so guessing it's all imported, but the milk is all local and that is expensive as well.

We enter.  We get a 55 gallon plastic IKEA bag and a metal stand with wheels. I let Lauren wheel that around.  My satchel is digging a trench in my shoulder that I may never recover from. I am already withered.  I have grossly underestimated my energy level. I haven't had enough protein in the last three days combined to survive this trip. My pupils contract.  Being in IKEA reminds me of being in a casino.  You lose sense of night and day. Frequent guests get free beverages.  There are buffets and small children crying.

We pass rooms that you could move right into reminding me of that novel about the pregnant girl who lived in Walmart unnoticed.  I could live in IKEA.  I might  never have to leave. Meatballs, bandaids, beverages, soft pillows, duvets. During the day, I will pretend I work there.  I will work there- I won't just pretend. My book club could meet me in any one of the lovely kitchens but I like the white and green glass one the best. The kids might as well move in too.  Cheerful bedrooms.  And so many bathrooms.  They could each have five, maybe ten, of their own. We could get a cat. Who would ever notice a cat? And personally, I think for those of us that find IKEA overwhelming, a room with therapy dogs and lazy cats you can pet, might calm you enough to actually complete your purchase and not abandon your cart (as I've done in Trader Joe's and that crazy singing cow store in Connecticut, Stew Leonard's).

But after 20 minutes, the intercom starts speaking German. I feel like Charlie Brown while he listens to the teachers talk..."whaaa, whaaa, whaaa, sieben...whaaa, whaaa, auf Wiedersehen". It's Lauren who translates, "MOM, THEY ARE CLOSING IN SEVEN MINUTES."

I forget all about the coffee table and the sea glass colored lanterns.  I don't even know where the exit is but I am absolutely certain I will need a shuttle to get there.  We move with a single minded clarity. Through dishes (oh, how I want new dishes), though the textiles, past the cute baskets. It's towels we need. We find them. We throw them in (green ones- that is all I ever buy-why is that?) Pillows. We find them and throw them in.

We are the only ones looking panicked.  So we a light jog through the posters. We are making decisions in seconds that would normally take hours.  I forget the hand towels. Send Lauren back. Then afraid we may never reunite, I tail her. All four wheels of the cart move independently. It's difficult to steer. Like driving a tractor trailer on that show 'Ice Truckers'.  I regret quitting Pilates. I'm dehydrating. I'm losing my power to say no...

 "Can I have a laptop cover?" Yes.
 "Can we get six bags of cinnamon rolls?" Yes.
 "Can I have this poster of a bird?" Yes.

And on and on. IKEA is tween crack.

The check out lady deserves employee of the month. She is the fastest thing I have ever seen. Walmart should train their employees here.  I doubt there is an employee on earth that wants to go home worse than an IKEA cashier on a Saturday afternoon. But I, I want to go home worse than the cashier even. I offer my credit card before she asks. I don't bother bagging and instead use my arm to sweep it all off the conveyer belt and into the cart.  We board the freight elevator to the car park.

We unload. I look for the car park ticket. I might really have to live there. Lauren is searching my bag. She finds three giants bars of chocolate, two water bottles, a camera, seventeen expired train tickets, and an EpiPen.

I consider using it.  I love would a giant tranquilizer right now.  But I settle for a square of chocolate and the water.  I promise myself that I will never, ever go there again unless I have hired a guide.

Or...the book club wants to meet there.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Expat Sweet Spot

You found a hairdresser you like and can afford. You decide you enjoy food shopping every day. You love the fact you can catch the bus outside your house, and literally three minutes later, find yourself standing in a grocery store weighing bananas. I've timed it.

You traded in the emergency 'almost' English speaking doctor for one who actually speaks English and it's not an emergency.

The fact she called a prescription a 'recipe' and your heart nearly stopped because all you can picture is the three witches from 'Charmed' making a potion to rid the world of yet another demon, is fleeting because then you offered her the word 'prescription' and she eagerly accepts it, and this becomes just another funny story to you. But you feared this rightly so, because you have had to mix your own antibiotics, so being offered 'the recipe' didn't seem completely out of the realm of possibility. But instead of being so freaked out by the verbal exchange that you had to devote an entire blog to it, it's now worthy of only a paragraph. Or two.

You make peace with the fact things move on at 'home' without you. But you know where there will be a daiquiri or a glass of wine waiting for you or even a bed, should you pop up.

You have favorite restaurants. You know where parking is cheap (er). You have traditions with girlfriends. You join the locals in favorite pastimes. You hike. You start repeating hikes.

You start having strange thoughts. What if we could stay longer? You think about how very nice it is to raise kids here. Like free range chickens.  No cages. Good food.  Lots of time outside. A stronger family unit in which siblings are friends- most days.

What you are experiencing is "The Expat Sweet Spot". It's a thing. And you're in the middle of it.

How long it will last remains to be seen. It's human nature to try to peer around the bend. What's next?

I don't know. But today is pretty nice.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Fasnacht in Zug for the Clueless

You know what it feels like to be an expat? Nope. Not like you're on vacation. Though, that would be spectacular.  Mostly, you feel like the village idiot.  This week's episode of "Expat Mishaps" brought to you by 'Clueless in Zug'- me (By the way, it's not pronounced Zug rhyming with Ugg. It's Zoog. Heavy on the zoo). Forgot what it means, something about fishing. But if you are going to be the village idiot, Fasnacht is your time. You blend. Well, you almost blend. If I had a pin-on-pig, I would have blended.  Maybe.

Fasnacht is either the chasing away of winter or the last hurrah before Lent, just depends on what you've read.  Maybe it's both. Celebrations last about a week.  The towns decorate. Everyone has a parade or two.  Luzern might have four. I don't know...they have a lot. Parades for children. Parades for adults. Kids have a holiday from school. The first day of Fasnacht begins very early in the morning, 5 a.m. or so, with a loud boom. Not sure what else takes place, I've never gotten up that early. When we first got here, the first holiday to arrive was Halloween. Couldn't find costumes. Swiss aren't especially interested. And this is why. Fasnacht.  Hate to say it but I think it's better than Halloween.  Costumes are better, last longer, very family oriented- at least in the small towns.

I went to a couple of parades this past week. Had a ball. Really enjoyed experiencing something so Swiss.  I had confetti dumped all over me and I do mean all over me. I left a trail of confetti in the bathroom.  I'm guessing that was courtesy of the float with an excavator on it. It scooped up confetti and dumped it on your head.  I was happy.

And then I read an article this morning about Fasnacht parade etiquette. I'm thinking it's a parade. How hard could this be?
  • Don't scoop confetti off the ground and throw it back. It's bad form.  And they will will they know? Because on the ground it's a mish mash of colors; pink, yellow, green. 
  • Only throw fresh confetti. Fresh confetti is single colored. 
  • Wear a badge. (A badge? Why a badge? For what?)
  • Don't dress up.
  • Do dress up.
  • Do take pictures. 
  • Don't take pictures with a flash. 
  • These kids got the dress up memo
And, as it turns out, I was doing it WRONG. I watched a parade the WRONG way. A parade faux pas. I threw confetti with abandon. I let Caroline scoop it off the ground. I do confess to wondering what the pin-on-pigs were. Parade badges. I didn't dress up. I should have dressed up.

Now, I know. And I will comply next year. Because the Swiss throw a most excellent parade. Floats throw all kinds of things; oranges, candy, the aforementioned confetti, mulch (seemed odd), and Jagermeister. 

Yes, I did in fact ,receive a bottle of Jagermeister. 

And a small child came up to me and gave me a clear liquid drink in a shot glass.  I have no idea what it was but seemed rude not to at least drink some.  So, I did. Seeing as I did not shrink or grow taller, like Alice in Wonderland, it was fine. There were floats with fire and floats with people bathing.  Scary people poking children with pine trees.  Them, we liked.

One very intense, small girl came up very close to Caroline, looked her in the eye, gave her a long lecture about what we don't know and transferred, very carefully, about a kilo of confetti to her. Then she scampered away. 

Next year, I might be ready for the Luzern Fasnacht parade. Maybe.

In case you're Swiss and going to the US and happen to stumble on a parade, here's what you have to do...nothing. Just enjoy it. Unless you're in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Then you might be in for a surprise. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Maimed Glass

Another episode in my continued quest for a hobby...It has occurred to me my hobby quest reminds me of why I like to read all the Dan Brown books; The DaVinci Code and so forth. By the 80th one, you know exactly how this is going to end. But it's about the adventure, right?

A Finnish expat posted, 'All items needed to make stained glass for sale'. Without much thought, I committed to buying it. She also threw in an hours lesson because apparently there is a specific order to follow when you make stained glass stuff.  Should have been my first warning.

I packed Doug and two hundred recently earned francs in the car. We only got a little lost and only had one fight. But we hadn't seen the Alps before at the angle we were driving, so we settled down and enjoyed the rest of the drive.

She obviously does not know me at all as she was waiting for me outside her apartment. I had called her ten minutes prior to arriving to let her know we'd be there shortly but anyone who knows me also knows a lot can distract me in 10 minutes. Malls, sunflowers, bakeries, whatever. Anything at all. Except Doug was driving, so we arrived as scheduled.

We introduce ourselves.  Her English is great; originally from Finland, she speaks Finnish, English, High German, and Swiss German. We are approximately the same age; except she looks younger (she has no kids).  She looked at my husband slightly perplexed and asked if he was going to craft as well.   He is now, I thought, as I'd completely forgotten about the lesson part.

Off we went to her 'craft room'. It's filled with scuba gear.  She'd spent her morning scuba diving in the Lake of Four Forests (or something like that). I said, "What's to see?" (it is a lake in winter).  She explained as tall and magnificent as the Alps were above ground, they were equally large and magnificent in the lake. And some fish.  She also has a thing for sharks. Just to be clear there are no sharks in Switzerland, though there is a submarine in St. Moritz lake but that's another story.  She told us about scuba diving with great whites off the coast of South Africa with a great shark researcher (Rittler? Dittler? Was so sure I'd remember) and trying to convince the Chinese to find an alternative to shark fin soup.

Scuba chit chat exhausted, we began our lesson.  She only cut herself once- bleeding just a bit.  I also started bleeding just a bit, because I started to get anxious and peeled most of the skin off around my thumb worrying I was going to cut myself. Ironic, I know.  Doug was neither anxious, nor bleeding.  Instead, he sat and asked relevant questions like...where to buy replacement parts.

90 minutes later (she thought she could accomplish this in an hour), I had a very general idea on how to accomplish putting together a project and a recommendation to buy some lavender oil as it's good for burns. She also mentioned smelling the soldering was not healthy. I wondered why.  I also like the smell of gas. But I think the smell of coffee in the car is vile. Unless it's mine, then it smells delicious. Driving with me is problematic.

Doug picked up the heavy stuff and we walked to the car. I announced my intention to sell everything. I think I may have overestimated the connection between curiosity and a safe hobby for a klutz. To his credit, he said little.

I left it all for a week. Then I invited a friend to come experiment with me.  It worked. We figured out a few things.

Just a drop of blood.

I left it for another few days.  Then I made (I don't actually make the coffee on the weekends) took my cup of coffee and my banana out there to try again.

At the point the above photograph was taken, I was still hopeful. Eight hours later, I conceded defeat for the day.

My soldering looked like a toddler who had been given a crayon for the first time and just could not for the life of him make crayon and outline meet.

But during this time I drank my coffee, ate my banana and sandwich Caroline made for me- turkey and cucumber. This is like a 'Where's Waldo' game-see if you can spot all the unhealthy errors. And popped a few aspirin because I now had a whopper of a headache.  Ventilation.  Probably would have helped. 

I came in and started dinner.  Laid my lead filled, flux covered project on the kitchen table and left it there. It's still there. 

I am undecided about how to proceed.  Melt the solder off? Is that even possible? Flip it over and hope the reverse side is more successful?  Speaking of which, I am pretty sure there is a front and a back to stained glass but it's really hard to tell.

The only thing I do know for sure is who is getting it for Christmas. She is going to love it.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Eight in English

You know what I'd like to be doing right now? It's not blogging. It's watching TV. I want to watch TV. Just long enough to fold five loads of laundry and untangle 17 spools of ribbon. Maybe I would drink a cup of coffee at the same time.

But I can't. And that is absolutely making me crabby. Why can't I? For those of you still reading this, it's because I have no idea how to turn it on.

Three remotes. Two devices. A plethora of menu options. None of which seem to be the magic one.

My kids can watch TV. My husband can watch TV.   I just want to watch TV. Why is it so complicated? I just want to push one obvious button. You know, like an iPhone. Without a lot of effort. Or negative thoughts directed at adolescents for doing something to it.

When we were kids, we had one TV. A black and white one. It had a dial you got up and turned. When you found something in the three channels you wanted to watch, you watched it. If your siblings objected, you took the knob off and hid it. So much simpler.

I don't even care what show is on. 200 channels. Eight in English. Three might have something appealing. I've learned to reduce expectations and be happy with something anything in my native tongue. I've learned to care about Hollyoaks. I want to know if Jim is dead and who killed him. I like that show about the Royal Hospital in England somewhere. I like that teen drama something 'Hills'. It's all perfect laundry folding fodder.

It's too quiet in the apartment when everyone is gone. My ears ring. And I can hear myself breathe. Drives me crazy. This is when I miss my dog.

How do I turn this thing on? If I have to put all the laundry in the car and drive down to Pickwick's Pub to watch TV, I'm not going to be happy.

Is it wrong to text the kids at school and ask them how to turn the TV on?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I dare you.

This is for my lovely daughter.

Sometimes people do really hurtful, thoughtless things. Underscore the really. Your job is to forgive them.

Why? Because you can't control others. You are only responsible for you. And someday, you will do something unfortunate and thoughtless, and you will need forgiving. Besides, hurts fester. Let go of them. As fast as possible. It's hard but I know you can do this because you are lovely and forgiving.

Repay an unkind act not with revenge but with kindness. You may never know what prompted that unkindness. You being kind in return will serve two purposes; you are reminding them what kind is and you are letting go of unkind. No one needs to carry around unkind. And when you repay unkind with kind, something amazing happens. It's over. Why do this? Because you are still you and you are lovely and kind.

Once someone has been unkind, give them a second chance. It's okay. You might just get a big surprise. You also might be disappointed. And you know what? That is also okay. Why? Because you are still you and you are lovely and you are full of second chances.

I know this because YOU taught me this. When you were a little baby and I was tired, overwhelmed, and cranky, you would do something amazing. You would go to sleep and wake up smiling. Ready to love me all over again. Crazy. Keep doing that. It's probably the most amazing thing about you.

Empathy and kindness are two things that are often in short supply. People forget. They're too busy. Too tired. Too lazy. Try hard not to be too busy or forgetful to think about how you've made someone else feel. If you can remember this, then when something unfortunate has happened to you, you will still be you and you are truly lovely.

Parents need to teach kind. It's possible. Try it. Even today. Even in a selfish world. Be part of the solution. There are thousands of opportunities to teach kind. Everyday. Everywhere.

Parents teach kids to be flexible even when they don't want to be- by being flexible. Show your child there are many creative solutions to problems.

Teaching kind would eliminate a whole bunch of problems. Kind kids and adults don't bully. Kind adults leave you a quart of milk when you've been away for a week, or listen to you as you fire off a Tourette's like series of expletives as you vent. Without kind kids, you will have miserable adults.

It's not the school's job to teach kind. Kind starts at home. Picking up your baby when she's crying. Taking your kid to the movies when he's been dumped. Buying extra presents at Christmas for kids who won't get any. Bringing a piece of pie to a neighbor. Start anywhere you want. But you can't stop.

It's not one lesson. And everyone at some point, needs some help pulling off a kind gesture when they just don't feel like it.

Be kind. Throw the word around. Overuse it. I dare you.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What's in YOUR suitcase?

We just came back from a week in the US. It wasn't a happy occasion that brought us back but we made the most of it. I'm unpacking the suitcases now. I always find it funny what each of us decides we MUST bring back.

Caroline brought back a new dress. Lots of other new clothes as well, but she doesn't care about them. Just the dress. It's black and white with zebra stripes. She also picked up two ribbons she won in a Pine Wood Derby; one was for "Prettiest Car" and the other was a "Second Place" ribbon. Her absolute must have, won't get on the plane without? Campbell's Chicken Soup.

A friend's daughter is an avid snowboarder and when she found out we live in Switzerland, she was very excited. We invited her to come stay.  I did explain the chicken soup tariff; come and stay- we'd love to have you but the entry fee is payable in chicken noodle soup. She said, "No problem! I make a great homemade soup!"  Poor girl. I'm sure she does, too bad Caroline won't eat it.

Lauren brought back a book (Mary Poppins), lots of new clothes, but most importantly, a bag of Lay's Salt and Vinegar potato chips. She also brought back some soda, birch beer and cream, to give to her friend at school, a tween from Russia- furthering their cross cultural soda exchange.  Lauren was the recipient of a some Russian soda, which we all tasted and thought was pretty cool, at Christmas time.  

Lauren was told the soda was made from bread and carbonated water. Tastes a bit molasses flavored to me.

Doug brought back cocktail sauce.  A very large quantity of cocktail sauce.

And vodka from the duty free shop but I think he considers that medicinal as well as a sleep aid.

I brought back three pairs of shoes, a round brush, aspirin, and my mouth guard. Maybe I should try the vodka.
Barbies enjoying my shoes

Sam had a UPS delivery ten minutes before we left for the  flight home. More computer stuff. Joy sticks and head phones. His was the only suitcase with a note from the TSA that it was inspected. Let's hope that was a coincidence.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Cheerful Cari, Cherry Brandy, and the Run That Wasn't

I was up late last night. Really, really late. Woke up exhausted.  I needed to drum up some energy. I  decided to put my sneakers on. It's been awhile.  Then I decided to bring the girls.  I left the teenager in his lair.  Cari is a cheerful companion. She will jog, sing, hold hands, skip down stairs, and do yoga wherever she sees fit.

We were a complete embarrassment to Lauren. 

I had bribed the girls with a brisk walk followed by a trip to a local farm stand to see how the fresh milk machine worked.  They were interested. Off we went.  Took my usual route.  Farm stand figures twice in the route; on the way out and on the way back.  Except they didn't want to wait until the end. 

We cross the street. 

Farm stand is closed but another door is open. Holy Moly! It's a farm stand automat!

Fresh foods behind individual glass doors.

Eggs 6 for 3.30

Pears 1 kg/3.50

Works like a vending machine. Put your money in, punch in the number to the door, retrieve your item. 

We bought a bag of fresh apples and two containers of 'quark'. I think quark is like yogurt.  Quite delighted with ourselves, we turned to leave as a farmer was coming in.

He came bringing wood to the room in back. He stopped to let us know the spots on the floor were from cherries as opposed to blood. Oh.

We hadn't even noticed the floor. Cari looked horrified. He thought that was hilarious. I followed the spots. Two old farmers were making cherry brandy in big copper vats in back.

We got a tour.  I asked if I could take a picture. One guy found that pretty funny but he smiled and straightened up.

The wood fueled the boilers. Great blue drums of cherries, picked in July, were soaking in their own juice waiting for their turn in the still.  Zug, by the way, is famous for its cherries.

Once the still did its job, clear cherry brandy flowed through the spigot at the bottom into a bucket. A farmer ran his finger through it, then licked his fingers and invited me to do the same. Next, it goes into giant black drums where it sits.  The distilling process takes about three weeks.

After my brandy infusion, it was time to continue the walk.  Lauren, having reached her maximum capacity for embarrassment, took the farm treats and went home.

Cari and I went on our way. Down the road without sidewalks where I kept throwing her in the field when a car came, across the field, and up the windy hill on the way back. We stopped when we felt like it. She did yoga when she felt like it, and we got home when we felt like it.

Nothing ever goes quite the way I plan, but always seems to work out.  Who else would decide to go for a jog and end up in a back room tasting cherry brandy with two old farmers?

There's always next time.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Frank's Red Hot Chicken Dip

This might be the anti-cooking blog.  Today's culinary misadventures brought to you by yours truly.

We've been to two parties recently where that infamous, calorie laden, 'can't stop yourself' dip was served.  I thought I'd make it.  I thought I'd chronicle my adventure to aid in your understanding of where my recipes seem to go so (horribly) wrong.

Sounds simple.  Five ingredients. Prep time 5 minutes.

1. Cream cheese- check.
2. Frank's Red Hot Sauce- that's a problem.
3. Blue cheese or shredded cheese- okay.
4. Cooked chicken- I have left over turkey. About the same, right?
5. Ranch dressing- I have never seen that in Switzerland. Could be a problem.

Google recipe for homemade ranch dressing.  Pondered the decision to try this. Pioneer woman makes things sound so easy.

This has many more ingredients.

1. Sour cream- easy.
2. Lemon juice. Got it.
3. Worcestershire sauce.  Got that, too.
4. Buttermilk- Nope.
5. Fresh parsley- Dried I've got.
6. Fresh chives- Dried again.
7. Mustard-plenty of that.
8. Mayo
9. White wine vinegar- I wouldn't know white wine vinegar if it bit me on the ass.  Google it.  Gonna have to be balsamic.

Probably other stuff but I've already chosen to forget.

Dump in the sour cream. Mayo is next. Miracle Whip is already open. Google it..."Is Miracle Whip same as mayonnaise?"  It sort of is.  'Sort of' is close enough.  Go for the lemon juice. Can't find it anywhere. I distinctly remember using it recently. Hunt around for a fresh lemon. Find a frozen lemon. Not helpful. Maybe the lemon juice was relocated to the refrigerator in the in-law apt outside.  Put on my shoes. Trudge across the patio.

Which child keeps leaving this door open?!  Cabinet doors are all open.  I close them. Who does this?!  I'm probably looking for the same culprit.  Those straws I bought for the kids beverages at Christmas are too cute to be out here.  I should bring them in so they get used. The dining room table out there still has the Christmas decorations on it. I stop to admire it.  Get annoyed a child has moved the couch.  What was I out here for...? Back inside.  It's on the table.   

I add the lemon juice.  Check the fridge for the Worcestershire sauce.  Not in there. Check everywhere.  I need to clean this thing out and figure out why the lemon froze.  Think. Think.  Check the pantry.  Sure enough, there it is.  I check to see how potentially lethal it is now having been unrefrigerated for at  least a week.  Label is in German.  I have absolutely no idea. I'm using it anyway.

Buttermilk.  It's probably available somewhere in Switzerland but despite my grandfather's love of it, I have had no similar interest and have never searched for it.  Google a substitute.  Milk and lemon. Let it sit. Should be ready in five minutes.  The whole recipe should have been ready in five minutes. Taken me 40 minutes so far and I haven't even finished my bastardized version of ranch dressing.  Getting tired. Pour a glass of wine.

Dump the dried herbs in.  Guessing amounts.  Pour another glass of wine.

I'd taste it but I don't really even like ranch dressing so I have no idea what it should taste like and I don't like mayo (or Miracle whip). But it looks okay. Congratulate myself.  Go to close out the recipe on my phone. I just managed to nudge the recipe. Good thing. I forgot two ingredients.  Blame the wine. Add the missing ingredients

Dressing complete. Doug comes home, "Is it ready?" Please.

So far I've Google searched substitutions for ranch dressing, buttermilk, mayo vs Miracle Whip, whether gorgonzola was in fact blue cheese, and if Frank's Red Hot was the same as Tabasco Sauce, debated the lethality of one ingredient, the freshness of four others, and why shouldn't I use leftover turkey.

In fact, this recipe has taken me weeks. My last chore is to make a concoction best approximating Frank's Red Hot out of Tabasco, cayenne pepper, and a few other things, yet another Google search.

Throw it in the oven.  Forget all about it. Google how long to cook it. 20 minutes.  It's been 30. Out it comes.

Pour another glass of wine. It's burn your mouth off hot. Turkey gives it an interesting flavor. Interesting isn't always good. 

This is what it's like every time I try to cook something.  So, I put Google to a much better use and find a store in Switzerland that imports.  For about $26 I ordered; 2 bottles of Frank's Red Hot Sauce and three packages of ranch dressing mix.

 It's a freakin' bargain.

The beautiful monogram was my Christmas present from my sister. Everyone should have one.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Eat, Pray, Love

Another expat was selling a few books. I bought three; one of which was Eat, Pray, Love. I have resisted reading this book for a few years now.  'It's self-indulgent', I thought.  Then I thought, if I haven't had the most self-indulgent 18 months, I have no idea who has.  I should read it. 

Few pages in and I'm curious.  Put the book down, google the author, and end up on her website.  Read the part about her thoughts on writing. 'Write!', she says.  After all she's been writing since she was a child. She began submitting articles to the New Yorker when she was 19. Of course she got rejected, over and over but still.  And she does know a woman who didn't start writing until her 30's (imagine that) and was still able to pull it off  (even at that advanced age). Her message seems to be...'all things are possible'. I'm beginning to like her less.

I read on.  Her first conversation with God.  Something about talking to him in Sanskrit. I skip the rest of the chapter.  Google her again. Find out that whole year was financed by a $200,000 advance from her publisher.  Becoming jaded.

She goes into this whole thing about Dante (you know, The Divine Comedy)  and I think weird how I manage to pair books together. Also reading Inferno by Dan Brown.  Dante IS the book.  I was loved the story about Dante and Beatrice. Love at first sight- at nine.  He never got the girl.  She marries someone else and dies young.  He's thrown out of Florence.  His life is a mess.  I like him.  Back to EPL.

Find her uber, super secret journal to herself sort of odd. Creepy even.

She mentions frozen rice pudding. Off to google recipes. I'm back on board.  She can't be all bad. Then I get to the Luca Spaghetti part.  I know she changed names.  I get hung up on the possibilities of what his real name could be...Ravioli? Tortellini?

I'm only 80 pages in. Give or take a few.  I've skipped ahead and omitted a few here and there.  I was so optimistic by the thought Anne Lamott liked her, now maybe I was wrong about Anne Lamott. But I did love Operating Instructions.

Another 250 pages to go.  But seeing as I already read the end, hope it's worth it.  In case you're curious (spoiler alert) one year she learned Italian, sat at the feet of God, got divorced, dumped, and hooked up with another, bought someone a house- not sure what that was all about,  and made a bucketful of cash.  Oh,  and there was something about a medicine man.

In eighteen months...I've quit German (twice) and sat of the roof of a church, stayed married, renovated a house from 7,000 miles away, and spent a bucketful of cash.  And I've been to a few Swiss medicine men- sometimes even the right ones. 


Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Feeling lousy. Time to see the doctor. Enough days of a fever between 102.5-103. I am beginning to wonder what bad deed I must have committed in a past life.

Found a recommended English speaking doctor; a generalist. Kidney guy's secretary didn't want anything to do with me, besides kidney guy wasn't in. Sat in the parking lot of the hospital for awhile. Could not figure out either where to park or what door to go in, so I went home.

Took another nap. Time to try again. Called the recommended doctor. Got the receptionist. Trying nicely to explain. I have a fever. Feel lousy. She says, "So, you want an eye exam?"

The will to live might be escaping me.

I said, "Please, who might you recommend?". She finds me someone. They will see me in 15 minutes. That's like winning lotto.

The doctor is lovely. About 80. Like meeting with your grandfather in his nice cozy den. Glen Miller CDs and other 1940's memorabilia are sitting on the shelves. His numerous ficus trees are thriving. He has an eclectic taste in art. All of it looks original. A pink invitation for an engagement party is sliding out of an 'in' bin and a teaching model of the knee is about to fall off his desk.

He does his exam. I remain mostly clothed. I appreciate that-mostly cause I'm freezing. He gets his points across loud and clear. Grimaces when he listens to my lungs. Taps the monitor to point out I have alarmingly high blood pressure (I silently promise myself I shall move like a sloth for the foreseeable future). The list goes on.

It only got a little sketchy when I tried explaining I was allergic to a particular antibiotic. I insisted we call in his nurse/wife at that point. She gets the point across.

Then he's up for a chat. I can't chat. For two reasons- I can't and I don't want to.  I need to very sloth-like make my way home to scarf some meds. But he persists. How long are we here? I don't know. Do you work? Nah. I don't even read the paper. Do you have children? A few.

He wants to see me again. It's not for the conversation, that's for sure, though we arrange it like a coffee date.  He offers Friday. I accept.  Throws out a reasonable time without consulting any sort of calendar. It's clear that within the half hour is fine.  I have the feeling I might be his only patient that day.  And I also think we are both good with that.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Skinny Pete and Badger

A fellow blogger friend recommended a new shop close to France. The shop stocks some familiar US treats; in particular the Stonewall Kitchen brand which I love.  But even more fabulous, she was offering a cranberry sauce.

Yes.  They sell cranberries here- I think. Yes. I could make my own.  But the Laura Ingalls Wilder routine is getting old.  I just want some things to be simple.  Like cranberry sauce.

So, I emailed the shop owner asking if she would ship to Switzerland because we are neighbors after all

Isn't that CRAZY?! I LIVE in Switzerland. FRANCE is around the corner. So is Germany, and ITALY (and Liechtenstien- but with a population of 35,000 which is the about the same as Willimantic and roughly the same square miles as Lebanon- does it really count?).

I suppose the people who live there would say it does. As would the Prince who governs the place.  Maybe I need a field trip. But this isn't about Liechtenstein- It's about me living in
SWITZERLAND-in case you forgot.
Switzerland is 90% perfect but that missing 10% is like...
Nachos without monterey jack cheese.
The Outer Banks of North Carolina without my grandparents.
The  Maine house without the all the cousins' height measurements written in the door frame to the kitchen.
Laura Ingalls Wilder without Almanzo.
Skinny Pete without Badger.
And turkey without cranberry sauce.
Some things just go together.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

WHO are YOU here?

What I really wanted was 'Breaking Bad' (Netflix, you are so slow- last eight already!). What did I consider instead? Baking bread. Because I also really wanted warm, fresh bread dripping with honey butter. So, I found this recipe. and then I just thought about baking bread.  Because I don't really want to make the bread.  Prefer to just have it appear. And while I was thinking about magical homemade bread, I also thought about all the other things I could be doing.

I think there's a reality TV show in this expat move for me. One week. One job. Move along. They don't even have to pay me (but they could if they wanted to).

I could start with crane operator.  I've been eyeing the cranes (the machines- not the birds- besides crane, penguin, sparrow; they are all the same to me). Switzerland has an obscene amount of these cranes. I am scared of heights and I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to get up there. And worse than going up, might be coming down. Every building lot has a crane. Most days I can see three of four GIGANTIC cranes from my kitchen window. Very Swiss.

Next, I'd like to deliver mail. I like that  Vespa'ish thing they drive. Plus, the Post Office here gets all philosophical on you at night. Atop the giant building, at night, in neon, flash alternating questions.  The first, "WHERE are YOU?" and secondly,  "WHO are YOU here?" They are rhetorical. I think. Maybe when I work there, I can change it to something friendlier, "YOU had me at 'HELLO'  or slightly sinister, 'I SEE dead people'.

I want to drive a bus. A double bus. Maybe just for a day though. Not a whole week. There's a bus driver here. She gave me the hairy eyeball- for no good reason. I want to drive her bus. We have a score to settle. Then there is the bus driver who said he was going to call the polizei on me because he didn't like my parking job.  What is it with me and bus drivers?

I want to work at the kids' school. Just once I want to receive an email about a field trip/performance/donation more than 12 hours before I need to pack/attend/empty my wallet. I need to send that memo myself to ensure I get it on time. I don't need to work here a week. 10 minutes tops.

I want to be the person in charge of the marriages at the town hall.  Fridays are a popular day to get married. The couple goes inside (often in full wedding regalia) and eventually comes out married.  I find this interesting.  It's the perfect way to get married. No fuss. No muss.  But you still get to wear a great dress and carry a bouquet- if you want.  My understanding is that everyone has a ceremony at city hall and then some have a church wedding. I drove by the city hall recently (it's only about 300 yards down the street) and the guests waiting had strung up a clothes line outside and hung baby clothes on it.  No pressure there.

I'd like to stock the vending machines here.  In the vending machine, very close to the kids' school is  soda, juice, pretzels, condoms, pregnancy tests, lighters, and gummy bears. The one at the train station? That one includes 'Swiss Cannabis Ice Tea- for a 'bombastic natural feeling'. 

I'm curious what else is out there; both in regards to the vending machine contents and the jobs.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Barcelona: Banks, the Beach, Beer, and a Brother

There were lots of interesting things in Barcelona.  But two stand out.  The first is our US bank will NOT bank in Spain.  Under any circumstances.  Even if you are stranded there without cash and three kids.  My suggestion, to anyone traveling, is to check with your bank before you go to see what school yard fights they may be involved in.  Trust me, it is a GIANT pain in the ass when you find yourself without access to credit cards or debit cards. 

Luckily for me, I have a father who doesn't seem to mind being woken up at 4 am, by his daughter begging for money. By lunch. 

The other was the elevator in the building we were staying in.  It was tiny, designed to hold 300kg and it bounced when you got in. It reminded me of the 'cage' elevator in an apartment building in San Francisco my brother lived in.  Equally small. Equally rickety. But the door to his elevator was a swirl of painted gold ironwork, much prettier.  It opened to his beautiful apartment in the heart of San Francisco. Perched on a hill, the apartment was airy and light with high ceilings and huge windows.

I was 19 when I went to visit him. He was only 21.  But had been living there a couple of years already.  As soon as he graduated from high school, he packed his bags and left.  Found a friend there and starting making his way. 

Unfortunately, his way included beer. A lot of it. And before he probably knew it, he had a huge problem.  He would fall asleep with a beer in his hand and wake up to have another.  His refrigerator was barren except for a few condiments.  We had a good week though. He took me everywhere.  The Sutro baths, the wharves, Alcatraz, the shop he worked at.  He worked in a toy store that sold a lot of very deluxe kites. He got really good at flying them and one way or another we all ended up with a kite or two.

He must have been good at this job because his boss asked him to open a store in Hawaii.  He packed and left San Francisco.  But he took his drinking problem with him.  Where it got worse. 

His life on Hawaii came to a screeching halt when he ended up with a traumatic brain injury after a drunken brawl.  Three weeks in the hospital and a parental escort back to the US mainland.   This time he not only brought his drinking problem but also seizures as a result of the TBI.  Life grew even more complicated.  He tried though.  Worked.  Bought a truck.  Lived in an apartment on his own.  Enrolled in a few classes. But he was sick.  Drinking, seizures, and now thyroid problems.  He tried to deal with all of those things but it's hard when you're unwell, have lousy insurance, and only accept help sporadically.   Then he had a major heart attack.  Followed by three more. 

The fourth was too much. He died while out walking. On a street he was familiar with and had walked many, many times. Only two blocks away from where he grew up.  His cup of tea still on the porch.

That is why on the beach in Barcelona, when a guy came through selling cervesas at 10 am, I talked to my two oldest kids about alcohol and drugs and all the damage that can happen. We went through their family tree. I laid things bare.  They listened.  I hope.

I took the elevator after that.  Still reminded me of Dan but maybe that's not such a bad thing.  Sometimes it's good to be reminded.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lost. On the Mountain.

This is not a story about a climbing expedition gone wrong or hiking or skiing. It's about bad mothering.

Because if I was a good mother, I wouldn't have lost Caroline for two hours. Maybe.

If I was a good mother (read organized, interested in my children's educational progress, less willing to spend a whole day reading Let's Pretend This Never Happened alternating with Stephen King's autobiography- which oddly complement each other kinda like caramel and chocolate or better, vodka and cranberry juice, had a clean house, and made better dinners), I would not have lost her.

That is true. Well, it might be true.

But because I have certain shortcomings, I failed to sign up for parent teacher conferences. On purpose. I went last year. The teachers and I have slightly different views on progress. From my point of view, she has friends, good stories at the end of the day, not too much homework, and a backpack that resembles a homeless person's shopping cart. 

I think she's in good shape (if we ignore the backpack). Besides, she reads-for pleasure. I think that's pretty good.

Sadly, Caroline expected me to be at conferences even though I reminded her she had a singing lesson after school (three kids three different directions in three different activities on a Friday after school, plus an invitation to two parent teacher conferences- gets complicated).

I waited. She waited. We waited and waited and waited. Her at the top and me at the bottom.

I was well aware of where she was just unsure how to capture her. If I go up, she may be coming down. Then we've just reversed positions. Could go on all night. I wasn't completely panicked yet.

I had to time my drive up. As soon as a funicular came down, I had 21 minutes to drive up AND find her.

In the pitch black. On a winding mountain road without guard rails. I must really love her.

I park. Check the dark fields. No kids. Go to the funicular station. She's not there. 9 minutes left. Now, I'm feeling panicked. The mountain is big. And dark. And there are people up there. Good people. Bad people. And she's 9 but looks 6. There are also a bunch of people in formal wear. Turns out there's a wedding reception up there.

Go to the dining hall. There!  She sees me. She's a bit disheveled- but she always looks a bit disheveled when she gets home from school. Both of us melt down a bit. She puts her feverish little hand in mine and I walk her to the car.

Then I bought her an entire pizza. Then I called the principal. We sorted it out. I passed along pointers that I thought might be helpful when dealing with unaccompanied minors. Like call her mother.

I realized I could have handled things differently. Like I could have gone to the conference. And made sure her cell phone was charged. Although giving her a cell phone reminds me of giving tennis balls to a Border Collie we used to have or Tupperware to my father. I never expect to get either back.

I could also tattoo my cell number on her body but then I guess I have to get her a new one when we get back to the States and I'm sure there are organizations that frown on tattooing your children even for a good reason.

She can sing an entire library of pop culture songs and Christmas carols in GERMAN but my cell number is still a mystery.

She is totally my daughter.

PS It's not that I don't care about her educational progress but my goal- FOR HER- is to have a happy expat experience and maybe pick up a foreign language along the way. Harping on science test scores is contraindicated. This is hard enough as it is.

Besides, some of us just don't love science. For the record, I loved science. But this isn't about me. Well, the first part is.

Friday, October 25, 2013


This is what I did today- while it's not a typical day- it's not atypical either. Somewhere in the middle.

I took the kids to school. Took a deep breath and drove home.  Once home, I prepared for the man from Kirby (vacuum) to come service the vacuum cleaner. I have the most UNSWISS apartment of anyone I know here.  Kirby is a US brand. If you really have some time to kill, go their website where there is a whole history of the Kirby.  Here's the Cliff notes version...invented by Jim (you guessed it ) Kirby.  They look almost exactly the same as they have since their inception except the vacuum got a headlight in 1923.  Fast forward. Back to my day (although they did shut the manufacturing plant down during WWII to produce war related stuff like torpedoes.  That's pretty interesting).

No one has a Kirby but me. And I don't really have one either. It belongs to the landlady who made me promise I would be responsible for servicing it.  Then I didn't but nothing has been wrong with it. Yesterday, a service rep from Kirby called and asked to schedule the annual service.  I was thinking that was a great idea because I'd since found the receipt and the vacuum cost a third of what I spent on my first car.  Our apartment also has wall to wall carpet; bathrooms included.  Trust me NO ONE else in Switzerland has wall to wall carpet.  The Kirby needs to be in excellent working condition. Before Kirby came though, I needed to clean.

I spent all day Thursday ironing.  I do mean all day. The only reason I didn't leave the iron on and hop a flight to anywhere but here was because I could also watch Breaking Bad on Netflix.  It was now tolerable if a bit dangerous. When my husband came home and I asked him to ask me (he needs to be reminded sometimes) what I did today, I told him I ironed for seven hours. Straight.  I thought he would think that was both barbaric and amazing.  Instead, I got, "Surprised it didn't take longer."

Friday, I resumed my cleaning efforts once home from dropping the kids off.  I called it good enough at 8:30. At 9:00 Kirby arrived. Kirby guy was very nice.  He took the Kirby apart and handed me three earrings and a bobby pin. He watched and corrected my form while I tried to put the vacuum back together.   We did all this in a mixture of English, German, and Turkish. Then he vacuumed. Once he got to the mustard stain (turmeric is apparently a deadly stain maker), he suggested I shampoo the rug. I, of course, don't have a shampoo attachment thing ( I don't really even have a vacuum, remember?) but for 395 plus 160 for detergents, he would come deliver the parts and give me a lesson on shampooing the carpet.  While I briefly considered this and he used some brush attachment thing to dust, we chatted about his family.

His daughter looks like his sister.  His son is 19 and didn't want to go on a recent vacation and his baby was mayor of the recent cruise they went on and 10 years ago he won $1000 in the slot machines in Vegas.

I next received a very demanding call from a child to PICK HER UP.  Picking her up involved taking her to shop for a birthday party present for the party she was going to this afternoon and feeding her. 

We went to lunch at the grocery store. The grocery store has a restaurant. Think a mall food court but all the restaurants are the same. And it's mobbed between 12:-1:30.  Tables are set up in three configurations; Starbucks style, bar stool and counter style, and high school cafeteria style which is where we found ourselves.  A mom with a baby was looking around without much hope for a seat. I invited her to sit with us.  Mostly cause I really like babies. And this one found me amusing.  So, I talked to him (in English- he didn't seem to care, he doesn't speak anything at all yet- we were a perfect match).  But my daughter found me embarrassing and I was ushered out of there.

That is my day. Which is an improvement from yesterday (except for the circus yesterday- THAT was amazing and Lauren was in it). 

But it's only 2:30 and most anything could still happen.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Breaking Bad (habits)

The expat dark side. Ask anyone who has done it.  It's there. Like "The Tell Tale Heart" beating underneath the floor boards (Edgar Allan Poe- go find it. It's a good one). And if they feel like admitting it, they will confess.  And it feels like a confession because I think the people that choose (yes, it was a choice- I remember), to do this, are pretty typically resilient and optimistic. That doesn't mean bulletproof.

What is does mean is that some days are bad. Really bad. A friend who had been through a relocation told me once someone asked how she was doing, she looked at them and said, "I don't cry everyday anymore." But most of the time, you will just smile and say, "It's great. It's really great." Just freakin great.

Some days, if you didn't have to pick the kids up at school and make dinner, you would go online and find the first flight out.  Leave all the expat stuff behind. Except you can't.  And here's the thing ...where would you fly to anyway? 'Home' as you knew it, is gone.  The house is still standing. I will get there eventually but the cars, the job? Gone. It's not like it's all been on pause while you were gone. Things are different.

Some days, you don't want to get out of bed.  And then you might get a text from someone else having a bad day, so you drag yourself to the shower, get dressed, and go find them.  Then you start to feel a bit better.  They have done this. They understand the pressures unique to expats. They are coping.  So why do some people cope better than others? I have friends here who laugh and refer to their Swiss expat experience as 'Swiss 1 or 2 or 3'- for the time they were here, left, and then came back. I know a Swiss 3, a couple of Swiss 2's and loads of Swiss 1's.

So what helps? Why do some people cope better than others?  Why do they come back? Or do it again in a different country? So, I looked around and this is what I saw.  People who seem to be good at being an expat (it takes talent, believe me) are people who have a passion for something of their own- outside of work. Outside of kids. Separate from their spouse. That and a few other things (like courage, optimism, and the ability to laugh- mostly because you have no idea what you are doing).

I think those that have hobbies or careers that can be relocated as well enjoy a sense of continuity that others lack.  Maybe a love of cooking- you can cook pretty much anywhere.  Ingredients might be a temporary challenge but that is merely a logistical issue. A business that you can manage remotely.  A hobby; photography, singing, running, quilting. An interest that can be continued wherever you go.  Duh.  I knew this for my kids.  I knew I needed to find their activities; gymnastics, fencing, whatever, to help bridge the transition.

But...I had neither a hobby nor a career that could move with me. My career doesn't exist here.  I never had time for hobbies. I had three kids and they had hobbies.  We had a house to maintain.  Hobbies were a it seemed. I am rethinking that.  I imagine that this is a problem also common to 'empty nesters' and those that are newly retired as well. How do you fill the hours that once filled themselves...

I'm starting with the basics.  First, I have to find a new word for 'hobby'. I think it sounds so banal and trite. Unimportant. Insignificant.  'Passion' doesn't work for me either. Much to self important.  Too significant. Too loaded with 'what ifs'. What if I decide I don't like it anymore? What if I change my mind?  Maybe 'interest'.  Sounds nicely vague.  Could be important.  Might be a passion.  Might be a whim.  When someone asks, "Do you have any hobbies?"  I could say, "I'm interested in writing (high interest), running (important), lemon tea cakes, pineapple upside down cake, gnomes ( passing fancies), and gardening (interest is weather and continent dependent).

This is my relocation lesson; having 'interests' is important to the happiness of the individual.  Careers change, housing changes, surroundings change. Things change.  But if you have something
portable, something that is a constant that can put in your pocket and take with you, I think you will increase the odds you will be a happier, more centered person.  Capable of change without going catatonic, rolling with it when curve balls are thrown at you (pretty sure that's a mixed metaphor- I'm not good at the sports stuff). 

Take a few minutes each day- even if you never move or change jobs- and do something that makes you happy. Make good habits.  I think this is especially important for new moms.  So easy to get lost in all that baby stuff.  It's so hard to pry yourself away from seven pounds of deliciousness but do it anyway.  I have a feeling these good habits may come in handy at some point.

That's  my 'Relocation Lesson'.  Here is my 'Breaking Bad' lesson,  Walt found what he liked. Gave him passion. A reason to live. While I don't advocate manufacturing crystal meth (that is a VERY, VERY BAD IDEA), he did find his passion.Told you passion could get you into trouble. Sticking with 'interests'. By the way, Breaking Bad is an interest (bordering on obsession).

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Controlled substances

Yesterday I met a friend and her extra squishy, delightful baby for lunch. Then we ran some errands together. Way more entertaining together than separately.

We met at the train station. After we each bought whatever tickets we needed, we headed over to the Apotheke- which is in the train station along with a hair salon, Chinese restaurant, florist, shoe store, couple of bakeries, dentists, cell phone store, Starbucks- place is deceptively large. And it has an all glass facade that changes colors at night like Cinderella's Castle at Disney World. Too bad Tinkerbelle doesn't fly across town to it. Like this...

The Apotheke is open 365 days a year. That in itself is unusual and a reason to investigate.

Recently, I was told there is a brand of throat lozenges that are not approved by the FDA in the US, making them unavailable- there. Here, they are plentiful. Which makes them 100 times more attractive to me. Just because. By the way, Lauren had a sore throat and the school nurse gave her throat lozenges. Enough for 24 hours. She also warned me I may be getting billed for them.

For those of you familiar with CVS or Rite-Aid, pharmacies here do not resemble those. Here, you go in and describe your issue (rash, infection, fever- pick your malady) to the person at the register and they go in back and rummage through 100 unmarked drawers. They come back with the solution. You buy it.

You also buy ibuprofen there. Or at your dentist. Yes, the dentist sells them. 20 tabs 200mg for about $6.50. In the US at CVS? 750 for $18.29.

And even more interesting, I had to my mix my daughter's prescription myself. I was given the powder with instructions as to how much liquid. The doctor gives you the meds. One trip to the pediatrician, two medicines- about $135.00.

Sure, it's a little weird to describe the problem in public but not nearly as distressing as being unable to read the warnings and contraindications that are printed in size 2.5 font, folded ten times, and stuck in the box.

I read those things. Now, I can't. Not in box, not with a fox, not in French, not on a bench, not in German, not with Herman, not in Italian, not with scallions, and especially, not in English (is there no word that rhymes with English? Weird). So, I made a paper airplane out of it. It has a really long tail because the pages are quite skinny and usually very long. It flew ok considering the tail.

It took me about an hour online but I did find out the drug I was given isn't available in the US. I have no idea why.

The FDA has also banned Kinder Eggs. Think chocolate Easter egg with a toy inside. The original Happy Meal. Happy Meals weren't introduced until 1979. Kinder Surprise eggs-1973.

Here are actual photos of a Kinder Egg hatching. Not as good as turtles but it's what's available in Switzerland.

You squish the yellow parts together and the wheel goes flying.

Why are they banned? Something about a law going back to 1938 and a ban on food containing a non-nutritive item within it. That and a choking hazard. Except they are sold all over Europe. Seems to be working out.

Personally, I think Polly Pockets and marbles are a bigger risk but what do I know?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Elephants in Thailand

This is a story about a lost dog, a man who jumped off a mountain, and an elephant in Thailand.

Tuesday is hiking day. Today's hike was up on a mountain about a 30 minute drive away. Even the drive there is fabulous. I've been there a bunch of times already. Depending on the season, all sorts of treats await you; skiing, hiking, alpine slides, bounce houses, cows, coffee. Pick your poison.

Because I do love cows

A spinning gondola whisks you to the top. A large, multinational group of women assemble. Backpacks, walking sticks, water bottles, dogs, our fearless leader- an Aussie expat, and a random husband.

He tagged along with his wife. He had an ENORMOUS pack on. An affable fellow, I learned all sorts of things like... what hike in Switzerland will culminate in monks serving you tea, what are ideal conditions for paragliding (winds from the west are essential- something to do with change in temperature creating a thermal draft), which of his dogs likes to go to bed early and sleep late, and which mountain people are forever falling off of.

He had us guess the contents of his pack. I offered up 'small child'. Wrong.

In his pack was a paraglider. All those times, I've waited for the kids to get down the mountain from school and I'd seen tired men stumble from the forest with these enormous packs. I assumed they liked to camp. No... they like to fly!

People who don't recognize the pack, assume he's going camping and say, "Enjoy camping", and he smiles. People that DO recognize the pack say, "Have a nice flight" and then he smiles for real.  Co-conspirators.  You don't have to be licensed in the US to paraglide. But apparently, this increases your risk of killing yourself.

For our collective enjoyment, he was going to hike to a nearby summit and throw himself off..

First, we had to hike. Up and down and around and around. Up and up and up. Past the cows above my head. If they lost their footing, I was a goner. Stopping to take pictures here and there. Stopping to take off clothes as they day begins to heat up (by the way, there is a canton that held a formal vote to make naked hiking illegal- can you imagine?!). 


Now, it's time. Cross country to the grassy summit. Incidentally, my body is very tired at this point. I scampered up anyway. Scamper. Claw my way to the top on all fours. Same thing. Andy unfurls his pack, puts on his helmet, and without further ado, flings himself off the mountain. Gone within five seconds. Not 'gone gone'; flying gone. Leaving his wife to search for a Border Terrier on the lam. She had twins, now she's down to a singleton.


I wasn't optimistic she and the terrier would reunite. The terrier had been gone a bit already. Long before her husband flung himself off the mountain. She didn't want him to scrap the jump. We all knew where she was coming from.

We marched on. Passed the time with idle chitchat. Our fearless leader, come to find out, was a triathlete. Explains why the hikes are woefully misunderstood by me, the novice hiker. The anti-athlete of the herd. We have completely different ways in which we classify information. Easy vs. hard, flat vs. steep- stuff like that.

We wind our way back to the start. But there, before my friend and I, is the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Europe.  I've chickened out before. 14 months ago. I only made it about one-sixth of the way across before I turned tail for solid ground. Ever been on the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower and felt it sway? It's like that. But worse.

This time, I'm trying again. One-quarter of the way. One-third of the way. The swaying begins in earnest. Donna is leading. I knew it was a mistake but I looked down. Grievous error. She says, "Don't look down!". Too late.  And then, "Did I ever tell you about the time I was riding the elephant in Thailand and had an absolute meltdown?" Uh. No. Well, she hiked straight up for two days, only breathing normally as she slept. To get down, she had to cross a ravine by riding an elephant as it walked along a giant pipe. "Don't worry", they said. "The elephant has done this many times". It's a good story but we both turned and fled.  Maybe next time.  

Right, the dog. She was reunited with her owner, vomited, then went to sleep.  I understood.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Flour on my Feet

I made homemade pancakes. That's not big news. Pancake mix here is more like crepes, one 5ch package makes about four. So, I always make my own. Today, they were good. Really good. In fact, Caroline ate three. First time in her life. Raising a kid with CVS- Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome  and super picky eating habits is a blog all by itself, just not this blog.

But as I sat, to drink my coffee, I looked at my feet. They were covered in flour. I just sighed. Then I wondered why is it that my cooking is so inept. You never see Jamie Oliver or Emeril with flour on their feet. I tried to trace it back to a specific event.

It was difficult. So many recipes gone wrong. Like trying to find the one thing that caused the collapse of the Roman Empire. Sure there was the introduction of Christianity but there were also problems in agriculture and sky rocketing food prices (it's possible I made that last part up).

View of the Constantine Arch from the Colosseum- taken on our Rome trip. See "Road Trip Rules" if you're curious.

I think I'm on to something.

Food here is expensive. And there isn't the plethora of cooking shortcuts here that exist in the US. The lovely, giant frozen foods sections in the US? Reduce that to 1/4. The entire aisle of breakfast cereals (who needs to cook with 100 breakfast cereal choices), maybe 20 here. I will have to count next time I go. A medium sized box of Shredded Wheat- 5.40ch here. Multi Grain Cheerios- 4.75ch. So, you try to spend wisely and try really hard NOT TO SCREW IT UP. Pressure. A lot of pressure.

Same problems with cleaning.  Can take hours for me to figure out if the product I'm holding is going to clean the granite or destroy it.  I don't have any granite in that colonial in Connecticut, nor, will I ever probably.  By the time, I think I've gotten a handle on it, I'm too annoyed to care.  It's granite. Should survive centuries even with me around.  Still intact granite in Pompeii and Rome. Probably better if I don't clean it. 

Then there was the Great Fondue Fire of 2012.  That really shook my confidence.  45 minutes to translate the three ingredients.  12 seconds later, a fire in three places. That lighter fluid stuff is dangerous.  I'm not a big fan of fire.  Probably because I set myself of fire when I was 3 or 4. 

But today I made pancakes.  No fires. Just flour on my feet.   

P.S. If you are on Instagram, look for #worstcookever. My favorite? The one with an arm and an IV stuck in it. Gave herself food poisoning. At least I haven't done that yet. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Sock Game (and other ways I entertain myself).

I made up a new game. It came about by accident. But now, I play it every time the opportunity presents itself.

The Sock Game unveiled.

Equipment needed:

1. A complaining family all out of socks.

2. The missing, clean socks. You've been hoarding them.

3. A basket. Any basket large enough for 50-75 socks.

4. A table, bed, or counter.
Goal: To match socks.

I agree, it's simple but great strategy is involved. Clear your counter, bed, table.  Dump all the socks out.  NO REARRANGING PERMITTED.  You must be able to make a match without rifling through the pile looking. The one sock you pick up MUST match the one you're holding. Sort of like JENGA or Pick Up Sticks. It's okay though, to disturb other socks when the chosen one is lifted out.

That's it.

I have had several games to be proud of but just one perfect game. A no hitter even Nolan Ryan would be proud of. I feel a certain kinship with him now.  If we ever meet at a cocktail party, I am ready.  I can understand the elation he must have felt.  It's like we are twins. 

The lineup of socks was superb. Many, many socks that resembled one another save for different colored toes or a stripe at the ankle were in that historic basket. Those socks are used to winning. Requires skill and cunning to beat 30 pairs of white ankle socks.

I also like to guess what time it is in the morning. Switzerland is famous for blinds installed on the exterior of your window. Giant big, industrial ones.

Forget everything you know about blinds you learned in the US. When lowered, they will effectively turn your interior in a cave.

You go to sleep happy (assuming you like the dark, have whiskers, and sonar like a bat- you will need all three to get to the bathroom at 3:00 a.m.). But you wake up confused. You might think it's 7:00 am but it could also be 11:00 a.m. or even 11:00 p.m. Perhaps even a different day entirely.

When we flew back to Switzerland this summer, our flight left JFK on July 29th, I woke up August 2. Those days are LOST. I thought is was no later than August 1st. Imagine my surprise. And now, when I wake up in the morning, I get to guess the time AND the date.

Good times.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

It's about that time.

It's about that time. Time for a break. When I can count the number of days on one hand that I have not been responsible for a child for an entire 24 hour period, it's that time.  In fact, I really only need one finger.

It's not like I haven't had vacations from parentdom.  There was the second (third, eightieth) time I had kidney stones-wonder if anyone else in the world sees a kidney stone as a form of vacation...Seven months pregnant with a girl. I had no idea who she'd be- just a girl. A toddler at home and a kidney stone lodged somewhere in my mid-section.  It's late. The normal hospital entrance is closed. Dark. I'd never seen the entrance dark. All new arrivals, regardless of arrival method, must use the emergency entrance. 

My husband stresses about where to park and what to do with the small person in the car seat in back.  We agree it's best if he goes home.  He was probably a little, tiny bit glad he wasn't going in with me.  The time before, I threw up on his shoes. He pulls up and I get out.  In front of the dark hospital. And he drives off, as I watch, with a toddler in the back or maybe it was two toddlers in the back. I forget. I was still pregnant with a  girl. Number Two and Three were both girls. I find my way in. Hustled to maternity, monitored, and tucked in.  I stayed for five, morphine filled days.  Then I decided to go home. I had had enough.  Called my husband to come get me. Except I couldn't find him.

My brother offered to drive me home only to find out I was locked out. It never occurred to me I didn't have a house key.  I ripped off the screen to the dining room and climbed in the window. Seven months pregnant.

It's time for another vacation. Kidney stone free. Pain free. Free from children and hysterics about them being locked out and iPhone text rants that begin and end with "YOU ARE THE WORST MOTHER EVER".  Free from trying to convince a nine year old that the school said no bikinis in swim class-not me, free from threatening, cajoling, begging, and guilting a teenage boy into brushing more frequently.  I remind him often that I could be driving a CAR for what I've spent on orthodontic work. Free from finding petrified home fries in my daughter's closet.  Free from the guilt of leaving them.

And there's the rub. The kids and I are in this together. Where I go, they go. It's different with their father who travels for work.  When they come home from school and say,  "Where's Dad?"  and I say Dubai, Italy, England, Germany, Connecticut or Poland, it's okay.  This is what he's done for as long as they can remember.  He travels. I don't.

The kids can be in Switzerland while he's rifling through our house in Connecticut, after working a 12 hour day, desperately searching for Number 19 in the Magic Tree House Series as requested by the smallest expat, as long as I am with them. It's okay.

And it is. I am with them. We are in this together.

However, I have heard you can board the kids at their school for a pretty reasonable fee should the child's parents need to go away.  In an emergency, like to Prague, to go flea marketing. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Just until...

I'm still trying the Couch to 5K. I'm on 'Week 2' which is more like 'Week 1'. But I've gotten out three times the first week and twice this week.

The first day was okay. Sweaty and fun. My calves were killing me the next day though. Truthfully, it's been hurting to walk first thing in the morning or after sitting for awhile. My heels are so sore. After a bit, it feels better. So I'm pretty confident it's not a huge deal (despite my late night searches on all things related to pulmonary embolisms- read about that for a few minutes you'll never get on a plane again). I think my 'flip flop all summer into fall' days are over- permanently- which makes me a little sad.

I had always assumed flip flop season ended Labor Day weekend. School year starts-proper shoes required. Then I had a July baby with a maternity leave until Thanksgiving. I kept my flip flops out. I hate socks. I really do. And it was like the endless summer.

My body is telling me no more. Not even the super cute, metallic gray ones with bling. Actually, especially those. One calf feels better. The other is more stubborn.

I'm going out anyway. If I start with excuses now, I will never go. Out I have gone. Icky shorts. Bad hair. Tangled ear buds. Wrong bra. Old sneakers. Cotton socks (guess that's an especially big rookie mistake). After two times, I bought new socks. A third, a bra. A fourth, new sneakers. So delicious. Today I ran my ear bud wires up my back. Helpful. I was sick of always stopping like a dog getting caught in its own leash.
As good as I feel about getting out,  the how I am getting out there is even more fun to me.  I asked a few online friends just a couple of questions and an avalanche of answers came back.  Interestingly, a lot of talk about the right bra.  This is what one friend had to say about it...

"Girl .. . the bra has the potential to be life changing .. didn't think I had a rack until I started running and then decided I needed serious upgrades in that department. Now that the girls are firmly in place, makes the event more enjoyable . I've even found a few that minimize the back fat .... "

I've said it before...I love my friends. She also encouraged mind games.  Just until the next mailbox, driveway, tree, etc.  No mailboxes by the side of the road here.  Driveways aplenty but I counted guardrails along the corn fields. 

Another source of all things running has been a friend from high school turned very serious runner. He puts up with seriously stupid questions and gives thoughtful answers in return. I've known him since I was 14 and if someone had said,

"Jen, in 30 years, you will be living in Switzerland. You will want to try running and Muck will be giving you advice on bras."

I would have said there was a better chance I would be a crack addict with nine kids.

Life has a funny way of giving you the unexpected though. It's beautiful weather here and kids are back to school.  Nearing the end of my slog, I passed the local school with kids out playing beach volleyball for PE and others leaving for an art class al fresco. I still miss high school kids but I took a deep breath and kept going.   Life is all about coping with change and finding substitutions, I suppose.  Lose one routine. Need to find another. The trick is finding positive substitutions.  That's a bit harder.  Working on it. One guard rail at a time.