Monday, November 3, 2008

Egg this house!


Somebody please tell me her house was egged! Shirley Nagel decided to only give out Hallowe'en treats to kids whose parents support McCain/Palin. Some kids were allegedly turned away in tears. I really don't get it. How could this possibly "help" the republicans? What was she possibly thinking? She probably used the same thought process that led McCain to choose Palin as a running mate.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Day Ten: My scariest day of the trip

This one is for those of you who like the long posts!!! The scares got bigger as the day progressed.

As we were breaking camp some new arrivals to the campsite were surveilling us. After a few false starts they asked if we were leaving and if the spot we had chosen was a good one. They kept looking between the car and us.

"You don't speak German" they stated more than asked.

"No."

A pause and a look again at the German license plate on the car.

"But, you ARE German" they again stated more than asked.

Chris explained that we had borrowed our German friend's car for the trip and it all made sense to them.

After 2 days of exploring the Engadine valley, and a few wrong turns that took us up and down some rather steep and narrow roads, we decided that the brakes in the car were working fine and that we would not have to visit a St. Moritz mechanic before leaving. We left via the Maloja pass. I tried clipping some Google map with the terrain function for you to appreciate the video game-ness of this situation (there is a grey squiggly line that represents the road we were driving). Perhaps the photo of the GPS trajectory might also be informative. Needless to say, it was an exhilarating, if nerve-wracking time. Chris was in the driver's seat as he was the most experienced in the whole "down-shifting" braking technique. He did great. While my nails were digging into the palms of my hands they never actually broke the skin and I think it is in large part due to Chris's confident driving ability. Although the occasional "This is so much fun, I feel like I'm in a video game" comment did not exactly ease my mind. Even after the crazy crazy pass part, the road kept going down down down. Well, we WERE going from a departure elevation of 2000m (6600ft) down to essentially sea level...


Once in Italy we marvelled at the little villages. It felt like we were in a movie. We passed by Lake Como and decided not to stop at Bellagio despite a high recommendation from colleagues. We just wanted to get to our next camp site and relax. After leaving the Como area we had to climb up some hills and travel a lakeshore road through some rather small villages. The last 2 hours of this drive were easily the scariest driving hours of the whole trip! The speed limit was constantly in flux...120, 90, 50, 30km/hr (75, 55, 30, 20mph) and back up again so we were never really sure what a safe speed was. We were going through centuries old villages with small streets and buildings right up to and overhanging the sides. There didn't look to be enough room for one car, let alone two cars to pass. And then there were the Italian drivers! I had driven right through Torino during the olympics, right downtown. I thought I knew how to handle Italian traffic. Non è vero! This was a whole 'nother level!

So we would be inching along at 30km/h (20mph) in the centre of a small town and some oncoming traffic would blow our doors off at 120 (75)! Others would wait patiently to overtake us and then floor it! Then there were the unexpected, single lane tunnels, where we learned the hard way that one was supposed to honk before entering since there was a nice 90-degree bend in the middle of it! Of course there were no signs to tell you this, you were just supposed to know. We had two things working in our favour. One, only half the Italian drivers are speed demons with a death wish. The other half like to drive 30 in a 120 zone, so it was almost like we were locals! Second, as we were reminded in the morning, our license plate was German, so if we were pissing anybody off, and we likely were, they just thought we were Germans. The Italians don't like the Germans anyway.

It was almost comical after we crossed the border back into Switzerland. Sure, the architecture was similar, the geography was the same, but somehow the roads seemed wider and better marked. More Swiss indeed, but still Italian enough that Chris was going crazy trying to follow the traffic through downtown Lugano. The Maloja pass hairpin turns were coming back to haunt us as we made our way through the city. Finally in the outskirts again we ran into another problem. The TomTom directed us to our campsite, but there was no campsite. Needless to say our nerves were fairly shot at this point and I almost cried with relief when I saw the very small, inconspicuous sign with a tent on it pointing down what looked to be a dead-end dirt road. I convinced Chris to follow it and we had arrived!

We found a site again within spitting range of the kids playground. This was to be my reward near the end of the trip. An expensive campground, but with children's programing, a great playground, a wading pool, a swimming pool, a beach...and warm, sunny, Mediterranean weather. Chris and I started wrestling with the tent after I showed the boys to the playground. After packing up in single digit temperatures, we were now trying to put the tent up on a sun-baked, rock-filled site in 30 oC heat. Between the heat and the built-up stress of the travel, neither of us were exactly overflowing with patience or understanding. After a frustrated exchange about the tent I went to check on the boys. I heard Lucas calling for me. While he started explaining his grievance I scanned the area for Michael. My stomach plummeted. He was nowhere.

"Lucas, where is Michael?" trying not to panic.

"I don't know, but blah blah blah" Can't concentrate on poor first born child.

"Lucas I'm sorry, I can't listen right now. DO YOU KNOW WHERE MICHAEL WENT?"

"No, but, blah blah blah" Panic setting in but good now.

"Lucas I am really sorry, but it is very important for me to find Michael right now! Stay here, don't move!"

Shit, shit, shit. There is a pool! There is a beach! Why did I leave them unattended? Argh!!! I ran to the wading pool and scanned it more out of panic than reason. Michael really doesn't like pools, was the only thought saving me from actually going crazy. I ran to the big pool, lifeguard present, no sign of Michael. There was a big aquarium at the check-in office that Michael (to this day) wouldn't stop talking about....right next to a very busy parking lot. I decided it was a more likely destination than the beach and start running towards the entrance of the campground, scanning and listening (over the loud thumping of my heart) all the way.

I spied him crying and running away from where I was, I sped up, and he turned a corner. Several other campers looked at him worriedly and then spied me running after him. Their expressions were supportive and kind. They felt accusatory and judgmental. I caught up with the little devil and hugged him tightly all the way back to our campsite. That, my folks, was the scariest moment of my life to date. I can't believe how upset I am getting typing about it a whole 2 months later! Of course I am rather hormonal right now...

Once the tent was more or less up we changed into our swim suits and went down to look at the lake. As was (thank God!) his habit, Michael had to be coaxed in and wouldn't go past his knees. Lucas and Chris explored a little further out. It was the second time we were able to go swimming on our summer camping trip. Lugano is supposed to be a slice of the Mediterranean in Switzerland and I tried to relax and soak up the atmosphere. Unfortunately the atmosphere was getting very cloudy very quickly and the 30 degree heat of the afternoon was quickly dropping.

While getting ready for dinner we saw the camp train go by. Every evening between 5 and 6 an electric train with several open carriages toured the campsite with the children. Lucas and Michael love trains. I took them over to where the boarding was supposed to take place and saw already a pretty large crowd. When the train arrived it was quickly apparent that there wouldn't be room for us. Disappointed, I reassured them that we would get on next time. We were the only ones left at the departure point after all. We waited the 5-10 minutes and the train was back in sight. A crush of children also appeared but I was going to make sure the boys got on. I thought I was going to make sure the boys got on. These were some very pushy kids. I loudly complained that some of the children pushed past my kids and I loudly assured my children that they would be able to get on next time. I loudly said that although SOME kids are NOT very nice, they would get their turn next time. I loudly thanked them for being so very patient. Some of the moms looked at me a bit apologetically. For those who do not know me, I can be a titch passive aggressive.

As we waited again I started to panic that maybe the train was on its last run. I was so angry and frustrated that my boys were just brushed aside and at my inability to be pushy like the rest of these people. Okay, with hindsight, I'm sure it was a good example for them on how to be polite and play fair....but at that moment in time I did not want to be polite. When the train arrived again I grabbed on to the first car. There was a child there who did not want to get out. I looked quickly at the rapidly filling seats and realized it was this car or wait again. I forced the child out. I told him he had had his turn and now it was time for other kids to have a turn. I got in and pulled my boys in with me. I was filled with an odd combination of pride and guilt as we bounced along the campground.

We decided to eat at the onsite restaurant. The waiter did not speak English, but he did speak French with a rather strong Italian accent. It was enough for us to be able to communicate. For the first time we were able to watch some of the Olympics on a screen above the bar. My numbers obsessed child was delighted with the swimming competition: lane numbers, record numbers, heat numbers, time elapsed numbers. Ever since the EuroFootball Cup he has also been obsessed with flags and called out any that he recognized.

The rain started just before dinner. Lightly and off and on. By the time we hit the sack it was coming down more steadily. The sun baked ground was not absorbing the water very well and some sections under the tent felt more like a mudbath than solid ground. Thankfully the leaking was kept to a minimum and not in the sleeping quarters at all. The rain kept going, and the thunder and lightening joined in, all night long.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Day Nine: Muottas Muragl‎

That night was definitely colder than the first night. We awoke to actual frost on the car. Chris was of the opinion that he would not survive another night as cold as that. We could either move on, or buy him a warm sweater. Aside from my claims of willing to be flexible with our trip schedule, I was rather loathe to leave without having gone up one of the mountains, so we decided to see what kind of shops might be open....in St. Moritz....on a Sunday (NB. there is no Sunday shopping in Switzerland).

First though, was our day trip of going up a mountain. We had chosen to go up "Muottas Muragl". Don't ask me how to pronounce that, I can barely spell it. We had passed by the station for this trip already several times and found it again with little difficulty. The parking lot was jammed full. We decided to mosey on down the road 100m and park in a practically empty parking lot. To get back to the departure point we had to march single file along a rather busy road. There was approximately 30cm (1ft) of space between the guard rail and the pavement of the single lane road. Needless to say I was having panic attacks that my 3 year old would decide to dart into traffic. Illogical perhaps, considering it was painfully obvious even to a 3 year old that mommy was pretty stressed about staying as far from the road as possible and of course I had an iron grip on his little hand!

We got in the line-up to buy tickets and were quite entertained by an Italian woman directly in front of us who was having a very animated, very Italian argument with her poor husband. He was trying to park their car in the rather overcrowded lot and she was quite exasperated with his attempts. "He's from the North, you see. He is quite useless at parking. I am from Rome. I could park in a tree. I have no shame." To this we admitted that we were Canadian, and that we were in awe of the European ability to maneuver their cars into impossible places. "Yes, we have made parking an art-form". We whole-heartedly agreed.

We boarded the funicular train and started up the mountain. This mountain isn't as high as some of the other destinations in Engadine, but it does allow a gorgeous view of the valley and the lakes. At the top there is a restaurant and hotel. We unpacked a picnic lunch for the boys and then picked up some delicious soup at the cafeteria for the adults all while being serenaded by alphorns and yodellers. In the picture you might notice some fence posts. The posts have two thin wires connecting them, and this is all that separates you (and your children) from a somewhat steep drop. I'm not saying a cliff exactly, but sufficiently steep that an inadvertent tumble would likely result in injury. But that was just my illogical mother paranoia creeping in again.

There is a very short hike to a mountain hut where for the low cost of 1CHF (1 dollar) you can try some fresh alpine pastured cow's milk. Thankfully it was cold milk. I was worried it would be warm, which wouldn't have bothered the boys, but it might have been a little more difficult for the adults. It was very rich and creamy, so Chris only had one sip, but the boys and I readily finished the rest with enough gusto that the woman tending the shack seemed pleased.

We returned to the top of the funicular where there was an humungous playground. We let the boys play there for a couple of hours while we just looked in awe at the view. But then it was time to hunt for a sweater!

We walked the streets of St. Moritz, I was peering in the windows of Louis Vuitton, Versace, Burberry, Chanel, and a bunch of places that I didn't recognize the name of, but were surely exclusive shops of the rich and famous. None were open of course, being a Sunday. I thought we might have to walk into one of the upscale hotels with the Rolls Royce cars in front and see if the hotel shops had a sweater we could acquire. We finally found a corner store open, and miraculously it sold overpriced sweaters. Not as overpriced as the hotels though, I'm sure.

We headed back for our last night at the frigid cold campsite and let the kids play at the playground until they were well and truly exhausted. I remembered to put on socks that night, so I was much warmer. Chris also found his new St. Moritz sweater helped him sleep better too.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gobble, gobble

Canadian's are discriminated against abroad. There are no turkey's in October. The butcher will tell you that it is too early in the season for full sized turkeys. Turkey season begins in November....for the Americans. But, if you order in advance, it is indeed possible to have a full sized turkey for Canadian thanksgiving.

This year we joined new-comers to Geneva for Thanksgiving. As guests instead of hosts I once again put my turkey-making skills on hold until Christmas. Instead I tackled pumpkin pie for the first time, including made from scratch pie crusts also for the first time. If I do say so myself, it was perfect and delicious! I ate far too much food, but I feel very little guilt, it was thanksgiving after all!

There were 5 kids in total, a baby, 2 girls who are 3 years old, and then my two. I have to say that I was très impressed with my little darlings. Okay, Michael ate nothing but the cherry tomatoes, but I expected that. Lucas on the other hand actually tried everything! I was floored. Veggies, stuffing, turkey, wow. I think he is growing up.

The petite hostess was too excited to stay at the kids table, but the other three managed to keep their bums in their chairs for most of the meal. Once the meal was coming to an end, Michael asked to be excused to go and play and I gave him the go-ahead. A few minutes later he was calling from the playroom, his button had gotten caught on the rug and he was stuck. On my way back to the table I realized, guiltily, that Lucas was still patiently sitting at the kids table all alone. I told him he could get down and play and he hesitated. It was clear. He wanted to try the pumpkin pie and was not going to jeopardize his chances by premature playing! The little darling. I reassured him that he would still indeed get some dessert and he left to play with the rest of the kids. It is mind boggling how every once in a while they decide that a rule must be followed to the letter, whereas usually most rules are viewed as recommendations.

Our friends have a house. With a backyard. And a driveway. This is practically unheard of amongst our normal circle of friends. Michael was in 7th heaven riding the Little Tykes little red car up and down the driveway, then the Barney motorcycle, then the Finding Nemo ride-on toy. Repeat ad nauseam. While all the other kids were playing inside, Michael kept requesting to go outside, all alone, and zoom up and down the driveway. I panicked at one point as I realized that it had easily been 15 minutes and he hadn't been heard from. I looked outside and it was definitely dark. I ran to the door. He was still going up and down the driveway happy as a clam. In my limited defense, the back yard is completely fenced and there is a security gate blocking the driveway.

We made it home only an hour late for bedtime. Nevertheless, we paid for the routine disruption on Monday. Perhaps I should say that the school paid for it, and Chris paid for it. I was spared the bulk of the consequences sequestered away at work.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Day Eight: St. Moritz

The view from our campsite!

It was a cold night. Very cold. I was very thankful that we had bought the boys nice warm sleeping bags rated down to zero degrees. Mine and Chris's sleeping bags were not that warm. We were going to be camping in August after all... I forgot about that whole altitude thing. Our camp site was at about 2000m, and our breath was visible in the morning.

A sign of how cold it was is that the boys actually snuggled in their sleeping bags in the morning rather than getting up the moment their eyes opened. Chris shook the tent to get the dew/frost off.

Lucas asked "Who's there?"

Chris growled "A bear!"

Lucas responded "Well, you can't eat me now, I'm reading a story."

With that Lucas continued reading stories to Michael in the tent while Chris was killing himself with laughter outside. It was one of the things that surprised me the most on this trip. Lucas's reading skills really took off and he much preferred reading from our big book of fairy tales all by himself than playing his Leapster video game. Not all the time of course, but still.

After breakfast, we set off in the still slightly burnt brake smelling car. The TomTom had some auto mechanics programmed in so we got directions to the closest one. In St. Moritz. A feeling of trepidation overcame me. You can't trust auto mechanics at the best of times, but now we were going to cold-call a mechanic in the playground of the RICH and famous. After finding the spot...full of Porsches, Ferraris, and Mercedes, it was closed.

We found the information centre in St. Moritz and were told that all mechanics are closed on Saturdays. Sundays are no shopping days in Switzerland. Frequently stores are also closed on Mondays. We decided that we should be fine for the next few days since we would only be driving in the valley, no big mountain passes for us.

After lunch we headed out to Sils i.E. a small town about a 10 minute drive on the other side of St. Moritz. Our Engadin expert, the one who has been vacationing here since she was a baby, told us this was her favourite easy hike. It took us a while to realize where we had to park to get to the beginning of the hike, but once we were on the trail it was pretty smooth sailing, er hiking. The path goes around a sort of peninsula jetting out into the last of the big lakes dotting the Engadin valley. A wooded path, a shining lake, surrounded by mountains, it felt like paradise. The boys were moving painfully slowly and we stopped at every vantage point to take pictures and investigate. During our time in Engadin, Michael became a great fan of "breaking" bugs. Chris figured that since it is so cold at night the insects are really slow. The insects were definitely no match for Michael as he ripped a great many of them apart. Rampant bug killing is normal for boys though...right? Not a sign of some deep-seated sociopath in the making? The 30 minute hike took us a good 3 hours, but we enjoyed ourselves.

We treated ourselves to a nice steak BBQ that night, with couscous and salad. The boys had pizza at the canteen again. Our goal was to stay up late and see the stars. This was our first real out of town campsite, and at 2000m, I was hoping for some good star action! After dinner we put on the only sweaters we had brought with us and went exploring the camp. It was huge, with a little pond where we could see fish jumping, there were some glacier fed streams, and there looked to be some sort of rock quarry. There were no assigned camp sites, campers were told to find a nice spot and pitch their tents, or park their camping cars as the case may be. It felt almost like going through the real estate section or open houses to see what other people's houses look like. I was busy peering at all the different tent models, the gear left out on display, the various camping set-ups. Finally dusk arrived, and the cold. We stretched out the bed time routine as much as we could and finally we saw our first star. We tried desperately to ignore the cold and the boys started to see some of the heavenly bodies. But then even they were asking to crawl into their sleeping bags.

That night was even colder than the first night. Chris was convinced that the boys were going to die of exposure, so we split up again. One child, and one parent nervously checking every so often that the child was still warm and snug in their sleeping bag. And it was another shivery night for the parents.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Day Seven: If it's not Baroque....it's not St. Gall

This is a ginormous post, but since this is my blog, you guys are just going to have to put up with it. You meaning all 3 of my visitors :)

This was to be our longest driving day in the trip, so Chris was up before the break of dawn obsessing about getting on the road. Our first stop was the library in St. Gall. Since the library is part of an ancient monastery established in 613, deep in the old part of St. Gallen, we had fun navigating the one way, narrow roads trying to decipher what our GPS was trying to tell us. Does it mean this road or the next one? Eventually we made it and found ourselves at the entrance to the cathedral. Not actually on the itinerary, but lets take a peak. WOW WOW WOW WOW. A stunning example of Baroque architecture, according to the literature. I would have just said breathtakingly ornate.

We then hurried off to find the medieval library. The delicate inlaid wooden floor requires all visitors to don felt slippers over their shoes. These are one size fits "all" so I felt a little foolish in them, until I realized that Lucas and Michael also needed to somehow fit in them. Because the slippers are so big, one needs to shuffle along to make sure they don't fall off. I guess it is a two-fer, protect the floor and get some polishing done too. To enter the library one passes beneath a sign "psyches iatreion", which is Greek for “Pharmacy of the Soul”. The library contains over 400 books and documents that are over 1000 years old. There are 2100 handwritten books, and some very beautiful illustrated books on display in glass cases. The room itself is again in the Baroque style and the whole place is a UNESCO Heritage site both for the architecture and for the books. Equally impressive was the behaviour of my beloved children. Not to brag or anything, but we were in there for 20-30 minutes and nothing above a quiet voice emanated from their lips. They didn't even have to be reminded not to touch anything! Of course the sense of reverence and awe in the room is palpable even to a 3 and 4 year old. But we couldn't stay long, we had places to go!

After leaving St. Gallen, I programmed in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein and we were on the highway once again. After seeing a few signs for Heidiland, I remembered the audio CD I had bought for the trip of an abridged version of Heidi, so I popped it in. Chris said he thought he saw a sign for Vaduz, but since I was getting to be a stressball driving on the highway, and he couldn't find our position in the travel atlas of Switzerland we had brought with us, we just followed along the GPS system. By the time we stopped to figure out where we were, we were at least an hour past Liechtenstein. Poop! I was rather disappointed, but we continued on our way.

To get into Engadin valley, one must cross a big mountain range. There are mountain passes, which in August are not so difficult to do. There are also train ferries, where a train ferries cars through the mountains in a long tunnel. This was an expensive option, but since the mountain pass was intimidating, and the boys are both fascinated with trains and tunnels, we decided to splurge. Alas, the GPS struck again. It led us to the wrong train station. I enquired at the train station where we SHOULD go, but neglected to write that information down. I had thought I had seen a sign on the highway indicating the correct exit and assumed that we could just look for that. WRONG. After going half an hour down one highway (the train was supposed to leave in 40 minutes), we backtracked to see if we could find the sign on the way back. No such luck. I thought that we should take another highway, the one we would need to take for the pass anyway. After another hour or so of driving around we gave up and started down, or rather up the road to the pass. Again, I was rather disappointed, and this time the boys were too.

The pass on the other hand was lovely, and not at all difficult to go up. We climbed up to 2200m from about 600m at the beginning. I was amazed at the number of bikers also traveling along this path. Actually, there were a large number of bikers EVERYWHERE we went. By bikers I mean bicyclers, not motorcyclers, although they did seem to hang out in gangs. Again I had the "luck" to be following someone very slow. On the other hand, this guy was REALLY slow. I also had little experience driving standard and zero experience driving a standard down a long and steep descent. I had thought that the best thing to do would be to hold in the clutch so no forward power went to the gears and then use the brake as needed on the way down, as I had done with every descent up until this point on the trip. Those descents were not this long. Those descents were not following someone this slow. By the time we got to the bottom, there was a STRONG smell of burning brake and we finally realized it was us. To be fair, there had been a lot of construction at the top of the mountain, so there were other unpleasant smells not related to my novice driving skills. I was convinced I had killed the car. The Engadin valley is still up at 1800m, so we were eventually going to have to go DOWN again. First though, we needed to get to our campsite.

Our campsite was the only "wilderness" one of the trip. It was about a 20 minute drive outside of St. Moritz at about 2000m. We set up our tent within sight of the playground and decided to eat at the canteen, in part because I was afraid to get in the car again. During dinner, the wind picked up and the sun started to go down. It got cold. The kids didn't seem to care and played happily at the playground while I shivered. We hit the sack a little early while the sun was behind the mountain range, but still giving some light. The boys were still a bundle of energy, no wonder after having been couped up in a car all day, except for that one outing to a LIBRARY!!! Poor things. After 2 hours of listening to them talk and play and fight we separated and had a one parent, one child sleeping arrangement that night.

Before I leave you, I would like to point out that my error in driving is apparently quite common for "first-timers". My friend who's aunt has a chalet in Engadine and has traveled there all her life said she made the same mistake the first time she drove the pass. Not to ruin the end, but the brakes never failed although they were smelly for more than a day. When we got back to Geneva one of the first things I did was take the car to the garage (the brakes also squeaked, but had since we started off) and the mechanic found the brakes to be in perfect condition. Phew! To anyone who is interested, the proper way to go down a mountain in a standard car is to gear down. The car essentially brakes itself when in 3rd or 2nd gear (or 1st if you are really going slow), but this does take a certain touch! What would you do in an automatic? I presume riding the brake the whole way down would also be a BAD idea. Maybe that is what the 1 and 2 options are for on the shift. I always ignored them, overdrive and reverse were the only options I paid attention to...

Friday, September 26, 2008

The danger of typos


I will probably regret posting this, but here goes. In reading the weird news section I came across this piece about an "offensive" typo. A college in Des Moines, Iowa's school handbook lists upcoming events. "Black History Linch and Learn" is a February offering. Call me insensitive, but I thought that was a hilarious typo! Seriously, I laughed out loud. Future printings will of course have the typos corrected and stickers are available to place over the erroneous phrase.

Of course I can now never run for political office...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Day Six: Schaffhausen


Before leaving Lucerne, I really wanted to see the Löwendenkmal. This is a sculpture memorial to the 700+ Swiss guards (mercenaries) who died trying to defend King Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, and their children from a murderous mob during the French revolution. Mark Twain described the sculpture of a mortally wounded lion as "the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world" (A Tramp Abroad). It truly was moving. It was a little tough to find as we were still learning the ins and outs of our new GPS system. We wound up parking the car in a small alleyway meters away from the park in a very obvious no parking area. It looked like a private alley and loading area for some artisan shops. We literally ran to the monument, paused long enough to take a few pictures, then ran back to the car. Perhaps not the inspired introspection that the artist had in mind.

We then packed back into the car and headed North. Our journey took us right through Zurich. I am hoping that our journey took us through the most unpleasant portion of Zurich as it was not all that inviting a city. It was during this portion of the journey I was happy to have bought the GPS. It made the transit relatively stress-free. On the other hand there were a couple of detours along the way that the GPS made a titch more stressful than necessary. A barricade and arrow told me to detour left. The GPS told me to go straight. The GPS told me to "turn around when possible". Repeatedly. The funny part was that the kids thought it said "Turn around, impossible!" and were a little concerned as to where exactly their mother had taken them. They are always judging me!

Arriving in Schaffhausen just before noon we discovered another little foible of the GPS system. It is programmed with a number of camping grounds, but not with the entrance to the camping ground. It will take you to the closest point on a public road to the camping ground, which is sometimes not anywhere near the entrance. The campground itself was the prettiest of the trip. It was right on the Rhine river, had a lush green grass field along the river, and two wading pools for the kids.

After a quick lunch and setting up camp we were off to our main local destination: Rheinfall. This is the largest waterfall (by volume of water falling) in Europe. It is no Niagara Falls, but it is pretty impressive in its own right. In the picture you can see the train bridge just behind the falls. We crossed the bridge and then climbed up to the tourist building and paid 1CHF ($1) to climb back down the stairs alongside the falls. Viewing platforms are at 4 different heights descending the falls and at the bottom one you feel you can reach out and touch the water. You can't though, I tried. Michael (I am tired of the initials by now) was appropriately impressed. "Cool" he exclaimed. Chris carried Michael up the stairs on his shoulders, but Lucas was climbing by himself right alongside me. As we turned the 6th or 7th corner and I started to feel tired I began to lament that I couldn't keep up with a 4 year old. Not 30 seconds later Lucas started to complain he was too tired to go on. Yay! _I_ could have kept going, but we took a breather before continuing the climb.

By the time we got back to the camping site we were all pretty hot and tired. We pulled on our bathing suits and went for a dip in the really cold Rhine river. Michael was not so impressed so he soon switched to the nearby wading pool. I had hoped to visit the old fortifications of Schaffhausen or the quaint village centre of Stein am Rhein. Swimming and relaxing was a better idea. I was trying so very hard to be flexible for my poor, over-scheduled family.

For dinner we went to the Coop restaurant just down the road. Coop is one of the two major grocery chains in Switzerland (hurray for lack of competitive prices!), so the "restaurant" was more of a cafeteria. Additionally, the kitchen closed at 5pm (!) so the selection was less than thrilling. I mention this only because there was a play area, complete with a touch screen video game that spoke German. The boys were both rather taken with this play area and requested it, incessantly, for the rest of the trip. To this day they lament not having the opportunity to return to this particular Coop restaurant.

Speaking of over-scheduled, next up: St. Gallen, Lichtenstein, and St. Moritz!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Day Five: Lucerne and Mount Pilatus

This was the first and only morning that we had a pee accident in the sleeping bag. After a lot of confusion we wound up being able to do a free load of laundry at the campground. The prepaid cards were not working, and the stress in my face convinced the reception to throw the bag into the staff machine. Woohoo!

For the rest of the day's adventure, we boarded a boat near our campsite and spent an hour and a half cruising on the Four Canton lake. Further along the lake there are some really impressive, cliffs rising vertically out of the water, and villages only accessible by boat. We then got off the boat to board the train. This is where the idyllic vacation (sleeping bag pee notwithstanding) came to a screeching halt. We wondered why everyone was pushing and shoving to get off the boat. This is Switzerland, the land of orderly and efficient transportation. Except at Pilatus. We stared in dismay at the crowd of hundreds in front of us, standing as a crowd across the main road and up the train station entrance. Some cars stopped, did a 3-point turn, and decided to try another way around. It was noon. It was hot. Several people bailed out, but we had pre-paid and I wasn't sure how to go about getting our money back, so we persevered.

Funnily enough, all around us were Canadians. There was a group of retirees from British Columbia right beside us who were quite taken with L. His habit during the entire trip was to strike up conversations with anyone he could find, particularly if he found they could speak English. He would boldly commence "Hi! My name is L. I am 4 years old." Several of the adults would tell me later how happy they were that he wasn't afraid of strangers and willing to speak to adults, a skill I hope to cultivate. Being shy myself, I beamed with pride as he guilessly chatted away. We have been listening to the Barenaked Ladies new kid's album "Snacktime" and L and M would give little concerts to all the people waiting in the heat. After slightly more than 2 hours we were able to board the train.

In order to climb an incline of 48%, a double cog system was designed by William Locher and the Pilatus train is the only public train to use this system. It was really quite spectacular, but also the reason why we had to wait for 2 hours. The design means that trains can't switch tracks and there is one spot in the middle of the mountain where the tracks are able to move horizontally to allow 2 trains to pass. M was asleep by the time we reached the top and stayed asleep while we watched some alphorns and found a picnic area. I went off in search of juice (nope) and beer (oh yeah) and by the time I returned M had awoken. L was more interested in feeding bread to the birds than actually eating himself. The birds were great entertainment for the boys and C and I could relax. We then went through a rock path (Dragon Path) carved into the mountain with rock windows looking out. It was done in honour of a local artist, Hans Erni, who illustrated several of the Pilatus legends. Most have to do with dragons, but there is also the legend that Pontius Pilate's soul rests in a mountain lake and if it were disturbed....bad stuff would happen. In 1585 an expedition of priests and local men went out to test this prophesy and found that nothing happened when they disturbed the lake's waters. Spoil sports!

As we were climbing up to one of the peeks we heard a helicopter approaching. We saw the characteristically red rescue helicopter land just below the deck with the picnic tables. It looked like the helicopter was going to plow right in to the hundreds of tourists crowding the railing to get a good look. I had a barely controllable urge to cover M's eyes but of course the helicopter landed safely. It was a pretty cool sight though, to see a rescue helicopter in action on a mountain top. Maybe not so cool for the person actually being rescued, although someone once told me that riding in an ambulance was really cool even though everything else that was happening was decidedly not cool.

The way back down was by cable car, only capable of fitting 40 people at a time, so it was another hour long wait to get on board. It was more like a roller coaster as the cable car swung out from the mountain and sped quickly down the line suspended over limestone rocks below. We then had to find the city bus back to Lucerne. By this point we were all tired and cranky and we stopped for the first and only time on the trip at McDonalds. I had been hoping to walk around Lucerne a bit in the evening but it was already past our bedtimes as we sat down to dinner. I did insist on walking through the historic covered bridge, prominently featured in billions of postcards and tourists photographs. Looking at the map I thought we could handle walking along the lake back to our campground. It was a lovely walk, and we were all so very tired by the end it.

Next stop....North to Schaffhausen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

How could I resist you?


I love musicals. I have always loved song and dance movies. I wanted to be a dancer growing up. Well, I dreamed about being a dancer, but I didn't want to be a dancer enough to actually, you know, work at it. Anyhoo....with this background knowledge, you can understand how happy I was that my friend asked if I wanted to see Mamma Mia. I was never able to see the theatre production so I hoped the movie would make up some of that disappointment. I was a little nervous, having read some rather nasty reviews. But really....most people don't like musicals. So I took reviews of a campy, ABBA-laced musical with a grain of salt. The one common thread was that everyone agreed that Meryl Streep did a good job and was the best part of the movie. What a shocker! Really? Meryl Streep is an excellent actor? No way!
My friend loved the movie the first time she saw it, but allowed that perhaps the fact that she was tipsy at the time helped the movie enjoyment. So, I tried to follow her lead. I guess I have finally built up my alcohol tolerance because I was definitely not tipsy. I enjoyed the movie immensely anyway! After having seen the movie, I have to say that Meryl Streep did an AWESOME job and was by far the best part of the movie! I already knew she could sing as she is track two on Sandra Boynton's musical CD Philadelphia Chickens (Nobody Understands Me is the title of her song). I really have to see more Meryl Streep movies.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Day Four: They have pioneer villages in Europe!



Ballenberg is an open air museum consisting of just over a hundred buildings of different architectural styles that have been moved from all parts of Switzerland. If you think of it, Swiss culture is made up of hundreds of communities living in valleys, isolated from each other by mountains. While there are a lot of similarities, there are also a lot of differences and Ballenberg is the place to come and see this firsthand. It consists of 33 hectares of land split into different geographical categories: the Jura (mountain range to the North in Switzerland), 4 different Midlands areas, 4 different alpine regions, and the Italian part. In each section there is at least one "atelier" or workshop, where you can see people in historical garb doing historical things. Of course historical in Europe takes on a whole new meaning!

My favourite was the a farmhouse from the Bernese Midlands where some man gave my small children nails and a hammer to test the relative hardness of 3 types of wood. I would never have let my sons do that on my own, but they were fully capable of discovering and exploring and banging (with proper supervision). There was also a set up for planing wood. Yes, a single, sharp blade that one uses to shave wood into various intricate designs and I allowed my precious angels to wield this blade all by themselves. I was being very brave! C's favourite was in the Ticino (Italian) part where there was a display about silk making, complete with live silk worms, moths, and silk cocoons that the kids (and parents) could pick up and investigate.

Honestly, this place is beyond huge. It is not possible to see it all in one go. I think the ideal way to see it would be on a school trip or as part of a tour, let someone else guide you through this humungous endeavor. I did find it a little difficult that everything was in German with very few descriptions being in French and Italian. If one were to come independently, it would certainly be a good idea to try to plan out a route beforehand to optimize exposure while minimizing all the walking!

This was the site of the first of 2 major L freak-outs. At the admission the customers receive a name-tag type sticker, presumably so security could do controls for people sneaking in. I would venture that over an area of 33 hectares there might be one or two places to try to avoid paying the entrance fee. Seeing our two small children the cashier wrote out their names on some spare stickers and a little drawing for them. How dare she! L LOST it! Putting a sticker on your clothes was tantamount to....well....something very bad. My guess is that he has been warned against putting stickers on fabric at home as the stickers will lose their stick, and this translated to the current situation as being a very bad idea. Anyhoo, during the yelling, screaming, and crying (the sticker was quickly banished to my purse, but the damage had been done), the Swiss air-force began flying maneuvers right over the park. Normally I would think a 4 year old boy would love to see fighter jets in action, doing flips, flying in formation, soaring loudly above. It was the loudly that put L back over the edge, or rather kept him on that other, bad side, of the edge. The tantrum, and the fighter jets eventually calmed down and by the time we found some of the farm animals, L was happy and exploring again. Afterward, he really liked all the exhibitions and climbing through all the old buildings. Perhaps he just needed to let off a little steam and stress from the first 3 days of our inaugural camping trip.

All in all though, I would like to go again sometime. Now that I know what to expect, I would make my own little commentary guide from the descriptions on the website and plan a walking route from the online map to see the many things we were unable to see the first time.

Next up....Lucerne and Mount Pilatus!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Day Three: Hiking at the First

Thankfully we knew enough about Swiss train stations and the tickets we wanted that we were able to avoid the LONG line at the train station and use the conveniently located self-service machine. We were able to catch the next train out to Grindelwald. We found where the gondola station was and bought tickets up to "The First". The boys were very happy to take the gondola ride up and the view on the way up was already impressive. A hike a few weeks earlier with an inopportune need for a bowel movement illustrated our children's reluctance to go au natural when nature calls. So, I tried to coax the boys into the bathroom before starting our hike.

The first bit of the hike coincided with cow pasture areas, which were delightful to look at, but the boys were less enthusiastic about the cow paddies we had to avoid. These are definitely city boys. Once past a gate enclosure protecting us from the cows and their paddies we continued on the way. As seems to be our custom, by the time we arrived at the beginning of our hike it was time for lunch. We found a nice spot with some rocks to sit upon and enjoy our picnic lunch where I took the photo for this post. This is also where the nice warm temperature decided to plummet and the wind definitely picked up.

An impromptu photo op had me turning in the alpine field and starting to sing "The hills are alive..." Then I saw another stretch of hikers approaching and decided that the hills were NOT that alive for me to be singing about it in front of other people, the moment had passed.

Bravely we marched onwards and were just about to turn towards our lake destination when I heard a small voice cry "I have to go caca". Ugh. We were above the treeline. I searched for some bushes to crouch behind...nothing. And the wind was picking up, and the clouds were rolling in. A passing gentleman informed us that we still had quite a way to go before reaching the lake (it was supposed to be an hour walk, without kids). We turned around and started hiking back to the gondola station. Of course once were were back within reach of toilets the moment had passed for Michael too.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Self-restraint? What self-restraint?

I know it seems strange to actually do a separate post about each and every day of our vacation. The problem is that we actually did something interesting every day of our vacation! I really had trouble trimming the list of activities down to one per day. Next year we are planning to do a 5 week vacation camping around Europe. What I learned on this camping trip is that it will probably kill us unless I manage to accept NOT doing something every single day. The problem was that I asked for information about interesting sites and excursions from my colleagues, and they complied! I think what I am going to need to do when planning "the big trip" is to NOT research for all these cool things to do. If Switzerland had too much to offer, then I imagine I am in big trouble with a whole continent. I think what I will have to do is pick my top 10 destinations and plan only 1 or 2 things for each destination. That makes 10 to 20 activities over the span of 35 days (I really can't stop doing math, it comforts me). How am I going to pick only 10 places to go out of a whole continent FULL of really cool places??? I'm starting to visualize a map, a blindfold, and 10 darts.

*photo by E[d]ge at Flickr

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Day Two: Jungfraujoch


One of the most interesting, and one of the most expensive trips in Switzerland is the trip to Jungfraujoch. It takes about two and a half hours by train from Interlaken. Leaving the lakeside city we started slowly ascending amongst various villages, pastures, and mountains. After our transfer to a second train, the ascent began much more quickly and in the span of maybe 10 minutes we had climbed 400m (1300ft), and then another 800m (2600ft). Our third train was the special one, the one that goes through the mountain! It is mostly cool in theory as you marvel at the knowledge that the train is chugging through one of Switzerland's famous alpine peaks. In reality, it doesn't seem much more than a very long tunnel. There are 2 five minute stops on the way up to let the descending trains pass. At these breaks there are observation windows and theory and reality collide as you peer out of the mountainside.

At the top we went directly to the Sphinx observation platform 3571m or 11,782ft above sea level. It was stunning. There was the HUGE, 22km long Aletsch glacier, with a string of ants moving along a path. Oh wait, those were people. A lot of people. I think I would be disappointed to go and walk on the glacier only to be in a rather crowded line of hundreds of other tourists. We spent as long as the kids would allow us up on the observation deck, just soaking up the impressive atmosphere. After lunch, a combination of supplies we had brought with us, supplemented by the cafeteria, we went up to the "Ice Palace". Entirely carved out of glacier, there was ice all around us. The floor was a little slippery as there was no sand/salt for the hundreds of visitors shuffling along, gripping the lifeline of a railing. There were a dozen or so ice sculpture exhibits and L was enthralled.

We left the glacier interior to go and walk outside. Alas, L was adamant that one should not walk in snow, in the middle of the summer, in your running shoes. And he whined. M had already decided that he wasn't going to walk while we were still inside the ice and he did not want to leave the vantage point of my back. It is a good thing that the views totally made up for any back discomfort.

We then decided to get going while the going was good and got in line for the return journey. M had a nice nap most of the way down the mountain. We thought to get off at Winderswil, a stop on the way back, and take a quick look around. Luckily, a gourmet store was actually open on a Sunday and we popped in and bought some essentials...milk, coffee, cheese, etc.

Back at camp we ate and let the kids play in the playground all evening while C and I went through the tremendous number of photos. We started to wonder if we would need to purchase another memory card before the end of the trip.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Day One: Geneva to Interlaken


To take the scenic route we drove along the south shore of Lac Leman through the French towns of Evian and Thonon-les-Bains. Driving through lakeside villages is quite picturesque, and quite slow. We were getting quite peckish and we weren't yet back in Switzerland! We finally made it to the opposite side of the lake and stopped at a grocery store for some lunch. The the real driving started as we turned onto the roads leading through the Col-des-Mosses, through the Pays-d'Enhaut, and entering into the Bernese-Oberland mountains on the way to Interlaken. I quickly learned how to downshift while going up the steep, sharp corners. To be honest, I was pretty impressed with my driving. Of course several times we wound up "trapped" behind a big bus. This was a relief as I was free to go even slower than I wanted. The line of cars behind me might curse me for not trying harder to pass the bus, but not for driving too slowly.

Once in Interlaken we found the tourism office to enquire about the weather for the next couple days as our planned outing choices would depend on weather conditions. All looked good. We found the campsite and put up our tent for the first time with just the two of us. Between having taken the scenic route and putting up the tent, it was past closing time for grocery stores on a Saturday (5pm!!). We set off to find the way to the train station and then to find some dinner. Our poor darlings were really getting famished and the couple restaurants we passed were not exactly the price-range we had in mind. It looked to still be a good-sized walk to get into downtown when we saw a more moderately priced venue....Hooters. The kids were tired and so was I, so we marched in and found a table. The waitress was traditionally attired (Hooters tradition, not Swiss).

Well fed, we made our way back to the campsite and the inaugural sleeping bag bedtime. "There is no video." Was more of a statement by L than a question. We never heard mention again of our normal routine of a 20min DVD episode before bed (the only "TV" the boys get). We read a story by flashlight and zipped the boys up in their sleeping bags. Then the fun began. Talking, giggling, wrestling. "Okay guys, it's time to go to sleep" was relatively ineffective. This was their first camping experience though and I thought that they should enjoy the post-bedtime giggles so we waited them out until they eventually fell asleep.

M woke up about 6:30 the next morning so I pulled him out of the tent and we wandered to the recreational area. I let him have some breakfast and tried to keep the noise level down until the magic hour of 7am arrived. But that's another story...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I survived a 2 week camping trip

I wanted to try to come up with a nice, well-crafted piece over-viewing our 2 week vacation. I have a feeling that if I wait to do this, it will never get done. So in the interest of expediency, I will try to forgo the literary excellence to which you have all become accustomed.

The camping was great. I was so worried about being in a tent for 2 weeks with 2 preschoolers, a guy who doesn't handle lack of sleep overly well, and myself who will bottle up frustrations instead of dealing with them until I become quite unpleasant myself. Night one, the boys snuggled into their sleeping bags and then out of their sleeping bags. They talked and giggled and fought and tickled until finally they fell asleep. The first few mornings M would get up between 6 and 7. After a few days though, the later nights kept both boys asleep until well after 7am. There was no way we could adhere to the normal 7pm bedtime routine.....it was still far too light out.

The trip was hardest on M. He is the youngest, and at 3 years old he was quite preoccupied with missing his toys. He was also missing a routine. He would not eat much at meal times, but then whine incessantly through the day that he was hungry. Nothing makes you feel guiltier than having your child proclaim to everyone within a kilometer radius that HE IS HUNGRY! I believe he was actually homesick/bored/tired/out of his element and he expressed this by saying he was hungry.

I was surprised that L handled it so well. Perhaps because he has been looking forward to "going camping" for so long. This is a kid who does not always do well with change. If something is different than normal, or even just not what he had imagined would happen he becomes very upset. Sometimes it seems like he is just being difficult, but when he gets into one of these irrational stand-offs, it is easy to see that he is quite viscerally upset. So, for a vacation with something new each day, he did very well.

The driving up and down mountains was good. I quickly became accustomed to all the shifting up and down mid-turn. Thankfully I had my "Aussie-bubble" and didn't care (too much) if there was anyone behind me waiting to pass. I even passed one or two slow drivers myself! I learned the hard way that it is best to gear down rather than use your brakes all the way down a pass. The squeaky brakes got a little bit squeakier after having taught me that lesson.

C was also great. He was wonderfully supportive the whole time. As he is the one with the kids 24/7 at home, the increased exposure of 24/7 and ALWAYS together (no playing quietly in a separate room) was harder on him, but he managed the extra stress very well.

While the kids got less sleep, we adults actually got more. Unlike North American campgrounds, European ones are essentially an open field of tents and campervans. Open fires are not allowed. Without a nice cosy fire to sit in front of at night, we usually went to bed ourselves shortly after darkness fell.

So the general synopsis is: we all survived, we even enjoyed ourselves. The boys loved it.
I will do some future posts more on what we did in the coming days. I will try hard to keep them as succinct as possible, but I do have the propensity to go on, and on, and on, and on...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

BBQ Bonanza

This past weekend we had two BBQs. On Saturday we car pooled to a nice park outside of Geneva. The perfect mix of sun and trees complemented the perfect mix of friends and food. We were brave since the weather forecast called for rain. We were very happy that we ignored the warnings. C bought a small little BBQ and we all piled on the sausages, chops, chicken, and steaks. Not all at once though. The boys and I splashed in the little beach. It, like many of the beaches here, was a stone beach and my dainty little princess feet were not so happy walking over the rocks. Neither was M. L on the other hand inherited his father's ability to walk over anything barefooted. A friend took the great family portrait above. The clouds rolled in an hour before we packed up, and a really good thunderstorm started about 9pm, after we were safe and sound at home.

The next day we went to a friend from the playgroup's home for another BBQ. It turns out that their neighbour is actually a Japanese postdoc from my department...small world. So all three families got together. I counted myself very lucky that day. After a full day of activity on Saturday and a rather tantrum-filled Sunday morning my two boys were veritable angels that afternoon. The other two boys were also very tired and worked very hard to make our two boys look even more angelic. One of the boys does not speak English, and the other one was the host, having a whole bunch of adults stealing his parents attention and a whole bunch of kids pawing over his stuff. I guess the ensuing madness was not surprising. The afternoon ended on a high note though. The boys had wandered into the bedroom and had started climbing up onto the headboard and then letting themselves fall onto the mattress. All the parents were giggling almost as much as the boys as photos and movies were being taken.

And that was our weekend.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Inaugural theatre outing...Kung-Fu Panda

A friend recently suggested taking L to "Kung-Fu Panda". This coincided with reading a review over at the BabyCenter that seemed to be supportive of the movie. As a test we rented Monsters Inc. Both 3 year old M and 4 year old L sat through the whole movie. L asked questions about the movie fairly non-stop, which is nice as we can do the whole parental guidance thing, but I was not so sure other movie-goers would appreciate it.

We watched the YouTube trailer for the movie. Where L is concerned, the more information he has about what to expect the better. He will flat out refuse to watch a show/movie that he hasn't seen before, a bit of a catch-22 innit? If we show him some YouTube clips, THEN he will sometimes accept watching a novel program. He seemed onboard. He did seem a little nervous about the bad-guy. I said that I was pretty sure that the good-guys would have to fight the bad-guy, but that the good-guys would win. Please don't let this be a kids movie that doesn't follow the Disney mould!

On the way to the theatre I prepped L on what to expect: a big line to get tickets, a big room with comfy chairs, a huge screen, it would get a little dark and there would be commercials just like on his DVD's (aside - why can we not even get away from commercials when we have BOUGHT the show?!!?), and then it would get really dark and the movie would begin. He was also told that he had to whisper any questions and not be loud. Stoic M got no real preparation...he was just along for the ride.

M was enthralled from the moment the room darkened until the very end of the credits. He watched, leaning forward with anticipation at the dramatic (Jack Black is dramatic??) points.

His older brother on the other hand was fidgeting in his seat after about 20 minutes (coincidentally the length of many of his bedtime DVD selections). He asked if it was a long movie...oops, did I forget to mention how long it would be? I told him it would be about as long as Cars. He settled back in. About 10 minutes later he leaned over and declared "This is longer than Cars".

A while later the dreaded phrase was spoken. "When I say that I am done, I am done." This is what he tells me when he knows he is approaching his limit. He is either getting too scared, or freaked out, or overwhelmed, or something. It means that the end is imminent. In the abstract it is actually pretty cool that he understands his limits and that he has picked up on how I try to transition the kids from one activity to another. He is essentially giving me a verbal cue that he is about to transition.

I tried to assure him that it is almost over, but I had no idea when it will be over. I reassured him that the Panda would win, the bad guy would be vanquished. "Will the bad guy get killed?" Ugh, they have recently been talking about good guys and bad guys getting killed. I think it is the Star Trek Next Gen that they have been watching with their Dad in the afternoons. They don't seem bothered by it, in fact they seem to think it is an appropriate ending for bad guys to get killed. I'm not sure that I like that. But I'm not sure that it isn't actually appropriate for their age, and, lets face it, their sex. Anyhoo, L made it to the credits. He was very antsy while the credits were rolling, so we went to les toilettes while the rest of the gang watched the end of the credits.

L did ask a few questions, but not too many. I whispered a few parental guidance comments to him during the movie as well. He certainly didn't disrupt the other movie goers. Afterwards, M and L both declared that they loved the movie. When asked if it was scary, they replied no. They both thought it was a funny movie, which it was.

Friday, July 18, 2008

I strongly disagree....maybe


I don't know if this is me, or being Canadian, or a more universal problem for women or even all of mankind...but I waffle. I can't make a decision. If I do make a decision then I am instantly second guessing it. What's worse is I waffle online where I am virtually (ha ha) anonymous. I read blogs (more often than I should to be honest) and start to compose my comment. But then I read the other comments with three common outcomes.

First, someone else has already made my point. I could say, "I agree with PP (previous poster)". At first that seemed silly. Now I've learned what validation freaks bloggers are and will sometimes oblige them with a comment that adds nothing to the discourse. It does let the blogger know I read their post, and the PP know that I agree with their comment. After having made a few posts now, and a few comments, I understand that this kind of comment is not as useless as I thought.

The second is that the bulk of the comments are vehemently opposed to my opinion. I had an opinion to voice, but in the face of all that opposition I start to waffle. While I don't mind a good argument, à la "Does Brittney Spears have a responsibility to be a good role model?", I don't want to be the one voice trying to convince dozens of gun-happy posters that maybe guns really do kill people.

The third option is the most prevalent. I have an argument to make, I write it out in the comment box. Then I read it over. It seems a little harsh. How about I edit it a bit. Hmmm, someone might take offense to this phrase, better rephrase that. Now my comment looks a little wishy-washy. Is there any point to posting it? Actually, maybe I'm wrong. What if other people find fault with my logic. What if someone thinks that I am as stupid as I thought Poster #12 was. Maybe I don't feel so strongly about this after all. Cancel post.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hanging Discipline Out To Dry


Pre-children I strongly defended the right of parents to use corporal punishment with their kids. Offenses such as running out into the street or putting metal objects into electrical outlets seemed to require a swift and unambiguous consequence, not a negotiation. My oldest, L, ran across the street once when he was 2 years old. I caught up to him, hauling a 5 month old M with me, and he got a spanking. More striking (bad choice of word?) was that his fun, easy-going mother was wild with anger and fear, something he had never before witnessed. I don't regret spanking him, but that was the only time I have ever done it. He has been told that climbing up in our 3rd story window that is completely open, no screens, is a "spanking offense", and this warning is all that has been necessary to curb that problem in the bud.

The problem I have is with those smaller discipline infractions: touching something he is not supposed to, throwing toys at his brother, being rude. What is an appropriate discipline for these? In the heat of the moment, spanking, or a quick swat seems quick and effective, but I felt like it was a cop out. I should be able to come up with an appropriate, respectful consequence for misdemeanors. For a while L had a bad habit of turning on the stove. I refused to spank, it didn't seem appropriate. The solution was having him sit on his hands. He sat on his hands any time he touched something he wasn't supposed to. It worked. He laughed a lot while he was sitting there, it was indeed a funny pose. In addition to the laughter was the result that he stopped touching the stove. Effective AND no crying! It never worked for M though. Eventually it didn't work for L either. New technique....standing in the corner. This one wasn't as funny. This one resulted in crying. This one also got results, until recenLinktly. Also recently has the back talk started getting bad.

Enter our latest discipline craze that so far is working like a charm. Both boys LOVE playing on the computer. TVOKids , Bob , and Thomas are their favourite destinations. Every day the request to play on the computer echoed through the apartment. Now comes the clever part....clothespins! I bought 40 clothespins, numbered 1-20 for each L and M and hung them on the wall. They are now entitled to 20 minutes of computer time a day. However, anytime they misbehave, are rude, or ignore a repeated request, they lose a minute. Extremely effective for L! L compares how many minutes he has with M. It is a competition, except that M doesn't really seem to care. L will even say "I have 19 minutes today, I'm a really good boy!".

As a bonus, all I have to do is glance at the pins when I get home and I already know how much support C will need after his day with the boys.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I am that good!


So this post is a little out of date, but I will do it anyway, because I am awesome. On C's birthday I had to leave work early to be with the kids while C got his stitches out (4 stitches as the result of breaking a very dangerous wine glass whilst doing the dishes, as an aside, the female doctor remarked that it was only men who seem to come in with broken wine glass injuries requiring stitches). While C was at the clinic, I made his birthday cake....an angel food cake.....from scratch! It was indeed a bit of a pain in the butt to do, especially with 2 little "helpers" eager to lend a hand. It was just out of the oven when I had to run back into work to sign some paperwork on a paper being submitted (crossing my fingers) and start some cultures. I truly felt like the fictional modern woman, capable of working full-time, while still being able to have meaningful time with the kids, bake from scratch, and nurture my relationship with my husband, all at the same time! Of course it only lasts a moment before part of it, or all of it comes crashing down....but I had my moment! The cake, by the way, was delicious, tasted just like one would find back in Canada.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Let them be.

So, we get together with friends every Friday night for conversation, food, and drinks. I've felt a little bad as a new postdoc in the lab, "U", very much wanted to join in but as she had a 13 month old, coming to our apartment between 8pm and 1am wasn't really feasible. Now it is summer time and we try to hold our weekly meeting at a local park. U mentioned that she and her son would come and I told her that would be great. I said I was sure the L and M would love playing with the little boy. At least that was what would happen in my mind. L and M would be darling little surrogates to the little one, talking and playing gently with him while all the adults chatted and admired what friendly children I have. Of course that didn't happen. They barely even looked at the poor little guy. I tried to coax them in the "right" direction, suggesting playing in the sandbox with him. No dice. There were other, bigger kids in the park and these were English speaking kids to boot. I fretted about it a moment. Then I remembered another blogger mom who wrote about a very similar thing: accepting your kids for who they are, imperfect and wonderful. Who cares if U felt the boys were ignoring her little one. In fact I doubt seriously she gave it a second thought. It was ME who wanted this idyllic scene, the boys were perfectly happy. U and her son also enjoyed themselves. I sat down at the picnic blanket, grabbed a glass of wine and relaxed while L and M ran with the big kids.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dragon Smoke


So, there we were, waiting at a traffic light when L (who is 4 years old) declares that he really wants to breath dragon smoke. "What's that dear?" I ask absently. "I want one of those sticks, with fire at one end, where you breathe in the dragon smoke and then breathe out the dragon smoke" he replies. "WHAT?!?!?!" Yes, my four-year old just asked if he could start smoking! Okay, so not in so many words but that is the essence of the request. I don't smoke. C (my husband) does not smoke. None of our friends smoke. This is from pure, innocent observation of the THOUSANDS of Genevois who smoke "like it is a cure for cancer" as C says. Starting July 1, 2008, smoking in public places, ie restaurants, is banned in Geneva. Alas, since we do not frequent restaurants (too expensive, and the kids are too picky to eat anything anyway), the smoking on the street is what they have been exposed to and that will not change. Is it a surprise then that Philip Morris is building one of the biggest day cares in Switzerland? Ok, so the day care is meant mainly for their own employees, 10-15% of the places are reserved for neighbourhood residents. Later on L grabbed my hand and pointed at a woman holding a cigarette. "See mommy, see the white and yellow stick, that is what I want". *photo by ArtWerk

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Football, Party, Football, Castle, Cheese, and Chocolate....aka our weekend

So, after writing a veritable book about our adventures in England, we had another weekend full of activities to be describe. Our regular Friday night social gathering included an outing to the Geneva FanZone to watch the Netherlands pound the French. I was wearing a nice bright orange t-shirt (the Dutch team colour) and it was a very exciting match. The next morning C left to pick up our good friend "TruroM" from the airport. L, M, and I (that's kind of funny) went to the fête du fin de l'année for the Mille Pattes kids (end of year preschool party). L and M were a little unsure about joining in the games and were a little clingy. It wasn't just our boys though, since their "girlfriend" and her older sister were also clinging to their mother's legs. After a while, a children's entertainer began a performance of "Blanche Neige" (Snow White). I'm still unsure what the French version of all the 7 dwarfs were, but it was pretty educational for me. The boys didn't really seem to follow the French very well, all the better since I think describing strangling your step-daughter in the woods and tearing out her lungs and liver is a story best not told by a stranger with props. They certainly enjoyed much of the physical humour, but I do believe some of the less pleasant undertones were conveyed well enough for them to be a little uncomfortable. After about half an hour L had reached his breaking point and started calling for me (the kids were on the front row benches, the parents were standing behind). L came to sit next to me on the grass and ask some questions about the plot...loudly, while I was desperately trying to keep an eye on M. M had no problem staying put for the rest of the performance. L is certainly more sensitive to such things than M, and L's level of comprehension of what he was watching was also likely higher. After the party we retired to our local park where girlfriend M and her family supplied water guns and hilarity ensued during a balmy 20oC afternoon. M was ready to fall asleep back at the party, so by the end of the park, the poor little guy was on his last legs. Thankfully we had TruroM at home and the boys got their second wind entertaining her. The next day we walked along the Geneva lakefront and gawked at the kerbillion Czech fans pouring into the city (they lost that night 2-3 to the Turks). It was quite a sight! The boys did fairly well with walking around for hours on Sunday after such a busy Saturday. C went off to watch the Swiss team win their last match at the FanZone while TruroM and I caught up. On Monday, I took a day off of work and we took the train back to Gruyères. We first went to the old town and through the castle. L was happy to go through as all the rooms were numbered to correspond to the guide book. We then went to the cheese factory for lunch, where the cafeteria is GREAT, it has a corner with a few toys for kids to play with. After having some of their favourite Gruyere cheese, they were off to play while we adults could finish in peace and even have a nice cup of coffee/tea afterwards. Then we were off to Broc and the Cailler/Nestle chocolate factory. The tour is FREE and self-guided. So we were able to race past all the informative exhibits and multi-sensory displays and head straight for the tasting room. All of us gorged on wonderful chocolate. The boys were literally dancing, spinning, jumping, and running with delight. Thankfully the few other visitors in the room found the boys as charming as their mother does. We caught the train back home after stocking up on some Iced Tea (there was no juice) and got back to Geneva. The boys were amazingly great all weekend. I think this means that we can start planning more day trips. TruroM left us to travel back to Halifax (business class, the poor dear) but not until we had likely infected her with our current version of cold virus.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

England

We arrived a little late in Rye. We decided perhaps it would be better to feed the kids and ourselves (McDonald's) once we had arrived at the airport, before starting the 2 hour train ride. The motel was 2 blocks from the train station and we were soon settled in. We walked around the town for an hour or so, finding the pub where the reception would be. We investigated one of the old Mortello towers on the south side of Rye, previously integral to the defense of this coastal town (the French raided it around 3 times during the 100 year war). We found a grocery store and got supplies for breakfast the next morning and the always important juice and snack supply. We found a restaurant displaying a "Kids welcome" sign out front and a menu that didn't seem too outrageously priced and had dinner. Or should I say that the kids alternated between asking to go to the bathroom and refusing to sit/eat/stop yelling while C and I tried to enjoy our meals. The only item on the kid's menu that looked at all like something the kids might eat was fish cakes. Basically like chicken nuggets, only one big patty instead of several nuggets, and fish instead of chicken. L tried it, declared it good, but refused to eat a second bite. M decided that the chips (fries) were too hot, while L objected to their wedge shape. Much crying and complaining ensued. To be fair, they had been traveling much of the day and it was now an hour past their normal bedtime. We scurried out of the restaurant with much embarrassment and retreated to the motel room. We flipped on the tv, played musical beds (it was a "family room" with 4 single beds, and of course both boys wanted the same one) and snuggled in. M fell asleep while we watched "Britain's got more Talent" (one of my guilty youtube indulgences), but L was captivated by the British talent show. He commented on the vocal abilities of some of the contestants. The next morning we were in search of A) where the wedding ceremony would be, B) a chemist (pharmacist) to get something for M's so-called chicken pox, C) gift wrap paper for the wedding gift, and D) a barber for C's rather long hair. We did a little more exploration of Rye and then got ready for the wedding. L decided that he HATED his "wedding clothes". There was a massive battle of wills to get him into his dress shirt and pants. Once we got out again, all was fine. The wedding was at the city hall and we were welcomed by the Town Crier. L was fascinated. Up in the room where the ceremony was to take place there were plenty of friendly adult faces for L to talk to and entertain, so he was fine. During the ceremony M started to get upset so I pulled out the emergency lollipops. Instead of a whining sound though, there was now a rather loud sucking sound and M is well known for his rapturous method of enjoying his treats. At the wedding reception the boys were full of energy running around the parking lot chasing each other. Eventually I convinced them to join the other kids, about 5 in total, all about the same age. Dinner again turned into a mix of bathroom breaks and tantrums. The kids wouldn't even eat dessert. M was so incredibly tired that he was beside himself with emotion. I was tired and beside myself with emotion that my poor baby was so upset. I took him outside several times and eventually took him upstairs to a room where shortly babysitters were to arrive, to see if he would sleep. After a few minutes, the sitters and all the other kids arrived....no sleeping! I left both boys watching a portable DVD player and was able to enjoy the wedding speeches. We had a good 45 minutes before M started to lose it again and I headed back to the motel room while C enjoyed the rest of the reception. It is odd, since it was my friend's wedding, but to be honest, I was tired and upset that my kids were upset, and C had apparently made some very good friends during the bachelor party in Amsterdam the previous weekend. The next day we took the train to Canterbury. We arrived just before lunch. Again I looked for a restaurant with a children's menu. The Foundry. We went inside. The children's menu, it turned out, is actually the same as the adult's menu, they would just give a half portion for half price. We ordered the kids a bowl each of chips (fries). It was then that we read that all the food was purchased locally. Cool, I like to support initiatives like that. Also, food was not prepared in advance, the food preparation would only begin after you ordered, so please be patient. Cool in theory, please be patient with two preschoolers who have been traveling all weekend? Not so cool. They did okay though, we convinced L that the cranberry juice was a special kind of grape juice since he was adamant that he NEEDED grape juice. M started to throw a major fit when the chips arrived and were still hot. I picked him up after the very first high pitched scream, said very firmly "That is not appropriate behaviour, you will NOT scream in a restaurant" and took him down the stairs and out the door and sat on a bench until he calmed down. I made sure he understood that if he were to scream again or get upset, we would be right back outside again. The rest of the lunch went great. I think L was even better since he saw that we meant business. We got to the hostel, dumped off the bags and then went to explore St. Augustine's abbey. All four of us got the personal audio guides. L was in 7th heaven, he loved programing in the different audio tracks, telling me which number he had finished and which number he was now listening to. We actually got to enjoy exploring the whole site until closing time. We then grabbed dinner at the evil McDonald's, but it was just so much easier when there was something that the kids will eat. We walked over to Canterbury cathedral and walked around the outside as it was past closing time for tours. We then explored an old Norman keep/castle. That was really cool. We got back to the hostel and fell asleep almost instantly. Well, the troupe of Russian kids playing in the backyard right outside our window kept me up for a while, but I was in a semi-conscious state of mind. The next morning we packed up our gear and headed back to the cathedral. We explored the inside this time and made it out with an hour and a half to spare before our train. We decided that it wasn't enough time to see the "Canterbury Tales" exhibit and instead caught an earlier train back to the airport. I paid an astronomical amount of money for 2 Thomas the tank engine sticker/activity books whilst L was screaming that he wanted a different present. In the end though the sticker books occupied the boys for most of the 90 minute flight back to Geneva. It was a busy, expensive trip, but it was fun to have done it. The wedding was beautiful and I was really happy to have been able to be there for my friend (even if we didn't really ever get to chat). WOW, this is a long post, but it WAS a pretty busy weekend!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Eat, Drink, and be Miserable

So this post isn't necessarily just about our trip to England, but pervades our day to day life as well. Meal time, specifically dinner time, is my most miserable time of the day. This didn't used to be the case. When I was single, I loved dinner time. It could be as fancy or as plain as I pleased. Then I got married. "What do you want for dinner tonight?" might just be the most loaded, anger-inducing question of my post-marital, pre-children life. Then I discovered a magical book which gave me weekly recipes and grocery lists on a 12-week cycle and while the food was rarely fancy or delicious, it answered the question "What do you want for dinner tonight?". But now the question is back. It is back for two reasons. The first reason is that we are living in Switzerland, where the normal grocery staples of North America do not exist. All those easy to use "just add cream of XXX soup" recipes are useless. The second reason is of course the kids. My son is a picky eater. He is usually pretty good at "trying" something new if we make a fuss about it, but even if he concedes that it tastes good, he still won't have a second bite....because it is new. There is no telling what old staple will suddenly be on the "no eat" list at any given moment. Aside from pepperoni sticks and chicken nuggets he will not eat any meat product. He doesn't like pizza, he doesn't like pasta no matter what kind of sauce I dream up to put on it. We've tried to accommodate by including at least something that we know he likes into each meal, as a side dish. That just got too complicated, and see the above "no eat" comment. So we decided to serve bread and butter with each meal and he can eat as much or as little as he likes of what is on the table and nothing else. I think I would be fine with this compromise if A) I was sure he was getting adequate nutrition during breakfast, lunch and snacks and B) if C didn't fly off the handle on an almost nightly basis about the "waste" of food. I think we all just need a little more time for the phase(s) to pass. Not too long ago L all of a sudden started eating carrot sticks. Only raw sticks, not cooked, even if glazed in butter and/or honey (I've tried just about everything). So I guess I need to find a European version of the "miracle book" and just keep plugging on trying to set a good example, hope for the best, and ignore unpleasant outbursts by my fellow diners. I'll get back to dinners in England in my next non-rant post, I promise.