Thursday, July 31, 2008

A style first

Marion sported a ponytail today.

She was pretty proud of her hair and kept trying to see it. So, she didn't grasp the idea of a ponytail. But she still looked cute!

In other Swiss Macs news, we have spent the last few days meeting up with friends.

On Tuesday I hosted the weekly coffee group at our flat. Yesterday morning we went to the Park im Grüene and then, after nap, we headed over to a friend's house to go to the Oberrieden Badi. A badi is an open air swimming pool with access to swim in Lake Zurich.

I had heard from neighbors that this particular badi was fantastic for kids. And boy were they right. They have a great kids pool with sprayers, a water umbrella, and a water pump. Next to that is a slide and a huge sandpit with another water pump. Then there is a kids area in the lake. I highly recommend it.

We returned to the badi this morning for a birthday party. Marion was thrilled to be back. The swimming pool really is one of the best I've seen.

Marion and I had a great time at the party, meeting new people and talking with others we've met before.

Until Marion went under somehow. I was talking to the other moms at the party and turned my head away from the pool for a couple of seconds to greet someone. The next thing I know, Marion is standing in the eight inches of water completely drenched and another mother is picking up her (now soaked) hat. I went over to get Marion and thanked the other mother for being there. I asked the mother if she fell and she said yes. I then brought Marion over to where we were sitting and wrapped her in a towel, asking her what happened. All she would say was "Mommy, I fall." I think she was still too shocked to talk about it! And I don't have a clue as to what happened. Nothing is slippery near the pool and the water is only about eight inches deep. I'm starting to wonder if she tripped or was pushed... Frankly, I'll never know.

Here is the evidence, my drenched daughter.
I feel horrible. But just the first of many scary experiences, right? Right????

Marion's shock wore off quickly and she was her bubbly self again. There was birthday cake to be eaten and all was right with the world!

The rest of the day was spent running errands and doing laundry. I won't bore you with the details.

However, tomorrow is Swiss National Day which means more fireworks! Marion won't get to see them since they will go off after her bedtime, but Brian and I hope to see some. And Brian has the day off so we've decided to head back to the badi. So more bathing beauty pictures tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Marion Gets Down

I finally got around to creating a video of Marion's dancing skills at Acqui Terme, Italy.

Thanks to all the suggestions! I decided to go with Mike's suggestion and use the Windows Movie Maker.

Movie Maker was easy to use, although I did have a bit of a hiccup trying to figure out how to shorten the duration of the pictures. It would have been easier for me to just video her dancing, but I only had my camera on me at the time. Oh well.

Anyway, here it is!
video

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Trash System

Yes, there is a system to trash. And, after being here for two months, I am putting this system in the "good idea" column.

Trash is picked up in official trash bags of the city you live in. We purchase trash bags (gray with green writing) at our local grocery store. Trash not in these bags will not be collected.

So there it starts. You pay for the amount of trash you create. As a result, there are plenty of ways to cut back on the trash you create and save some money.

First, the Swiss are big on recycling. Two recycling centers are within walking distance for us at the Coop and Migros grocery stores. So we have officially become recyclers. No excuse when it is this easy.

Second, cardboard boxes are picked up for free. There is an area next to our dumpsters for the boxes. We just take our flattened (very important step!) boxes down there for collection.

Third, a compost bin is available for use. I'm still on the fence with this one since I'm not a big fan of flies. However, I've been told that if I use an airtight container for the compost in my kitchen, I should not get flies. We shall see, we might attempt it in the future.

Finally, everyone in Switzerland uses reusable grocery bags. Small plastic bags are available at the stores but they are pretty useless. Larger paper or plastic bags are available too but you have to pay for them. The larger bags are also designed to be able to be reused so you don't have to purchase them again. Unless, of course, you forget your bags. Which would explain the abundance of bags in our closet.

Anyway...

We've already seen a reduction in the trash we create by recycling, separating the cardboard boxes out, and reusing grocery bags. Good thing too, the trash bags cost a pretty penny!

Monday, July 28, 2008

A red Bobby Car for Marion

One of my favorite things to do lately has been to spend time at the playground behind our apartment with other moms in our complex and their kids. We get to chat while the kids, who are all relatively close in age, play together. It reminds me of our old neighborhood.

But our chats are frequently interrupted by yelling because one kid has tried to take away another child's toy. And usually it is Marion, trying to ride Natalie or Fedor's Bobby Car.

I had not heard the term 'Bobby Car' before moving to Switzerland. So, assuming you haven't either, here's a quick lesson.

The Bobby Car is a car without pedals. The child riding on the car moves it using his or her feet. They are usually red and made in Germany by the BIG company.

Tired of the constant bickering over the Bobby Cars, we took Marion to Toys R Us on Saturday to pick out her own. We ended up getting this little number.
Pretty, right? Those stickers were a pain to put on.

Marion loves it and has ridden it a few times since we put it together. However, it hasn't been put to the real test yet. Playtime with all of the kids and their cars. I'll let you know how that goes.

I did some googling today to determine if these are available in the US. And good news is, they are. So far I found them at Amazon and Costco. No luck at Toys R Us.

And (good news for us) it is the first thing I have come across that is actually cheaper in Europe!

So, if you are interested in getting one of these for your child, I might be persuaded to bring one back for you. Have I mentioned I like sangria?

Wildpark Langenberg


On Friday morning, Marion and I checked out Wildpark Langenberg.

It is a free park located in Langnau, not very far from us. I had heard good things about it so we headed over there after breakfast.

First thing we saw were some goats. They were sleeping.
The second thing we saw was a playground. Had to stop there for a bit.
After the playground we continued into the park. We stopped at the bear area and saw some fish.
No bears. So we ventured a little further down the path.

Unfortunately, we didn't get too far. In my head, I had envisioned paved pathways, like a zoo. Because, you know, they have animals and stuff. So I wore flat shoes.
Not a good move. Should have worn the tennis shoes. On top of my poor choice of footwear, our stroller was having a hard time with the gravel pathways. One more reason I need a new stroller. I'm in the negotiation and research stage. We shall see.

Anyway, we came to a fork in the path.
Marion wanted to go downhill, on the gravel path. She was obviously in on the torture of my feet. We (I) decided to go uphill. Good choice, we found a small playground and sand box.
We spent the rest of our morning there.

A little boy was also playing in the sandbox and, after awhile, two other families joined us there. However, no matter how many children were playing in the area, the little boy would follow Marion around and try to take whatever she was playing with or sit on whatever animal she was riding. If Marion wouldn't give the toy up (ie she had a death grip on it), he would start to push her or pull her shirt.

Maybe this was the start of a crush?

Who knows. But in these situations I always step back and see what Marion does. Plus, I am not comfortable disciplining other people's kids, especially when they don't speak English.

Marion did pretty well. She wasn't giving up her toy (typical, we are still working on the concept of sharing). And after he pushed her, it was a great segway into the "we don't hit" discussion.

Anyway, despite run ins with the little boy, Marion had a blast. She played with the other little kids in the sandbox for the rest of the morning. When it was time to go, Marion gave the people at the sandbox a big "Bye Friends!"

I probably should have asked for their contact information, but I didn't. Oh well.

So, we had a great time. We didn't see that many animals but the place is free and has a restaurant so we'll be back. And when we do go back, I'll wear my tennis shoes and bring my new stroller (that will at least have rubber tires, that feature is a must).

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sleep disorientation, not just for adults

Getting Marion out of bed is one of my favorite things to do. She is incredibly happy to see whoever comes to get her out of her crib.

But waking her up from a sound sleep is another story. You never quite know how she is going to react. We do it anyway, though, to make sure she sleeps at night.

So when she was still sleeping at 4 pm today, I went in to wake her up. This time, the sound of the door opening was enough to wake her up.

She flipped onto her back, wiped her face, sat straight up and exclaimed, "Mommy, hey! HEY!"

I replied, "Hi honey, how are you?"

That's when she looked up at me and asked, "What am I doing Mommy?"

Adorable.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The thing about gas prices

Such a complex debate/discussion/whatever. I can only comment on my observations as a person who buys gas. So take this at face value.

Every now and then I turn on CNN here and, usually, the discussion is centered around the rising gas prices in the US.

I can't say that I'm surprised, the discussion has been going on for quite some time now. And I was definitely in shock over the $4/gallon gas I was buying before I left the States.

Then I moved to Europe and I saw 1.98 displayed at gas stations near us. Score!

Not so much. That's 1.98CHF per liter.

I'll do the conversion.

That equates to $7.25 per gallon. Almost double what I was paying in the States, yikes!

Then there's the case of availability here in Europe.

The first time I went to go get gas I was confused as to what to buy. Sitting in front of me were three options: 91, 95, and diesel. Where's the 87?

Even worse, on our recent roadtrip, there were only two options at some of the gas stations we stopped at: gas and diesel.

The lack of options put into perspective for me the availability of gas in the US. There is a gas station on practically every corner, all serving up the same variety of gas. And I can't recall the last time I saw a gas station closed in the States because it ran out of gas.

That variety and availability at $4 per gallon. Not too shabby.

Intrigued by all of this, I decided to do some quick googling. I came up with this recent CNN article. Interesting article. It lists the United States as one of the nations with the cheapest places to buy gas. Not that that makes the rising prices an easier pill to swallow. And, sure, there are a lot of other factors here at work, cost of living, taxes, etc. But interesting, nonetheless.

To Strassenverkehrsamt we go

To get the car inspected.

When we arrived in Switzerland, we bought our car from the people who previously lived in our apartment. We are the proud owners of a 1997 Peugeot station wagon.
It's okay. You can admit that you're jealous.

Anyway, because the car is older than ten years of age, it had to be inspected. Brian found this out when he previously went to the Strassenverkehrsamt to register the car.

Our original appointment was a couple of weeks ago, first thing in the morning. But we missed that because Colleen missed her flight and wasn't here to watch Marion for me to go. But that's another story.

So we rescheduled. Unfortunately, we had to pay a 60 CHF fee to do this because we canceled within four days of our appointment time. Yes, four days. They really make you plan ahead in Switzerland! Doctor's offices don't even require that kind of notice.

So our appointment was this morning at 11:04. I asked Brian how long it would take for us to get there. He wasn't sure, despite being there once already. So we did what we usually do when we are unsure of timing, we gave ourselves an hour of travel time. Or, since I was so organized this morning, an hour and 15 minutes of travel time.

We got there an hour early.

I figured it was okay, since I also had to drop off the previous owners vehicle tags. An hour was plenty of time to deal with the lines that I was sure awaited me inside. Even if we are in Switzerland, it's still a motor vehicle administration, right?

Took me 20 seconds to drop off the tags. I asked information, she pointed me to a desk with no line, I walked up, and gave the man behind the counter the tags.

Done.

So we headed to the inspection location, just behind the main building. Unfortunately, the woman checking me in did not speak English. And I really only know greetings and 1, 2, and 3 in German at this point. But from watching the cars ahead of me and her repeating herself four times I was pretty sure I knew what to do.

I pulled up in front of the inspection area and parked the car to wait for a little green light to shine. I waited for a light to turn green, but it never did. I think that had to do with the angle though.

Anyway, while I was sitting there I realized that I should probably just wait until my appointment time and then go in, regardless of whether or not I could see the green light. My experience here so far has taught me that the Swiss are very punctual. Plus, cars were starting to pull behind me and, seeing how I was still 50 minutes away from my appointment time, they were more than likely ahead of me.

After 30 minutes, I got out of my car and told the woman behind me to go ahead because my appointment was after hers.

And then, around 10:50 or so, I figured it was close enough and drove into the inspection area.

I pulled forward, stopped the car, and got out. Someone came over and spoke German to me. I used my favorite phrase in German, "Sprechen Sie Englisch?", or "Do you speak English?". Luckily, he did. He wanted me to open the hood and the back door.

He walked away and I waited for several more minutes. The people behind me were starting to be helped but I wasn't. Confusing. Then, a second gentleman came up and starting speaking to me, in German. I used my favorite phrase and he also spoke English. He asked me when my appointment time was and I answered. Turns out my choice to wait was correct. The person behind me had an earlier appointment by 9 minutes, so they moved his car to the lane next to mine so he could go first.

At least the Swiss are predictable. Thank goodness for that!

A third gentleman came over, this time with a clipboard. Finally, my turn! He also spoke English, although he said only a little.

This always makes me laugh. A lot of people I have met answer that they only speak a little English. Then they will talk to me in perfect English, only pausing at a word here or there. If I could speak that much German, I wouldn't find myself stumbling as much as I am!

He was very nice. The first inspection was only visual, then he asked me to take Marion somewhere else as the rest of the inspection wasn't suitable for children. I think they did an emissions test later and that was what he was referring to. Either way, Marion and I hung out on the sidelines, he completed the inspection, and then we were given the all clear.

So, the car has been inspected and I now know that I should check the route with Garmin first rather than giving it my usual hour.

Oh, and another plus to our trip. I also now know how to get to SihlCity. I had heard rumors about a large shopping center, with daycare, since I arrived. And now I know that it is only a 10 minute drive away. Brian's thrilled too!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Random observations from our trip

France had a lot of stray dogs. And, as a result, there was dog poop everywhere. We had to pay very close attention to where we were going to avoid them. And then I managed to drive through two big heapings as we were packing up the car. Nastiness!

On our way to France, we drove through a very long tunnel. Once we exited the tunnel, everything was in Italian. It even looked like Italy. But we hadn't gone through a border control stop. Colleen and I were very confused. Turns out it was Ticino, the Itatian portion of Switzerland. It was our first experience in a different section of Switzerland and the change is remarkable. It feels like a different country, but it isn't. It would be like driving to Pennsylvania, and all of the signs would suddenly be in a different language and everyone would speak a different language, but the currency is still the same.

The trains in France were not as clean and comfortable as they are in Switzerland.

It is acceptable to eat chocolate for breakfast and have multiple ice creams a day. This ensures that you don't lose weight while on vacation, even though you are climbing a mountain several times per day.

Only a few people went topless on the beach. Most of them you wouldn't expect to see topless.

People eat dinner out very late. Restaurants didn't even open until 7 pm.

We witnessed several incidents of road rage. It didn't just include people honking their horns, but people getting out of their cars to yell at each other, pedestrians yelling at motorists, and long horn blows.

None of the children at the beach that I saw were wearing a swim diaper. Marion was the only one. Made me wonder what happens when these children have to go potty. I mean, number one is a no brainer. But number two? Not so sure. They were all wearing bathing suit bottoms, so maybe that catches it? These are the things a mother who will be potty training her daughter in the next year wonders about while lounging on the French Riviera.

That's all I've got right now- I'm sure more will pop into my head as I still decompress from our trip. And, of course, Brian and Colleen may want to add some. Brian? Colleen?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Menton, France Trip: July 19-20

We had to be out of the flat by 10 am Saturday so we had a lot to do when we woke up. Luckily none of us were hungover despite the wine, beer, and sangria we finished the night before. We couldn't let it go to waste! Plus we had packed practically everything the night before.

So the morning flew by and, after completing the to do list from the owner, we were on the road by 9 am. We stopped at a local bakery on our way out for some pain du chocolat, or really yummy pastries made out of croissant bread with chocolate in the middle. Need I say more?

Once we had secured chocolate for breakfast, we were on our way. Since we were close to the border we were in Italy fairly fast. Italy has tollbooths (unlike Austria) so we stopped, grabbed a ticket, and sped off along the Italian coast.

The trip went fairly well. We stopped to get gas, changed Marion's diaper, and picked up some snacks and then made our way onto the highway again.

Marion was being entertained by my Ipod and we were playing a movie trivia game (a favorite of ours when traveling in the car).

Then Marion, after eating a Pringle, started complaining about a chip in her throat. We gave her her cup to drink to try to get it but she refused. She continued to cough and complain but there really wasn't much we could so. Assuming it was a scratch in her throat, we continued to try to give her liquids.

After ten minutes or so, I heard the following.

Marion: *cough* *cough* I have a chip in my throat.
Brian: Here, honey, have some water.
Marion: *cough* *cough*
Brian: Ohmygod. She's puking.
Marion: *gagging noises*
Brian: Ohmygod she's projectile puking.

Someone was looking down on us because there was a pull off just ahead and we were able to park the car, get out, and clean everything. Marion was crying, puke was all over everything, and the car stank. Seeing how we were only an hour into our 4 hour trip, there wasn't much we could do. We wiped everything down as best we could, changed Marion, put a towel over her (now covered in vomit) carseat, and took off.

We later stopped for lunch, all tired and a little green from being in a stinky car. Marion didn't eat anything but seemed great, looking at the toys at the rest stop and running all over the place. No one would have guessed she had puked everywhere just that morning.

After lunch we got back on the road and prayed that Marion would nap. We should have known better. She wasn't in the mood and played for the rest of the ride to Lugano.

Finally we arrived in Lugano and located our hotel.

We quickly checked in, parked our car in the garage, and started exploring the town. Walking along the lake is absolutely gorgeous and the view is fabulous. Within seconds, however, we found something better.

Another carousel.
Marion started out with the princess carriage.
Next was the Roger Rabbit car.
And then after that was a firetruck and a horse I believe.

After 5 or so rides we tore her away, kicking and screaming, to wander into town. There were some tables set out for merchants, lots of restaurants with outside dining, and several places to get ice cream. We stopped to get a scoop. Ice cream helps keep overtired toddlers happy.

While wandering around, we found a playground. If every town in Europe has a carousel and playground we will be set for all of our travels.
The next street over was steep, but ramped. We (including Marion, who refused to get into her stroller) walked up it to get to the Cathderal.
Another gorgeous church. I think I'm going to take a checklist with me when we travel. Carousel? Check! Playground? Check! Gorgeous old church? Check check!


After the church we got some dinner at a restaurant on Lugano's square and walked around the lake some more.
Marion liked looking at the ducks with Daddy.
Until she saw the ice cream.
Yes, we got another ice cream. Did I mention the overtired toddler? Girl needs her naps. And that ice cream is so, so good.

After yummy ice cream, we headed back to the hotel to put Marion to bed. Then the adults drank some wine and played some cutthroat Gin Rummy.

Sunday was pretty much a wrap up day. We woke up, had breakfast at the hotel, and then left Lugano for home.

The drive wasn't too bad, only stopping a handful of times to change diapers.

Once home, we unpacked a little bit. Then we realized that there wasn't any food in the house and that it was a no laundry day. So McDonalds and the gas station next door with some food for sale came to the rescue. And we washed Marion's carseat cover anyway. Frankly, I think a soaked-in-puke carseat cover is OK as far as the no laundry on Sunday rule goes. But just to be safe, let's keep that our little secret, ok?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Menton, France Trip: July 17-18

Thursday, July 17
After the Nice fiasco, we were prepared for our trip to Monaco. We got up early, had breakfast, and headed to the train station. We made record time and arrived in Monaco by 9 am, a full 30 minutes before we thought we would.

The train station in Monaco is fabulous looking. Great lights and wood paneling. Unlike any train station I've ever seen!
We left the train station and headed up to the old town section of Monaco. Note to all who are interested in visiting Monaco:

We should have brought hiking equipment with us. That or taken the bus. The walk consisted of steps
and then more steps (deceptively hiding behind a turn).

We stopped on the way up to admire the view. Fabulous. Even on a gray morning.
We finally arrived at the top and headed over to the St Nicholas Cathedral.

Brian worked.
Colleen, Marion, and I admired the church and took a ton of pictures. Then we went inside (Brian and his Blackberry too) where we walked around, saw Grace Kelly's grave, admired the inside of the church, and took some more pictures. I won't bore you with all of them. Just one of my favorites.
Next stop, the Palace.
Well, the portion they open to the public. It was open by this point so we headed over there, dodging multiple tourist groups on the way. They were like little armies.

After the Palace, we stopped next door to see the Napolean collection. We were looking at the items when Marion let out a blood curdling scream. Well, not really blood curdling. Take away any urgency and fear and add volume and echoing sound effects and you get the idea. Everyone in the hall jumped and looked. And when they realized that it was just a toddler yelling for fun, those looks of concern turned into those looks. We scanned the rest of the items and left fairly quickly after that.

Once outside, Marion was in her element. Flowers and cannonballs. Yea, who knew? Cannonballs double as a play gym.



After climbing up and down the piles of cannonballs, we decided to head down to the Port to admire some larger than necessary yachts.

On the way we walked through a market and managed to find a playground and a fountain.

Not much else could have made Marion happier about this trip.

That was until we found a carousel at a small park next to the Port. This time it was a truck and she managed to take a moment to wave to her adoring fans.
Brian had some fun too, demonstrating for Marion how to scuba dive.
After the carousel we briefly walked by the yachts and then grabbed some lunch at a restaurant on the pier. During lunch it was obvious to the three of us that Marion wasn't going to last much longer so we decided to head back to the train station. We went a different route than before to see more of Monaco (and avoid more steps) and stumbled upon a statue and a small church, both of which seemed out of place but were very pretty.

We made it back to our flat, put Marion down for a nap, and relaxed the rest of the afternoon. After Marion's nap we went down to the beach for a brief visit before coming back, making dinner, and laying low for the rest of the night.

Friday, July 18

Another day spent at the beach, but this time with Daddy!
Not much to tell, the trip was similar to our previous ones: beach packed early, people crowded on top of each other, etc. So I'll go heavy on the pictures, light on the words.

We did bring an inflatable boat with us to shake things up. Marion had a blast in the thing. First she enjoyed being pushed in it.
Then she enjoyed collecting rocks and placing them in the boat with Daddy.

Bathing beauty.
Marion (briefly) was dragged out of the water and promptly stood up and walked away from us. She would stop, occasionally, to look back at us or to yell "Right back!" while pointing a finger at us.
Amused at this turn of events, we waited to see how far she would go. Don't worry, we realized that she wasn't coming back when she got to the volleyball court and went to collect her. Our little Miss Independant, ready to be on her own at the tender age of two.

Once back from her walk, Marion decided that she wanted to go back in the water with Daddy. She had an interesting way of communicating this to him.

Soon it was time for lunch. We took Brian to the Bar du Cap (Colleen and I wanted some more sangria). Marion wanted milk. Everyone, including the waiter, could tell after she picked up a menu, appeared to read it, then looked up and said "Milk for me." She definitely communicates well!

After Marion's nap we headed to the Basilica in Menton. Beautiful church, once visited by Pope John Paul II. No pictures allowed inside.


We walked back down to the main street next and did some window shopping. Colleen and I stopped to admire some Provencal pottery when Marion ran into the food place next door. Brian quickly followed. When Colleen and I left the store and caught up with them, Brian had a hot dog in hand. And this is why.

When Marion ran into the store she ran right up to the counter, looked up at the person behind it, and said "Hot dog for me please!"

Clearly she had gotten used to eating out during our trip.

Brian and the person behind the counter couldn't believe it and started to laugh. Of course, Brian got her the hot dog. What else are you supposed to do when your toddler clearly expresses what she would like and says please?

So we sat in a courtyard nearby and watched as Marion stuffed her face with the processed meat.
She bit off more than she could chew at one point and spit the rest of what she had in her mouth out.
And then, shocking all of us there, she went back, grabbed a smaller piece of the hot dog from Brian's hand, and ate it.
She had a couple more bites after that and then went on her way, oblivious to what she had just done.
Well, nothing in Menton was going to top that little show so we headed through the construction zone and up to the flat to have dinner and prepare to leave France the following morning.