Saturday, November 13, 2010

Blurry Picture Day

We met some friends near Zurich Stadelhofen to have coffee. We were a little early and our friends were a little late so the girl and I spent about an hour taking blurry pictures. It was near dusk and the flash was off so either we jumped up and down or moved the object quickly to create different images. It was a ton of fun and I think we learned a little about photography. Here are some of our pics.

The S18 at Stadelhofen.

My own, personal perpetual motion machine.

The big gray thing on the right is the fountain outside Stadelhofen bahnhof. The girl took this last one in a burst of inspiration.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Back From the States

Last month we spent 2.5 weeks back home in the US visiting family and friends. It was an amazing trip and a sucky trip all at the same time. First we flew to Philadelphia to visit the husband's family. Would have been great had all 12 of us not contracted the stomach flu. Not one of us was spared but fortunately the bug only lasted 24 hours, except for the babies who fared the worst.

My kids have 2 cousins, one turned 8 on our trip and the other is only 1.5. Big girl had a great time playing with them and was introduced to something called a Bakugan. No idea but she loves it!

We met up with a friend who lives in Washington DC while we were there. He took the train up and we met him in the city. The husband had to eat a cheesesteak and then we went to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell so the big girl could see some of Philadelphia's history. Both the Liberty Bell and a tour of Independence Hall are FREE and I got a good story out of it later.

It is always fun to ask kids for their take on whatever you do and I asked S what she thought of Independence Hall. She said that there used to be a princess and king but then the colonists got together in the castle (Independence Hall) and told them to go away because they were too bossy.

Puking babies made us miss our plane to Texas and US Airways in their sucktitude charged $150 change of plans fee plus the difference in airfares. Because we don't know when we will get back to the US, I sucked it up and put it on the credit card. Not my favorite thing to do but it happens. Next time I will buy cancellation insurance for our flights. Oh well.

Texas was as good as Texas can be. My big girl and I both have wonderful friends there that we miss tremendously and we had a good time chatting and playing. No sight seeing, just friend visiting and eating cheap American food.

From Texas we flew to New York City where the husband had a conference. We spent a few days walking around NYC and had an incredible amount of Chinese food. I took both kids on the subway, which is just not as clean as Swiss trains, but runs more frequently.

S charmed the ticket taker at the Empire State Building. She was telling him some random story about Switzerland without telling him we live here. Then she went on to tell him about her kindergarten. I blushed and apologized for taking up his time but he said he really enjoyed talking to her.

Although I have been to NYC several times, I have never seen the Statue of Liberty so we made our way to the ferry dock. That was an adventure by itself but when we got there it was relatively late and the ferries to the statue weren't running any longer. The Staten Island ferry was though! Also FREE. It was sunset and we took the ferry round trip. Lady Liberty was beautiful standing there with the setting sun behind it. S loved it and danced around looking at her both ways. I did notice on the way back from Staten Island, a coast guard boat followed the ferry with a huge machine gun mounted on the front.

After NYC, we took the Bolt Bus back to Philadelphia and back to the inlaws. We spent one last night together before heading back to Switzerland.

Epic trip - too long for the kids. Jet lag was horrible and the baby just started back on a decent sleeping schedule. I think from now on everyone can come visit us. :)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The day I was distracted at the grocery store

No, I did not lose a kid.

The store, Migros, had a sale - 10% off everything - today. Being continually distracted by shiny things, I completely forgot until I ran there to get a substitute dinner for what I had planned. There were banners everywhere yelling 10% off to anyone with the attention span of a gnat. Like me! So I call the husband to tell him, just in case he needed to pick up anything from the Migros City, which prompts the big girl to start in.

Mama, I want a gipfeli (croissant).

I want french toast for lunch tomorrow.

Do I get to eat lunch tomorrow?

Can I have some fruit.

Are you listening to me?

I. want. a. sample.

Finally something easy that I can say yes to, a sample. I glance inside the sample case and see that it is cut up rustic bread with a piece of salami on top. Sure, no problem. I tell the girl there is salami on top of the bread because she is somewhat picky about her meat intake. Sure, whatever mom.

I am finishing up my convo with H about the sale when the girl says that she likes the sample and wants it in her snack bag for tomorrow. Only then do I take a good look at what they were giving out for samples.

It was salami, horse salami.

Eww.  No way. I told the girl that she already had a gipfeli for her snack and I'd buy (a different kind) salami next week. shh.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Sexism of Switzerland - Mom Edition

Living in Switzerland has a ton of upsides. Good chocolate, good cheese, and a quick hop to the rest of Europe. It is, however, incredibly sexist when it comes to moms. Every time I think about living in Switzerland permanently, I wonder if I am sending the right message to my daughter. The one who was named after a mathematician who was so stubborn, she studied math naked at night because her parents took her clothes in an attempt to stop their daughter from learning by candlelight.

Since I have nothing better to think about when I am pushing the stroller through the grocery store, I've been thinking about how Swiss culture is structured and how that impacts moms who might want to work outside the home. Here are some random thoughts on the subject.

Working on Sundays. It is strictly verboten unless the canton (county) gives express permission. This includes laundry and washing the car. On the positive side, this means Swiss families spend Sundays together doing family  activities that don't involve shopping - remember working is illegal so the stores are closed. The negative aspect is obvious. A lot of the younger Swiss ignore the no laundry law and do it anyway but you can be fined if someone in your building complains.

Short store hours. Remember the days when life just sucks, the kids throw tantrums just looking at the grocery store and the fridge only has a half container of milk and an apple? Back in the US, there were months when I'd do my grocery shopping at 11 pm because the husband was home and I could go child-free. Welcome to Switzerland, where all the grocery stores close at 8 pm. Except in my town, where they close at 7. The husband gets home at 6:45. Do the math.

Weekday lunch for the school age child. Kids come home for lunch so someone needs to be there from 12-1:30 when afternoon school starts again, but only on some days. The daughter of a friend attends the local, public school and in fourth grade she only attends one afternoon a week. For between 14 and 30 SFr (sliding scale, income dependent), there is a program that will pick the kids up from school, serve them lunch, and return them in the afternoon.

So let's talk about afternoon or all day daycare. Recently a friend and I were at a park where we struck up a conversation with an American expat there with her two young kids. She had just quit her job as a lawyer because fulltime daycare completely negated her monthly salary. I was quoted prices of 120 SFr per day per child minimum. 

Getting hired. A friend and I were chatting while our kids play about staying at home versus working. She was looking for a position PT now that her youngest is in kindergarten every morning and two afternoons a week. She went and interviewed at a shop that had the perfect job for her. Everything went great until the hiring manager asked her how she could take care of her family if she was working. That is kind of the question, isn't it? The society is built around moms that stay at home with the kids. If it wasn't, these policies just wouldn't work because there simply are not enough hours in the day to get everything done.

How do people do it? Simple, really. Almost all moms stay at home and if they don't they need an incredible amount of familial support. If you are a woman, the choices aren't really there. Role reversal doesn't seem to happen either, I have yet to meet a stay at home dad.

So what happened with my friends? The one who interviewed for the perfect position was not hired because of her obligation to her children. Discrimination is legal. The other friend who was chatting with the expat lawyer is probably quitting her professional job because now that she has 2 kids, it is costing them money for her to work.

As for me, if I went back to work I would lose my stay at home mom stipend from the government. So I stay at home and I am studying a new programming language when the kids are asleep.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Zurich to Frankfurt by Train: the Technicalities

Last week, the husband was in Frankfort for work and I took the kids up to meet him and look around Frankfurt. That is in Germany, just in case you forgot. :) I will post about the trip but I am too tired to do more than post the technical details of how to get there by train.

To go by train, start at Zurich's hauptbahnhof and take one of the trains to Basel SBB. We took the TGV whose end destination was Paris and then disembarked in Basel at the main station. From there, we took an ICE (Germany's high speed line) to Frankfurt. The total trip was 4 hours - 1 hour to get to Basel and 3 to travel from Basel to Frankfurt.

A few details. We didn't reserve seats - big mistake. On the way to Frankfurt, it wasn't an issue. I was a little confused about where we could sit so I asked a guy who was checking tickets and he said that in Switzerland you could sit anywhere. Fine, dandy, fantastic.

The ride to Basel was in the middle of the day on Friday and the train wasn't crowded. We sat at a table and played Uno. The ride from Basel to Frankfurt started getting crowded but not uncomfortably so. On the way back was a different matter. The train from Frankfurt to Basel was packed. There were people sitting on the floor. We didn't reserve seats but we found enough for 3 people with baby riding in arms. But then someone had reserved S's seat. That made her cry but we found her another one. An hour or so later someone had reserved mine but that person saw me with the baby and let me sit there for one stop. Pity seat, but I'll take it. We did sit for the entire ride but I think the three of us sat in a total of 7 different seats.

Lesson learned: if it is a busy time, spend the 5 CHF and reserve a seat.

To find out about long distance trains within Switzerland or its neighboring countries, visit I conveniently linked to the English portion of the site. :)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Baby Food Done the Swiss Way

Baby Boy is now 6 months old plus a little bit and has been trying out the jarred baby foods here in Switzerland. I was planning on starting slowly and just introducing simple, mashed up versions of what we eat but Baby Boy has his own plan - to eat as much food as quick as possible.

He is still nursing a ton and has gained 1 kg since I took him to be weighed a couple of weeks ago. Incidentally, there is a free service in Switzerland where you can take your baby to be weighed and have his growth measured between well baby visits. This service is provided by a nurse and she will also answer questions about parenting or whatever baby related question you have. If you are in Switzerland and want to find the local service, it is under the Muetterberatung.

So far Baby E has tried plain, mashed avocado, banana, and cooked sweet potato. All with mixed success.

There are three brands of jarred baby food that I've seen, HiPP, Holle, and the dreaded Nestle. Holle is bio (organic) and available at the pharmacy or reformhaus. It is the most expensive and at least the jarred apple and blueberries tastes terrible. HiPP and Nestle are both available at grocery stores and HiPP is mostly organic.

They have some strange baby food concoctions here. The first meats (4 month olds) are chicken or veal. Baby E looked at me like I was playing a cruel joke on him when I gave him meat. There are other mixtures that are very Swiss. Bircher muesli, risotto, spaghetti, all pre-mashed for a 6 moth old.

All those options and Baby E is sitting here chewing on his feet.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Farmer's Market at Hauptbahnhof

Today the kids and I went to Zurich's Hauptbahnhof (Zurich's main train station) to check out the weekly farmer's market and see what was in season.

For those in the Zurich area, the farmer's market is upstairs in the huge hall every Wednesday. 

The girl, who has never voluntarily consumed a grape in her life, begged for me to buy grapes. I didn't think there was a chance of a snowball in a hot place that she would eat them but I bought them anyway. She ate a significant number of them. Win!

I also picked up some Swiss chard, an eggplant for baba ganoush, some orange carrots, purple carrots and REAL CHEDDAR CHEESE. Yes, I am yelling, that is how exciting cheddar is.

Before I move on to the cheddar, I must tell you about the brilliance of the farmer's market. The produce vendors really know how to get kids to eat new things. S doesn't eat carrots. She just doesn't. At one organic stand, the woman asked S if she wanted a carrot to eat. She seemed dubious but took it anyway and ate it. Then the woman asked her if she wanted a purple carrot! Yes, she did. So I bought both. We'll see if I can recreate the magic at home.

Now for the cheddar. Switzerland has a lot of cheese but not a lot of cheddar. I miss American cheddar - specifically Tillamook. That is unavailable here but at the farmer's market, the British Cheese Centre has a stall and sells real cheddar.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

What's Going On In Here?

Tonight I made Stella's Banana Brownies because I had bananas and no baked chocolate products. This happened after big girl S went to bed and I saved some for her for tomorrow. The husband came into the kitchen to see what I was doing and commented that every time I bake something after S goes to bed, she comes into the kitchen the next morning and asks, "what is going on in here?"

The husband was puzzled. Where did she pick up that phrase? I told him that is what I say when I come in to see that she is doing something she shouldn't be doing. The husband's theory is she uses it exactly the same way but the thing that I shouldn't be doing is baking without telling her first. :) Sounds about right.

Last night she spent the night at a friend's house for the first time. She loved it and cried when I took her home. When did my baby get so big?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Time We Almost Accidentally Crossed the Border

We were walking around Konstanz, Germany, looking for a restaurant to eat at for dinner when I looked up and saw a line of cars, the Swiss flag, and the word Zoll. I assume that means border crossing. We had almost accidentally crossed back into Switzerland from Germany on foot instead of by train. Oops.

Konstanz (Constance in English) is located on the German/Swiss border on Bodensee (Lake Constance). For the Swiss, it is a place to buy cheap German goods and for the tourists, it has a cute old town complete with medieval  city wall and lake. The city is big enough that I will want to map out where we go first.

Oh, and if you order a doner kebab for lunch, you will get a vinegar-flavored coleslaw on it. All for under 4 Euros. Yum.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Stella's Banana Brownies

A wonderful woman and mom named Stella gave me this recipe, oh two years ago? It is my go-to recipe when I just must have brownies and now I am sharing it with you, all 5 of my readers. :)

Once you get the hang of the recipe, it can be whipped up in 5-10 minutes and in the oven to cook. Upshot is yummy brownies within an hour.

Stella's Banana Brownies

¼ C butter
¼ C bananas, mashed (I use 2 bananas)
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
½ c all-purpose flour
6 T cocoa
¼ t baking powder
1/8 t salt

Melt the butter in the microwave or on the stove and put it in a large mixing bowl. Add the mashed bananas and stir. Then add the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Be careful about adding the eggs if the butter is still hot because it might slightly cook the eggs. I will not tell you how I know that.

In a separate bowl or very large measuring cup, mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Then dump it all into the wet ingredients and mix well.

Pour into a (greased) 9x9 pan and bake on 350 for 30-35 minutes or until a knife or toothpick comes out clean. I usually skip the greasing the pan step but these also don't usually last long enough for other people to see them.

To add a minute amount of nutrition I use whole wheat flour instead of white and I think that turns out fine.