Living in Switzerland: 1 of 3

I haven’t posted in a while and as a result, my already limited ability to remember event dates is completely gone. I regularly get abused for not knowing how old I am. Once, at a triathlon with Dave Russ, he asked me why I had the wrong age written on my calf. Apparently I gave race official the wrong number. Sarah and Tyler just shake their heads when I ask “Have we seen this movie?” The point is, I’m not so big on the dates and times of things. So put me in a foreign country where every day is a new adventure and forget it. As a result, if you’re reading this and the events seem out of order or even completely random it’s because they are. There’s just so much going on, I’ve got to start somewhere. This will be part of 1 of 3 upcoming posts.

Saint Bernard

Along with blanking on dates, I also have blanks in my brain where I may have learned something in school that would be relevant today. Like who Saint Bernard was. Many of you probably know it all started here in Switzerland. I did not, until we visited Barryland, the affectionate name for the St. Bernard Foundation. We lured the kids there with promises of getting to pet huge dogs. They were not disappointed. Sarah and I also may have semi-promised/lied to the children that we could bring one home, along the way.

 

Now that I’ve been up close and see how large they can get there is absolutely no chance in hell of this happening. Did you know they can hit 200 pounds?? Sorry kids, but we just got done with diapers and I know who will get to clean up Fido’s bathroom visits. The dogs and their saint have a lot of history tied to a mountain pass in the area. All this was covered in detail at the foundation but chasing the kids around leaves little time to read up on details like this. All I know is it’s a treacherous place.

Mont Blanc

You see, when Howard visited, we had the town of Chamonix – site of Mont Blanc – on our itinerary. We rented a minivan and hit the road for the day. And quickly found ourselves ascending to drive right through the Saint Bernard Pass. Ascending might not be the right word for it. It was more of a cliff climb to the top. Here in Switzerland, guard rails on the road don’t seem to be a priority. Which is a curious thing to learn while zig zagging up the side of a mountain. Especially with motorcycles passing you at full throttle into blind hairpins. Really gets the blood pumping. Then there is the matter of suicidal bicyclists, also going up the mountain. There is NO shoulder. It is VERTICAL. And you can’t see around the endless blind curves. I wouldn’t say my palms were sweaty as much as dripping wet by the time we got to the peak and through the pass.

 

Depending on your definition of the inner Eurasian border, Mont Blanc may or may not be the highest mountain in the Alps at FIFTEEN THOUSAND feet plus. I love Wikipedia. Let me back up. Sarah is the Itinerary Master, which I love. As such, there is no need for both us to work out the details of the trip. Or put another way, I generally have no idea where we’re going or what we’re doing until we get there. Upon arrival in Chamonix, I felt it was time to ask…

 

  • “So, what are we going to do here?” I said.
  • “Go to the top of Mont Blanc on the gondola” said Sarah.
  • “And how big a mountain is it?” I questioned.
  • “The biggest one in the Alps, or thereabouts” noted Sarah.
  • “And we’re riding a gondola up to the top?” I asked.
  • “Yes, is that going to be a problem?” Sarah quizzed.
  • “I’ll know when I see this gondola” I replied.

 

Well, it was a problem. One look at the method of ascent and I was out. I wouldn’t say I have a traditional fear of heights so much as a burning desire not to hang from a cable thousands of feet in the air. So Marebear and I hung back and explored Chamonix. Which is quite a charming little Alpine ski village in the summer. We ate cheesed filled pastries. I drank coffee. Maren didn’t. She received endless shoulder rides. We had pasta and beer for lunch. Watched the paragliders. And then headed to meet with the rest of the crew at our appointed time. At which point Sarah and Howard concurred that although the view was stunning, perhaps they would not do the ride again. For one, it was FREEZING cold at the top and we were woefully unprepared. Then there was the matter of the wooden foot bridge across a chasm that required crossing to access the next gondola. If I recall, it was here the ascent stopped and the descent began.

 

More to come in the next post…

Swiss Family Stender: Kids and Beer

Switzerland continues to be excellent. We walk everywhere, or take a train. Ferrari’s regularly wind up right past our balcony. The kids sing unintelligible tunes in French. And occasionally watch Netflix in German. What else do you need?


Kids

They continue to provide entertainment. Some examples:

  • When Maren wants to ride on my shoulders during an excursion, she claims it because her nose hurts.
  • The director of their school is a British woman named Becky. As such, Milan is now referring to Sarah as “mum”, tells me her snack was “brilliant” and refers to her pants as “ponts”.
  • Swiss etiquette suggests a formal approach to meeting new people. So when the kids say “BONJOUR!” to every stranger walking down the street, it seems to be quite startling.
  • Riding the train is great for saving the planet but terrible for when even 1 out of 3 children isn’t feeling it. Nothing better than dragging Maren up onto a crowded train at 8 am while she whines about her kitty cat that got left behind.
  • Milan ate a bowl of meatballs for breakfast. And yogurt with oatmeal. And toast. And fruit.
  • The Parent Interrogating is completely out of hand. Milan quizzes me on addition, while Hendrick jabbers about the Smurfs and Maren gesticulates wildly about cats with a mouth full of food – all at the same time. It goes like this:

“What’s 8+6? Smurfs don’t aren’t the dragon? My kitty is named Larry? What’s 1 and 2 in the shape of an H plus 14? The Smurf dragon is not the sky? My kitty cat is stinky.”

And so on. Somehow all statements require an answer from me. It feels like having a 20 pound medicine ball bounced off my face repeatedly, with no apparent end in sight. It’s literally 50/50 whether I laugh or cry.

 

Beer

I recently purchased a used bicycle to get to and fro. I do use it to get to the pool and it’ll come in handy to get over to jiu jitsu. But the truth is I needed a bike to obtain beer. The supermarkets mainly stock old style German lagers. The new craft beers coming out of Switzerland and Europe are either in the bigger cities or in a rumored craft beer distributor that sells direct to the public “just up the road” from downtown Vevey.

 

When I Google mapped the location, it came up as a 25 minute bike ride. What I failed to note was the elevation change between My Location and the destination. We live 1 block from the lake and are surrounded by hills and mountains. So, unless you are tracing the lake perimeter, everything is uphill. In my excitement to discover beer, this fact slipped my mind.

 

The bike I purchased runs like a top even though it’s likely over 10 years old. It used to be painted purple judging by the chipping black paint. And comes equipped with 3 speeds, 1 hand brake and 1 coaster brake. As a young boy, we had coaster brakes on a tiny bike with red tires. I recall leaving red skid marks on the neighbor’s white concrete sidewalk with much glee. So I naturally assumed coaster brakes, as an adult, would be neat. Wrong.

 

I left our apartment with a raincoat on and began pedaling. In short order, I was going uphill and then more steeply uphill until I realized that I would be going straight up until I found my destination. Determined not to stop until I arrived (because I was afraid I wouldn’t start again), I made it. Peeling my raincoat off and un-suctioning helmet from head, I walked into the store looking like a drowned rat.

 

Walking around, I decided I had better stuff my backpack to the gills so as to avoid making this trip too frequently. Mission accomplished, I headed out and began sliding down the wet mountainside as my quads threatened to seize from the unabated coaster brake pressure. All the while my overloaded backpack slapping back and forth, threatening to shatter the precious cargo and put me on the ground at the same time. When I got home, I wondered whether my sweat-soaked, leg-cramped, dehydrated state was worth it. Then I unloaded my backpack and realized it was, OH YES, it was.

 

Tiffany and Howard will be visiting us in short order so I’m sure there will be more stories to come!

Swiss Family Stender: The Fast and The Hungry

Life in Switzerland continues to be excellent. We’re getting the food thing figured out so, uh…. Well, that’s really THE most important thing. Why you might ask?

Morning…

At breakfast, we feed our pack of starving children a bowl of yogurt with fruit and oats (which sounds like something you’d feed a horse) and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Then, depending on the tug-of-war between the parents’ level of morning befuddlement and the childrens’ level of demanding, eggs and meat. After this is consumed, we flat refuse to make more food despite their insistence of being hungry.

 

…Noon…

Lunch, thank the heavens, is served at school though we’re told they often politely ask for seconds. I wish they would politely ask at home. When they’re picked up from school, we bring a Tupperware that lately is stuffed with sliced fruit, hunks of Parmigiano Reggiano and oatmeal cranberry cookies. They wolf this “snack” down while we wait for the train (DO NOT put your fingers in the Tupperware at this stage) and then ask if I have anything else. I don’t. So they ask what’s for dinner. This is at 4 PM. I used to tell them what we would be having. It would go like this:

 

“Stewed balsamic chicken with rice!” I announce.

“EWW! We don’t like that”, they respond in unison. “Is it CHEESY rice?”

“Why yes OF COURSE it’s cheesy rice!” I lie in reply.

 

…and Night.

And on and on until I realized the better course of action was to feign ignorance on the dinner cart – “I don’t know what’s for dinner?” Now I can get them home without nuclear meltdown on the train platform. If dinner is satisfactory for the little carnivores, it becomes a contest of who did the best.

 

“I ate mine first!” one blurts out.

“It’s not a race.” comes my attempt at not failing as a parent.

“Did I eat the best Daddy?” is the next question.

“Well, uh, I don’t know” I lamely reply in another attempt at not creating a tableside pissing match between the 3 foot lunatics surrounding me.

My dad tells the story of his dinner table growing up. There were 2 categories of people at this table. The Fast. And The Hungry. If you were Hungry, but not Fast, you didn’t eat. You needed to be both to survive. And his dad was the all caps version – FAST AND HUNGRY. “Are you going to eat that?” my grandfather would ask as he forked someone’s meal into his mouth.

 

As such, I can very confidently say Grandpa Smiley’s soul has been passed down to our children. If one gets up for a bathroom break or just to screw around, the other 2 will circle the unprotected plate. After some furtive glances, they’ll begin the inhalation process while their poor sibling is rolling around the floor making cat noises. No one gets out alive.

 

There are some other things that have been happening in Switzerland besides eating but I would say food dominates about 80% of a given day. I’ll fill in the other 20% next time around.

Swiss Family Stender Part 3

Today was tough. There was a food truck festival (with bar), a sailboat race, a farmer’s market, sunny skies and a high of around 70 with zero humidity. Très difficile indeed. And Sarah tells me there are people in her company that decline this opportunity for <insert lame reason here>. This does not compute.

I think we have wrapped up week 2 in Real Life Disneyland. The kids are settling in quite nicely at their new school. Milan had a classmate offer to put on her shoes for her. As in, another little girl put Milan’s shoes on Milan’s feet while I watched in shock and horror. A nice Italian man named Luigi introduced himself to me, welcoming us to the school, telling me he had heard about my children from his children. And swore it was a good thing. Due to Hendricks peanut allergy, the teachers have been feeding him hot dog buns at snack time while the others have “biscuits”. He doesn’t seem to mind. And Maren told the British school director her tummy hurt. But, Ms. Becky informed she was ok after she “had wind.” Which took me a minute to decipher and then a mountain of willpower not to smirk at. In short, the kids are back to normal.

 

Food continues to be a crapshoot for Sarah and I. We bought what appeared to be oatmeal only to get home and learn, via Google Translate, that you don’t cook it. Apparently you soak it in milk, yogurt or whatever liquid you like and serve it with fruit. So, we’re calling it granola and making yogurt parfaits. It’s, uh, chewy. There is a wide array of cured meats, including horse meat, which has made my breakfast exciting. And I have not yet figured out the beer situation. I ordered some online with our food delivery and it was atrocious. So I went to a liquor store and ended up bringing home individual bottles that cost 4.5 francs each. Man I hope they taste good.

Sarah has mastered the washer and dryer while I have FUBARed the dishwasher. When we arrived, there were 3 types of cleaning materials above the lave-vaisselle. A plastic tub with a handful of those little dishwasher detergent pods wrapped in plastic. A box of powder substance with pictures of sparkling glasses on the label. And a squeeze bottle of liquid soapy looking stuff also with sparkly pictures on the label. I’ll blame it on the kids and the need to prioritize. Putting naked humans on the toilet is ever the priority over labels written in French.

 

You see, anytime Tyler and I have played a new video game, we have always pulled the instruction manual out and purposefully flung it across the room. Why? Because its far easier to press all the buttons than actually read. In this same spirit, I put what turned out to be water softening salt into the detergent tray and attempted to wash dishes by hand with what is in fact a “rinsing aid”. Which would explain the lack of a thick lather. Once a red light started flashing next to “Sel” (Salt in English), I realized there was a problem. So I tried translating the user manual. Which only confirmed I need to be doing something with the provided water softener salt aside from attempting to wash dishes with it. What that is we’re still working on but it’s just not a priority at the moment. The detergent pods seem to be working nicely.

 

I’m sure there’s more but my mind is completely fuzzed over at this point. Bonsoiree!

Swiss Family Stender Part 2

We have arrived! After what felt like endless back and forth on how this whole thing was going to work, it came together and we are officially living in Vevey, Switzerland. Crazy. It was an adventure leading up to it, a BIG adventure getting here and is likely to be a continuous adventure during our time here.

 

We flew out of Detroit on Monday, May 9th nonstop to Amsterdam where we changed planes for a quick flight to Geneva. Once there, we got picked up and took an hour car ride to our new digs here in Vevey. The flight to Amsterdam had a lot of good things – extra legroom, big headrest TV’s with endless free movie options, two legitimately tasty airplane food meals and a reasonably turbulent free ride. There were also some downsides – Maren losing her lunch thrice, Sarah’s cashmere sweater taking the brunt of this and no sleep (for the parents) on the overnight flight.

 

An interesting difference between US and Swiss versions of getting a ride to the airport proved that contrary to popular belief, we are not all uncouth, manner-less baboons in America. In Detroit, we got picked up in a mammoth van that easily could’ve hosted a raging bachelor party driven by a suited up, super polite and very helpful gentleman. Here in CH, a guy noticed us coming, walked up, grabbed two bags with nary a word and hustled for the exit doing his best impersonation of the White Rabbit from Alice.

Dragging the children, we fortunately caught up to the Rabbit at his old van with a trailer hanging off the back. With the bags heaved in, the kids buckled in, we were off. Finding the entrance to our apartment proved tricky resulting in the driver’s fist smashing the steering wheel followed by muttered French swears which certainly wasn’t helped by second gear constantly jamming in the stop and go traffic.

What we’ve noticed so far…

  • The apartment is a study in IKEA interior design and we love it.
  • The beds are low to the ground and have only duvets, no top sheet.
  • All the windows have heavy duty metal blinds on the outside that I’m hoping aren’t for hurricane protection.
  • There are no screens on the windows so perhaps they don’t have bugs here in the summer. There also does not appear to be any sort of heating or air conditioning. Maybe it doesn’t get cold in Switzerland?
  • There are 2 toilets which is handy now that the twins are nearly toilet trained.
  • They don’t refrigerate their eggs here but the yolks are an outrageous deep orange color and the strawberries are actually red throughout and super sweet. A nice change from the red-on-the-outside-white-on-the-inside American tasteless version.
  • Sarah and I recently mistook a can of chocolate fruit dip for chocolate pudding. And ate it anyway.
  • The coffee is all instant but is magically delicious.
  • They use the word “FORBIDDEN” frequently such as “It is FORBIDDEN to make noise between 10 pm and 7 am. We are screwed.

 

That’s all I can think of at the moment. The Alps are the view from our balcony. Lake Geneva is 2 blocks away and crystal clear. Most cars here are wagons and stick shift. I’ve found myself sitting on the balcony watching them all drive by. I have also slammed my nose into the door glass as I rush to see what’s coming when I hear a Ferrari or Porsche winding up. In summary, as far as international living goes, I think we’re going to make it.

Swiss Family Stender

Swiss Family StenderWe are moving to Switzerland. WHOA. With 3 children under 5. Double WHOA. As we embark on this adventure, there are bound to be lots of stories to be told so in the interest of keeping a log and keeping friends and family updated, welcome to Swiss Family Stender.

 

As we prep, there are some questions:

  • Where will we be living?
  • Is it wrong to tranquilize children on long flights?
  • Everyone speaks American, right?
  • How does a family of 5 not die of starvation without access to Costco?

 

These questions will be answered and as we learn them, we’ll share here. Sarah’s HR department told her that as long we’re not expecting Switzerland to be America, we’ll be fine. Put another way, if you’re flexible you’ll be fine. Which we are so it should be a blast.

 

We do know the area we’ll be living – Vevey. Contrary to the nitwit who corrected my evidently pathetic American pronunciation, it is in fact pronounced VEH-VAY, not VA-VAY. #Groan. It looks to be a postcard perfect little village perched on Lake Geneva. Across the lake is France. Down the road is Italy. There’s also Germany and Austria on the periphery. Weep for us.

 

Did you know there are 4 languages spoken in Switzerland? French, German, Italian and Romansh – which is obviously some sort of pretend language. We’ll be living in the French speaking section which is fortuitous since I am a former Advanced Placement French student. You know, “AP French” in high school? Which must be a misnomer as Milan, our 4 year old, already knows more French than I do. Advanced Jackass would be more appropriate.

 

There is the small concern on keeping calorie intake up. You see, the children have all inherited some version of my insatiable appetite. Two breakfasts is our norm. One at 6 AM (peanut butter and jelly with fruit), another at 8 AM (piles of eggs with meat and more fruit). Do the Swiss eat like this? Is there a reason Americans are generally larger? The correlation is unclear but the reality is clear – we must find food. Turns out horsemeat is on the menu over there. But I might actually prefer to go hungry than eat Seabiscuit. We’ll see.

 

The general conversation with my friends is that the country is run by a team of elves, wearing lederhosen and working out of large oak trees. Cousins of the Keeblers. Making chocolate and toys. The usual. I’m not sure if the Swiss allow elves in their midst but I do know lederhosen are a generally accepted part of society. As such, the top item on my priority list is a tailored set. Halloween will be done – forever. But should I plan to wear them while in country? Yodeling like the Ricola man? Or singing like Maria in the Sound of Music? We will see.

 

As you can see, there a lot of critical questions to be answered. But it’s an adventure. We’ll figure it out as we go. When I studied abroad in college, my friend Kevin and I got off the plane in Budapest both under the impression the other had the pertinent paperwork. Neither did. Neither of us knew where we were going. So we went to the bar instead. I can tell you that won’t be the case here. But I can tell you it’s going to be just as much fun.

Hermosa Beach, Summer 2004: Part II

Check out Part I here

With the ‘Burban road-worthy again, we set off for our first overnight in Conway, Arkansas. At the time, this was where Aunt Bonnie and Lance were living. They put us up in for the night in their comfortable, fully stocked and lovely home. A nice break from the confines of our pickup-truck-with-a-cap of a vehicle.

Tyler Suburban

Go West young man!

After spending the night, Bonnie and Lance filled us with breakfast and we were on our way. I’ll be honest, I don’t really remember what happened between here and Backwoodsville, New Mexico so if anyone reading does, please fill in the blanks. I do know we had grand plans to stop and smell the roses as it were. Those plans went fluttering out the window in our excitement to get out West. Foot to the floor, we drove until we could go no more.

 

Tapped out, we pulled off the highway as night fell…somewhere in New Mexico. Our basic plan of not having a plan shone brightly that night. We saw one of those blue highway signs with a hotel logo and decided it would suffice. Now, nothing untoward happened that night but the guy behind the counter, the Stephen King-esque feel of the area and the general sense of unease was memorable. You would think that 4 young gentlemen traveling together and sharing a room would have nothing to be afraid of.  You would be wrong. Somewhere, there is a video we filmed, using the night vision setting in our hotel room, discussing that night. I wonder where it went…

Tyler Dave NH

Though not a photo from this trip, it sums up the mindset quite nicely.

Our final stop before the Pacific was in Arizona at the Zentmeyers. Much like Aunt Bonnie, Katie and Jess took care us and helped recharge our batteries for the final push. As I write this, it seems like New Mexico-to-Arizona-to-California is not actually very far. But it was a good stop nonetheless. I recall a pool and maybe a party and, uh, probably beer? Considering I can’t recall how old am I when put on the spot, it’s no wonder I don’t recall the details here. But I know we had fun.

 

I’m going to guess we spent one night and then fueled up for the home stretch – HERMOSA BEACH! Why this town? My cousin Todd was living there at the time. I must’ve been talking to him at some point about a loosely formed plan to spend the summer in California. And he must have suggested Hermosa. Because otherwise I’m not sure we would have ended up in that little slice of heaven. Thank you Todd. Your suggestion became our summer of a lifetime.

 

Next time, we’ll cover our first couple weeks in sunny Southern Caleeforenyuh. Living with Todd, living at a hotel, eating all the donuts and signing year long leases.