Buried in a family photo album there exists a Stender ancestor caught on film. From my admittedly weak memory, he was a Danish ship captain from the late 1800’s who was lost at sea. Then there is my brother, Tyler, who can sprout the bushiest red beard you have ever seen. In fact, his business card reads Tyler “Captain Redbeard” Stender. As well, the spelling of my first name is typical in Denmark. (Not in the States however, where my school teachers liked to correct it for me.) And last but definitely not least is the fact that both Sarah and I have a large percentage of DNA that traces back to Scandinavia. SCIENCE!
What do you suppose the abbreviation HD stands for? Being a car guy, I would first go with Heavy Duty, as in pickup truck. Next, Hi Def television. Then maybe Hodor Hodor Hodor. But in the context of an English-Speaking-Parents Facebook group I belong to here in Switzerland, it means House Dad.
As in “Oh yeah, I have a HD, he’s looking for a drinking buddy too.”
Or “My neighbor is a HD, he looks like he’s always wearing pajamas.”
It turns out I’m a HD, well sort of a part time HD. Like Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom, but speaking Frenglish and threatening to beat my children with noodles.
I used to daydream about surfing in Polynesia and howling Ferrari V12’s. Today, I still fantasize of such wonderful things but the daily wandering thoughts are DOMINATED by something much more critical to my survival. Coffee. Falling asleep at night, I think about my first cup in the morning. In the morning, I ponder if I’ll have 3 or 4 cups on this day. At lunch time, my tongue lolls at the thought of après-lunch liquid gold.
There’s a great saying, represented most commonly in hashtag form, floating around social media – But First Coffee. This mentality can be applied to anything, much like adding “in bed” to the end of fortune cookie wisdom.
“I have to go to work.” But first coffee.
“I have to feed the children.” But first coffee.
“I have to breathe oxygen.” But first coffee.
You get the idea.
Or at least I do. Because this is my reality. I’m addicted to it and I love it. Not a love/hate sort of thing, just true love. I may be the worst Catholic of all time based on my record of attending mass (because never) but I have my own goddess and her name is Coffee. I worship at her temple 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I do have limits which is why I don’t say 24 hours a day but certainly it’s more than a doctor likely recommends.
This past weekend made us 1-for-2 on attending international birthday parties. Two Sunday’s ago we were skunked on our car rental meaning no party for the children. Which was exceptionally awful considering we had rented helmets and purchased sleds for the kiddos. Though I should be saying sledging as that is how the Swiss refer to it. Of course, watching Hendrick rocket down a hill on a plastic disc – trying to crash into his friends no doubt – is not exactly what I would imagine as a stress-free afternoon so perhaps it was for the best.
We had better luck this past Sunday since we needed only ride the train 1 stop and walk to our destination in La Tour De Peilz. The birthday girl’s parents did a great job on the party site. Basically a room with some tables and a snugly closed door meant the pack of 4 year old asylum patients were completely contained and ready to bounce off the walls while the parents sipped wine and chatted.
It was a strange déjà vu moment for me. 16 odd years ago, I was spending a college semester in Budapest taking in the culture and, uh, studying. We had an apartment that was also basically a room with some tables and a pack of wild inmates. Only in this hazy memory, there were no parents present and the wine being consumed was by the bottle instead of by the Dixie cup. I don’t recall if it was a birthday party but we did play games and certainly bounced off the walls.
Is it 2017? Oh yes, it is. How is that possible? I cannot say. But the last 6 months have felt like a blur. A glorious, always-new-horizons kind of blur. So it seemed like the right time for a post. Do I have any New Year’s resolutions? Nope. But we DID have a fantastic Christmas season which is much more important than pretending I’m going to drink less beer this year.
My mom came for a nice extended visit here in Switzerland. I met her at the airport in Geneva and we spent the day cruising the city. The city is a feast – of wealth as seen by Ferrari FF’s and tangerine sized diamond necklaces in store windows. But also of food – as enjoyed at the lunch joint named Au Pied de Cochon or The Foot of The Pig, which instantly appealed to my inner meativore.
I wrote a little poem, in honor of Twas The Night Before Christmas, with a twist of beer. But since Google puts you on double secret probation for posting the same content in 2 places, I’ll just link back to where I originally posted it.
………He was merry and plump, a bizarre ballerina
And I laughed when I saw him, just like a hyena.
A Jack Nicholson eye and nod of his head,
Soon gave me to know the best was ahead………
Christmas is coming and we’re soaking it all in here in Switzerland. Some traditions are new, some familiar and some have left us scratching our head. But I would say that on the whole, Christmas is a bigger deal here than in the States. We’re in a smallish city and it looks like Santa’s workshop everywhere you go.
For instance, the jewelry store around the corner has decorated the outside of their windows with stacks of cut wood, trimmed with garland and holiday trinkets. And that’s just the outside. There are many topics to cover, today we’ll look at advent calendars.
I’ve been out of the advent calendar scene for many years so perhaps I’m just not up to date on the happenings in this industry. I remember, as a kid, calendars that you opened each day to find a piece of chocolate inside. Knowing that a Swiss human eats around 20 POUNDS of chocolate per year, I figured we’d have plenty of options. On a side note, Americans eat roughly 9 ½ pounds of chocolate, per person, annually. And they say we’re savages!
As expected, there were endless selections of chocolate themed advent calendars. The stores are stuffed to the gills with them. At the other end of the scale, you could spend nearly $50 on a calendar that reveals a different plastic doodad each day, culminating in a fully functioning remote controlled drone. EXCUSE-MOI!?
We went for the middle ground, thinking in our infinite wisdom we would be doing the kids a favor by not serving them candy each morning. PlayMobil makes advent calendars that unveil a new toy each day leading to the creation of a fully functioning play set. Pirates are a theme – which Hendrick chose – or farm animals – Maren’s pick. Milan, however, keyed on the calendar with shiny jewels all over the packaging.
Recently, Tyler and Erin got married (HOORAY!) in one of the coolest places I’ve ever visited – Tofino, British Columbia. It was such a great event all the way around with lots of fun memories. So I wanted to get a blog post written before all is forgotten in my goldfish style memory bank.
My trip began in Switzerland. We knew about the details of this trip far in advance and made the decision to have me go alone, without Sarah and the kids. Though we would have much preferred to all be in attendance, the planes, trains, automobiles and boats involved in getting there, along with the travel time made the decision easy.
And it was the right call. For one, we learned on our trip from the States to Switzerland that Maren, one of our 3 year old twins, gets air sick. The flight from Frankfurt to Vancouver was about 9 ½ hours. One can only bask in the aroma of vomit for so long. That being said, the flight was great. I flew Lufthansa which has now one-upped Delta, in my mind, for Economy Class Superiority. It helped that the seat next to me was empty. But where they really nailed it was the entertainment and food categories. I watched FOUR MOVIES and ate two reasonably tasty meals. It’s the little things.
I thought I could fit this all in 1 blog post but I know Tyler doesn’t like to read more than 1 paragraph at a time so I try to keep that in mind. Today’s post is a continuation of this post. This is last part of the 3 part series.
I’ve found a local gym with a great jiu-jitsu class. The instructor, and most of the students, don’t speak English. The results are interesting.
The approach here is different from what I was practicing in St. Louis and involves a lot more throws. One technique involved someone running at you, you grabbing them and tossing them onto their back. BUT, the key here was to grab them, then effectively sit down/fall backwards while throwing them over your shoulder. I missed the whole sitting down thing and instead was bodily heaving people across the mats. Marc, the instructor, tried explaining it to me in French but then gave the universal sign for “It’s ok, you’re a buffoon, continue”. Of course once I saw someone else do it, I understood.
Lesson for Grasshopper – Don’t go first
At the end of the class, there’s some freestyle rolling with a partner. My first day on the job, I assumed this was like how it was done in St. Louis – roll until one person submits the other. But out of the gate, I could tell something was different. My partner would suddenly stop trying to submit me. So I would stop. Then he would say something in French and sort of point/flail his arms. I would look at him confused. He would start up again. I would be unsure. Very odd. But what I ultimately learned – after the fact – was that he was not wearing a cup – between his legs. This was clear when my knee, accidentally, found its way to that area that all men fear and he squealed like a stuck pig. Horrorstruck, I asked what happened. He pointed to his groin and said “BALLS!”
Lesson for Grasshopper – Some things are universally understood
Swiss Things of Note
- Swiss people consider Americans friendly. Unless you yell at them, slowly in English like they’re deaf idiots – “WHERE…IZZZ…THEEE BATH-ROOOOM!?”. Which we don’t.
- You can pick up a rental car by entering a 5 digit code into a parking lot lockbox, on the side of a pole, and drive away with no rental agency in site. You can also fill up a gas tank with diesel. Even if it takes unleaded. Or so I’ve heard…
- Vanilla extract as we know it in the States is not available. But their molasses-like vanilla syrup is pretty damn good.
- Fondue is awesome in French Switzerland. So are croissants filled with ham, chocolate, mushrooms and produce. But the best food is found in the German sector – because burgers. And bratwurst. And also beer.
- The Elsa doll from Frozen, speaks French here. I hate you Disney.
- Using Google translate to figure out how to cook a box of frozen macaroni and cheese is a crap shoot. For example, here are the directions in French:
Cuire les macaronis montagnards surgeles sur la grille du four prechauffe selon les instructions.
- And here they are, in “English”, after being entered into Google translate:
Cook the macaroni frozen mountain on the gate of the preheated oven according to instructions.
Ahhh, that’s so much more helpful than the French version. Thanks Google.
I thought I could fit this all in 1 blog post but I know Tyler doesn’t like to read more than 1 paragraph at a time so I try to keep that in mind. Today’s post is a continuation of this post. Here is part 2 of a 3 part series.
Gruyere, where they make the cheese, is also the site of an epic Swiss chateau. That’s a fancy word for castle. (Thanks Nancy). We’ve now been there 3 times – with Tiffany, with Howard and with Linda. And I’d go back again. The views are amazing. The castle is more of an art gallery than anything, which is fine because there is a ton of surreal style work which is right up my alley. There is also the medieval hamlet leading up to the castle. Although I’ve seen their cheese in the States, a local delicacy served at all the restaurants in town called “Gruyere double crème” was a new one to me.
It’s along the lines of freshly whipped cream but a little thicker. It’s not sweet, just decadent. When my mom and I visited, we sat down at a café to have some with coffee. The owner did not speak English and my broken French was not enough to prevent us from ordering two menu items which loosely translated to “berries with double crème” and “meringue with double crème”. Surely our host thought us gluttons because each plate had around 2 heaping cups of crème on it. And I’m going to be honest, he was correct. Yes, we finished it. When in Rome right? Ah, and I almost forgot, coffee was served with a small chocolate bowl filled with the stuff. We had two. That day, I thought I might keel over. Writing about it now, I want more.
Sarah could not have done a better job nailing it with the kids’ school. They alternate days of speaking French and English. So, naturally, Milan now talks with a British accent (the head teacher is British)
“Dohhddy, my ponts are a bit tight. Are we having porridge for breakfast? Oh, brilliant!”
If the pupils don’t want to nap, they can meditate. And their lunch menu looks like it was created by Julia Childs. “Finish your salmon now, it’s crème brulee time children!” They also go on awesome field trips. The one shown in the photos was a sort of All Your Senses day. Hendrick – who is soaking wet and covered in dirt before we go outside in general – was in hog heaven. Milan – who may not get as dirty as the little man, also enjoyed parading about in the mud with no pants on. And then there was Maren. When the bus arrived back at school, where we waited, Milan and Hendrick got off looking dirty but otherwise chipper. Their sister stumbled off the bus, hair in full bird-nest mode, scowling and LESS than happy. This sort of thing is NOT her cup of tea.
Did you know that to become a citizen of Switzerland, you need to be “approved” by your peers as worthy? If your community doesn’t think you’ve done a good enough job integrating, they can vote to keep you un-citizenized as it were. I think you need to live in the country for something like 10 years to even be considered for this honor so we’re not planning to go this route. However, we have been working on “fitting in”:
- We fed the children horse salami. This was unintentional though the logo, containing a picture of a horse, on the package should have been a giveaway. Seabiscuit is all over the menu here.
- We are punctual for the train. Locals get very antsy when the train is not at the platform at the prescribed time. And I’m sure they love our 3 rugrats doing backflips once we’re boarded up.
- We had a birthday party for Milan and invited all her school friends. When the friends arrived and were dropped off by their parents – who left – we were surprised. Not that we had a choice. But somehow, dropping off your 3 year old daughter with a pair of strangers for a couple hours doesn’t seem likely to happen in the States. Just how they do it here.
- Most importantly we are practicing the language. And for the most part being immediately identified as non-native speakers. Shocking. Par exemple:
Hamburger Food Truck
We found a food truck at the farmer’s market with legit burgers. Which is great…if you can order properly.
- Food Truck Vendor: (in French) “What kind of sauce would you like on your hamburger?”
- Me: “Oui”
Which you likely know means Yes
Repeat this exchange, verbatim, 3 times while stares from people in line get stronger and confused look on vendor’s face gets more confused. Then…
- Food Truck Vendor: (in English) “KET-CHUP?”
- Me: (breathing a sigh of relief) “OUI!!!”
We get our groceries delivered because without a car, we would spend literally all day going back and forth to the supermarket.
- Me: (greeting the delivery guy): “Bonjour!”
Which means Good Morning and is not used at 8 PM – when the groceries were delivered.
- Delivery Guy: (in English) “Hi, how are you?”
Or “Not from around here are you?”
More to come in the next post…