White on blue

Despite it being overcast and grey – which a few weeks ago meant freezing – I’m sitting next to the lake in a single layer of clothing. To my right is a cyclist, dismounted from his steed, peering through binoculars. He’s either viewing the nesting waterfowl I’ve just walked past or the nudist beach slightly further along. It’s blustery but warm, and the masts on the nearby moored boats are making a pleasant clanking which harmonizes nicely with the chatter of the ducks. I’m taking in deep breaths of the always pristine air, laced with the occasional waft of miscellaneous springtime florals, and relishing – probably for the last time in a while – not rushing to be anywhere.

After nearly four and a half years of Hausfrauing – some of it wretched, some of it marvellous, all of it unexpected – I’m returning to full time work this week. Gainful employment. Obligation to do my hair (by which I really mean shower). Excuse to go work wardrobe shopping. Not gonna lie: I’m super exited (apart from the regular shower thing).

Yesterday afternoon was Swiss spring perfection. The kids and I walked our well trodden path: down the street past the hyacinths, daffodils, buttercups, dandelions. Past the ‘big kid school’ that my own big kid can’t wait to attend this summer. Up and over the hill that starts as a forest and clears into breathtaking views of the lake, the mountains, the sky. We met some friends at the park, people we’ve been meeting almost every Wednesday since we arrived here, longer than my little boy has been alive. We sat in the park while the kids ran amok. The lake was a broken mirror, each shard its own story. The time Yves jumped into the fountain. The time I asked them all to come over for Pudding Day. The time Sebi and Ads said a lisped ‘sorry’ and held hands after fighting all afternoon. The time my non-hugging friend whole heartedly hugged me. Every now and then a gust of wind descended from the still snow capped Alps, and the blossom tree next to us would shudder, shaking its petals into our laps, our hair, my boy’s eyelashes, our cheeky afternoon prosecco. Mesmerised by the delicate transient white on blue I heard my daughter exclaim ‘Spring snow! Teddy, look, it’s spring snow!’.

I feel nothing but excitement about returning to work. Actually, that’s not strictly true. Excitement, and concern about how the hell our laundry will ever get done (that statement implies it gets done efficiently now. It does not). But I have no guilt at all, which I always assumed I’d feel at least to some degree (and have been told I ought, which is another matter altogether). When I was going through the interview process I (fairly arrogantly) came home and declared I felt had done well. My Addie ran across the room and threw her arms around me and said ‘Mama! I’m so proud of you!’. I don’t care if it was due to the interview, or to my self-proclaimed amazingness, or whether she’s just four and knows no differently, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll take it.

I’ve only a few days left before I return to drying hair I have actually bothered to wash, putting on makeup, wearing clothes sans stains (I hope, but I am prepared to admit I’m aiming too high). These four and a half years have been, in so many ways, the very richest of my life. Those chubby hands that lunge for snacks, tentatively explore all the things, reach hopefully yet confidently for mine. Those little bodies, a breathtaking juxtaposition between frenetic energy and complete deadweight exhaustion. The inconceivable depth of feeling: not just the love I have for them, or theirs for me, but the way this has augmented and shaped every other relationship I have. Those little voices, finding themselves in every way – sounding out, making sense, articulating, owning. The privilege of tired hot breath on my face, of innocent secrets whispered, of witnessing every small increment grown, of the purest of intimacies. These moments, experiences, days, years have floated by, petals on the wind. White on blue, the act of a mere moment. Impossibly fragile and imprinted on my mind forever.

Walk the (ridge)line

Despite having a wonderfully drawn out, gloriously golden summer, the days of swimming and grilling and short sleeves are now feeling like a distant memory. There is gold, still, but of a different sort: the leaves that tumbled into the kids’ hair as they ran rambunctiously through the park, the pumpkins – edible and ornamental – we’ve been selecting at every trip to the markets, the increasingly early sunsets that reflect off the distant Alps, turning the early snow into halos.  It’s a breathtaking time of year, but before we declare hiking season well and truly over let me take you back to what will probably be our last for the year.

It was a good one.

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Almost a month ago (!), Tim’s youngest sister and her partner arrived in Switzerland. They had the better part of a week with us before heading off – we reunited later in Italy – and, if we agree to judge a Swiss holiday by the number of mountains scaled and amount of cheese eaten, theirs was highly successful. On what was forecast to the the finest day of their visit, we decided to tackle the Stoos Ridgeline hike.

Stoos, a mountain resort not far from us, recently built the world’s steepest train: the Stoosbahn (coincidentally, the train it pipped to the post is actually located in Australia’s  Blue Mountains, from which both Soph and Jake hail). An odd looking, caterpillar like series of circles, the train feels more like an elevator as it lifts you from the foot of the mountain to the top. It didn’t seem like it would work, entirely, so we spent the trip repeating our standard mantra: ‘Swiss engineering, Swiss engineering, Swiss engineering’. Safely deposited at the top we then had to get a ski lift to the start of the walk, much to the delight of the fearless kids and the terror of their mama.

The walk itself is short in length – about 5km – but since it spans the ridge between two peaks and drops and rises quite a lot, it took us quite some time to hike it (two children in backpacks didn’t speed us up any. While Addie is a very good walker, the drops were so steep at points that I didn’t trust her tired little legs to stay on the path. I only saw one child around Ads’ age walking it – a rope had been tied around her waist and was firmly held by the accompanying adult in case of any slipping).

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While a little challenging (my rickety old knees weren’t delighted with the descent plus 15kg toddler on my back), it was easily the most stunning walk we’ve done to date.

Thankfully, Uncle Jake took one of the brats (little Teddy, who I swear I overheard attempting to say ‘Jake’ in his lispy little whisper) for the final climb to the end of the hike (a bar! restaurant! playground!), leaving me free to ogle the landscape in peace (by which I mean huff and puff).

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(In the picture directly below, if you follow the water around to the far left, hidden behind the peak are the islands we visited on Swiss National Day. The large deep blue body of water throughout the snaps is Lake Luzern – Vierwaldstättersee – and this is where it meets the Reuss river at the delta. We didn’t realise it was the same spot until right at the end of the hike where our perspective shifted into place.)

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She’s an unusual lake, the old Vierwaldstättersee. The name translates as ‘lake of the four forested settlements’ (vier = four, wald = forest, stadt = town and see = lake), and this is really only obvious when you view her sprawling, tentacled form from above. Our own little slice of the lake – a few blocks from our apartment, where we walk and roll down hills and swim and grill and smell second hand weed and watch tightrope walkers tumble (maybe due to said weed) – seems like a completely different world when we look at it from this angle.

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It’s hard to imagine from the snaps above, but the very next day Soph, Jake, Tim and Addie went up Mount Rigi and were greeted with a heavy snow. In the weeks following this hike the days have shortened and darkened, and the temperature has dropped dramatically. Snow is falling on the peaks and sticking on the higher ones (and scarily it’s forecast for Luzern town – typically on the day that Addie and I are due to run our ‘races’ – a half marathon for me and an adorable 195m for her). Autumn is unquestionably here.

Flashback

Can one really flashback to only a week ago? In my defence, Easter seems like a bazillion years ago, or at least the laundry piles in my house imply that a significant amount of time has passed. (Yeah, I know that could also be chalked up to bad Hausfrau-ing. Or excellent Hausfrau-ing, depending on which way you look at it.) Our Easter was also extended this year: we had some lovely Irish houseguests which elongated the standard four days of celebration to a whole happy week. At any rate, get yourselves set for a festive blast from the (very recent) past.

I remember many years ago – when I still talked about kids with slight disdain and would snort audibly if anyone asked if I would ever have one – a friend of mine had recently had her first squawker and was talking about the things she most liked (I’m not sure if she discussed the things she didn’t rate. I certainly remember her being far more zen than I was as an early mother am). One of the things she was most excited about was creating family specific traditions, based on things she herself had cherished but with her new family’s own twists, knitting them together in shared experience and memories. I always thought this concept was appealing and sweet, but had little idea how much I would totally embrace it once my own (no longer disdained or snorted-about) offspring arrived.

Like the vast majority of human beings, I eat and enjoy food. I want my family to do the same. I particularly want my family, and all the people around us, to do this when there is some sort of reason to celebrate, to spend time together, to reflect on and savour where we’re at. Seasons, and seasons of life, pass so quickly. Recognising and acknowledging this passage while grounding the change in familiar senses – taste, smell, touch – is for me reassuring, secure. I hope that it will have the same effect, one day, for my two little snotters.

This year, we busted out again our favourite Easter bread: Aachener Poschwek.6D386717-9E13-4F26-B07D-10CE0E506954.jpgIt’s a German bread, rich with butter, almonds, sultanas and whole sugar cubes that is served to break the fasting of Lent (which we totally observe in our household, yikes). It’s heaven warm with (even more) butter, and tastes even better still when made by your eleven year old house guest.

Jack, said eleven year old, had already proved his culinary prowess a few days previously when for Gründonnerstag – Green Thursday (or Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, depending on what your background is) he commenced what I hope will become a delicious tradition for both our families. I’d seen a recipe for the German Grüner Kuchen (green cake), a savoury dish made with a range of greens – spring onions and parsley, in this case – meant to herald the arrival of spring and refresh the body and soul following the winter. I was super keen to try it, and no sooner had I mentioned it than Jack volunteered his services. Never one to miss the opportunity to watch another person labouring in my kitchen, I was delighted for him to give it a go. He made a yeasted bread base, over which he poured the greens-based custard, and topped it off with a bread crumb and bacon crust. It was heavenly, and I hope it graces our Easter table for years to come, especially as our little baker copied Jack’s every move.

No Easter – and especially one in Switzerland – could in good conscience (or good taste) be complete without….DIY chocolate, courtesy of the local chocolate factory. I’d intended the activity to be for primarily for Jack and Alex – the two older kids – but of course there was no way my little bunnies were going to let the action pass them by. While Addie decorated (how creepy, but also how logical, are those eye-ears?), cheeky Teddles crammed his little cheeks with as many candies as he could get past his mother’s (not so watchful, as I was equally busy cramming) eye.IMG_3405.jpgAfter all this feasting there was another Easter tradition to observe: Mount Titlis. We’d first gone up two years ago at Easter, and Tim ventured up for a terrifying day of Easter skiing last year. This year, Good Friday was the perfect day for the ascent, with clear blue skies after a week of rainy days. The braver of the crew (ie not me, as evidenced by the coffee below) embarked on the Titlis cliff walk, Europe’s highest suspension bridge which frankly is pure Easter idiocy (they were obviously all fine, and all duly impressed).

We also ventured inside the surprisingly dry glacial cave, carved out of 5000 year old ice, complete with creepy ice monsters (aka my offspring).

Following the departure of our guests, we took our chickens to see some chickens. A tradition in Luzern, every year the Natur-Museum hosts eggs that hatch into chicks over the Easter weekend. In years past, children were able to pick up the teeny tiny birds, but due to (completely reasonable) changes in animal rights requirements, they are now no longer able to be kid-handled. We still got to see all the action: eggs hatching in front of our eyes, baby birds clumsily moving with still-wet feathers, little birds flocking around their mama and playing tumble, just like our littles do most evenings.

The final Easter event was again aimed at counteracting the chocolates found on the slightly early Saturday egg hunt: a hike over the Zugerberg. Tim’s work is slap bang between Luzern and Zug; we tossed up for a while which town would better suit our family when we first moved here (sorry, Rotkreuz, you were never even in the running). Obviously we ended up in Luzern, but we’re shameless enough to still cash in on all Zug has to offer. The Zugerberg is a mountain rising above Lake Zug which we’d previously  discounted given the proximity of Pilatus and Rigi. Joke was on us, as we soon found out.IMG_5064.jpg A kids’ trail which loops around the peak of the mountain opened late last year. It has a dozen or so stations which tell the story of forest animals whose houses were destroyed by a storm, the cave dwarves who helped them rebuild their homes, and a stolen diamond haul. Kids have to hunt for the diamonds throughout the walk, following clues and completing physical tasks as they go. Ads loved it, following the tale and trail with much excitement. She has been talking about the villainous thieving frog Amadeus ever since, with little attention given to the boring do-gooders of the story. I’m secretly proud, but suspect this speaks badly of us both.

Foolishly, we hadn’t expected there to be much snow left, but it also made for an idyllic walk. Tim’s favourite weather is the crispy snow in the gleaming sun, and this beautiful day did not disappoint.

And of course, to round out the Easter weekend and help with walk-related bribes (evil Amadeus only got us so far) we had to turn back to our old faithful: food. Happily the Easter Bunny left enough treats to see us well into the hike, and dodgy ol’ Amadeus didn’t get his hands on any of these treasures.IMG_5120.jpgAlthough the celebration is long over (and my laundry long ignored), we have many memories tucked away from this weekend to pull out and cherish. We’re still making our way through Easter eggs, although not through lack of asking on the kids’ part. There’s a chunk of the Aachener Poschwek in the freezer, biding its time until it’s rediscovered and summons forth recollections of little Jack baking, of kind Alex playing with our tiny Teddy, of our friends and their favourite rosé, and of the melting snow dripping away, changing seasons in front of our eyes.

For the love of alliums

This post was supposed to be about the glorious Thurgau apricot blossoms. In news which may not surprise you, I have become / continue to be a little spring obsessed. I am doing regular rubber-necked drives past the nearby bulb farm to time my visit with maximum blumage. There’s a cherry blossom walk in Frick, a town not too far away, that I’ve been contacting a couple of times a week to make sure we capitalise on the eight day delicate pink flower window for our cherry farm hike. And there’s a tulip barometer on Mainau island just over the German border that I am watching with borderline mania. So when I heard about the apricot trees a few hours away, I rehearsed my best German to call Madame Bluescht, the keeper of the blossoms. It turns out her English was excellent (so I can’t blame translation) and she assured me that although the cherries and apples were yet to flower, the apricots were out all over the valley and were worth a visit. We were heading roughly that way anyway – Tim is currently in Sicily ‘working’, the lucky bugger – and we bundled the poor unknowing children into the car to allow me to get my weekend’s quota of oohs and aahs.

I’m not blaming the good Madame, and nor will I reflect on my own ability to cross check information, however there was nary an apricot bloom to be seen. There were hundreds of trees, laden with buds, that will be spectacular in a few weeks but obviously that didn’t deliver much happiness to a spring hungry mama and her two now confused and grumpy children (Sicily-bound Tim knew not to push his luck with any remonstrating, and kept sensibly quiet throughout the whole debacle).

Therefore, instead of the white froth of gorgeousness that is apricot trees flowing en mass in spring, I am pleased to bring you….garlic.

IMG_5226.jpgNaturally it’s not any old garlic. This enormous crop is bärlauch, or bear’s leek, which is available for a few weeks this time of year. I’ve bought it a few times at the market – it makes heavenly pesto and soup and risotto – but that was before I realised it was available for the taking if you don’t mind a bit of a walk in the forest.

Yesterday, a ridiculously perfect spring day in die Schwyz, saw a group of us doing this garlic-laden circular walk around the Walensee waterfall. It was an adventure packed day, starting with a terrifying one-way drive, which was timed to make sure no cars met en route as a total impasse would have been reached. As we finally pulled into the already packed parking area, several nails bitten down to the quick (ok, all of them belonging to me), we saw people mobilising for the day ahead. Hikers with their poles barged forward, a few carrying gear that implied an overnight stay was intended. Many people were laying rugs and eyeing off the hammock hung scenically towards the lake. A few people were setting out in canoes and one very brave couple was donning drysuits and tanks to explore the startlingly clear depths of the lake.

Much more prosaically, we got walking.

The track was broad and well maintained and easy to follow. It took us gently uphill – the two older toddlers managing the two kilometre climb admirably, pausing only occasionally for Easter-egg-banana-bread bribes. As we walked we spotted treasure chests along the way – a feature set up to keep kids entertained – as well as many spring delights for the flower loving mama in the crowd.

At the top of the hill the trail flattened out to a grassy plain. On one side, the waterfall:

and on the other, the lake.

We didn’t need much convincing to put down the rug and pull out the thermos. As we explored the area close to the waterfall, we could smell the garlic well before we’d registered what it was. As it turns out, I am totally into the aroma of stinky ol’ garlic but if it’s not your favourite treat, this is not the time of year for you. IMG_5227.jpgWe were treated to one blooming tree – and to be fair, it’s a pretty good one, strategically placed across the lake with mountains in the background. But would you eat a pesto made from those flowers? I think not. Garlic, you’re my true spring love after all. IMG_5232.jpg

The Western Front

Since returning home from our holidays – a solid six weeks ago –  we’ve been on the down low. All is quiet, as they say. It was necessary for multiple reasons: my liver’s health, our bank account’s health, the fact that I am now a bazillion years old, extensive expected and unexpected travel for Tim, and the absolutely ridiculous weather that accosted us there for a spell.

We have always enjoyed visitors but last month we had our first unwelcome one: the Siberian front, or ‘the Beast from the East’, which hit most of Europe. We had lows of -12 and highs of -1, and there was a snow / ice / snow ice thing going on for the better part of a fortnight. I try to observe the ‘no bad weather only bad clothes’ mantra, but to be frank: it’s bloody bollocks. Sadly the three year old did not agree, so most days saw me reluctantly spending half an hour rugging us all up, heading into the biting cold for maybe a lap of the block during which Teddles would manage to take off and throw away three quarters of his warm clothing, and then heading back home to disrobe again. Exciting stuff. (Don’t get me wrong: I love the snow days, but only when I am not outnumbered by the clothes-shedding terrors. We’ve had some fab mountain times this winter, but they are not our every day. I shall not let that deter me from visually representing it as such, however.)

The quiet life has suited us, though. Always one for routine, I’ve appreciated the return to our (possibly dull and predictable, but I’ll go with cosy and satisfying) rhythm. It’s been good for the brats too. They travel marvellously, but have clearly been relieved to return home. (Addie had been concerned that ‘The Family’, the creepy Manson-esque moniker of the doll house occupants, had been crying as they had missed her.) Baby Bear has punched out his first few words. Like his sister, I am furious to note that his first was ‘Dad’. I am not sure about my thoughts on his second; I oscillate between amusement and pride that he has chosen to say ‘cracker’ before he says ‘mum’. We’ve also spent a lot of time utilising our newly acquired Swiss Pass, which lets us into a bunch of galleries and museums, most of which I wouldn’t even have known about let alone bothered with, and that’s given us a pleasant distraction from Old Beasty as well.

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We’ve started a family routine of completing a nature journal each night. It’s a guided diary that helps you set nature-related goals (drinking outside totally counts, FYI), be aware of simple changes around you, and gives you basic things to observe (this week, the change in daylight. We need to mark the sun rise and sunset and note the different light, the different feel of our days). During dinner we discuss something we’ve seen or done, and we draw it. I am no artist but there is something liberating about judgement- and pressure-free drawing. We’re three months in and it’s still a pleasure. (What is not so enjoyable is the children’s clear favouritism for their father’s artwork. Ingrates.)

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We’ve also fallen into a particularly delightful period where we have our own family lingo and understandings. As you might note in the snap above, we love to look at ‘croissant moons’. We also carry ‘rainbrellas’ and ‘packbacks’, drink ‘cup-of-chinos’, and countless other little not-quite-right things that have now become our daily parlance. Nothing about this is remotely unusual, I know, but it makes the mundanity of our day-to-day feel special, ours.

Just in case I thought this slowness would last, suddenly in the last few days: it’s spring. SPRING! We saw the snowdrops emerging a few weeks ago, that first hint that there’s something new around the corner. Now there are the nubs of daffodils poking through the ground – no glorious yellow quite yet, but the telltale bulging tips are ripe for blooming any time now. We spied the first cluster of crocus (croci? crocuses?) the other day at the Glacier Garden in town (Addie was particularly excited by this as she has decided her favourite colour is purple and thus any purple anything is specifically put there for her enjoyment. As you can appreciate, seeing purple foil wrapped Easter eggs is currently a very difficult negotiation point). And on Friday afternoon, returning back from Spielegruppe, Ads ran over to me and proudly presented me with a dandelion. I was totally delighted, not least because the mother next to me was given a rock from her kid.

It feels that this stirring and rumbling is reflected in everything. The anticipation of warmer weather, the idyllic Swiss lakeside summer. The kids, who are – almost impossibly – every day more and more their own wee wonderful selves. (And sometime their own wee horrifically screamy selves.) Exciting new prospects for Tim, and also for me; nothing major but enough to have us scheming and planning and feeling alive. And just like that – with that first badly-drawn snowdrop – the ol’ Western front is no longer feeling quiet.

All I want for Christmas is a pink hand towel

It’s two sleeps until we leave for Australia, a fact the almost three year old has been capitalising on when negotiating her naps. In theory I should be ticking items off my to-do list, or at the very least writing a to-do list. Instead I type this with sticky fingers: apparently making cookie boxes for two dozen of Tim’s colleagues is the most important thing I have to do at the moment. My general person is covered in a seasonally delightful mix of peppermint, passionfruit and lebkuchengewürz, and I don’t mind in the slightest.

If you’ve ever so much as passed me in a corridor, you’ll know my thoughts on Christmas. Positive is an understatement. I’m doing the best I can to brainwash encourage my two Christmas babies to feel the same way and – based on the frequency of gaudy sweater wearing, Christmas light ooh-ing and ‘Jingle Bells’ requesting – things are progressing as planned. Happily, Switzerland has my back – the snow has been falling, the Christmas markets (sausages! carousels! ice skating! Glühwein!) are in full swing, and Samiclaus has made numerous appearances.

The local parish offers, in exchange for a donation, a personal visit from the man himself. A few weeks ago we received an application form on which we had to request a time and date of visit, advise who’d be home, give the kids’ names and ages and a list of both the things they had done well and the things that they need to improve. We did our best to fill it out in German, hoping – mainly because we’d been using the visit as a bribe – that it would work out. And sure enough, one wintery Sunday evening, there was a knock on the door and there he was.

He did not, however, come alone. There was not one but two creepy Schmutzlis lurking in his wake. Samiclaus-011We’d spent a fair bit of time discussing the visit – a bunch of Swiss German talking dudes showing up to your house and knowing all about your naughty and nice business is a bit full on for anyone, let alone a wee person. We talked a lot about treats and presents, and Ads knew that if she did the right thing, Samiclaus would bring her something she wanted. I was expecting her to ask for baby dolls, duplo, toy farm animals, cake…the things she generally requests if given a choice. But no. Emphatically and specifically my little miss wanted one thing and one thing only: a pink hand towel. Needless to say Samiclaus delivered, with a side of bemusement. (And creepiness.)

Although old enough to be excited by Samiclaus (and Santa and Father Christmas), my lass is not quite savvy enough to question thematic variations. So when her kita had a Samiclaus event – at night time, in a nearby forest – it was like it was the first time they’d met.

Motsy got hideously lost locating the forest site, only finding it due to the pity of passers by who figured where they were off to, possibly due to the crazed Samiclaus loving toddler. This resulted in a mosey through moonlit Swiss Christmas countryside which made it a total win.

Samiclaus-108I am, no question, dreaming of a brown Christmas this year. It’s been way too long since I’ve seen my sister and my bestie – the kids’  Godfather, Uncle Pip – and I greedily await the catch ups to be had. This year has passed so hastily, almost without pause. Although I don’t stop to think about it frequently, when I do it’s the easy familiar, the unspoken contentment of old friendship I ache for. Also at home, there’s wonderful family and friends, many of whom haven’t yet had the (dubious?) pleasure of meeting the screechiest Purler, who is about to be introduced to his technical homeland. And then there’s my best lady: Sydney. The parents of one of Addie’s kita teachers are flying down under the same day we are (I am praying it’s not on the same flight; those poor people) and I wrote them a list of Aussie must-dos. I admit it was primarily for me, and hoo boy it worked. I’m already salivating over her bounty.  Brash foreshores, broken Ozone, blazing beauty. That gaudy girl.

But when Switzerland throws this nonsense, it’s hard not to be torn. 1st Snow 2017-311Lest I sound flaky, let me be precise. Just like Little Miss I Want A Pink Hand Towel, I know exactly what I want for Christmas. And happily, unbelievably, here they both are. Samiclaus-016

 

Panorama

Brexit is over. Nobody is more disappointed about this than I am. Every morning for the last six months or so – and the occasional noon and evening, due to a bit of meal confusion – our Laideybird would jump out of bed and run to the kitchen, announcing that she was ready for Brexit. Even on the more challenging mornings – interrupted nights, my coffee maker being out of town, general wintery malaise – it never failed to bring a chuckle. Sadly, she has recently learned to correctly pronounce her ‘f’s and with it has toppled one of the more controversial European political decisions of recent times.

The last few months of this year are thick with travel for Tim; he’s currently on a whirlwind trip to New Zealand and Australia but has also been flitting around the continent for the last few weeks. Nestled in the midst of this, on an unexpectedly bright and beautiful Wednesday, was a Swiss public holiday for which he happened to be at home. There was only one thing for it: The Alps.

Rotenflue-006We went to a neighbouring canton, Schwyz, for a short walk through the Mythenregion. The walk promised panoramic views, and it totally delivered. But then – where here doesn’t?

The Mythen peak stands at 1898m – a trifle lower than our Pilatus, but equally impressive, particularly on a clear day. We caught a cable car to the neighbouring Rotenflue where we enjoyed a grill – possibly the last of the season – and a surprisingly steep circular walk. Equally surprising was the tiny red hut you see in the snap below: a little cheese shop for your mid hike snacks.

Our little Brexit eater did us proud: she managed to walk the whole hilly way and just as I thought she was completely tuckered out, we found ourselves in Addie heaven. Rock climbing and soaring above the Alps ensued. (Please note the blue thing slumped on my back is my sleeping son, not some of weird stuffed mascot).

The days after this trip have started to usher in winter, making it feel a little like a last hurrah. Gone are the crystal clear blue skies – Luzern has been frosty, cloud covered and grey (and, worst of all, wet wet wet) for the last week or so. On the occasions the cloud clears, the nearby hills have been hit with snow, and we’re excepting some of our own in a few days. Despite the murk I am feeling excited about snow season, but this is possibly because we’ll be the other side of the world in the sun for about six weeks of it.

Hopp! Hopp! Hopp!

I am not a lot of things. Politically aware (slash particularly interested). A German speaker (unlike my little miss, who is currently singing herself to sleep with Schweizer Deutsch nursery rhymes). Abstentious from social media (particularly circa 4pm after a long day with the brats). Elegant under pressure (elegant full stop). A hater of cheese and wine. A regular exerciser.

Despite the latter, or more likely because of it, I’ve long needed the motivation of fear to get me moving. Mere common sense and immediate feel-good rewards apparently do not cut it: I need a looming, terrifying goal if I am going to actually don running shoes and get going. Knowing this about myself, and that I needed a solid kick up the butt, I signed on to the Swiss City Marathon.

It needs to be clarified immediately that ‘Swiss City Marathon’ is the name of the running festival that takes place in Luzern annually, as opposed to the distance I ran. It includes a marathon and a half mara, as well as the far less salubrious 10km run and the kiddy 195m dash. You may wish to hedge a bet on which event I entered (clue: the kiddy race was for participants strictly under the age of 6). Incidentally, though, over here ‘marathon’ seems to refer to any longish run, not necessarily the 42.2km slog that I am never likely to even think about completing. There was a recent run through town – a measly 7.2kms – that entrants kept referring to as ‘the marathon’. I was infuriated about this until I had the opportunity to refer to my own measly 10k as ‘the marathon’, and now I am obviously all about it. Sorry, genuine marathon runners. THUNDER STOLEN.

At any rate, I signed up, did my training, and ran said race. It started in Horw and snaked its way back into Luzern proper, passing through hobby farms, the local stadium, temptingly close to my house, bizarrely – it was kind of like a seedy night club – through the KKL (a concert hall and gallery), and then looped through the old town to finish inside the Transport Museum. Despite having lived in the city for a few years now, the race was an entirely novel way to experience it. The streets were lined with musicians – oompahpah bands this corner, alphorn choirs the next. Perhaps the best part was the enthusiastic spectators. Nearly the entire trail was populated with well wishers yelling ‘Hopp! Hopp! Hopp!’ as we ran past. And because our names were on our running patches, every now and then ‘Hopp, Wendy, hopp!’ (Or, ‘Go on Wendy, take that selfie!’ over the loudspeaker as I pulled my phone out upon entering the stadium. Selfie taken, thankyouverymuch.)

Aside from viewing a new side of my home, committing to and completing the run felt like a significant personal achievement. I’ve (slowly) run this distance and greater before, but since my little terrors have arrived I’ve felt I have little control of my time or my body. A lot of this is choice, but prioritising exercise doesn’t come naturally to me. The fear of the impending run forced me to rethink that, and the payoff was far beyond the completion of the race. I had four training sessions a week to myself. I learned to listen to podcasts, starting off with educational-ish ones which were quickly shunned in favour of the dulcet whiskey tones of Alec Baldwin’s celebrity interviews. I missed at least one bedtime a week, a happy coincidence which inspired several evening runs when I ordinarily would not have gone. I was frequently in so much pain that I was unable to dwell on the niggling nonsense of my everyday, thinking only about my next breath. I forgot, at times, that I was a mother and a hausfrau and felt like…just me, something I didn’t realise I’d not felt in a while. I felt strong, and strong in a way I’d not felt before the kids: aware of my body and its capacity and thresholds. Plus, I can tell people I ran a ‘marathon’, so there’s that.

I’d like to say that a corner has been turned and I am now embracing my new-found running freedom. I’m continuing with it, but to be honest without a target it’s hard to find the necessary momentum to force me out into the sleety night (it’s dark in the fours this time of year. Every day, around 3pm, Adsy exclaims in delight ‘Gosh! I’m staying up late tonight!’). I’d like to think the increased movement has been contagious: within a day or so of finishing the race, our little bear took his first few Frankenstein-esque steps, and he’s quickly progressing to be a right little speedster. If he keeps it up, perhaps next year he and his big sister can enter their very own 195m ‘marathon’.

The dam(n) weekend

As exciting as it is to cross the border into another country, the nature of Switzerland is such that it’s not always necessary to do so to experience a new language and culture. We are firmly planted in the Deutsch canton of Lucerne, but just over an hour away (through the longest tunnel in the world, the Gotthard, which stretches for a numbing 17km) is the Italian canton of Ticino. Lured by an easy getaway towards Italian deliciousness, we hit the road – and the traffic associated with said tunnel – on Friday afternoon.

When we travel, we prefer to stay in apartments (well, actually I prefer to stay in a five star suite with full housekeeping service and a butler and free flowing fizz, but that ain’t happening any time soon) so that there’s a seperate sleeping space for the kids and the capacity to chill after they’ve gone to bed. We’ve done hotel rooms where we’ve had to sit silently drinking wine in the bathroom and one horrible stay in a teeny tiny room where we had to text each other as we sat in bed so as not to wake the finally sleeping Addie a few centimetres away. We’ve had some great apartments, and we’ve had a few doozies. Unfortunately this weekend fell into the latter category. A traditional style Swiss house in a tiny village, the place itself was cluttered, musty and decidedly odd. The town was a single stretch of highway with very little going on, other than an ice hockey game on Friday night which nearly prohibited us from being allowed access the house (which in hindsight may not have been the worst outcome ever).  I’m prepared to take a miss every now and then but it felt like this set an unpleasant and difficult-to-kick tone for the weekend.Ticino with Ann, Doru, Sebi-017The plus side of shoddy lodgings (other than being able to stay up with our friends like actual normal adults after all the brats had gone to bed, of course) was being motivated to leave it as much as possible. We hit the road first thing (well, as first thing as you can get with three brats underfoot) to Contra Dam in Vogorno.

The dam was built in the early 1960s and uses water from the nearby Lake Maggiore to support a hydroelectric power plant (which somewhat blights the view, but such is the price one pays for electricity I suppose). It was used in the opening scene of GoldenEye after which it has become a popular and terrifying bungee jumping location (although it should be noted that James Bond did nowhere near the amount of screaming that was echoing around the dam last Saturday). Ticino with Ann, Doru, Sebi-021We then made our way to Ticino’s capital, Bellinzona. A stunning city with no discernible ice hockey games, we explored one of the several castles perched above the town.

Our kids worked on their levitating skills.

Castillo de Montebello dates back to the 15th century, and is complete with all the castle frills: moat, drawbridges, archer’s holes. Not only was the castle remarkably well kept and an important archaeological site, it also had excellent hills on which to refine rolling.

Hill rolling works up an appetite, which was sated in the town square with my favourite all time food: pizza. (Addie spied on her all time favourite: cake.)

I’ve often remarked on the ease with which we can access The Natures here, and on Sunday we decided to get the hell away from leave our lodgings and head up the mountain we could see out the somewhat grimy windows. A funicular (or ‘funny cable car’, according to Ads) took us to the top where we strolled through light rain, finding at the peak…another dam.

Despite the rain, the day was lovely. We enjoyed the walk through Autumnal forests with the kids strapped to our backs, feasting on sweeping views.

And Alpkäse (serviced with local polenta, which was a total winner.)

Funny-cable-car-049All the kids fell asleep on the stroll back to the funny cable car, at the base of which was the best excuse of all to avoid going home: a park. Once the kids had slippery dipped to their hearts’ content (little Ted also gaining his first blood nose due to a slipperier-than-expected dip) we made our way back and numbed bad house pain with raclette and wine. Which, as it turns out, did the job just fine.

Bring it

It may surprise you to know that I am quite a sentimental kind of person. I can’t let a festive season pass without viewing (preferably on multiple occasions) ‘It’s a Wonderful Life‘ and there’s a Dire Straits album that was oddly slotted into my teens that will reduce me to tears if heard unexpectedly. There’s a ridiculously large box of child-related paraphernalia that I cannot bring myself to cull and I live in genuine fear that Posh and Becks will break up. But nothing brings on self indulgent melancholy like good ol’ Autumn. I’ve been wandering around for the last few weeks fairly misty eyed over the turning leaves, the chill in the air, the darker nights and the mellowing of the light (although this morning, against my better judgement and for reasons I am unable to articulate, I tried a Pumpkin Spice Latte. I was almost cured of Autumn Love right there and then. Yikes).

Earlier this month was the two year annualversay of our move to Switzerland, further impetus for reflection. This year I celebrated by making good on my FOMO. A few months ago, at the start of summer, Tim had climbed Mt Pilatus with some colleagues. I was hideously (cough childishly) jealous and, on Motsy’s urging, decided to give it a go myself. Despite having nowhere near the level of fitness required to scale the 2,128m mountain, it turns out I’ll do anything to get a morning away from the brats. A friend and I took it on, and after almost four hours of solid upwards hit the peak. Although the nicest day of a bad bunch, the mountain was still covered in heavy fog as we climbed. It made for poor visibility but given the scrambley nature of the path we took and my fear of heights, it was possibly for the best. Tim and said brats met us afterwards for a grill, where we cheersed to two years well spent (and it’s lucky arms are used for cheers-ing, as lord knows my legs were not up for anything much after that hike).

The last two years have gone swiftly. Theodore – who of course wasn’t even remotely on our agenda at the time – is now the age that Addie was when we moved here. In those early days, we looked around at childcare options and found that a lot of the playgroups were only accessible for ‘older’ kids – starting at about three years. I didn’t think too much more of it until it hit me a few weeks ago that, completely obviously but also somehow impossibly, my little daughter is now almost three. The horror of this discovery was counterbalanced somewhat by the parallel realisation: I can offload her to spielgruppe! And to spielgruppe she went: Swiss style.

Waldspielgruppe is forest playgroup, where the kids toddle off to the woods for the afternoon. They forage for wood, build a fire and play with knives, cook and eat cervelat (a sausage that Tim and I liken to vegemite: divine if you grow up eating it but absolutely vile if introduced to it later in life), and generally have a fabulous mucky time. Addie had her induction last week so Teddles and went along for the ride, but she starts solo this Friday and could not be more excited. It’s both thrilling and heartbreaking to see how grown up she is, and to watch her chatting to the leader and the other children in a language I can barely understand made me grateful once again for the opportunity we’re getting here.

To capitalise on her new skills – and to marvel at the newly fallen snow and the gradually changing foliage – we took a wee family hike yesterday. We went to Elm, about an hour and a half from Luzern, took a quick cable car up the mountain and did the Giant’s Playground walk. Our surly looking little bear has RBF, like his sister before him, but was actually very happy to be out on his papa’s back.

It is ludicrously easy to get outdoors here. Swiss efficiency is astounding. Cable cars take you to seemingly inaccessible peaks, where there are nearly always comfortable places to sit and rest, family friendly walking tracks to follow, and fireplaces – stocked with fire wood – to grill your lunch. This walk was only just over 2ks, a perfect distance for the littlest walker, and had an activity site every few hundred metres which was just enough to bribe inspire little Addie along.

We stopped for lunch where Addie abandoned all waldspielgruppe learnings, leaving the fire-building duties to the lads in the family, instead joining her mama in a far superior pastime: salami and cheese consumption.

Lunch consumed, we continued the loop trail along – marvelling at mushrooms (and someone’s Sporty Suit) and as always the ridiculous view. We get out and hike a fair bit, but this was the first trip that we felt was well executed. Planning and timing went without a hitch, the walk was perfect for our family, and our grill game was strong. As we made our way back to the cable car (and the massive outdoor trampoline area that was a sure fire Addie approved activity) we were, I confess, fairly self congratulatory.

Although Tim’s contract here is permanent and has no formal end date, we’d always had in our heads that two years was the time we’d commit to staying. Almost as soon as we’d jumped off the plane we figured we’d be staying longer than that, given how much exploring there was to be done. We have a long and lovely trip to Australia planned over Christmas, so we’ll see how much good food, coffee and weather influences us, but it’s hard to imagine leaving here any time soon. I mean:

Besides, if we’ve only started to nail our hiking game after two years, imagine how we’ll bring it next summer.