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.

What I think about when I think about running

Apologies. The above title is a fairly ungainly riff on Haruki Murakami’s book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which is itself an homage to What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. In his book – a collection of essays, really, put together to explain both to himself and his reader the effect and influence running has had on his life – Murakami states that he generally doesn’t think people should talk about the sporting activities they undertake. Instead, they should just do them. I am afraid I do not adhere to this probably admirable stance. I like to discuss the minutiae of any recreational activity I undertake. I think it’s partly to make a challenging process feel more obtainable (I am about the furthest thing possible from a natural athlete) and partly to extend the enjoyment I get out of said process. While I appreciate Murakami’s title is a tribute to a work he admired, and despite the fact I am clearly happy to chat about my mediocre foray into The Sports, it’s not really talking that I associate with running. It’s thinking, and lots of it.

I’m currently training for an upcoming event, which is both pleasant and painful. The painful is probably obvious. Long runs, creaky old limbs, dark mornings, not much time sans brats to juggle the increasing time out, low motivation to actually lace up my runners and go. The pleasures – the reminders I try to give myself when the alarm goes off in the increasingly chilly mornings – are also multiple. Of course, the adrenalin and sense of achievement are fab (you never regret a run, I repeat to myself constantly). But there’s also the time for myself, the meditative state that comes with laboured breathing and throbbing limbs, the reminder that some things are simple. Just one foot in front of the other. There’s also the treat of piecing together the town I live in by foot, mapping the previously haphazard patchwork of neighbouring suburbs like a (bad 1990s) magic eye picture suddenly shifting into focus. Always and forever, there are the views that this beautiful country gives. A lake, a mountain, a chestnut tree, cheering me on. And of course, I think.

I think about muscle memory, usually in the first instance as a criticism. I would run so much faster and easier, if – like Murakami – I ran for six days a week and never had more than one day in a row off. My body would be forced to adjust, to adapt and develop, to stop complaining. Then I remember how once I had a baby, and my betrayed body literally and figuratively screamed in fear and pain. A few years later, I had another. My mind cowered, huddled in a corner dreading the inevitable repetition, doing its best to repress any recollections it still held. But my body was having none of it. Crunch time came, and the message was loud and clear: I remember. I’ve got this. And then I’m not so worried about my burning thighs, my cranky lungs. I’ve got this.

I think about being alone. I breathe huge grateful breaths for my children, and for the temporary absence of them. I remember the fear I had – irrational and unsupported – of leaving my older baby for any amount of time, the guilt that racked me, the experience of being away from her constantly undermined by obsessing about my inevitable return. If I wasn’t working so hard on catching my breath I would laugh, joyfully, my ability to properly escape now a small but life altering success.

I think about our life, our lives, transplanted here. My husband, and the pride and purpose he has in the work he does providing for us. Myself, and the equal frustrations and delights I have in the work I do, providing for us in a different way. Our little ones, and how their childhoods are so different from ours in some ways and so similar in others, their futures so intangible yet so inevitable.

I think about isolation, about the chasm that from time to time looms dark and dreadful in my mind. I don’t know how much is attributable to this small(ish) child phase of life, how much is due to our chosen locale, how much is due to my hausfrau status, or how much is attributable to the general human condition. I’m not lonely, as such: the friendships I have made here, few though they might be, are as meaningful as any I’ve had in my life. I love that our family is close knit, independent, experiencing the world – and the challenges that brings – together. But I miss something that is now intangible, forgotten, a vague memory from the past: who I used to be, or maybe what I used to be. I don’t know what this means, and then my knee starts to hurt, and I am drawn back to the reality of the thud-thud-thudding of my body, the here and now, and this is both a relief and a frustration.

I think about conversations I’ve had. The time a good friend – an impeccable, but not native, English speaker – asked me whether I thought it might be ok, that there might be an English speaking narrative she was unaware of that made it acceptable, for a husband to call his wife a stupid bitch and their son a moron. No, I said. I try to run a bit harder, but no other answers come to me.

I think about my own at times less-than-perfect dialogue.

I think about schemes, about what-ifs. What if I was a florist? How lovely would these wildflowers I’m passing look with hyacinths? But of course they’re not in season together, so that wouldn’t work. What if I studied again? Botany, maybe, based on that ridiculous wildflower-meets-hyacinth call. What if I pulled my thumb out and really, I mean really this time, tried to learn German properly? What if I actually put a German lesson podcast on right now? Actually, maybe not right now, because my earphones are pretty tangled and my pace is pretty good and I’m enjoying not listening to anything other than maybe a spot of Moana later because it’s stuck in my head again, in the way that German lessons never seem to get stuck.

I think ambitiously about runs I might do in the future, since clearly I am nailing this running lark. I think about hailing the next bus I see and catching it home.

I think about how I love the silence, the headspace, the time to myself but also that bloody Moana is really, really stuck in my head and the earphones won’t take too long to sort out and I’m kind of sick of thinking anyway.

Summer

At the risk of being sombre, I have probably already used at least half my allotted summers. A bunch of them are long forgotten. Some of them linger as sensory memories only, revisited briefly through the scent of, say, coconut oil or steamed corn on the cob. Some were most definitely squandered (I’m looking at you, wasted university summers). A few unfortunate years I missed them altogether: moving continents and foolishly –  unintentionally – following winter. The summers since the arrival of my children have been different again. Ads was born in the peak of an Australian summer and my memories are primarily of bunkering down in our darkened terrace, hiding from the sun and hoping for sleep. The last two, spent here in Switzerland, were fleeting both in terms of weather and enjoyment. I was pregnant for the first and had a six month old skwarker for the second, so my attention was focused primarily on morning sickness and baby naps and basically keeping everyone alive.

These unfortunate summers past all feel like a rehearsal for this year. This year – unexpectedly and delightfully – the summer has been amazing. Weather wise (which isn’t everything but it certainly helps) we’ve had bonza days since May. We had a solid influx of visitors over May and June, resulting in lots of lovely lake time and the start of a holiday vibe. But most importantly, I find myself reaping the full benefits of being a hausfrau: the kids are old enough to enjoy summer actives (swimming! camping! grilling!), I’m not ruled by Nap Schedules as restrictively, and we can spend as much time as we like by the water. Tim and I have finally copped on that only one parent needs to be at home of an evening, resulting in a tag team effort of evening lake swims. For the first time in maybe forever, I feel like I’m making the most of the season.

Here, the height of summer coincides with Swiss National Day. On 1 August (or thereabouts, the history books refer to ‘early August’) in 1219, three Swiss cantons – formerly independent states – banded together to protect their trading routes and themselves from Germany in the north. In a field called Rütli, north of Lake Luzern, these three states swore the ‘Oath on Rütli’ which established the first Swiss confederacy. Over time (and several battles) other states joined, and eventually the collective became the Confederation Helvetia of today. As you can imagine, it’s a much loved celebration by the Swiss. Firework shops pop up for the week preceding it, people take extended holidays around the formal day off, grills and picnics are prepared, and everyone wishes each other well on the day.

Our third Swiss National Day – a glorious thirty-plus summer’s day – started off appropriately, by shoving a mini Swiss flag in our breakfast. (Although admittedly not terribly Swiss, i could have been worse. We could have shoved the flag into our usual breakfast: vegemite toast.)

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We were spending the day not far from the meadow of Rötli, the site of Swiss confederacy. Located in one of the three cantons that formed the original Switzerland – Canton Uri – we were hearing to the Lorelei Bathing Islands.

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The ‘islands’ are actually made from reclaimed rock and gravel excavated during the building of the Gotthard Tunnel, the largest tunnel in the world, connecting Switzerland to Italy. A five year project, the islands were made to counter the erosion occurring at the site of the Reuss Delta and provide a habitat for native birds and water life of the area. They also – very conveniently for our needs – deliver excellent swimming for both children and adults alike.

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We had excitedly prepared our grill, and I had been very enthusiastically planning what fireworks I would purchase (doing something banned in my own country remains childishly thrilling, I’m afraid) when a national fire ban was put in place. We were annoyed for a few moments, but since a fire ban is indication of a delightfully warm summer, we happily complied. (Also, fines for breaching said ban were CHF20’000 minimum, so we were happy to eat non-grilled food.) We spent the day pottering by the lake, swimming across to the islands, exploring the nearby bird sanctuary and playing chaseys around the viewing tower.

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Although definitely idyllic I will admit the day wasn’t perfect. The children ate only olives and cake for lunch, poor little Teddy has a summer cold so was quite miserable, patience was tested from time to time, and there was a revoltingly filthy marshmallow incident in the car on the way home. Still, in the summer scheme of things it was a lovely way to celebrate once again our adopted country, and since that marshmallow came in a packet bearing the Swiss flag all is forgiven.

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Countdown

Nine visitors – not all at once, admittedly (the most at any one time was a whopping five which is unheard of outside the festive season) – have kept us on our toes for the last few months. The ‘Wendy Noller Tour Of Luzern’ has been getting a thorough workout. I am no longer sure which facts I’ve researched myself, which I’ve stolen from other (legitimate) tour guides, or which are even facts at all. I’m fairly sure at least twenty percent of my cobbled together show-and-tell is either embellished or made up entirely, but I no longer remember which parts this applies to, and believe it all fervently myself.


Eight dips, thus far this season, I’ve taken in Lake Luzern. I’m talking full body immersion, which is something of a record because unlike the other Purlers (who are either insensitive or foolhardy or most likely both) I am totally chicken when it comes to cold water swimming. But at the end of last summer, realising I’d barely felt the chill of the current above my knees, I regretted not holding my breath and taking the literal plunge more often. So this year, I’m working on embracing the bracing, beautiful waters.


Seven cygnets have arrived, and have grown so much since they’ve hatched they must be almost ready to make their own way in the world. The family of swans lives right near our lake, and since the little ones were born mama and papa have been parading the family around proudly: shuffling awkwardly along the sand, gliding smoothly across the glassy lake, plunging suddenly into the depths as a potential meal is spied. I’m still terrified of them, but last Friday evening as we sat enjoying a grill the family passed very close to us. As they walked by – papa in the lead, six little ones trailing behind, followed by the mama and one last, tardy cygnet. I saw the mama (because it had to be the poor, frustrated mama) turn to her baby and positively snap at him: ‘hurry up!’ or ‘stop whining, we’re almost there’ or ‘we’ll go to the park again tomorrow, we were there for three hours already today’. I wanted to exchange a sympathetic look with her, but I’m way too scared of them to make eye contact.


Six minutes of listening to a cellist playing while a ballerina danced around a donkey. As part of Art Basel, I tagged along with Uncle Pip (my bestie, and the taker of the snaps below) to Schloss Mauensee, the private residence of a Swiss businessman who was a Chinese diplomat, and remains a prominent Chinese art collector. The castle and the art were both amazing, although I do admit to being slightly perplexed at the donkey installation described above. It was Phillip’s last night in Switzerland, and a delightful – if not at times surreal – way to spend it.


Five meals of raclette in only a few short weeks (purely for the visitors, you understand). I mention this primarily because if I am hospitalised in the near future, you’ll know to check my arteries. I love the dish – and we like to think our raclette game is increasingly strong – but it is most definitely a sometimes food. Hoo boy.


Four heavenly days in Mallorca. More pertinently: four heavenly days away from my (much loved) offspring. Since Phil (who, again, took the snaps below) was visiting at the same time as my in-laws, the opportunity arose for the two of us to hit the island. I’d assumed the largest of the Balearic Islands would be ridden with tourists with little to offer other than mega resorts, swim up bars, buffet dinners. (Please note: I do not hate any of these things. They are just not my priority for a sans-family getaway). I am perfectly capable of admitting that I was completely wrong. Palma was a small but fascinating city, with the excellent food the Spaniards frequently deliver. We drove to the coast to lie on beaches framed by national park – busier than the ones I’m used to at home, but no less lovely. We spent our final night in the mountains, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, and as you can imagine had a rotten time altogether.


Three nights away for Tim, travelling around Italy with one of his old friends. Not to be outdone by my lone getaway (which I may or may not have classily referred to as breaking away from the shackles of my family), Tim hit the road not long afterwards. He had his favourite type of break: covering lots of ground, seeing lots of Italy (Lago Iseo! Venice! The Cinque Terre!), eating and drinking and taking photos. We missed him, of course, but have loved hearing his tales and seeing his snaps and insisting that he return wiht us to give us the ‘Tim Purtell Tour Of Italia’ very soon.


Two syllables that have delighted me: ‘mama’ has finally been uttered by the cracker-loving lad in the house. Of course, now I’m wishing he didn’t holler it at me quite so frequently, such as earlier today in the shopping centre when he (successfully, I’m afraid) demanded a pretzel by yelling ‘mamamamamamamamamama’ non stop at the top of his lungs.


One tuckered out family. We’ve loved every minute of our run of visitors. Having family and friends stay with us makes us far less homesick and is a load of fun to boot. The kids, in particular, relish the excuse to hit the lake or a mountain or go out for lunch as a ‘very special treat’ (a phrase that loses its meaning somewhat when you’re doing it almost daily). Now that the rush is over, we’re now slowing down a bit (which basically means catching up on the piles of laundry and cleaning and sundry joys of the Hausfrau Life). Last night, our little crew sat around the table for our first Sunday roast. While there was a marked difference from the pulsing dinner of a few weeks ago (six adults! three kids!) it was relaxed, cosy, us. Not terribly quiet though; the little dude yelling ‘mamamamamama’ every time he wanted a roast spud took care of that.

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.

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