Eat all the cheese

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, one of the main reasons we don’t feel terribly homesick here is the number of visitors – family, old friends, and sometimes friends-of-friends and acquaintances – that swing by to visit us (it could also be related to the import level quantities of vegemite I have stashed in the cupboard for daily consumption). One of Tim’s oldest friends is currently with us. They go back close to two decades: Jimmy was the first housemate Tim ever had after leaving home, and part of the link to how we met. The few summer days we’ve been able to spend together have been a (beery and cheesy) treat. Tim, Jimmy and our girl hit the mountains yesterday to get some Alpen views, find some farm cheese (so many different types! all so delicious!) and, bizarrely, eat soup with a rock placed proudly in the centre of the bowl, for reasons unknown.

I took the next shift, sipping sunset wines on the lake as Jimmy purchased his cigarettes at the casino. Much to his amusement, he (dressed in casual tourist attire) was offered the cigarettes on a silver platter, opened and ready to smoke, by a fully tuxedoed butler who also offered him the choice of four languages in which to discuss the lighting of said durry.

Today is Swiss National Day, the day on which the foundation of the Swiss Confederacy is celebrated. Three Cantons originally swore the oath of confederation, and at the rough point where this occurred one can spend the day listening to speeches and celebrating. Given our Swiss German remains not up to scratch, and my love of breakfast is deep, we opted for another Swiss National Day tradition: the Farm Brunch.

An increasingly popular tradition, the brunches were an initiative to support local smallholdings and encourage people from towns to better understand what farmers do. We took a short bus ride out of town, after which we followed the signs (and fellow brunchers) under the watchful eye of Mount Pilatus to our farm.

A gorgeous morning for a walk, we followed the country path up the side of the hill (the very mild hill in the snaps, not the massive ol’ mountain), working up our appetites.

Our hosts farmed Angus beef and grew an apple orchard. Brunch was a huge spread of local cheeses and meats, Bircher muesli, to-die-for apple juice freshly pressed from their own orchard, and rösti with bacon and egg. (While I had no complaints, I had promised the little Swiss Miss that she could have ‘sausases’, her third favourite food after cake and ice-cream. Happily the abundance of small, sweet bread rolls adorned with the Swiss flag distracted her from otherwise certain sausage related meltdown).

There were over one hundred of us in attendance, and while we opted not to stay to sample the local wine it felt like there was quite a party in the making. We wandered home along the lake, past the local-wine-producing vineyards, and through lovely farmland (in a vain attempt to get two hot and bothered littles to sleep. I assumed my constant dull narrative of ‘look! cows! ooh, a tractor!’ would have been enough to send them off, but apparently not).

The festivities continue this evening, with an abundance of fireworks due to be deployed later tonight. We have our eye on ‘The Big Swiss’, a mean looking rocket type cracker available in a tent that has popped up around the corner from our house purely for the sale of all things pyrotechnical. But of course, the number one priority is to continue on Operation Eat All The Cheese, which I reckon is a totally appropriate celebration of this wonderful country.

For now

It is the great irony of my current situation that my move to the other side of the planet, giving me access to so many new and exciting countries and experiences, is actually the most insular and enclosed period of my life. I can’t be sure that it wouldn’t be the same if I had remained in Australia – young children play a significant part in this, as you can imagine – but despite the world on our doorstep I have never felt so encapsulated, been so contained.

A lot of the feminist literature I pretended to study at university (preferring instead to focus on happy hour) spoke about women being identified as the other, their domain being the home, their interests curtailed to that of the private, the domestic. I was born well after this awakening – that this had to be named and identified made little sense to me at the time. My understanding of and interest in feminism was more brutish: down with the patriarchy! equal pay please! my body is my own! While such sentiments remain legitimate (and still somewhat crude), it’s now the rumblings, the stirring, the collective uprising against the domicile as women’s domain that interests me more. Those generations of women before me, bubbling away until the quiet frustration and fury became no longer quiet.

A quick caveat: the situation in which I find of myself is, I think, largely of my own making. There are some external barriers – I’ve found it hard to find work here, and this combined with the costs of living here and social set up make it more practical for me to manage our family. However outside of that, I am well educated, I live in an age of amazing technology, and my partner is nothing but supportive of any action I wish to take.

Nonetheless, I find myself identifying with this image of the woman trapped within the home. It’s a big old tumble of frustration, boredom, exhaustion, isolation. I was going to liken it to a tangled ball of laundry but really, that’s just too terribly on point. Juxtaposed with this is how fortunate I am: a lovely happy and healthy family, plenty of time to spend with them, a beautiful and safe city in which to live, a continent we’re fortunate enough to be able to explore. Despite this admittedly ridiculously wonderful scenario, I find myself feeling at times trapped and at others defeated, and because of it I feel ungrateful and unwarranted in expressing any discontent.

It is in part the relentless – and only predictable in its unpredictability – lack of sleep. A tired old complaint, if you’ll excuse the pun, but one that is infiltrating everything at the moment. Then there’s the bubble of Hausfrauing – any available energy is spent inadequately attempting to stay on top of the never ending chore cycle (cook, eat, clean, repeat) (everything in my life is currently slightly sticky due to those two brats). There’s a distinct lack of contact with anything outside of families and children. My main relationships here have been forged through our children, and I am exceedingly grateful for them for numerous reasons. However, I frequently find the tedium of my own conversation (toilet training! room sharing! she calls them ‘rainbrellas’!) grating, formulaic, caricatured.

A friend asked me, fairly recently, whether I get time to myself. I do – quite a lot, really. I spend it sleeping when I can, reading (novels of the comforting and familiar variety; for me, trashy crime always), watching assorted television of an evening while slogging away at a lengthy and poorly considered craft project, drinking wine, absently flicking through social media. All of these extend the insular nature of my existence. They are also completely within my own control. What I failed to understand was that she was really asking about the quality of the alone time I have, how I use it. Does it nourish me, connect me to anything, build something?

The difference between my situation and that of my feminist predecessors is of course that there was little choice for them. Society unquestioningly and inflexibly enforced their capture within the home and the web of their families; that same society against which they chose to uprise and challenge. While it would be simple for me to use this narrative, I find the my truth a little more nuanced (although no doubt theirs was too, but that was perhaps part of the reason their oppression continued for centuries). To what extent is the time of my life the cause, or a significant contributor, to this? My personality, motivations and inclinations? The old school nature of Switzerland in particular, compounded by my inability – still – to speak the language? Or is this the nature of – I don’t want to use the word oppression, because I am anything but oppressed – containment, perhaps? But then who, if not me, is doing the containing?

I don’t have any resolution of these thoughts and frustrations currently flitting around in my head. And since my children are both asleep and there is a layer of lunch-related muck on the floor, a dinner to prepare that will in the near future be added to said floor muck, only a few chapters left in my crappy novel, and a slippery dip to visit, they will not be resolved any time soon. Thus my cycle continues for now.

(Also, I am really, really enjoying that crappy book.)

The Moody Schwarzwald

In a much anticipated visit – not least by Addie, who despite not knowing the meaning of the word banged on about ‘my cousins’ for days prior to their arrival – Tim’s sister, her husband and their two adorable boys arrived in Luzern (after many a transit mishap, including an impromptu visit to Bern) a couple of weeks ago. The Moody family were treated to our usual ‘Willkommen in der Schweiz’ schtick: raclette, chocolate, my (mostly plagiarised and yet still disturbingly sketchy) tour of the town. We grilled cervelat on Mount Pilatus, visited Adelaide’s beloved marble rollercoaster at a nearby glass factory, swam in the lake, and celebrated our nephews’ belated birthdays in little boy heaven: the Museum of Transport. We also shamelessly attempted to force an interest in Switzerland through chocolate-rewarded games, and as a result many tourismo-tastic times were had (which basically means I ate heaps of chocolate too. Only to support the children, of course). Little Theodore has now met half of his Aunties, and was accordingly delighted.

Moody's Black Forest-004Unfortunately, since not all of us can HausFrau, Tim was travelling for work during the bulk of their Swiss visit. To make amends we booked a long weekend in the Black Forest to let the cousins run wild and the siblings catch up over brews aplenty. We stayed in an alleged farm stay which turned out to be a guest house sporting some velveteen rabbits (i.e. stuffed toys), a motley crew of guinea pigs and a lone immobile goat.

Tim was delighted to see some deers grazing through the window on our first night but was sadly disappointed come the harsh light of day.Moody's Black Forest-272We had naively assumed that travelling with four children would somehow be easier – shared adulting, perhaps some lovely cousin play time and plenty of sunny relaxation. While it was a wonderful getaway, I would not recommend holidaying with two two year olds if you have a choice in the matter. Women scorned be damned; hell hath no fury like two toddlers refused whatever it is they obscurely want. Addie and Arlo were at times adorable but primarily the three months between them was like a red flag to the crankiest of bulls. Of course, Arlo committed the most dreadful of sins. My little tattle tale would run to me routinely and say in indignant tones ‘Mummy, Arlo talked to me’.

Moody's Black Forest-245

In an effort to burn off their steam (and some of the torte for which the region is famous), we took advantage of the forest’s many little trails and embarked on a few nature walks (thanks, Peppa Pig and family for making these acceptable). Our little adventure crew tackled a path built in the wake of an earthquake fifteen years previously, showing the natural regrowth of the area as well as sweeping views of the forest.

I’m always interested in the link between the environment of a place and its narrative; the Black Forest easily lent itself to the images conjured by the Brothers Grimm with wicked witches lurking, lost children and tricks aplenty. We discussed this as we employed some of Hansel and Gretel’s wood-trecking tactics, except breadcrumbs were replaced by Gummy Bears and frankly we were bribing our brats to keep moving.

And between you and me, if there actually was a candy house on the horizon, there were times that weekend I’d have encouraged my terror to run into it.

Still, our little explorers enjoyed their cousin time, scavenging for treasures and, of course, the chocolates.

And we enjoyed the long overdue catch up with Team Moody in the spectacular Schwarzwald, where nobody can hear two year olds screaming.

(Freaky but fun) Fasnacht

This is Tim’s story, really. I’ve been a ([largely] supportive, amused, bemused and frequently jealous) bystander throughout the experience. It started after last year’s Fasnacht, when an always-enthusiastic Tim got chatting to colleagues at his office about the festival. It turned out one of them plays trumpet in a local Guggenmusik band. Tim is also a trumpeter, and it was suggested that he might be able to play along in the festival the following year.

Firstly, the band had to agree he could join. Although some members come from slightly further afield, the majority are Luzerners and certainly there were no other foreigners. He then had to audition, something which inspired more than a few nerves as it had been many years since he had picked up his horn. He left, trumpet strapped to his back as he cycled to the bunker where the band rehearsed, while I waited at home nervously on his behalf. The hours passed and eventually I went to sleep. He rolled in well after 2am reeking of beer and cigars and declared the audition a success despite having not played a note. Turns out as long as he could booze with them, the band were down with the foreigner joining.

Rehearsals started in earnest last September, held weekly. The first few sessions had Tim feeling a little glum: there was no music as everyone played by ear, the names of the traditional tunes were long forgotten, and the conversing and instruction was all in Swiss German. However as the weeks went by it started falling into place and he would come home from practice with increasing enthusiasm as his skills grew (other than the Swiss German. Still haven’t even remotely nailed that). My nerves increased in line with my due date – there was no mobile reception in that bunker – but little Teddy didn’t interrupt his father’s hobby and was rewarded with the band filming a tri-language rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ to welcome him, and celebrate his sister’s birthday.

The costume was the next hurdle. The band had a Venetian theme and he needed both a coherent outfit as well as the traditional style of Fasnacht mask. The costume was sourced at a local Fasnacht speciality store, the staff happily knowing Tim’s band’s theme and being able to ensure he wasn’t out of place. The band’s conductor makes masks, and Tim had several fittings of the sculpted fibreglass headpiece, choosing eye colour, final touches and hair style (which I somewhat cruelly mocked, given his current choice is ‘bald’). The finished mask arrived about two weeks before the festival and sat in pride of place in our living room, prompting Addie to wander around declaring ‘Daddy’s mask’s scary‘ on a regular basis. To be honest, I couldn’t argue.

Finally, the week prior to lent arrived and with it, the festival. The schedule for Fasnacht is gruelling. Starting on Dirty Thursday, Tim played from the official cannon shot at 5am through till one the following morning, with similar shifts again on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. His group follows the tradition of the early Fasnacht bands, marching the catacombe-like streets of the Luzern Altstadt playing, and popping into local restaurants to serenade diners with their tunes.

Marching the cobbled, bustling streets of the city while trumpeting in an oversized mask is, apparently, tricky business.

Luckily, the rest of the band were old hands and made sure Tim was well-fuelled for the task.

Let’s drop the euphemism:  by well-fuelled of course I mean drunk. In between playing sessions they hung out at the band’s stand which converted into a bar. The day started with beers, progressed through wine to gin and tonics, and then when someone needed a pick-me-up, espresso grappa shots. It was little wonder their audition process was so exacting.

Tim’s dad had travelled from Australia for the festival, having been here last year and falling for its bawdy charm. Himself a trumpet player (it’s genetic, clearly) Mike became the band’s groupie at first and then joined them on the final few days as an honorary ring-in, making his trip quite the experience. I confess that as much as I love my two littles, I also love festivals and day drinking, and holding the fort while the lads had a ball was at times hard. Luckily, the kids and I made it down a few times to experience the hullaballoo.

Fasnacht was weird and wild and the streets were pumping throughout the day and night (and provided me with some good ‘here’s what happens if you don’t eat your vegetables’ material).

And of course, I did my best to make up for lost party time.dsc_8952In a country where we’d been warned the locals were not particularly welcoming, and that it would be hard to make meaningful Swiss connections, Tim feels so fortunate to have shared this crazy experience with a bunch of people who he now calls friends (or at the very least, epic drinking buddies). The hospitality was extended to me and the kids as well as Tim’s dad, making a week that will be remembered for years to come (even if said memory is sightly beer and grappa hazy).

(Also, that’s our baby’s rattle Tim’s a-shaking there. Nothing but the best instruments for our family.)

The first month

We’ve survived the first month. The little guy is currently snoozing in the weak snow-flickering light, although you wouldn’t know it from the sounds erupting from him. I’d forgotten how disproportionate to their size is the noise a baby makes (and how amusing. So much gas is never not funny). I’ve done a day and a half sans Tim – he went back to work yesterday – and thus far the casualty count is limited to burp cloths. There’s still another half day before he gets home, though, so please don’t consider me cocky.

As many people advised before our Teddly’s arrival, it’s easier the second time around. I’m not as nervous, edgy, scared I’ll break or ruin him (or if I do, he can moan about it with his sister on family holidays to come). Practically, things are working better: feeding, anti-Houdini swaddling techniques, knowing to tag team. We’re more confident as parents, and our nightly game plan sessions are much tighter and have been far more successful than the surreal, exhausting early weeks with Addie. It ain’t perfect (surely it’s not asking too much for a four week old to sleep for, say, twelve hours straight?), but it’s working.

We’re all dancing the newborn dance, of course. Ads has been wonderful. She chooses his clothes (she had them both adorably wearing owl-themed outfits yesterday), laughs hysterically at any and all of his bodily functions, and says ‘hey miiiiiiister’ in manner soothing when he cries. Naturally it’s not all easy sailing – her terrible twoness has escalated and her long suffering father is in her bad books far more than deserved, but generally it’s been lovely to watch her become the title of her second favourite book: a Big Sister (her first favourite? Everybody Poos. Fine literature is another joy I shall forever associate with parenthood).

Motsy’s holidays – four heavenly weeks! – were slow and cosy, but we managed to wander around snow covered Luzern nonetheless: to play in frosted-over parks, choose his baroque-themed Fasnacht costume, toboggan at the lake and, one glorious night, cycle to the Neustadt for a decadent dinner sans bambinis (with much thanks to their visiting Gra). For a moment, jumping on our bikes, dressed up and filled with anticipation for the evening ahead, felt like a return to the early days of our relationship where we’d cycle off to dinner or a drink, carefree and jubilant. (It then started snowing in time for the cycle home, and we started looking at our watches and counting the hours of precious sleep we’d get if we left immediately, and thus the spell was broken).

And I’m learning, clumsily, how to juggle our wee family of four. There was a fairly botched walk to kita this morning – when will I learn to check the weather, and thus avoid striding out into heavy snow thoroughly unprepared? – and a rather manic grocery store outing yesterday, but otherwise the feeding and sleeping and tea cup drawing routine is slowly becoming my new normal. That, and trying to keep our offspring alive and (largely) unharmed for five more hours until their father’s return.

And then, we were four

I write this on a foggy winter’s afternoon at my kitchen table. I’m not entirely sure, even when I stop to think, what day it is. I am wearing  – still, sadly – maternity jeans and shirt, not because I remain pregnant but because disappointingly I have not instantly lost the twenty odd kilos I gained over the last nine months. I am also, bizarrely and humiliatingly (and admittedly amusingly), wearing a pair of hospital issue stretchy white underpants with the crotch cut out of them, my arms thrust through the leg holes, as a crop top of sorts. Into this I’ve shoved two ice packs that are regularly swapped out – at my midwife’s instance – with cabbage leaves and this weird tigerbalm-scented paste called Pasta Boli (not the kind you eat, she helpfully advised). Birth itself is of course undignified, but it feels like it’s nothing on these early weeks of motherhood.

However! Our boy is here! Little Theodore Winton arrived precisely on his due date, endearing him forever to his prompt mother’s heart. His birth was almost the opposite of my experience with his sister; gory details aside, this time was far easier and much less traumatic. The most surprising aspect of the birthing procedure was the mingling of alternative medical practices with the more standard delivery process. At various times I was fed different homeopathic concoctions, assorted aromatherapy treatment was pumped through the room depending on my current state, and I was given acupuncture towards the end of labour itself. I’m finding the same with my midwife – there’s a surprising focus on alternate options and traditional practices; and to be fair, they appear to have worked. I had assumed that the seemingly clinical, straight-and-narrow Swiss would not be so into alternate treatment options, but on reflection maybe it makes more sense that a comprehensive and thorough approach to healthcare is taken rather than the more linear one we have at home.

We left the hospital six hours after little Teddy was born. I’d not even contemplated doing this prior, but in the absence of a family room and due to the smoothness of the birth we decided we’d be happier heading home. We were back in time for a patchy night’s sleep and to wake our little miss on her birthday, the highlight of which was hearing her say ‘niiiiiiice’ when she saw her new brother.

We hosted Swissmas again this year, with the life savers that are my bestie and Tim’s sister and bro-in-law, who kept us not only alive but alarmingly well fed and watered during our first week as parents of two. I’d thoroughly recommend recruiting them if you ever wish to extend your family and still feel like a human being. There was raclette, a life-threatening glühwein maker, a ridiculous amount of gifts (Ads went from not knowing what a present was to demanding to open all of them in about two minutes flat), lots of champagne, many tasty treats from home, and a few not-so-silent nights.

Now, we’re in that no-man’s-land between Christmas and New Year, which is only compounded with the haziness of a newborn (and the sick resident two year old, just to keep us on our toes). We’ve a week or so before Tim’s mum arrives, during which we’re tentatively feeling our way as a family of four (or eight, if you include Peppa Pig and her fambam, who I confess are making fairly regular visits to the Purler household), capitalising on the frozen meals I feverishly prepared prior to his arrival, and enjoying being wrapped in the newborn cocoon. Right now, though, both bambinis are asleep, so we’re indulging in a cheeky wine and leftover Christmas cheese platter (possibly with a mint slice chaser). And cabbage leaves.

Twelve months later…

My summer to-do list wasn’t particularly ambitious this year, which is just as well as only about a third of it has been ticked off. While I’m not entirely giving up on the season I have a feeling we’ve seen the back of it for the year, and I’m prepared to let the rest of the list slide until next year. Happily, a few weekends ago the weather was lovely and we were kicking around at home, so we were able to tick off ‘walk the Luzern wall’.

Open only during the summer months the wall skirts the Alt Stadt of Luzern, providing lookout and protection for citizens back in the day. Now, it provides (fairly scary for a clumsy six months pregnant lady) steep stairs and chiming bells.

And, of course, stunning views across the city.

It was a lazy kind of day, enjoying the tourist buzz that late summer in Luzern brings. There was undoubtedly ice cream (not anything unusual; although beautiful, Luzern is also fairly culinarily conservative so pistachio is about as avant-garde as it gets), a stumbled-across farm cafe on the outskirts of town and some sprint training, in honour of the Olympics.

Last Saturday marked our one year annualversary of arriving in Switzerland. I remember, when I was quite small, visiting one of my great-grandmothers in her nursing home. She was sitting on her bed, crocheting small squares for a blanket, and offering us the large, chalky peppermints that I always associate with her. Being young and rude I asked her if she was bored all the time, just sitting around and knitting. She replied that every year of her life had gone faster and faster, and sitting around and knitting was about all she could manage to fit in any more. I couldn’t comprehend it at the time, but she was right – every year has flown by increasingly quickly, and this was no exception.

We’ve had a ball. We’ve met – exceeded, actually – our ‘go-away-once-a-month’ goal which has given us some amazing travel (cough eating) experiences. We’ve managed to settle here better than we’d expected – Tim at work and me as a Hausfrau, something I never thought I’d be doing (and much less enjoying…most of the time). There have been some pickles, sure (adjusting to the expense of Switzerland living has been a bit of a shock, my German remains horrific, and I’ve still not really mastered my recycling game), but overall it’s been a wonderful experience for our wee crew. Prior to coming, we’d mentally signed up to a minimum of two years here. If Nanna Graetz continues to be correct, that’ll be done and dusted before we know it. Guess I’d best dust off my knitting needles.