Sure can

Tim, who runs at a much higher base body temperature than I do, doesn’t agree with me but there has been a cool change here over the last week. Given the fragility of Swiss summers (and apparently my pessimism), I am convinced it’s all over and am eyeing up new snowsuits for the kids. Although likely premature, we’ve definitely been hit with a wet wave and as such opted to evacuate Luzern last weekend, following the slightly less grey skies to the French neck of the Swiss woods.

We’re still learning lots of lessons about travel and parenting, but one that we finally seem to have grasped is to have an activity planned; gone, for now at least, is the pleasant aimless wander* of our pre-kidlet days. With this in mind we made our way to Papiliorama in nearby Kerzers – a ‘habitat for Swiss and exotic butterflies’ (honestly, they all look fairly exotic to me).

Years ago, I did a multi-day hike in the Northern Territory which passed by a natural amphitheatre which was a breeding ground for butterflies. My hiking companion, having a bit of an issue with moths, was not terribly keen on said amphitheatre but did her best to man up and check it out. Sorry to say it, J-No, but my punt is Papiliorama – with its domes filled with butterflies in their thousands – would probably not be up your alley either.

One of the things I particularly enjoy about the company of our two year old (spoiler: it’s not the attitude) is her curiosity about the world around her and the challenge that sets us in explaining anything and everything, frequently things I’ve not thought about in years. I’ve nailed shadows, and thunder and lightening has been regularly covered given the current climate. Our trip to the butterfly park afforded Tim and I an excellent opportunity to argue over the meaning of chrysalis versus cocoon (depressingly, I was wrong, which makes me wonder if she’s growing up with an incorrect understanding of other matters. Shadows are our evil twins from another dimension, no?).

Addie had hoped to see a ‘huge orange butterfly’. It turns out, like her aunt, she is not terribly enamoured with insects flying near her noggin, but luckily for everyone the tropical environment allowed for her favourite pastime.Papilion-270As well as butterfly enclosures, the park had a nocturnal dome featuring rats the size of possums, a small bat colony and nocturnal butterflies. Writing that down makes it sound horrific (nocturnal butterflies are totally Stephen King-esque, no?), and unsurprisingly is not how the park is marketed. There was also a rainforest dome, with a bunch of exotic birds including the happy chappy below. Our little miss has being saying ‘sure can, toucan’ ever since meeting him (she was also convinced that, like her, he had used textas to colour himself in).

The second parenting / travel lesson we’re slowly getting our thick heads around is: bring a picnic. All the foods taste better outdoors, and if you can find a park in a vineyard-lined  town overlooking hills and rivers, everyone is happy (also, bring mini toblerones aka mountain chocolate. They help with all manner of bribes).

We drove through Neuchâtel on the way home, but since we were not blessed with children who love driving decided not to prolong the torture trip and head home. The lovely town catapulted to the top of our list of places-to-which-to-return. Sadly I cannot say the same for Nocturnal Dome of Horror.

* let’s face it, ‘aimless wander’ frequently meant pub crawl.

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.

Done

For the last – I don’t know, decade? – I have kept seasonal to-do lists (amongst the plethora of other to-do lists I maintain, primarily to avoid actually to-doing, a lot of the time). They are usually fairly seasonally predictable. Stews and shiraz in winter, a cold weather hike perhaps, always more reading, preferably in snuggly surroundings. Autumn usually includes some sort of produce picking (apples, maybe, or pumpkins) and spring is picnics, picnics, picnics. Summer’s easy: more swimming in lakes, please, maybe some camping, and all the stone fruit possible (perhaps even incorporated into some sort of tasty beverage if creativity allows). Since the days here have – finally, happily – hit the thirties, I in turn hit last year’s summer list, and found a little non-actioned gem waiting for us: Jucker Farm.

Jucker Farm-339Just under a (very screamy) hour away (why do we keep having children who hate the car?), the working farm is fully prepped for summer thrill seekers such as ourselves. Animals? Tick. Produce aplenty? Tick. Coffee and delicious eats for tired parents and cranky kids? Tick and tick. Rusty tetanus threatening tractors for two years olds? You betcha!

It’s asparagus season here – the Swiss are mad for it, apparently (according once again to our source of all knowledge Swiss – our German teacher) – and not only did we find loads of fresh farm-grown spears but also an astounding array of asparagus-related condiments. I was not aware that asparagus salt was a thing until earlier this afternoon.

Either way, some of the crankiness got left behind as we explored…Jucker Farm-323…met some new (scary) friends…Jucker Farm-688

…and found not one, but three apple orchard mazes. Each, as the saying goes, more difficult than the last. The first had us doubling back a fair bit, during which time we discovered a scarecrow and a giant golden apple in the centre of the maze.

The second was circular, and as such had us a little confused (and my little miss tempted to cheat). The centre of this maze had golden sticks of cinnamon dangling from a tree.

The final and largest maze, which was over a kilometre long, we attacked with a game plan: a picture of the map prior to starting and a path worked out (which may not have been in the spirit of things, but certainly helped move the maze show along). This one revealed a novelty sized golden spoon as its centrepiece.

I can only assume that giant gold apple plus giant cinnamon sticks plus giant spoon equals giant apple pie feast.  No wonder Tim looks so excited at having solved it.

Despite our best intentions – and a delicious looking specimen right next door – we didn’t quite manage to tick ‘swim in lake’ off our list quite yet. However, for this summer at least, Jucker Farm can be marked as done (although I may have to return once we run out of said salt).

It’s flying by

I have spent the last week with the very best type of visitor: an old and dear friend (apologies to my parents who are due to arrive next week, but you know how it is). It’s been a week of walking, gossip and wine (not necessarily in that order. Actually, definitely not in that order). I’ve known Mel longer than I haven’t, which is generally my favourite description of my favourite people. I met her the first day of high school, and although she moved to Sydney we stayed in touch, fortunately going through similar phases (bad 90s grunge, anyone?) at the same time. We both lived in Ireland together and enjoyed our ‘fake lives’, the details of which can never be divulged (mainly due to fake life alcohol consumption and subsequent memory haze). On my return to Sydney we lived together in a few different houses, one which received the dubious compliment ‘this looks like a dude’s place’ (due no doubt to our stubby holder collection and gentleman calendar aka porn wall). It was through her that I met ‘Dr T’ as she called him, and in those first bleary months of having a new baby she’d swing by our house – happily around the corner from hers – to have a cheeky Friday night beverage, making me feel I’d maintained a footing, however precarious, in the Real World. Having her in our neck of the woods has been an absolute treat. It’s also been – for both of us, in our different ways – a chance to reflect on the [insert embarrassingly high number of] years that we’ve known each other, as well as the here and now.

My boy turned three months a few weeks ago. He’s one quarter, which is not really much of an age to be. He seems to be making the most of it though, with sodden smiles and under-the-chin giggles and unbelievably vile gas, which I assume is what having a son is all about for the next twenty years or so. Three months with my girl seemed an age. I’d just accepted a voluntary redundancy and signed off on a not especially illustrious public service career, and we were in the process of making the decision to move over here. Despite all the large scale change that was going on, I was stuck in a weird baby time warp. This time, it’s flying by.

The girl is finally talking fluently(ish) and it has been both a joy and a bewilderment to finally get some insight into what’s going on in that wee noggin of hers. She lives for slippery dips and cake (all flavours, but caramel slice cake – a mythical yet delicious sounding delicacy – is apparently her favourite) (I’m not so interested in the carrot stew cake, thanks all the same Ads). She is obsessed with the mild earthquake she completely slept through the other night, recounting where I was, the fact that her father saw his water ripple Jurassic-park style, and that she and Teddy were tucked up ‘niiiiiiice and tight’. She’s terribly bossy to her dolls, telling them she’s ‘too old’ to do certain tasks, and that ‘there are rules’ about others, clearly mimicking…um…some other unidentified bossy person. She continues to be a stellar older sister, joining in the clapping when the lad rolled for the first time, enthusiastically offering him toys, (unsuccessfully) soothing him and proudly saying ‘Addie and Teddy are best friends’ (which is equal parts adorable and loser-y). She thinks his full name is Teddy Bear and got two-year-old cranky – which is to say all hell broke loose – when I advised her otherwise.

These vignettes of daily life – my here and now – are simple and sweet (and at times horrendously dull, but the idea of caramel slice cake generally keeps me going). What’s harder is the reflection on the passage of time since we were those twelve? thirteen? year old selves, and maybe more pertinently those years in our twenties when everything was heady and full of promise (and, erm, beer). Mel and I spent a glorious spring day sans kids in a mineral spa on a nearby Alp – which I can assure you was every bit as heavenly as it sounds – mulling over all the things. A lot of it was reflective of where we’re both at respectively now, and where we’d like to be heading, but the easy nourishing nature of that conversation was only possible due to our patchwork of shared history. We know each others’ people, backstories, interests and (most fun of all) dislikes; we have also shared conversations like this more often than I could possibly recall, each one a building block. There’s a familiarity, a security, to this that allows for all manner of exploration and it is without question the thing I miss most about living away from her and my other ‘longer than I haven’t’ people.

There was nothing revolutionary discussed; in fact, a variation of the exact conversation was probably held in 1996. Still, days later – even with my return to the doldrums of screeching children, daily chores and no Mel – I feel refreshed and rejuvenated. Such is the power of a (horrifyingly close to thirty year strong) friendship, which seems to have flown just as quickly as the life of the wee lad of mine.

(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.)