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Archive for October, 2009

I thought I could escape her but alas, my time has come. Like a German-speaking Grim Reaper, the Swiss cold germs have attacked my throat, nose and lungs. Jack has quickly followed suit and Liam has spent the last two days in and out of consciousness with a mild fever.

One of my absolute pet peeves of FB (and there are many) is when people put their status update as “so-and-so…is sick”. I can’t possibly think of a more mundane status update short of “so-and-so…is folding laundry”. But this morning, as I woke up coughing and hacking (a sight for sore eyes I’m sure!), I had the impulse to do exactly that. “Natasha D…is sick.” Ack! I was horrified that the thought even crossed my mind. That I would even be tempted! I finally understood why people write that nonsense of a status update…because when you feel this way, you want to broadcast it to the whole world so that they can all feel sorry for you. The unfortunate thing is, as you know from the many times you’ve come across one of those updates, nobody actually cares. Truth be told, most of your “Friends” wouldn’t stop to say hi on the street so I’m pretty sure they aren’t losing sleep over your condition. In fact, they’re a little peeved that you just wasted 5 seconds of their life in reading a pointless status update.

Although feeling like a sack of Nickelodeon’s green goo, I decided that the boys and I should at least try to venture out of the house and take advantage of the beautiful sunny weather we’re having this week. I swapped my comfy pajamas for my most comfy ripped jeans and a Lulu Lemon hoody. It was the first time I’ve ventured out in what they would probably consider painting clothes. No, I take that back. The girls here probably paint in fashion tights and a baggy t-shirt accented by a big over-sized belt. I’m sure of it.

The boys and I hopped on a tram to a great big park down the road from us and much to my surprise, it was packed with English-speaking mom’s and their bilingual children. This is the equivalent of hitting the jackpot. In the three weeks we’ve been here, I’ve yet to hear any mom speak English to their child…which extremely limits the possibility of actually making friends.

There was only one problem. I was not in any shape to be hit on.

You see, making new girlfriends is very similar to being on the single scene. Really, it is. You’ve got these women, who are all very content with their existing lives and for them to go out of their way and befriend you would be a major step out of their comfort zone. You’ve got to be desirable, intriguing and able to offer them something they can’t get anywhere else.

It reminds me of a day when I was at the park with the boys a few months ago. I got to chatting with a nice woman and at the end of our brief conversation, she flat-out asked for my phone number. Now, after so many years in Victoria, the boys and I have more friends than we can actually keep up with. We’re not really on the hunt for new ones, as nice as they may be. But as I dissected it later, I realized that I was intrigued by this girl and downright flattered by her request because she was, quite simply, cooler than me. Her hair, her clothes, her car…all cooler. Looking back now, it’s sad to think of it like this because she really is an awesome girl. It would have been a shame to miss that had she been having an “off” day and decided to, God forbid, wear sweatpants to the park that day. Seems absolutely ridiculous when you type it out (and uh…she reads it) but if I have stumbled upon a universal mom truth, how could I expect to “pick up” another mommy when I have what appears to be radioactive matter flowing from my nostrils and a wardrobe that to this European crowd resembles the local street bum?

Not good.

Note to self: Next time you head to the playground, be sure you’re lookin’ fierce.

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I live three kilometres away from my office. Heck, I live four kilometres away from Germany, and five kilometres away from France. But that’s not my point. My point is that I get to ride my bike to work every day, and I don’t have to wear “riding gear” and get all sweaty and stuff. I just put on my clothes for the day, a jacket, a helmet (more on this later), and ride my bike.

Everybody does it, and all drivers respect it. It’s literally a pleasure to cycle in this city, despite the trams and tracks, and the crazy uncontrolled intersections. Many intersections have no traffic lights, and no stop signs. The rule is that traffic coming from your right has the right-of-way. Simple.

So here’s a clip of my morning commute. It takes me less than ten minutes on a normal day.

Helmets are for Losers (and Daddies)

I used to rail against Canadian municipal and/or provincial laws requiring people to wear helmets while riding their bicycles. I hate it. Nothing cramps my desire to ride my bike around town like having to suffer the helmet hair. So I often brought along a cap. But that would limit my wardrobe options for a casual look. What if I wanted to ride my bike to a fancy café? Impasse.

Seriously, though, having a government babysitter is not my idea of freedom. Legislators decide that an adult citizen is not capable of making health and safety choices on their own, so the elected officials decide to force everyone to wear a helmet. Ridiculous.

People are allowed to make dangerous decisions everyday. That’s life. There’s no law saying that you can’t listen to you iPod while cycling, and in my opinion, not being able to hear the things around you is very dangerous while cycling. Prevention (i.e. not wearing an iPod) is better than dealing with consequences (i.e. having to wear a helmet because you crash while listening to your iPod).

Welcome to Europe! Helmets are not required by law here. I love it. My flowing brown locks were unleashed in the wind as I cycled along the Rhine. Freedom!

But just like visiting Amsterdam can be exciting and mind-expanding for a time, you cannot carry on like that. I realized that I have daily life and responsibilities and people relying on me to keep my grey matter intact. So now I wear a helmet on my commute.

helmet-head

By choice.

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I’ve spent much of the past few years in Victoria enjoying the wonders of local craft beer. I love it.

Topping my list of Victoria craft breweries is Phillips Brewing Company, whose Amnesiac double-IPA is a wonderous invention, Lighthouse Brewing Company, and Spinnaker’s Brew Pub.

In the not-too-distant-past, I went on a triple-brewery tour in Victoria with a group of friends. Three breweries in one glorious afternoon. In the more recent-distant-past, I accepted a new job in Basel and packed up my life to move overseas.

Switzerland isn’t known for it’s beer. This is strange to me, considering that it borders both Germany and Austria, which are famous for the “Bavarian Purity Law” and have high standards for quality beer. Then again… Switzerland also borders both France and Italy, renowned for their wine. So the Swiss go with vino instead of ale.

The “national” ale of Switzerland is an aweful thing called Feldschlösschen.

agecheck_03a

This stuff is aweful. It should really be called Feldsucken. It’s the equivalent of Molson Canadian. For the first few weeks of life in Switzerland, I was making regular trips over the border into Germany just to buy large cases of decent beer.

And then I met Rafael.

One Saturday afternoon, as the family and I – plus Martin and Anne – were wandering through the small streets of old Basel, I found a man with a table full of beer set up in front of a specialty liquor shoppe. I recognize a craft brewer when I see one, and I made a beeline for his booth.

Dude is serious about his beer

Dude is serious about his beer

La Brasserie Trois Dames is a young Swiss Venture, started by Rafael Mettler. And he makes quality beer.

We sampled every single one of his beers right then and there in the street, and then I purchased … well … lots. It turns out that he is Swiss, from the French district, and he lived in Vancouver for two years, working with many local craft brewers in Gas Town, and on Vancouver Island. In 2007, he cleaned up at the British Columbia Beer Contest (Victoria), taking home the Best In Show award, and Gold and Silver awards for several brews. Heck, the label for his “Pacific Ale” features the Vancouver skyline!

beer_label_pacific_540

He mentioned that there would be a party event at the brewery in Sainte-Croix at the end of October, and that I should come down for it. The perfect excuse for a boys’ adventure – travel by train to a small Swiss town in the French quarter and bathe in beer. Mmmmmm. Joel and Martin put up little resistance.

So on Saturday morning, we packed up and headed to Sainte-Croix. The train ride was beautiful, and we had an amazing view of the Swiss Alps breaking through a layer of clouds. Awe-inspiring.

At one point on the trip, everything switched from German to French. Announcements on the train. Signs in the towns. Conversations of people near us. It was great for me – my French is quite good – but it threw Martin and Joel.

The Brasserie Trois Dames has restored my hope in Swiss beer.

À votre santé!

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In our apartment building, we are on what they call “Erdgeschoss” or EG (ground level).  The “first floor” is actually one flight of stairs up — what North Americans would consider the second floor.  And basement floors are never considered “1” like they may be in North America. That’s called “Untergeschoss”, or UG.  I know, right? Try finding your way around a five floor department store when the directory is all in German and there are more letters than numbers on the elevator button panel. I think the boys and I spent twenty minutes just trying to find the bathroom…oh, and that’s called the WC, just to keep the acronym party hoppin’.

Living above us on the, yep…you got it, first floor, is a German-speaking widow named Silvia.  We’ve briefly passed in the hallway a few times and she seems very nice…although I presume anyone would appear nice when Charades is your primary mode of communication.  Earlier this week, we saw each other at the front gate outside and she spent some time playing with the boys.  In a conversation that resembled something between monkey sign-language and Piglatin, Silvia asked me how old the boys were, I said they just turned four this month and she commented that her birthday is also in October, the very next day in fact.  Before I could even think about how I was going to ask her what she was doing for her birthday, she explained that her husband died two years ago of a sudden heart failure during a routine operation after 40 years of marriage (yeah…you don’t even want to know how we got that out of charades), and that birthdays just aren’t the same without him.  She said they never had children and she has no family. I started getting teary just listening to her try and explain something so seriously painful in such basic English. Her eyes were watery when she went on to explain that that is why she was so happy to have us move in…because the boys bring “joy into her soul”. Wow. Something like that makes you feel really small and selfish.

The next day came and I knew we had to do something for her birthday. The boys made a German birthday card (with a little help from our good friend, Google Translator) and I baked a chocolate fudge cake.  With goodies in hand, we marched upstairs to have a party. Jack was a little disappointed at the lack of birthday hats and presents but still did a fantastic job of leading us in a loud and boisterous Happy Birthday as soon as the door opened. At least until the second line of the song, which is precisely when he realized that he was the only one really singing.

Silvia invited us in right away and the boys immediately snooped through every room on the hunt for toys. Imagine their surprise when they found a Nintendo Game Cube tucked under a coffee table in a livingroom full of tchotchkes. I was giggling at the thought of this 60-year-old lady playing a Nintendo Game Cube when my eyes caught a glimpse of a Super Nintendo beside it. And then a Nintendo 64 in behind that!  Just when I was trying to shut out thoughts of comparing this little old lady to a pre-pubescent video game addict, she caught the boys’ excitement over the game consoles and rushed out of the room. A moment later she was back with a Nintendo Wii in hand!  The boys were in gamer heaven.

As J&L maneuvered through a round of German Zelda, Silvia and I conversed over espresso, my wirelessly connected laptop acting as translator between us.  After one too many pieces of chocolate cake, the boys and I started to pack up while she started yammering away in German and looking around the room for something.  She eventually settled on a plastic bag and disappeared into the livingroom. You could have given me a hundred guesses and I’m not sure I would have even come close to figuring out what she was doing with that bag.  As it turns out, she came back with the Nintendo Wii bundled up and handed it to me while going on in German (apparently, 2 hours of struggling through Google Translate wasn’t enough to convince her that I don’t speak a lick of German).  Even now, I have absolutely no idea if she was lending it or giving it to us but we’re going to err on the side of caution and assume she’s lending it.

Although playdates with 60-year-old German widows is nothing short of riveting, the boys started showing some real signs of needing friends here in the “new country”. I thought they were handling it all very well until the other day when Jack suggested that we “go knock on some doors and see if there are any boys there”.  Then yesterday we were walking past a little boy around their age and Liam said “maybe that boy will be Jack & Liam’s friend!”.  I promptly scoured the internet for playgroups and kindergyms, finding an English-speaking support network with a playgroup for today.  We spent all afternoon running, dancing, playing and doing crafts with other English-speaking kids. The moms there were all extremely nice and it seemed too good to be true…is it that easy to meet new friends?

And then the bubble burst. While packing up to leave, I heard the most awful thing.

Coordinator to her husband: “his Crocs are inside your Crocs”.

Oh no you didn’t!!!  Can I really be friends with someone who not only wears those monstrosities but then subjects their innocent child to a pair, as well?

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It’s like a highly contagious rash that you simply can’t avoid. It’s only a matter of time before you come down with it. And once you get it, it spreads quickly…like a weed.

I speak of IKEA.

Now, even while in North America, I was never a big fan of IKEA. I loved the idea of it but always felt short-changed after shopping there. Perhaps I’m a bit jaded by an experience early on in our marriage where we paid $200 to travel to Vancouver IKEA to buy a bedroom set, only to find out they didn’t have the one we wanted in stock. We settled for another, trekked it all the way home, and then realized it had two left-handed pieces for one of the dresser drawers.  We called for the replacement piece and they insisted we send them the wrong piece and they would replace it. So we obliged and a week later not only got the same incorrect piece back…but it was also broken! Seriously. I’ve never liked them since.

Anyway, here in Switzerland, there are not a lot of furniture options. It’s IKEA…or a $10,000 Swiss-made couch. Haven’t heard of many in-betweens. You know the Swiss, they love quality. Tim and I were about to cave and buy the staple pieces we need (uhhh..everything!) from IKEA when our friends recommended a store across the border in Lörrach, Germany called in puncto. We popped over to the quaint little German town for supper, a nice little walk with the boys and checked out the furniture store. Wow, were we impressed! And I think we found some real keepers!

Liam's Favourite Chair -- and only 900 Euros!

L's Favourite Chair -- and only 900 Euros!

Tim and I had a bit of a stand-off on our pick of sofa, though…

This ain't your mamma's formal livingroom!

This ain't your mamma's formal livingroom!

This couch belongs in budoir photography!

Nothing like a little velour for lounging.

Let’s settle it! Which do you prefer?!

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Tim and I planned a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to celebrate our first Canadian holiday as expats.  While most of you were enjoying turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie a week ago, the boys and I were still zombies recovering from the 9-hour time difference.  After a week of adjusting our sleeping patterns, visiting countless grocery stores, specialty food stores and ethnic grocers for the necessary ingredients and up until the wee hours preparing food, we sat down to overloaded plates on Sunday night.

 Tim had to resort to desparate measures for the onion cutting! I was five feet away and still weeping...oh wait, I was crying from laughing so hard!

Tim had to resort to desparate measures for the onion cutting! I was five feet away and still weeping...oh wait, I was crying from laughing so hard!

To join in the festivities, we invited a few friends (okay, we invited our only friends) and set out to provide them with a real Canadian experience.  In total, we had 3 English, 2 Germans, and 5 Canadians crammed in around our IKEA breakfast table jutted up against our friend’s matching IKEA breakfast table (so there is an upside to everyone having the same furniture as you…).

Other furniture coming soon!

Amidst the chaos of making a meal for 10 people, you don't get "before" pictures.

Thanksgiving is of course a holiday commemorating the pilgrims who discovered the Americas and gave thanks for the first harvest, so I knew that Europeans wouldn’t celebrate it. What I wasn’t expecting were the guests who had never tasted pumpkin pie! EVER!  The lack of interest in pumpkin pie means you don’t find the canned stuff in grocery stores here but Tim suggested we boil and puree our own pumpkins…what a great idea! It turned out fantastically and when you think about how easy it is to make pumpkin pie, it’s really not all that much work to make the puree yourself.

I had a chuckle at the English guests telling me that my Brussels Sprouts with Pecan Brown Butter were “simply brilliant”. It just sounded so praiseful with their sophisticated accents and all.  And speaking of brilliant, Tim did an incredible job of his first turkey!  I think the opening line of the recipe directions pretty much sums it up: “2 to 3 days before roasting:”. Say WHAT?! Yeah, you read that right…he started working on preparations for the bird 2 days before dinner!  In fact, it goes further back than that because he had to first find a butcher who could order him a turkey.  After a fair bit of charades and basic German communication, the butcher got on the phone and called a local farmer, secured a turkey of our size and ordered it right there! Now that’s local.

The only other cultural oddity was the comments about my gravy looking “real”. I was perplexed. I’ve never heard of “fake” gravy.  Everyone in my family knows that I take gravy very seriously. The gravy is MY deal. As it turns out, the Swiss don’t even know what gravy is (I mean, who needs gravy when you have melted cheese slathered over everything?) but they typically have what’s called “brown sauce”…an imitation gravy made from a…(GASP!)…package! My mom might be having a panic attack right this very minute.  But it begs the question, if we balk at the brown sauce, I wonder what types of horrific culinary crimes WE North Americans committ?

Tim: How about slices of processed “cheese”?!

Hmmm…good one hun. The Swiss would surely frown upon one-ingredient-from-plastic-American-cheese.  Geesh, there’s only one deli in all of Basel that even sells bonafide Cheddar Cheese!

DRISDELLE THANKSGIVING DINNER MENU

Roast Turkey with Apple Cinnamon Aromatics

Hazelnut Bread Stuffing

Maple Ginger-Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Simple Mashed Potatoes

Brussels Sprouts with Pecan Brown Butter

Fresh Cranberry Sauce

“Real” Roast Turkey Gravy

Fresh Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Cream & Toasted Pumpkin Seeds


All in all, it was a hugely successful Thanksgiving Dinner with great food and fantastic company.  Once we retired for the evening (after hanging out with the English folks, I’m allowed to say words like “retired”, it’s great!), Tim and I reflected on what worked and what we can change for next year when we realized that we forgot to go around the table and share what we’re thankful for! Well, had we remembered, I would have announced that I am thankful for all the support these dear friends have given Tim and I as we make this huge life change. Thank you Martin & Anne, Joel & Sina, and our newest friends, Stephen & Ruth! We appreciate you all.

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It’s been an exiting two weeks since my last post. Maybe not a full two weeks… but it’s certainly been busy. Welcoming a young family to a foreign country is hard work!

I’m back to good health, and the family is no longer on Pacific Standard Time, so we are developing a pretty good daily rythm.

We have had some pretty good times already… playing football with Martin & Anne, riding trams with Jack & Liam, furniture shopping in Lörrach (Germany) on a Saturday afternoon, and teaching the twins how to say “Auf Wiedersehen!” (which means “good-bye!” in German).

But it hasn’t been all roses – we’ve had a few epic fails.

In Germany on Saturday, we stopped in a little kebab shop for supper. I ordered two donairs for Natasha and I, and we ordered two little pizzas for the boys. I looked at the menu and chose one with salami and mushrooms, and one with pepperoni.

‘Peperoni’ is the German word for ‘chillies’, so Liam ended up with a pizza covered in tomato sauce, cheese, and whole green chilies. I ended up having to soothe him by rubbing cool water on his lips with my fingertips.pizza-pepperoni

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