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Archive for December, 2009

Christmas 2009 marked the celebration of old traditions and the beginning of new ones.  Not only are we in a foreign culture this year, it was also our first Christmas without extended family.

In relationships, it’s always tricky blending traditions and finding that happy medium between the two of you.  Often times, certain traditions from one spouse’s childhood will completely contradict the other’s. For instance, my father grew up with stockings always being unwrapped whereas wrapped stocking gifts were a big deal for my mother.  She often jokes about how it was a battle in the beginning of their marriage and in hindsight, she wonders why Dad didn’t just wrap her stocking presents while she left his unwrapped! If only it were always that easy!

Thankfully, Tim and I have a pretty like-minded idea of what Christmas should be…after the obvious priority of celebrating Jesus’ birth, Christmas is pretty much summed up for us by pajamas, movies, coffee, savoury food, family games and sugary treats!  We’ve done most of this already — some of them a little too much (ahem…sugary treats…) and are looking forward to another few days of more!

NEW TRADITIONS

Having a real tree was a first for us! No more Martha Stewart pre-lit tree as it wouldn’t plug in here anyway!

Tim prepping the tree with real candles! A Swiss tradition!

We lit the tree on Christmas Eve, as is Swiss tradition.  After the boys went to bed, Tim and I played a board game by candlelight with a watchful eye on the blazing tree!

TRADITIONS OF OLD

Perhaps my favourite tradition of all — Christmas baking.  I will always have the fondest memories of my Gramma who used to ship us an apple box (or two!) of baked treats at Christmas. We’re talking layers upon layers of chocolate fudge, No-Bake caramel cookies, Nanaimo Bars, and shortbread. One year I mentioned that I don’t like walnuts in fudge and for every year after that, she sent a few layers of nut-less fudge just for me.  Let’s be honest — I don’t think you can ask for a better Gramma. I have taken some of her staples (her Nanaimo Bar recipe is simply top notch) and adapted some of my own recipes — like these No-Bake Chocolate Cookies and my most recent success (which will be making regular appearances around here), White Chocolate Craisin Biscotti. I’m sure the Christmas-15 is trying to rear its’ ugly head but I figure if all I eat is sugary goodness and no real food, the calories just sort of balance out in the end (*note sarcasm*).

Someone else around here is enjoying this yummy tradition, too. From the looks of it, Santa must have been hungry after rappelling down to our first floor flat from the roof (yes, that’s what he does here…) because he ate all three No-Bake Chocolate Cookies and the reindeer ate the carrots! 😉

And of course, we’re carrying on the Rittenhouse tradition of completing a Christmas coloring book picture before opening presents. This photo is blurry but it’s the only evidence we have!

Christmas morning wouldn’t be Christmas morning without the Rittenhouse Strata!  A heavenly concoction of bread, cheese, egg, milk and bacon all meshed together in perfect ooey-gooey goodness. Yummm… The best part? You make it the night before and just pop it in the oven on Christmas morning!  We had to improvise a bit as bacon is different here and the only “mozzarella” I can find is actual soft mozzarella but I think it almost tasted as good as when Grandma Down The Street used to make it.

For Tim, it’s not Christmas until you’ve watched the Charlie Brown Christmas movie!  I know the boys will take this one with them, too.  The political-incorrectness of the movie is quite amusing but kind of backfires when your four-year-old starts moping everywhere while constantly uttering “good grief!”.

D– FAMILY TRADITIONS

Tim and I have always exchanged ornaments every year. The challenge is to find one that somehow represents something meaningful from the past year. Of course it was no surprise that we both opted for a Swiss ornament as our gift to one another!  We’ve also given the boys an ornament each year which they will one day take to their own family trees.  We love this tradition and it’s so fun to go back through all the meaningful moments captured in each ornament given.

What traditions do you have that make Christmas for you?

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Dear Family & Friends,

Remember the 350 pounds of luggage I brought here on the plane?

Well, approximately half a pound of those super-sized bags was my Christmas stationary.  I’m not really a fan of the cliche Christmas “update letter” but it really is more personal than an email (albeit not by much) and can sometimes be the only communication you have with distant family and friends in an entire year.  The only problem?

You actually have to send it.

Which brings me to the point of this entry. It’s December 22 and all 25 copies of my cute Christmas stationary remain empty and unsent.  Surely it’s not due to a lack of update, as we have plenty to talk about this year!  So I’m taking the “Christmas update letter” to a whole new level.

Close your eyes and imagine with me…you get home from a long day, open the mailbox and find a brightly coloured festive envelope with your name on it. Excitement sweeps over you as you wonder who loves you so much that they would send you such a delight (after all, there are only 25 copies remember?).  You pull out a quaint Christmas-scented letter filled with the oh-so-exhilarating activities of our family’s über-exciting lives.  Am I sweeping you off your feet yet?!

Now seriously.  Look at the photo, imagine the letter I’ve written below is on it, and BINGO — we’ve saved one more piece of paper from your recycling bin and me from having to buy 25 international stamps.  That’s like, 1.5 lattes.

Dear Family & Friends,

2009 may have been a year of growing pains for our family but we are thrilled to be moving forward into 2010 as we embark on a long-time dream of ours — living in Europe!

Jack and Liam turned four this year and are becoming quite the little men. They continue to boggle our minds with how different they are from one another.  Right-handed, left-handed.  Extrovert, introvert. Morning person, night person. Go-go-go, slow-slow-slow. They even like different girls (thank goodness!).

Moving to Switzerland has been exciting, challenging and stressful, all at once.  There are times of total ecstasy, where you feel so blessed to be experiencing such incredible things and then other times of total frustration with not being able to understand or communicate.  Times where you breathe a little sigh and smile at the lifelong memories you’re creating and then other times where you would give anything for a two-buck Starbucks Americano and some Dairyland cream-o.

Leaving Genologics in Victoria was a very difficult decision for Tim to make. He loved his position, the company and everyone in it.  Thankfully, his new role is challenging him in new ways and broadening his already extensive skill set.  It’s certainly a different environment than he’s used to (let’s just say people looked at him funny when he walked down the hall in his socks), but he also enjoys some of the differences.

In the past year, Tim has also achieved some incredible feats including completing his first Olympic-distance triathlon in 2:50:52!  That’s a 1.5 km swim, 40km bike and 10km run in less than three hours! Phew! I’m tired just writing that out.  He has also taught himself to play the guitar and the harmonica, often playing both at the same time! The boys love sitting with him as he plays guitar and have started coming up with their own “rock songs”.

This August, the boys will start their first year of school…in German! Everyone says that their children picked up the language easily at this age and we’re confident it will be the same for J&L. They have already memorized many common phrases in German and we try to use them with each other as much as possible.   “Thank you very much (danke schön)”I would like some water please” (Ich möchte Wasser bitte), numbers and things like that.

As for me, I’m proudly wearing the label of “Hausfrau” and loving it.  Contrary to North America, where you’re considered “unemployed” if you’re a homemaker, the Swiss think highly of their stay-at-home-moms.  This year I got seriously domestic after quitting my demanding job in late 2008 to be home with the boys.  I’ve been perfecting my cookie recipes, cooking up a storm, and even learning to knit.  I’m also looking forward to starting a new passion of mine — refinishing furniture. We’ve got an entire house to furnish here in Basel and I can’t wait to start building our collection, piece by piece!

In the meantime, our home still has a touch of bachelor-pad but we do have our first real tree up and decorated!  We are also trying out a Swiss tradition and have real candles poised and waiting for Christmas Eve’s flame.  Sounds absurd and ridiculous to me but when in Rome…

Speaking of which, we have already welcomed our first two visitors since moving here two months ago and will be welcoming my younger sister Zeanna in a few days. Will you be next?

Merry Christmas from Tim, Tasha, Jack & Liam!

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Snowflakes the size of quarters are wistfully cascading to the ground outside my window.  It’s just the right amount of snow where the trees sparkle with white romance but the sidewalks are clear and dry.

It is now officially Christmas.

And quite literally, it is Christmas today.  For this is the day that a local moving company will finally bring us the contents of our shipping container which docked in Liverpool last month. Boxes and boxes of our coveted kitchen tools, linens and bedding, and more importantly, my shoes and handbags. For the boys, the shipment brings all of their coveted toys from home that didn’t fit on the plane; 100+ Hot Wheels cars, race tracks, the entire Disney Cars collection and of course, their beat-up plastic hockey player figurines (which amazingly enough, still manage to play incredible hockey without the use of any sticks or in some cases, arms).

The anticipation began building over the past few weeks when Tim and I would remember certain items that we had shipped and experience a wave of excitement for the coming delivery.  On a good note, we have realized that it is in fact possible to live with less. For instance, we managed to go an entire three months without an ironing board (kitchen table + towel = an excuse for my poor ironing), the mounds of toys from home (although dangerously approaching the “dark side” with this comment, I think the boys actually played better with fewer toys because they weren’t so overwhelmed by them all), and my Tupperware collection (amazing how valuable an empty cream cheese container becomes when you need to pack a snack!).  So although we realized how possible it is to get by without your usual luxuries, we also realized how fond we are of them all.

Tim is looking forward to having his guitar and harmonica.  I’m looking forward to my imperial measuring cups (sorry, my North American recipes don’t call for “decilitres!”) and did I mention my shoes and handbags?!

And of course, with Christmas comes the accumulation of more stuff.  We are doing a very pared-down Christmas this year but just to help Tim out (wink, wink), I thought I’d create a little list of all the local items I’ve found here in Europe that I just simply can’t live without!

The Face Rug

We need a rug for the entryway. What says “welcome” more than a giant face?! Only problem is, I just can’t shake the feeling I’ve seen this girl before…

The Brain Massage

This is either a really great stress-buster or an alien invasion waiting to happen. Either way, I might find it useful for when the boys start acting up.

Mop Slippers

Why bother wearing slippers AND holding a mop when you can do both in one go?! All the mom’s are doing it.

The Deli Stacker

Because nothin’ turns a girl on like a good stack of meat.

No seriously, I really want this.

***

Merry Christmas!  Frohe Wiehnachten!

***

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It started innocently enough.

Tim explained to Jack that we were borrowing Martin’s car for the morning and asked him where he’d like to go; France, Germany or somewhere in Switzerland.

“Let’s go to France!”, came the reply.  I chuckled to myself knowing that he had no idea how incredibly ridiculous it was that he could choose between three countries for a spontaneous family day trip.

After getting a bit of tedious shopping out of the way (hey! we have more than just wires hanging from our living room ceiling now!), we huddled back into Martin’s car and headed for the hills…well, I guess we actually headed away from the hills but let’s not get uptight about it…we were gettin’ out of Dodge!

At risk of sounding even more like my parents, we didn’t have any sort of plan in mind and just drove.  As a kid, we’d ask dad where we were going and would always get the reply “I don’t know! Ask the car.”  I still get control-freak goosebumps even thinking about how frustrating that stupid answer was.  But in this case, the car most likely did know better than us as to where we were going.  All Tim knew was that he relished in the refreshing 130 km/h speed limits where (get ready to be horrified Victoria peeps) everyone actually drives 130 km/h…and that was in the slow lane. Quelle horreur!

We pulled off and explored a few tiny french villages, eventually settling on Guebwiller, a town of just over 11,000 people.  Claim to fame: birth place of ceramicist Theodore Deck (right, so that’s not very fame-claim-worthy but let’s be honest — good ol’ Theodore just taught you a new word).

Ceramicist‘s aside, the town didn’t have a lot of mojo.  Of the 20 or so shops open, 18 of them were bakeries (seriously, what is in the water over here to keep these people skinny?!?!) but we did manage to find an incredibly authentic chocolate croissant (at a patisserie) and a coffee junkie’s dream of a Cafe au Lait (at a salon de thé). And this wasn’t your typical American latte.  Non non! This was a perfected double espresso paired with your very own single serving milk jug of frothy steamed milk.  Although what I’m about to do goes against everything I’ve ever learned in creative writing grammar classes, there’s no better explanation…

…mmmmmmmmm…

(sigh)

I think the only thing that could have made that cafe experience more enjoyable would have been Jack no longer picking his nose and yelling “KLEENEX!!” while simultaneously holding out his finger in my face every five minutes. But nevertheless, we were in France and it only took us twenty minutes to get there.

As we headed back to Basel, we felt a little bit ripped off, to be honest.  We didn’t do anything all that exciting and there’s nothing like a couple of bored four-year-olds to remind you of that.  The villages were quaint and cute but not really the kind of stuff to write home about. Oh, wait…

So what do you do when you have no idea what to do?

You ask the nearest toddler.

This time the boys insisted we head to the hills. And now I mean the real hills…the ones in the distance with the trees of white and random castles seeming to hang in the sky.  We promptly put away the Tom Tom and pointed the car in the direction of the snow-dusted hilltops.  We ended up in Arlesheim, a little village on the outskirts of Basel. One of the greatest treasures of Europe (and a country so much older than your own), is how easy it is to stumble across this…

J&L having a moment in front of castle ruins dating back to 1356. If you look closely, you can see Jack being all "big brother" to Liam! So cute!

Thanks to some aggressive tree-shaking, the boys got to catch snowflakes on their tongues!

Now, what do you get when you mix two Canadian boys with a pack of Swiss kids and fresh snowfall?

A good ol’ fashioned Canadian whoopin’, actually.

I’ll just start this off by saying that they started it.  We were politely walking around the castle when a snowball came tumbling down from the lookout above (you can see their little heads if you look close enough!).  So as any good Canadian parents would do, we started pelting them with snowballs, packed Canadian-style.

The steep throw was too much for J&L but they held their own critical roles in the battle. As seen here, Jack supplied me with ammunition while Liam taunted them with his "that's all you got" snowball dance.

Eventually the boys had had enough. They stormed the castle! We tried to shout after them and explain the faulty logistics of 2 taking on 8 but it fell on deaf ears. They were hungry for vengeance!

Tim and I followed after them, climbing back up to the castle courtyard. As we rounded the corner, all we saw was absolute chaos. Jack was displaying his Kung-Fu Panda ninja moves in between hucking snowballs from two feet away while Liam just ran in circles tiring all of their throwing arms with his moving target just in time for Jack to pelt them in the face.

A quick scan of the smiling faces of the other parents showed that they were in fact okay with our kids kicking their kid’s butts so we let it go on for a few more minutes.  But when we saw a little boy just standing in the crossfire with nothing but chocolate to defend himself (you’re not fighting ladies here buddy!), we pulled them off of the remaining opposition and said our goodbyes (Auf Wiedersehen!).  As far as we could tell, it ended somewhere around:

Canadian Boys – 5

Swiss Boys – 0

We may have spent time that day sipping cafe au laits in France and trampling on the snow-covered hills of Switzerland but it was all overshadowed by this very proud Canadian moment.

This post has been brought to you by the good people at Martin’s Rent-a-Ford.

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