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Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

You know it’s been a party when you find confetti here…

My iPhone Case

…and here…

When Jack recoiled from the water saying "Mummy...there's stuff floating in here...", I laughed thinking it was his own hamburger backwash...but no, it was confetti from two days earlier...

…and when you get home from a parade, vacuum, change pants, vacuum again, then get changed into pj’s that night only to find more confetti in your SECOND pair of pants…now where did that come from?!?

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I once read a Swiss blog where the author commented on Switzerland being the largest country in the world. Coming from a relatively small island in Canada that’s actually the same geographical area as the entire Swiss nation, I balked slightly at that and wondered which school the author attended. Surely I’d be avoiding registering my children there!

But the author went on to say that many Swiss citizens believe they have the largest country in the world because although they are geographically small, they are culturally massive. Where else do you condense four national languages, three distinct cultures and a splash of excellent English into just over 40,000 km²?

He has a point.

With my sister visiting this past January, we took Timothy’s most generous offer and escaped sans enfants for a weekend away. Zena had studied Italian for a few years and her heart was set on stealing away to Italy for a week but unfortunately, days after booking the flight, she lost her job in the American economy debacle and was forced to turn her European Escapade into a more centralized Swiss Scamper. Knowing her heart’s desire was to be immersed in Italian, I started researching Italian-speaking cities within Switzerland for our weekend away. Tocino was obviously the first thought but we eventually settled on a journey through the Alps and a night in Poschiavo.

Poschi…what?

Yeah, that’s what we thought. And I think that’s what went through the SBB Travel Consultant’s mind when I asked him to help us get there. Poschiavo (pronounced poss-KYA-vo) is probably the furthest point one could travel from Basel while remaining in Switzerland. Over 325 km away, it took us six hours to train from Basel to Chur to Samedan to Pontresina before finally ending up in Poschiavo. Just as expected, the world as we knew it transformed into Italian somewhere around Pontresina and my sister was in paradiso.

A typical European snack: bread, cheese and wine...while standing. The non-European thing would be the coffee in a to-go cup (so North American of us!).

Although the trip through the Alps aboard the Bernina Express, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was spectacular, this trip would have been downright excruciating had we brought the kids along. Scenery is just another boring slideshow for most four-year-olds (or even some forty-year-olds, for that matter) and the relief of not having the kids with me crossed my mind more than once.

But with just us to gab and enjoy a bottle of wine, we sat back and took in the ride as the train winded back and forth through 145 km of breathtaking views. We traveled over cavernous viaducts, elegant glaciers, crossed 196 bridges and passed through 55 tunnels. Navigating inclines of up to 70%, the train climbs 2253 meters without the use of rack rails or other engineering tricks and at various spots along the journey, one can look out the window to stare straight down the face of an incredible alp.

Once arrived in Poschiavo, we were greeted by…well, nothing. The quaint village lays between two mountains in the Poschiavo Valley and one can walk the entire distance in less than 20 minutes (yeah, we did that). The stated population is around 3,500 but one local told us only 1,600 people live in the actual town centre. After checking into our hotel (a six-minute walk from the train station, of course), we asked where a local would go for a drink. We were directed to walk out the hotel door, take 10 steps to the left and find ourselves at the local pub, Bar Flora.

I’m positive that in the spring and summer months, this photogenic town would be teeming with sun-filled terrace cafés and charming stone-paved piazzas. Unlike some of the big cities I’ve been to, the locals here seem to take a genuine interest in you and were glad you came. One visit to the town’s watering hole and we were fast friends with the locals; practicing our Italian (or lack thereof), observing the stark differences between our culture and theirs, and learning what it means to be a Swiss Italian verses a German-speaking Swiss (a distinction they were quick to make).

By the time we made our way back to the hotel, it was four in the morning and the entire building was dark. In big-city-girl fashion, I started to panic thinking that we were going to be stuck in the cold while our warm hotel beds awaited our return just inside. But of course, our room key acted as a master and opened up the main doors. Something about that made me smile as I thought of all the busy 24-hour Front Desk’s I’ve encountered. Imagine my delight when the Hotel Chef himself checked us out the next morning, graciously speaking to us in slow, simple Italian — even though he spoke perfect English. The entire experience was more like staying with a family friend, rather than just some hotel in a strange place.

So although there is a time for major sights and world-renowned locales, our little trip to the middle-of-nowhere Poschiavo reminded us that sometimes the best travel experiences are within the hidden pockets of daily life found in small towns, quaint villages and the heart of the locals.

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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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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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