Thunder, stolen

November 30th, 2008

If there is a downside to the relationship Small Boy has with his grandparents, it’s that they know him so well. He’s not a theoretical grandchild. He is the Small Boy, theirs as much as ours. They know that the greatest treat you can offer him is a Ricola. They know when he sucks his thumb he’s tired but when he sucks his thumb and plays with his belly-button he’s really tired. They know if it comes with a siren it’ll be a hit. They know it can take ten minutes to get him dressed to go outside. They know he’s jealous of his little brother. They know he loves getting a ride in the tractor. They know he can be stubborn, and unbearably adorable, and they know just the right thing to make him happy.

They know this so well that they got him the exact same advent calender we did, and they put theirs out first.

Grandparents. Of all the nerve.

Gratitude, belated

November 29th, 2008

In the kitchen there is turkey and gravy and cranberry sauce and wild rice and cranberry stuffing. There are potatoes and green beans and the salad I forget to serve. There is pumpkin pie with maple syrup whipped cream and biscotti and there is cherry pie made from the last batch of the Seeland cherries I froze in the summer when they rained down on us for weeks and filled the market in front of the Bundeshaus to bursting. There is wine and beer and cranberry juice and coffee and tea.

At our table we are a Dutch and a Brit and an Aussie and two Americans and two Swiss. English is the common language but there are four mother-tongues at the table and six in all. We have enough kids for a children’s table now – we were four Americans and a German and a Swiss and all childless when we started doing this and we have enough children for a kids’ table now and the five of them have nine passports and four languages between them.

So here is my gratitude: this day. That I have found these friends, that I have made this life, that we can have this Thanksgiving dinner here at the foot of the Swiss Alps. Like we do every year.

They’re letting me stay

November 28th, 2008

I don’t often blog specifically about being an expat; I’m not sure why. There are a few reasons, I guess. I moved to Switzerland in December of 2000 – the classic “fish out of water” “American puts foot in mouth” stories happened years ago (and oh, how they did happen). I’m not currently in a language class so I don’t have weekly reminders of maddening German gramatics. And, frankly, my German is pretty good and I finally, after years in the wilderness, understand Swiss-German* so there aren’t even a lot of “lost in translation” stories.

I am not blind to the joys of Swiss life and the beautiful things that surround me. I still stop in my tracks when I walk to the Old Town by way of the train station, something I do almost every day, and stare at the panorama of the Bernese Alps spread out before me. I still think, often, I can’t believe I get to live here. But my days are just days like everybody else’s: filled with taking care of the kids and the house and doing the laundry and writing a poem. It’s life. It’s my life and I don’t spend a lot of time feeling like an expat. I don’t spend a lot of time feeling like an Ausländerin. I am. I am a foreigner technically, legally, but this is my home. I feel at home here; I am at home here. There aren’t so many expat stories, anymore, when one wakes up in the place one belongs.

Ah, but yesterday I needed to renew my C-Pass, my permanent residency permit. Ah, I thought. An expat story. A Swiss Bureaucracy story. Except it wasn’t, really. It was thoroughly un-blog-worthy. I went, I took my number, I handed over my documents, I got a new C-Pass. The whole thing took just under an hour  – and would have taken less time than that but for my forgetting** to bring a picture and having to run back home to get one – and I left with a C-Pass valid until 2013. And not much of a story. But when you’re dealing with the bureaucracy that lets you stay or makes you go, I guess not much of a story is a good thing.

So there it is, my non-story story. I’m staying. Which was totally never in doubt anyway.

* insert standard caveat “as spoken by Bernese Swiss over 16 and under 60” here.

** By “forgetting” I mean they failed to indicate anywhere on my official form that a new picture would be required this time around.

Happy thanksgiving

November 27th, 2008

Happy thanksgiving to everybody stateside. We’ll be doing our expats’ Thanksgiving on Saturday because so many of us – most importantly our friend who scored the turkey – are working.

Rest days

November 26th, 2008

I’m back from two days away from the family feeling fresh and energized. I filled the well. I took long walks, just me and my camera. I ate soup and sipped coffees. I revised a prose piece. I did hours of market research on-line (doesn’t this journal look gorgeous?) and I have my December writing goals lined up. I’ve got a success in my back pocket now and I know where I want to go next.

I can do this. It will take time, because there is life, after all, but I can do this. I can see the way, I can plan my next step.

When I was a cyclist, my coach always talked about the importance of rest days. Every Sunday night we would have a team meeting at his place and plan the next week’s workouts, and there was always a hard day – spinning drills on Flat Bottom Road or sprinting up Firehouse Hill – and there was always a rest day and every Sunday night he told us not to skip the rest day. It’s not a day off, he’d tell us, it’s a rest day. It’s meant to be active rest. Make it an easy 20 miles, maybe just out to the Causeway and back, don’t climb any hills but you’ve got to get your legs moving on the rest day. The recovery days are as important as the hard ones. They make the hard ones possible.

Sometimes I think the most important things I ever learned about life, I learned on a bike. 

So I rested. Active rest. I took my pictures and did my research and used my muscles in a casual, familiar sort of way. To let them recover. So that I can keep climbing.


November 25th, 2008

Sometimes I get tired of words and want only to stroll the streets with my camera searching for the door to another world. I see things differently with the weight of the camera tapping me on the shoulder. (Was it Margaret Bourke-White who said that the camera is an instrument that teaches people to see without one?) Sometimes I get tired of my story. It seems I am always telling the same story. (Was it Maurice Sendak who said that all writers have one essential story and we tell it again and again?) Sometimes I want an image without an explanation, an illustration without a caption. I crave a door, an angle, a color.

My last baby’s first haircut

November 24th, 2008

I get emotional over the first haircut. Maybe because with boys, the first haircut is the one when they start looking less like babies and more like little boys – especially when they don’t get their first haircut until after their first birthday. Boychen got a haircut this morning. He’s such a boy now.




Look at him. He’s a boy. I think I want my baby back.


November 23rd, 2008

We took Small Boy to his first professional hockey game this afternoon. R’s dad has been a season ticket holder forever – he’s been going to games with the same bunch of guys for three decades but at this point one of his friends only goes to the playoff games; that’s the only reason he gets season tickets anymore, to have guaranteed seats to playoff games. So his seat is pretty much almost empty the rest of the time. R’s dad gave up his seat and found another season-ticket holder not interested in today’s game so we had the chance to go to one of the rare Sunday afternoon games with Small Boy (almost all the games start at 19.45 – he’d never make it through a two-hour game starting at 8pm).

He had fun, even though it was hard for him to really follow what was going on. We ate french fries during the breaks between periods, and when SCB scored he waved his flag. He learned some new Swiss-German vocabulary from the guys in the seats next to us, words such as huereseich* and Tönnerwetter!** and Scheiss!,*** words I’m not entirely sure my four-year old boy needs to know. At some point he commented that “Sie kehe fash nie um!”**** He was quite impressed with the referees: imagine, they get to use a whistle and tell everybody what to do! That’s right up the Small Boy’s alley.

Although SCB won – and the winning goal, in overtime, was scored by this guy and yes that date of birth is correct – it wasn’t exactly quality hockey. SCB is like that sometimes. They’re one of the best team in the Swiss league but they sure can play down now and then. But it was fun – I was pregnant with the Boychen the last time I went to an SCB game so it sure was nice to make it to another one.

* This literally translates as “hooker piss” but is along the lines of somebody saying “Crap!” in English and can I tell you this might be my new favorite word.

** Thunder-weather, also along the lines of “Oh crap!” or “For crying out loud!”

*** I don’t need to translate that one, do I?

**** “They (meaning the hockey players) almost never fall over!” He’s still going to hockey practice and his attitude has improved tremendously, but there is, understandably for a not-yet-four-year-old, a great deal of falling down. He was quite impressed by the big boys today.

He’s back, bearing gifts

November 22nd, 2008

Wow. He actually did it.

The kindness of strangers

November 21st, 2008

My umbrella blew away today, skipping merrily down the street and hoping, no doubt, to run into some other umbrella free and unencumbered. It was my own fault – on a Very Blustery Day I actually let go of my umbrella to help Small Boy into his gloves, and off it went dancing down the street. I was with Small Boy, on foot, and Boychen, in the stroller, and Dutch Friend (7 months pregnant) and her three-year-old. Dutch Friend made a valliant, if poorly thought-out, gallumping few strides to catch it and I called after her “Forget it! It’s gone!” A man tried to run after it, but my umbrella was skittering for all it was worth and I called out “Machts nuut! Isch schon weg!”* and turned back to getting Small Boy into his gloves. Dutch Friend slipped her son into his mittens and we continued on our way to the train station. They had a train to catch; the umbrella wasn’t worth it.

Then a man ran up to my side and handed me my umbrella. He must have chased it three-quarters of the way down the block and back.

Was he just a nice Swiss guy, or did he take an extra bit of pity on two moms – one of us pregnant, no less – out in the rain with 3 kids and no umbrella? Either way, thanks Swiss Guy. Das ist der Liebe!**

* It doesn’t matter! It’s already gone!

** That is just so kind.