7 months and a few good nuts

Our seven month anniversary in this [not so] foreign land brings with it the reality that those gloriously long Summer days that I so lovingly referred to a couple of months ago get replaced by short Winter days and loooong Winter nights.  Our sun currently rises at 07:26 and sets at 16:56.  I’m not complaining as Winter also brings with it the promise of cosy evenings in front of the fire, woolly jerseys, beanies, gloves and scarves, Christmas markets, hot roasted Maroni nuts, cheese fondues and of course, this …

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pretty pink cheeks after a very cold walk home from school.

We are no longer ‘new’ to Switzerland and yet everything still feels so new and unfamiliar.  We are learning our way around a fairly complicated schooling system and Julz is in the midst of testing for high school next year to see which tier she will fall into.  Guys, my baby is going to high school!!! (When did that happen?  I swear she was two just yesterday.)

Until then, we are soaking in the delight of primary school as it is not as intense as back home with a strong focus on play – letting them stay little for just a little bit longer.  There is also a strong emphasis on creativity and Julz is now pretty comfortable using a hand saw as well as a sewing machine (both skills learnt from Hand Craft). It almost feels like we’ve enrolled her in Scouts or Girl Guides as opposed to formal schooling.

Language is also a big part of the schooling system with German, English and French all being taught in the local schools.  My guardian angel, Heidi, gives Julz extra French lessons after school which gives me a good excuse to join them for a cup of tea and to listen to my child being taught another language in another language.  I am in complete awe!

As for me, learning a new language has come with many challenges.  When my nearly 40-year-old brain actually remembers a word, I am often unable to get my tongue around the word to pronounce it correctly.  The good side to this though, is that I am providing Julz with hours of entertainment as well as added opportunities for her to practice her German because she’s constantly needing to correct me.

Luckily for me, the people here are extremely patient and kind and are happy for me to fumble my way through this journey with little judgement.  The Swiss have a bad reputation for being cold and closed off but I’ve come to learn that they are just overly polite and don’t want to intrude on someone’s personal time/space.  We joke that the Swiss are like nuts, difficult to crack.  Once you’ve cracked that outer shell though, they are warm, wonderful and genuine people.

We’ve managed to crack a few nuts so far and our little circle of 3 is gradually growing into a beautiful community.   One that feels a little more like family.

Benito is already in his second month of work and whilst I don’t envy his early morning wake-up calls, I do envy the fact that he has somewhere to be every day with a purpose.  I’ve never been a stay-at-home mom so this transition has been a tough one, but we have set some goals and will work towards bridging this gap in the new year.  Also, I booked my first photography shoot!

Speaking of photos (my language of choice) … this is what we’ve been up to lately …

The Chinese Gardens in Zürich

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Hiking from Uetliberg to Felsenegg

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Caumasee

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My cows.  I visit them often and they’re starting to know me (Swiss cows are happy cows).

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Saying “Yes!” to the unknown

A little over five months ago, our family of three took our first steps into the unknown of “what could be”.  The only things we knew with absolute certainty when we stepped on the plane was that we were headed to Switzerland and that we had an apartment to stay in for the next three months.

We made the decision to move together as a family, each one of us fully aware that this would not be easy and that we needed to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.  The fact that we made this decision together has helped in the many ‘WTF’ moments that have followed as no one can be blamed for making the decision to move alone.

We are learning to turn our backs on fear and to look to the unknown with great anticipation and excitement.  We’re learning to embrace the unknown and are trying to take advantage of any and every opportunity to say ‘yes’.  Well, two of us anyway … the tweenager seems to becoming more and more comfortable with saying ‘no’.  In fact, for someone who used to reach her 20 000 word allocation per day by 7:30 in the morning, her vocabulary is getting rather limited.

An example of our daily discussions:

Me:          How was school today?
Jules:       Fine.
Me:          What did you do?
Jules:       Nothing.

Every.  Single.  Day.

For us, it is more practical and effective to actually just do it with her then to tell her it is a great idea with our words and this is exactly what I did when Heidi and Christian knocked on our door on Tuesday evening and invited us to join them for a “little” walk the next day.

I jumped at the opportunity without little thought and managed to convince Jules that it was a good idea.  “Let’s go for a walk”, I said.  “It’ll be fun!”  My eagerness was short-lived when I saw the look on Heidi’s face yesterday whilst she was [disapprovingly] inspecting  our choice of footwear, and completely disappeared after she told me that she’d packed some minerals for our water to stop our legs from cramping during the walk.  (At this stage, we were already buckled into the car, heading swiftly towards Canton Uri – well played Heidi!)

What followed was the worst 4 hours of my life most gruelling, steepest uphill hike through the mountains in which I learnt a lot about myself.

Lesson #1:  Don’t answer the door to Heidi
Lesson #2:  ASK MORE QUESTIONS!!!  (Although in all fairness, I would have said ‘no’ had I known).
Lesson #3:  Buy good hiking shoes.
Lesson #4:  Always pack warm clothes when travelling into the Alps.
Lesson #5:  What you think are warm clothes won’t come close to keeping you warm when you’re in the cold, windy, wet Alpine weather.   Buy warmer clothes.

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This was our halfway mark – see the little rocks at the top of the mountain … that was our end destination.

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The end was in sight.

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IMG_28641SMLThis girl though, she didn’t complain once (at least not within earshot of Heidi and Christian).  She simply soldiered on putting one foot in front of the other, twirling her hiking sticks as she went and even managed to do “the Floss” mid-way.

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Whilst the effort was huge, the rewards were even greater!  Yesterday we were rewarded with the perfect cups of hot chocolate and the fluffiest and lightest Maroni cake served in a traditional Swiss chalet, Bratwurst, Rosti, warm beer and süssmost at the top of our summit, dinner in an authentic Italian restaurant, Prosecco, new friends and the biggest sense of accomplishment.

Everybody needs a Heidi in life.  I’m so glad I found mine!

P.S. If you’re wondering where Benito was in all of this … he was at work!  He officially joined the working world on the 1st October and sadly couldn’t join us.

 

 

 

 

Autumn in Switzerland

It’s the September 25th which means that we’re officially in Autumn.  Coming from South Africa where the seasons blend into one another without much fuss, I am really enjoying the definite shift from Summer into Autumn.  The weather has cooled down to a crisp 15C, the leaves are turning various shades of red, orange, yellow and brown, our days are getting shorter and everyone is decorating their homes for the Fall – think pine cones, candles and pumpkins! (while I want to pitch a tent in Migros’ Fall isle and watch it transform, because we all know what’s coming next … twinkle twinkle)

Speaking of pumpkins, we visited the Jucker Farm this weekend and all of our senses were treated to the magic of Autumn in Switzerland … apple picking, hot pumpkin soup, süssmost, pumpkin carving, apple throwing, pumpkin filled Berliners, freshly baked bread, etc.

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It’s so pretty here right now.  Cool, calm and promising, a taste of the best months to come.

 

 

 

Being ‘prepared’ for life abroad

They say that being “ready” isn’t enough, that you need to be “prepared” for a significant change in your life and so I read up and researched everything I could possibly find on moving abroad once we made that final decision to do so.  I also spoke to friends and family (and a few strangers, okay, basically anyone who would listen) who had made similar moves before and I questioned everything.

I received some really great advice and information along the way and listened to what made the most sense for us as a family.  A lot of the information we received provided an insight into integrating into a new cultural environment, new schools, people, etc. however most of the information revolved around our physical possessions e.g. “sell your furniture as it’s likely to get damaged in transit” or “book this airline as you’ll be able to take more luggage”.  Looking back, I’ve realised that very few emotions were discussed and maybe I didn’t ask the right questions but no matter how hard I tried to prepare myself for this move, nothing could have prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster that lay ahead.

We’re quickly approaching our 5 month anniversary living in Switzerland and whilst I absolutely love living here and wouldn’t change it for anything, it has not been easy.  I also promised myself very early on that this blog would provide an honest view of our lives here and so I decided to list a few things that I have struggled with the most and lessons that I have learnt along the way.  These are just a few things that I wish had come up in some of those earlier conversations.

  1. You will ‘forget’ how to cook/bake

    Being someone who is always in the kitchen, this one has been tough.  I’m still trying to figure this one out but the majority of my favourite (South African) recipes simply don’t work here.  I’m not sure if it’s the flour or the butter but I have more baking and cooking flops here than ever before and it’s driving me insane.

    The Swiss recipes work perfectly however the palate here is completely different and I often find myself craving one of the sweeter South African treats.

    My tip to others:  Keep trying.  It’s also a good excuse to phone your Mom daily with requests for new recipes.

  2. Make a list of all the reasons why you love your spouse

    This move, although completely new, feels vaguely familiar to the move we made all those years ago when we decided to first move in with one another.  Given that neither of us are working and that we’re spending more time together than ever before, we’ve had to relearn how to be in each other’s space, what works, what doesn’t and how and where to compromise.

    My tip to others:  Make a list of all the reasons why you love your spouse and revisit it often.

  3. You will become a living, breathing contradiction

    I feel happy yet sad, fulfilled yet lonely, smart yet stupid, at home yet foreign, angry yet at peace, and and and …
    My tip to others:  Be kind to yourself

  4. Out of all the people you will miss, you will miss yourself the most

    It’s difficult to put this into words, but I miss myself the most.  My old self.  My confident self.  The one who didn’t have to think twice before doing something and if I wasn’t sure of something I could just ask someone, knowing full well that I would be able to understand whatever was said.

    I don’t have a tip for this one as I’m still trying to figure it out for myself.  In some of the advice I received, people said that the second year is easier and my mantra has simply become “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time”.

  5. There is no logic in emotions
    This one hit me like a ton of bricks the other day.  I was walking through the airport on my way to catch a connecting train and I heard a whistle.  The very same whistle that my Dad would use to get my attention when I was little, the same whistle that my sister now uses to call her boys.  My head flew around as my eyes frantically searched for the source and whilst I knew it couldn’t possibly be one of them, my heart was convinced otherwise and when reality finally kicked in, I slowly turned around and walked to my train, tears streaming down my face.

    It’s the little things like this that catch me completely off-guard and wreak the most havoc with my emotions.

    My tip:  Phone home often.  Every day if needed.  (Also, WhatsApp have an awesome feature that allows you to do group calls so I can now call my mom, my sister and my daughter all at the same time!)

  6. Your memories will become your most treasured possessions

    It’s amazing how you can decipher between what’s important and what’s not when you have 4 cubic meters of space to fit 3 full lives into.  For me, when I looked at the contents of my house, there was very little that couldn’t be replaced and there was so much more that we didn’t even need.

    It quickly became clear that I was unable to part with the photographs and canvases that were displayed on my walls.  These were all carefully packed into a container and, fingers crossed, will hopefully reach us by October/November this year.

    My tip:  Pack a few of your favourite photographs with you and display them throughout your house whilst you wait for the rest to arrive.  Share new photos with family back home and encourage them to do the same.  (My folks send me daily updates of themselves with my dogs and these are often the highlight of my day)

Sharing some photos of my most prized ‘possessions’ in life …

(Photo credit:  Sugar Tree Photography)

 

 

 

 

 

The first day

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After I dropped Julz off at school today and after my mandatory ‘parking lot cry’, I set off in search of the perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.  It wasn’t really about the cookies but rather about me needing to occupy my time and to create something that would bring an inkling of happiness to my girl’s day.

Today was not only her first day of the new school year but also her first day at the local Swiss school.  A day that she’s been dreading since we first arrived here in Zürich.  After 3 months of intense German lessons, followed by Summer break, it’s now time to integrate and to start her journey into the Swiss schooling system.  Ready or not, here we go!

Unfortunately Julz was less than ready and our final Summer moments were filled with anxiety, dread and a lot of tears.

This is all new territory, and hell, are we ever learning.  School starts at 8:30 and ends at either 15:15 or 16:15, depending on the day except for Wednesdays when school closes as 12:00.   School closes for 1.5 hours at noon each day and the kids are sent back home for lunch.  There are two local schools which service our community and the kids are responsible for getting themselves to school by either walking or riding their bikes.

Julia is in a class of 7 students.  Actually, the 7 students make up the whole grade – 4 girls; 3 boys.  She has one teacher who teaches all of the subjects.  All of her subjects are taught in German apart from English and French.

In South Africa, we prepare for the start of the new school year by ordering text books and buying new uniforms, books, stationery, school bags, lunch boxes, etc.  In Switzerland, we buy shoes – apparently.  I learnt this little bit of information on Sunday afternoon (when all the shops were closed) as I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed.  I dashed next door to Heidi who confirmed that a standard back to school shopping list for moms in Switzerland consists of indoor sneakers, outdoor sneakers, ‘house-shoes’ (slip on slippers for indoors), rain boots, snow boots, etc.  Luckily, we’re still in the Summer months and wearing a pair of socks or going bare foot is perfectly acceptable inside the classroom and Julz has more than enough sneakers to go around.  EVERYTHING else is provided for by the school.

My two school drops offs in Switzerland (you can read about the first one here), have by far been some of the hardest parts of my mothering journey.  On our walk to school today, I could sense her anxiousness, I felt her grip and I casually mentioned that we should turn around and run away and I’d be lying if I said that I was joking or that she didn’t half consider it, but then we were met by two wonderful teachers who briskly whisked her away, chatting to her non-stop in German.  She didn’t even have a chance to look back at me.

When we met her this afternoon, she was walking with her new friends.  She casually walked up to me, gave me a jab with her elbow and said “Why were you so stressed?”.

Oh, and the cookies?  They were delicious!

*****

Each year on the first day of school, I ask the same question and then photograph her answer.  This was today’s answer, the same answer for the fourth year in a row.

 

 

 

 

Schoggi love

For anyone who’s ever dreamed that Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory was a real place you could visit, this one’s for you.

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Luckily, we didn’t need to win one of 5 Golden Ticket’s to get to see Maestrani’s Chocolarium as access is unlimited and so is their chocolate.  From the moment you walk in, to the moment you walk out there is nothing but sampling stations for all of their delicious chocolate.  Also, tell your wife kid that you’re taking her to a place where she’ll get to walk through and sample as much chocolate as she wants, and you’ll earn the rank of a god.

I loved the creativity and the imagination behind this place.  Every inch of the Chocolarium is designed around the concept of HAPPINESS, and you feel it from the moment you get there with a pathway counting down each step to happiness.

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Past the front door, you’re met by the smile-o-meter where your picture is taken and your smile measured.

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The Chocolarium is a real life chocolate and sweet factory with a series of different rooms each focusing on the journey of chocolate, from bean to bar.  The interactive rooms focus on everything from the raw ingredients and their origin through to the various processing methods.

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And just when you leave one room and think “Holy Mother of Imagination, that was fun!”, you’re wowed again in the next room with even more colour and more attention to creative detail.

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And my favourite, the dotty room.  A plain white room which has been decorated over time by visitors to the Chocolarium with thousands of little dot stickers.

Towards the end of the exhibit, there is a chocolate workshop for those wanting to discover their inner chocolatier.  We chose a bar of milk and white chocolate, which we received in it’s melted form and then Julz went crazy* at the topping station.  She then placed the bar into the freezing hub and then packaged her final chocolate creation for the trip home.

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* Crazy = Sprinkles and chocolate/biscuit balls with a teeny, tiny bit of crushed caramel added to the side for her Dad.  Note the 20:1 ratio.

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Summer days

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here for three months already.  I find myself measuring the time by the flowers that surround us, the fruit growing on the trees and the changing seasons rather than the weeks and the actual time that is going by.  The Sunflowers are currently blooming which I’ve been told is a sign that Autumn is just around the corner but for now we are enjoying our Summer break and are soaking up the beautiful weather and the luxuriously long days.

This is my first Summer in Switzerland and although I knew it could get hot, I never anticipated the type of heat.  As I write this, it’s just after 19:00 and our temperature is 33C with temperatures only dropping slightly to 27C through the night.

Given that this is our first Summer break in Switzerland and most likely our last before both Benito and I return to the working world we decided to take it very seriously.  We asked Julz to come up with a Summer bucket list with strict instructions that not every item needed to include spending money but rather simple little acts that would make her happy.  Her final list included small things like catching fireflies and swimming in a lake to bigger things like visiting a chocolate factory and eating ice cream in Italy.

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Little did I know when we prepared this list that the Swiss people take Summer seriously too – I guess long Winters will do that to you – and that this will in all likelihood become our Summer tradition.  We have had so much fun preparing this list and finding ways to make the little things in life magical and as we’ve chatted to people along the way, our list has grown enormously as everyone has another ‘must see’ item to add to the list.

Two weeks in and these are some of our Summer moments …

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IMG_0018smlTravelling to Italy to meet up with friends and to tick the ‘Gelato in Italy’ box.

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A visit to Stein am Rhein, one of the prettiest little towns that I’ve ever visited followed by shopping in Germany.  Our neighbour, Heidi (yes, I live next door to a real-life Heidi) introduced us to the wonderful world of shopping in Germany.   One of the downsides to living in Switzerland is the ‘consider-donating-an-organ’ high cost of living, so the locals all travel across the borders to do their shopping (it’s literally half of what we pay in Switzerland and duty-free).

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Swimming in a badi.  Our swimming pool is one of the things that we’ve missed the most.  We took it for granted in S.A. but swimming here is no joke.  A season ticket, which offers Summer access costs 200 CHF per family.   

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Watching the sun set, followed by the Greatest Showman on the shore of Lake Zurich. 

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A trip up Mount Stanserhorn and the most spectacular views.

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An evening stroll along Lake Zurich.  Ok, I won’t romanticise this – it was 33C and all three of us had worn jeans in anticipation for the ‘cooler’ evening weather.  We were on our way to Zurichhorn and little did we know but the ZVV app had bi-passed all trams and buses and rather told us to walk the 3kms to our venue.  There are days when I love technology and then there are days like these, when I want to throw my phone in the lake simply to be able to dive in and retrieve it.