Raising Quila

It has been a little under 8 months that we have loved the baby of our family, Quila (“Hund Qweela” as she is known here in Switzerland), and our hearts and home will be forever changed.

The experts say that an adult dog has the intelligence of a 3 year old child, and a trained dog, a 5 year old child. Needless to say, it feels like we have a toddler in the house. I’m constantly tripping over toys that are left lying around the house, regular naps are a must to avoid over stimulation and melt-downs, the word “no” is easily ignored confused for “yes”, and I have an audience every time I go to the loo.

Hund Qweela is no ordinary dog though, her path was decided long before she was even born and when she reaches 16-18 months of age, she will leave us to start formal training in Basel to become a working dog. Depending on her personality and her skill set at approximately 1 year of age, we will hone her training towards a specific job. She could become a guide dog for a blind or partially-sighted person or an assistance dog for a disabled person (someone in a wheelchair).

There is also a third option … 50% of the dogs that are trained don’t pass the final testing phase, either due to a disability (elbow/hip dysplasia) or lack of concentration, skills, etc. These dogs then get retired and and can become family dogs. Ever tried to teach a dog to walk with a limp? If so, you know where to find me. ūüėČ

She bit the dust on a walk earlier this week and grazed her chin

Our job at the moment is to raise a happy, confident, well mannered, social dog who responds well to her basic commands. She needs to be comfortable travelling on public transport, walking up and down stairs, getting in and out of elevators, walking through crowds, etc. Quila shines in most of these areas, however she does have her weaknesses which we are working on. She gets easily distracted by other dogs (a lot like me actually) and is over-friendly to anyone who even looks her way. She could get away with this behaviour when she was a puppy but as she matures, dogs (and grumpy owners) are less forgiving.

She’s the friendliest little pup I’ve ever encountered and although we’re supposed to encourage people to ignore her, Quila is happiest when eye contact is made and a hand is extended.

We are working on building up her confidence in certain situations. When she was a puppy, we stopped to look at some sheep through a fence, she got a little too curious and got zapped on the nose by the electric fence and since then we can’t even “baaaaaaa” without her running away from us. She also runs away when the toast pops out of the toaster in the mornings but funnily enough, she’s not at all scared when there’s thunder and lightening or fire works.

When I got involved in this process, I thought that I’d be helping. Helping the school to raise a puppy, helping a puppy to reach her full potential, helping someone build a life with an assistance dog. Little did I know that she would actually be the one helping me. She became my companion when I didn’t know anyone, she helped me to make friends, she got me to start talking to people and to start practicing my German, she’s become the child I never had, a sibling to Julia and a very best friend to us all.

The question that I’m asked almost daily is how am I going to give her up … I can’t answer that. I try not to even think about that. For now, I just enjoy every walk, every cuddle, every lick and every second that I have with this little sweetheart.

Dog love is like no other love in my book.

Road tripping to Italy

A couple of months ago we got a car. Benito likes to tell people that he drives a hybrid – “something between a real car and a scooter”. It’s old, tiny and has enough space for two adults, one tweenager, a dog and exactly three bags of groceries. We have to drive with the windows down because the aircon doesn’t work, the radio is connected to a Garmin which keeps shouting at us in German to “Biegen Sie links ab” (turn left) which we can’t figure out how to make it stop and we can only drive up hill in first gear at approximately 40km an hour. (We live in Switzerland – I’ll let you think about that last one for a minute).

Despite all of these things, we really love our little chorrie and how much freedom it has given us. Little things that we had taken for granted in our ‘previous lives’, like popping in to a store at dinner time to buy that one onion that was forgotten during the supermarket run earlier in the day are now a reality once again and have become little luxuries not to be taken for granted and hour long round trips to the shops to buy forgotten items are now a thing of the past.

To celebrate, we planned a few days away in Italy this Summer. First stop, Bagattini, Posina, a 6-hour drive from Winkel, to visit my Aunt and Uncle. We left early in the morning all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and decided to take the longer, more scenic route through Austria. Within the hour we had crossed the border which was when Julz pointed out our HUGE mistake … no data!!! What was she going to do for the remaining 5 hours? Talk to us? SHOCK! HORROR! DISGUST!

Wee breaks are also completely different when travelling through Europe. Gone are the days of stopping mid-way for a Wimpy breakfast of bacon and eggs and a quick loo break. Here, you can stop for breakfast which consists of bread, bread and more bread and running around trying to convert money or get change so that the family can pay 3 Euros to pee. At this point we decided that we weren’t all that hungry and continued on with our journey – three more hours to go! This was when I realised my HUGE mistake … I had forgotten to bring Quila’s passport!!! We had just smuggled a dog into Austria!

Eventually we crossed the border into Italy, 6 hours slowly warped into 7 hours, then 8 … I had just sms’d my aunt to tell her that we were about half an hour away when we came to a sign on the side of the road written in Italian which we couldn’t understand. Google Translate have a ‘wonderful’ app which allows you to take a photograph of something which it then translates into English. “Closed road for Mosses of Frankish at 5 km”. We sat in front of this sign for what seemed like forever trying to figure out what to do … Was the road actually closed? Would we turn off before the road closure? Why was the sign pushed to the side? How else could we get to Posina? And who the hell was Mosses of Frankish? Eventually a motorist passed us in the opposite direction giving us hope that the road was in fact open and we continued up the hill.

The longer we drove, the more confident we became that the road was open until we suddenly came to a halt … a landslide. Mosses of Frankish was a landslide (“Franosi” Google! Not “Mosses of Frankish”!!! – although in Google’s defence, it did say “road closed”.) which was completely blocking the road. We had to turn around and I nearly cried when I saw that our ETA had now changed and another hour had been added to our trip.

It was then that we all agreed that we had to name our little car which had taken us on quite an adventure … “MF” we agreed, short for Mosses of Frankish or any other mother f… words you can think of!

This is why a 6 hour trip can end up being a 9 hour trip … Italian roads – designed by 4 year olds

Eventually we arrived in Bagattini which is a little slice of heaven, especially when combined with our special people! Our 9 hour drive from hell was quickly forgotten and replaced with warm embraces, late evening catch-ups, bowls and bowls of spaghetti, long walks, lots of laughter, Italian shopping and a feeling of being ‘home’.

After a relaxing few days in Bagattini, we travelled to Meran in S√ľdtirol, a German speaking city in Italy, which felt a lot like a little Switzerland.

And of course, nobody was more eager to get home than our very own private little stash of happiness who got smuggled unintentionally across three border controls. She’s a home-body, just like her mamma!

Not quite Spring

It’s Spring in Switzerland. Everything is green. Birds are chirping. Flowers are blooming. Summer is coming! Except, it doesn’t always feel this way and Spring break was no different.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Benito’s folks spent a few weeks with us and so we decided to escape to the mountains for a heavy dose of holiday memories. After living here for a year now, we now know just how quickly the weather can change and how it’s possible to experience all four seasons in one day so we packed a second suitcase with our jackets, beanies, scarves and boots, just in case, however nothing could have prepared us for the winter wonderland we woke up to on our first morning in Grindelwald.

We rented this charming little wooden chalet from AirBnB which was perfectly positioned in amongst the farmlands, making us feel very at home with its quirky farm life.

It was also perfectly positioned for easy day trips to the Blausee,

Jungfraujoch

and everything in-between.

From Grindelwald we moved on to Chalet Jewel in Fieschertal (Canton Valais) where we spent some time exploring the little skiing town, Zermatt.

Jules desperately wanted to create a photo matching the picture on the Toblerone box to the tip of the Matterhorn but unfortunately the mountain was covered by a pesky cloud that would just not budge.

So we improvised a little

and left with the promise of our return.

One year in Switzerland

Guys, it’s been one year in Switzerland!

One year ago

A little over one year ago, we changed our lives completely. We quit our jobs, sold almost all of our possessions, bought one-way tickets to Switzerland, bid farewell to our loved ones and started our new lives.

Our reason for leaving

There are many versions to this story. A dream. A simpler lifestyle. A better future for our daughter. A safer environment. An opportunity to learn more, to become more and to grow more as a family. Someone (we won’t mention any names) might even tell you that he dreamed of sending his daughter overseas to study later on in life but his wife threatened to leave him and go too and so he decided that he had no choice other than to ship the whole family abroad.

The Swiss awakening

I still remember walking off the plane and suddenly being hit by an incredible sense of self-doubt. What the f*** were we doing. Other than having an apartment to stay in for the first three months, we had nothing. No jobs. No home. No family. No friends.

We agreed to take some time off from the working world to get settled. We needed to get Jules enrolled in school, we needed to find a place to stay, we needed to furnish our apartment and there was a ton of paperwork that needed to be completed but as the weeks rolled by our anxieties grew and whilst I quietly cried myself to sleep at night, Benito sat in the lounge by himself facing his own demons. Each of us trying hard to protect the other from our overwhelming fears. In the mornings, we would go for long walks together and on one of our morning walks we eventually opened up about our evening rituals of torturing ourselves with all the “what ifs”. Benito placed his arm around my shoulders, pulled me in to the biggest bear hug and said, “I know it’s difficult now, but one day we’re going to look back on this all and laugh.”

The very next day, Benito got a call inviting him to attend an interview for a leadership role in a print company. We decided to go shopping for a new suit for the interview to give him the absolute best chance of making a good first impression however due to the fact that we were still converting our precious Rands to Swiss Francs R15 = CHF1), we decided to go to a factory outlet which was selling top brands at a fraction of the price. We carefully picked out his outfit, got his hair cut and off he went for his interview a few days later. Hours went by without any word from him and eventually he called to say that he had gotten the job! “Oh, and by the way, I know why those pants were on sale” he said. “I’m sitting on the train and just realised that the inner leg seam is completely split open.” He was right, we were going to laugh!

Becoming bilingual

One of the hardest things about moving to another country, especially one where you don’t speak the language, is the loss of identity. So much so, that the way I see myself now compared to how I remember myself is sometimes such a strain on my brain, that I just forget who I was and collapse into being a middle-aged mom without a life.  

I initially tried watching a lot of TV because everyone said I needed to watch German TV in order to learn the language. This however will only work if you actually enjoy the German TV because otherwise your mind will quickly wander and you’ll find yourself wasting hours in front of the TV, day-dreaming about nothing in particular. I then switched over to British TV and whilst [slightly] more entertaining than the German TV, I still don’t understand a ‘bloody’ word that is being said even though the Brits are speaking English!

Language is a funny thing … 90% of the people around me speak English to me, which is very difficult when you’re trying to learn another language. However, even when we are all speaking English to one another, there is still a lot of information which gets jumbled up or lost altogether because people aren’t always familiar with the nuances of the language. Benito will often ask me what someone has said and I my reply is usually “I’m not 100% sure, but I think she said …”, even though the person was speaking English to me.

Julia commented the other day that I always smile when people talk to me and I laugh when I don’t understand what’s being said. I hadn’t realised it until she pointed it out to me but I think this has become my coping mechanism. People don’t mind repeating something, trying to explain themselves or switching to your language altogether if you’re friendly to them. Just. Be. Friendly. (And smile, always smile)

I’ve been attending puppy socialising and obedience training classes with Quila which were initially given in German but are now being given in Swiss German. One of the ladies that I attend with has been kind enough to translate the Swiss German lessons into English for me and has been taking her role as my translator very seriously. Last week though, there were only two of us at the lesson, myself and ‘my translator’, and because we both spoke English, the instructor decided to give the lesson in English. This did not deter my translator one bit, she listened carefully and summarised the entire English lesson for me in English. (Smile and wave people, just smile and wave!)

Home

I know that I joke and make light of situations and then write blog posts a year later telling people that I actually cried myself to sleep but the truth of the matter is that we are happy! We absolutely love living here and whilst our hearts will always be in South Africa our home is now here nestled between the woodlands and the farmlands.

One year in photos


Winter in Switzerland


I have now experienced all four seasons in Switzerland, each so very different and beautiful in their own way but Winter, Winter is by far my favourite!

The Winters here can get long though and we need to take all the necessary precautions to maintain our Serotonin levels. Morning vitamin D Drops with breakfast – check. Eat lots of veggies – check. Follow the sun on weekends – check. Create a killer play list to sing along to loudly – check. Have a healthy stash of chocolate readily available – double check.

But then, last week, I stumbled upon an even better solution to the “Winter Blues” (okay, it wasn’t so much of a stumble as it was a 3 hour drive) and her name is Quila.

Quila is my “foster child” and has been entrusted to me by the Stiftung Schweizerische Schule f√ľr Blindenf√ľhrhunde (The Swiss Foundation for guide dogs for the blind). One day, in the not so distant future, she will become somebody’s eyes but for now she is mine and my job is to love her and to help her develop into the brave, dependent and strong-willed dog that she needs to become. Also, all of Quila’s commands are in Italian, which has to be the happiest language ever! My heart smiles every time I praise her with a loud “Brava!”

Speaking of languages, something magical is starting to happen in our household. Whilst Julia fully understands everything that is being said to her in German, she has been slow to start speaking however lately when she speaks to someone in English, German words are bubbling to the surface before the English words have a chance to come out which means that she’s starting to think in German!

This is a big step in the right direction as being the perfectionist that she is, she only speaks in German when she has to (e.g. to her school teacher) or when she feels comfortable enough with a person to make a mistake and not feel judged. Now that the words are automatically coming out, soon it won’t be a choice.

Life is starting to change for all of us as we’re all finding our own place in this new world of ours. Benito has joined the local fire department as a volunteer fireman. Our village is really small and our fire department consists of only volunteers however the facilities, training and camaraderie are fantastic! And if you know Benito, you know that he is in his element!

Julz is heading into the final stages of her primary school year and will soon be heading off to High School. As I’ve mentioned before, the Swiss schooling system is completely different from back home and offers a wide variety of options to students based on their different learning abilities and academic capabilities. After being in the school for a little over 4 months, Julz has managed to achieve the goals she set for herself and surpassed all of our expectations and will be going through to Sec. A.

She’s growing up fast and our time with her is fleeting. There are a million messages I want her to walk away with but mostly, I hope she always knows that her mom and dad chose her dreams. That we chose to live our life a different way even when we were told we were crazy. It may not always be easy, but it’s definitely worth it!

—ooOoo—

Sharing our Winter in Switzerland so far …

Yes, Winter in Switzerland is my favourite. Add to that, a wet nose and wagging tail and it’s damn near perfection!

A big fat Swissmas post

Warning: You may or may not encounter unicorns flying around this post because Christmas in Switzerland is absolute magic!¬†¬†(As¬†well¬†as¬†a¬†little¬†odd¬†especially¬†if you grew up believing in a¬†big¬†fat¬†jolly¬†guy¬†who¬†flies¬†around¬†the¬†world¬†in¬†one¬†night,¬†on¬†a¬†sleigh¬†pulled¬†by¬†reindeer, who crawls down your chimney on Christmas Eve and leaves presents under the Christmas tree¬†–¬†because¬†that’s¬†not¬†odd¬†at¬†all, right?!)

The festive season started for us on the 22nd November with the lighting of “Lucy”, the affectionate term given to the Christmas lights on Bahnhofstrasse in Z√ľrich. On this day, at precisely 18:00, 12 000 crystals containing luminescent white, red and blue LED lights were switched on, signalling the beginning of the Weihnachtssaison and transforming Bahnhofstrasse into a romantic, twinkling wonderland.

We love “Lucy” and we visit her often but I secretly can’t wait until Christmas is over and the crowds have dispersed so that I can slip out into the streets and have her all to myself.

We’ve also visited many of the Weihnachtsmarkts in Z√ľrich, exploring individual stands, ticking items off our Christmas lists, stopping to warm ourselves by the open fires and fill our tummies with gluhwein and hot chimney cakes.

It was at one of these markets where I discovered, much to my horror, that the big, fat, jolly Santa Claus that I grew up believing in was not the same as the Swiss’ Samichlaus. In fact, he’s based on a 4th century bishop who died on the 6th December and became St. Nicholas. The day of his death then became known as St. Nicholas Day. He’s a much skinnier version of our Santa, travels on a donkey and leaves nuts, gingerbread and mandarin oranges in children’s boots on this day.

But wait, … where our Santa would deliver presents to the good children and a sack of coal to the naughty children, the Swiss’ Samichlaus has a sidekick named Schmutzli who, back in the day, would come out of the woods carrying a stick and an empty sack which he would use to kidnap naughty children and carry them off into the forest for a good whipping. This actually now makes a lot of sense to me … no wonder the Swiss are so well behaved!

As much as I’ve loved all of the Christmas festivities and exploring the many Swiss traditions, I’ve been very aware that our first Christmas away from home could come with a little heartache and that we needed to find a way to make it extra special this year and to start what will become our new family traditions.

So when a friend offered to take us Christmas tree [s]chopping, we jumped at the opportunity. Little did I know that on the outskirts of our forest lies a gorgeous little Christmas tree farm where you can hand pick your Christmas tree and have it cut, trimmed and wrapped up whilst sipping warm punch and eating hot soup and sausages (Do you notice a theme here? I don’t know how the Swiss stay so skinny).


Once that tree is cut though … remember those unicorns? That’s when the real magic starts!

Frohe Weihnachten, Merry Christmas!

Zwölf

It’s one of the words I can’t pronounce properly in German which is fitting because it’s also one of the things I can’t comprehend in life. ¬†My baby turned twelve today. ¬†Twelve. ¬†What is the deal with this kid growing up? ¬†I mean, I’m glad she is an all, but could we slow it down a bit!

She is the perfect blend of a million different things. ¬†Independent enough not to care about the things that don’t really matter. ¬†Funny enough to laugh at her own sense of humour. ¬†Beautiful enough to show confidence but insecure enough to be shy. ¬†Loving enough to know she recognises all that we do and strong-willed enough to make us always try to harder to win her affections.

I like her a lot.  I love her even more!