Kicking off Summer!

We kicked off summer with the last day of school and our little town’s “Fête des enfants”. If you recall last year, it was a nice evening with a parade after school, and then the kids get a few free hours to go crazy in a fairground set up for kids only. It’s a nice way to end the year and the kids were really looking forward to it.

This year was… less fun. The day was pretty rainy and we kept expecting the event to be cancelled, but the sun came out by the end of the day and we never got “the call”. So we headed downtown and joined up with the mayhem that is a street full of a few hundred kids, some out-of-tune fife players, and all the teachers and parents in the area. Then it started to rain. I mean, really, really, rain.

The parade came along, and sure enough, all the cardboard outfits were disintegrating and the kids (and fifers) were soaked to the core. But we snapped our obligatory photos and let them head over to the fairground while we went to a friend’s house for some celebratory wine.

After about 30 minutes, I got a phone call from a teacher to come meet up with my child who wanted to go home – but it was a wrong number, in fact, I don’t know what happened to that kid – but it made me think our kids were also not going to last a few hours as planned. We went to pick them up and discovered a fairground full of wet children, shivering like frightened kittens, all ready to come home. There was even some crying (mostly theirs). So, instead we made them come back with us to our friend’s house for a BBQ and an evening of parental celebration before walking home late at night… in the rain, again. At least they were already wet, so it’s ok, right? Hooray for summer vacation!

By the weekend, it was time to celebrate our great nation’s 150th birthday! The local Canadian expat group was hosting a Canada Day dinner in Geneva, so we spent the evening eating and drinking some hometown favourites: Moosehead beer, Okanagan wine, President’s Choice cookies, Pop-Tarts (are those Canadian??), Timbits (flown in from Montreal that morning, nothing like kind of stale Timbits for a taste of home!), and a good old fashioned barbecue dinner.

We sang bilingual O Canada with a singer who couldn’t get the sound system to work, but the 75 of us or so made up for that lack. We met people from NB, ON, AB, SK, QC, BC and several “honourary” Canucks who were just visiting – but that’s ok, Canada Day is all-inclusive. We missed the Ottawa fireworks, but went home happy nonetheless. Here’s to the start of a great summer!

 

Tender flower piano

Another year of piano lessons – another end of year recital. Remembering the trouble we had last year, we were determined not to get lost, arrive late, or get completely soaked by rain.

So we drove there, carefully following the google map instructions. Which took us… to a weird rich people’s health clinic in a forest. Great. The place must be nearby, so we parked and started circling the area on foot, looking for the “farmhouse” that had been booked out for the event. We managed to find a farm with no one at it. That wasn’t it.

So we started trudging down a dirt road in hopes it would end at some kind of piano recital place. Luckily the teacher drove past us and explained it was further down the road, and we should just “go until we see the balloons and some goats”.

I ran back to get the car, and we drove on. Sure enough, we saw the balloons, followed them into a farm, where there were indeed some goats. It was a concert miracle, we had arrived with plenty of time and without getting wet! The piano was housed on the second floor above an old barn, looking out over the fields and gardens. It was perfectly charming. Other than the flies filling the sweltering room, and the goat bells ringing outside throughout the concert.

But our little pianist did a lovely version of “Tender Flower”, and the whole event lasted only about an hour, which is a godsend as any of you attending kids’ concerts should know. Looking forward to next year…

Wedding once upon a time

Weddings are such a funny thing. You spend months or years preparing, dropping wads of cash to make every detail perfect, thinking ahead and dreaming about every moment, and then suddenly you get one blip of a day and it’s all over.

Luckily for us, twelve years ago today, we were two poor and practical kids who didn’t know what we were doing. The days of Pinterest and hipster wedding sites were far in the future. And we were the first of our cohort to get married, so we had no one to compare ourselves to and no real expectations of how the day should go. I remember buying a wedding planner book – yes, seriously, a real book – just to make sure we covered all the important bases, you know, like pants and cake. But it was all rather low stress planning and we did it for very little cost.

Although it was the early days of internet shopping, we managed to find a great local venue (a rustic farm that has since become a posh and pricey wedding location) and an officiant who would do the kind of non-denominational ceremony we wanted. Other things like the flowers and cake we got through word of mouth connections, and friends and family pulled through with some great favors on photography, music, decorations, homemade wine, and general helpfulness.

I think we did everything right, for us at least. It was charming, simple, small, casual. We decided on a luncheon partly to save money but also because it’s more our style – we’re not dancers and certainly didn’t need a DJ party, so going back to the family house for evening drinks and socializing suited us just fine. The ceremony was short and sweet, accompanied by traditional fiddle music and some lovely readings by our wedding party. We made handfasting vows, and if I could remember them I’d share them.

Despite all the planning, some things still went awry: it was grey and rainy,  so our outdoor ceremony on the picturesque garden steps was moved into a barn with a drywall backdrop instead; our romantic horse & buggy ride (which we paid extra for) was so cold that we asked them to turn around after only 5 minutes; we somehow didn’t think about arranging a ride home from the venue for the two of us since we arrived separately, but managed to squeeze into a car with friends; and sometimes I wish we had made a video of the ceremony, since after a dozen years the whole thing is kind of just a foggy blur. But in truth, when would we watch it? We’re living our life together every moment, and one single day is hardly the biggest part of it. I’m thankful that we didn’t go into debt for some lavish wedding that we would still be forgetting this far into the future.

It was the perfect way to kick off the past 12 years and the many more to come. Here’s to love!

 

 

Fête de Pâques: Flowers, Flowers, Flowers, Ewok

Easter was a quiet time this year, but still full of fun. First of all, I traded in BigB for my parents, who have come to visit while he is back in Canada. They’re here for two weeks while the kids are off school for the holidays.

The weather has been perfect – sunny and beautiful, and all the flowers are in bloom. We’ve enjoyed some lovely walks through Nyon and Geneva, checking out the old town, playing chess in the park, and looking at all the holiday displays.


For Easter, the Bunny brought us a nice selection of gummies hidden around the house, plus a bunch of Star Wars toys – including a hilarious Millennium Falcon ship-car hybrid and an Ewok that makes Ewok sounds when you squeeze it. He was kind of enough to bring me some Cognac-filled chocolate eggs, obviously knowing what I needed to get through the holiday.

Later, we went to Morges for a local tulip festival. Being from Ottawa, which is renown for its own tulip festival, I wasn’t sure what to expect – but, sorry Ottawa, the Morges festival was quite good! It might be a bit smaller, but there were so many many varieties of flowers, including some heritage ones. I spent most of my time taking photos of the odd flowers out – the one weird red one growing in a field of yellow, for example. And then we had to find flowers from each of our birthday years.

Enjoy the gratuitous flower gallery and happy (belated) Easter!

Eight already!

I still remember when J was just a little baby. And today she is eight!

We had a fun party last weekend at a climbing gym in the neighbourhood. It was quite early on Sunday morning, which turned out to be a mistake for BigB who partied a bit too hard at a another friend’s 30th party the night before – remember, friends, shots are a young man’s game.

But we made it on time and enjoyed the casual place all to ourselves for the morning. Nine kids and two instructors, and they had the run of the place – playing games, racing to the tops of the walls, obstacle courses, and just general silliness. Of course we also had snacks and cake. I stayed up late the night before baking cupcakes and a cake, managing to whip some heavy cream straight into butter – luckily I was able to turn that butter into buttercream icing. No regrets!

Today, on her actual birthday, we got free tickets to a kids’ expo at the convention center in Geneva. There were tons of fun stands, including great sports and science booths. We played laser tag and bubble football, rode drift trikes and electric scooters, flew drones, made our own balloon animals and panned for gold. And we capped off the evening with a skype-cake and presents with the grandparents. A week of birthday was almost too long, but well worth it. Happy eighth, little sugarplum!

Christmas 2016 (a.k.a. Christ-sick-mas)

Oh man, this past Christmas was such a bust for us. It just seemed like everything conspired to keep us at home, miserable, sick, and tired.

The season was so bad for colds & flu. It started with J getting a bad fever at the beginning of December, developing a lingering red rash all over. It was bad enough that we took her to the hospital and they IMMEDIATELY panicked and asked if she was up to date on her vaccinations – she is – because they were worried about measles. Luckily it was not (vaccinate your kids, people). It seemed to be a bad heat rash or maybe a roseola virus, neither of which needed medicine. So we just waited out. It went away in another few days, but not before I came home from a work trip with a little cough/cold, which I promptly spread around next.

BigB caught it the worst, and by the time Christmas itself rolled around, his cough was so bad that we had to take him to the hospital next. (FYI if you would like to send us a belated Christmas gift, some kind of hospital gift cards or hard cash to pay off our medical bills would be welcome!) He got redirected to a clinic because emergency was packed – he managed to see someone at a local clinic and they diagnosed him with “the worst virus they’d seen all year”, prescribed him some cough syrup and a steroid inhaler and sent him home.

He spent the next few days sleeping all the time and seemingly getting worse by the day. He was so lethargic, I honestly thought he was on his way into a bronchitis-induced coma. As I was preparing for the worst, we had the brilliant idea of googling the medicine he was on. We should have done that first… As it turned out, the “cough syrup” was not what we thought, it had no active medication for coughing but was instead an extremely strong sedative that is only available in this region of Europe, being banned in the rest of the world. It was mild relief to find out he was not experiencing a systemic failure but only drugging himself into a stupor.

He stopped that medicine and perked up after a few days – just in time to go through with our New Year’s plans to visit Paris & Amsterdam with some friends. Except he had a terrible relapse while were on the road and spent the whole vacation lying on the couch of our b&b. So the kids and I had a nice time in the Netherlands… that post coming soon.

Meanwhile, we did make the best of the Christmas season as much as possible, and we felt the love from our family & friends shining all the way through our quarantined misery.

Here we are in happier times, getting ready for the holidays:

Christmas is also when we celebrate LittleB’s birthday, so we managed our best to have a nice family birthday party for him. He basically got 100 lbs of lego and we had an epic lego city set up in the living room and, well, everywhere.

Christmas day rolled around and we had a quiet morning, followed by an excellent dinner with our good friends. B barely made it through the evening, but he put on a brave face.

Hopefully next year will be a bit more exciting! Merry (belated) Christmas!

Swiss fall

Before we knew it, it was autumn. Glorious summer was over, and the shorter, cooler days began. But we still made the most of it! We spent weekends enjoying the area, with all-season farmers’ markets and sunny afternoons.

The skating rink opened in town – a cute little covered arena that is free to the public (plus the cost of skate rental, if needed). We took the kids several times. And I enjoyed the attached “buvette” – pop-up refreshment stand that serves hot chocolate and vin chaud (mulled wine). Basically vin chaud is my favourite drink of all time. I spent most of the season looking for opportunities to visit markets and events to “sample” the various vins chauds, you know, for science.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, it was Halloween! But it’s not such a big deal here, so we kept it small. We spent an evening with our friends, which mostly turned into a vodka sampling party. You know, for science.

On Halloween proper, we did some trick-or-treating in a nearby expat neighbourhood with some other friends, and that was insanity. There were a limited number of houses actually giving out candy, and more than 100 kids running wild down the streets trying to figure out who was offering candy and who wasn’t. It was like Lord of the Flies: Candy edition. At one point, we saw a group of kids (not ours) just open up someone’s door and walk into their house… they didn’t have any candy. We wrapped up early and headed home to enjoy the spoils.

Another weekend, we made the trip into Geneva to watch a lightshow on the University buildings. It was a narrated digital projection of – basically – the journey of evolution, told from the perspective of amino acids. Sounds really fun, huh? Actually, it was very well done, with a lot of amazing images, and even audience members who couldn’t follow the French narrator enjoyed the show…

…With one caveat: from the start, there was a single, random lady at the front of the building who was dancing a sort of modern ballet routine in time with the show. She was so tiny compared to the scale of the building and the projections, it was hard to even see her. We weren’t even sure she was actually part of the event – was she just an audience member who was feeling really inspired by the role of amino acids in the formation of life?? Eventually one other tiny dancer appeared and they spent the whole show doing their interpretation of the narrative. The jury is still out about their legitimate involvement.

Other times we played football with friends, went to a hockey game, and hiked around the area. One weekend, there was a festival in Geneva – l’Escalade – which is a celebration around mid-December each year, commemorating one night in 1602 when the Genevois defeated invaders from Savoy by dumping boiling soup on them while they tried to scale the city walls. Hence, l’Escalade, which means “the climb” in French.

Nowadays, it involves getting little vegetable soup-shaped chocolates, which you smash with your fist and yell “Thus perish the enemies of the republic!” and then eat the pieces. We did that. Also, you go into the old town, eat vegetable soup on the street and watch super old army reservists shoot super old muskets in a demonstration of the Genevois prowess. Anyway, we got to see an old canon go off, so that was neat. But the mulled wine wasn’t very good – I know these things because I am a sampling expert now.

Swiss summertime

Switzerland takes its seasons seriously. Quite literally, on the day of the summer solstice – the first day of summer – suddenly the weather changed. Nearly overnight it went from damp and foggy to sunny and clear. And the season was glorious: every day was blue skies and golden sun, flowers blooming and green trees, warm evenings and incredible sunsets.

And making the most of this weather is no joke. Everyone goes to the beach for a dip and after-work drinks every evening, and the cities come alive with festivals and outdoor activities every weekend. We did our best to copy them.

We also made it out to several weekend festivals. Early in the summer, to celebrate the anniversary of the steamboat fleet on Lake Geneva, we went to a little town called Morges and watched the boats parade by with thousands of colored balloons to release at once. Don’t worry, the balloons were biodegradable. Too bad we didn’t get to actually see that part of the parade, because the kids were too hot in the sun and spent most of the time being fussy. It was a nice idea, though.

In August, it’s Swiss national day, so we went to celebrations in both Geneva and Nyon. We thought the event would be huge and exciting in Geneva, so we headed down to the city in the morning to see what was happening. Not much, as it turns out. There was just a little event in the park with some fife & drum bands, a kids’ climbing wall, and displays of Swiss wrestling. Schwingen, which involves wearing giant shorts and trying to literally lift the other person by their shorts and throw them to the ground. Worth it.

Later that night we headed to Nyon to watch the fireworks over the lake. They were timed so that all the lake cities set off their fireworks in order, so we could see them in the distance along the lake over about half an hour. It was neat! But it was no Canada Day celebrations… Anyway, thanks for the nice summer, Switzerland!

Epic Piano Recital

J has been taking piano lessons this year, and today was the end of year concert. We’ve been looking forward to it for quite a while – the teacher really talked it up: a ‘musical moment’ afternoon in a lovely heritage building, followed by tea and scones in the garden overlooking Lake Geneva.

She has been practicing this little song for weeks… many looong weeks. It’s a jumpy little tune called ‘The Porcupine Dance’, which sounds really cute but is actually an unholy atonal Picasso-as-music kind of sound. Anyway apparently it was part of a theme of animal songs so we were stuck with it. The afternoon rolled around and it was time to go. It was warm and sunny and we thought it would be a good idea to walk to the venue because it was pretty close to us, and there’s really not a lot of parking downtown where we were going. This is where it all went terribly wrong.

Let me give you the step by step list of how not to do a piano recital:

1. Don’t ask your son to put on his shoes with only a few minutes before you need to leave. He needs at least 10 full minutes to agonizingly put on his socks and unsuccessfully tie his shoes. And he will then make you all late by walking 100 meters behind you the whole way there no matter how slow you walk.

2. Don’t take your daughter walking when she is suffering from a mystery “stomach pain that hurts really bad”. She will spend the whole 2 km crying and whining.

3. Don’t let your daughter fall and scrape her knee “really bad” just after she’s finally stopped crying about the mystery pain. She will shriek for the next 15 minutes and blood will pour down her knee because you don’t have any bandages and she won’t let you use random vegetation from the side of the road to stop the bleeding.

4. Don’t get lost trying to find the venue. It is not the several private residences you tried first before finding the real place by chance with minutes to spare.

5. Don’t bring only one tiny purse umbrella for four family members. It will inexplicably POUR, and your son will be soaked and smell unbearably like wet dog through the whole event, luckily you sat beside the window.

But, we made it. Barely. J played beautifully, we scarfed some scones, and got out of there as fast as humanly possible.

Looking forward to next year’s concert already!

And the finale – here is her atonal masterpiece: ‘The Porcupine Dance’

Dungeons & towers: Chateau de Chillon

Spring finally arrived in April, and my parents came to stay over the Easter holidays. The plan was to take a road trip through Italy, but before that, we had time for some sightseeing around home.

And who doesn’t love a trip to a castle?

At the top of Lac Leman, in Montreux, there’s a real honest-to-goodness chateau – Chillon castle. I had heard it was a fun family trip, with a bit of something for everyone: secret passageways, history and art, princess towers, dungeons… So we were excited! Ok, I was excited. We packed the kids into the car and drove up the coast.

All the other times we had been in the area, it was covered in fog. Honestly, I questioned whether there was actually anything to see. But this time, it was clear day and the views were incredible! You really can see all across the water to huge alpine slopes and glacier-capped peaks, and the lake was a vivid blue in the sun. Finally, Switzerland!

The castle is adorable, too, rising up from the edge of the water with spires and arches just like a fairy tale. We walked along the water, enjoying the view.

Inside, the castle is exactly how you imagine: lofty ceilings, stately rooms, twisty passageways, hidden courtyards, tower peaks. And cold. So very cold. No wonder the fireplaces were as big as my living room.

The main rooms had window bays looking out over the water, the perfect place to sit and pretend to be a princess or a page, daydreaming away the afternoon of stuffy lessons. And a rickety ladder took us up to the highest tower, which of course J freaked out on halfway up and I had to coax her back down, backwards, through the streams of people coming up. LittleB and Grandpa said it was cool at the top, but I’ve convinced myself it wasn’t worth it, right, right?

As for the kids, I think their highlights were, obviously, the dungeon and the latrines. There was a fancy outhouse for the royals, way at the top of the castle, so their leavings could fall farther than the commoners, I guess. And I can check off my bucket list another amazing phrase spoken in earnest: LittleB, don’t drop your camera down the king’s poop hole. Also, the room was filled with poop jokes. Ok, maybe that was my highlight too.

The dungeon was dark and damp and creepy and (nowadays) filled with wine. So basically it was the best place ever! Actually, it turned out there was a famous story I didn’t know about before: “Chillon’s most famous prisoner was François de Bonivard, a Genevois monk, who was imprisoned there in 1530 for defending his homeland from the dukes of Savoy. Over his six-year term, de Bonivard paced as far as his chain would allow, and the chain and rut are still visible. Lord Byron wrote the poem The Prisoner Of Chillon (1816) about him.” We totally saw that spot.

Too soon, we had cranky hungry kids and it was time to go. But of course, not before we stopped in the gift shop to tell the kids they couldn’t buy all the kitschy magnets, books about medieval recipes (in French), or 15th century antique armor. Note to self: Gotta stop going into gift shops.

We stopped to take some lovely family photos along the water, which ended as you can imagine, with some more whining and blurry final images. And then we got back to the car before LittleB realized he lost his camera somewhere (probably in the king’s poop hole, seriously), so he and I had to go all the way back to look around. No luck. So I carted a devastated, crying kid back to the car, only to get there and see that he had put it in the trunk already and just somehow forgotten within 2 seconds of doing it. Sigh.

Blurry family
Blurry family

Anyway, the castle was fun, you should go!

Springtime visitors

At the beginning of this year, B was doing a lot of travelling. The best thing about it was I had plenty of visitors coming to stay while he was away. It might not have been the most amazing vacations for my visitors, but it was great for me! I got to work as usual while someone else was doing chores and kid care and I had the added bonus of enjoying their company. Well, I guess that’s how it is with B at home anyway, but, you know, that gets boring after a while.

First, Grandma came to stay in February. The city was just barely starting to wake up – the winter fog was still hanging around, and it was hard to convince her that there were actually mountains across the lake. Luckily the sun came out for a short moment and we managed to catch a few photos on the water’s edge. We took a day trip into Geneva as well, but we mostly just saw swans and ate some chocolate… Actually, that sounds pretty good!

We also took the kids up to a skate park, where LittleB mostly looked at the jumps and J slid on them like slides – no extreme scooter athletes in the making, clearly. And J, turning into a bit of a pianist, got an early birthday piano. I had to drive into Geneva to pick it up, to an apartment right near the UN, and I managed to get a quick picture of the building from the car. There are so many tourists that there are permanent police stationed at the intersection out front, directing traffic so the bus loads of clueless visitors don’t get hit – luckily they didn’t see me taking this photo while driving!

A few weeks later my sister came to stay. It was meant to be a repeat of sister trip 2015, but when B had to travel again suddenly, she was gracious about being my housewife for a few days instead of seeing the country. She also got the wonderful fog and rainy days, but we tried to make the most of it: with a trip up to Saint Cergue and a tour around the Prangins museum, she managed to see more than Grandma L. And we capped off the week with a fun night of make your own sushi.

So the short version is, come and stay with us to watch our kids and see lots of fog! It’ll be great, we promise!

Cows & hills & wine

So far there are lots of great things about living in Switzerland:

  • Easy commuting – it takes me 10 minutes by car or a short walk to the train for a door-to-door trip of about 40 minutes.
  • Great access to high-quality food and drink – local markets abound for getting fresh produce and meats, and we live in the middle of hundreds of vineyards spread throughout the valley, so the wine is abundant and delicious and local (at a work function, a colleague selected a certain wine off the menu because the winemaker was also his mailman).
  • Beautiful outdoors – although we haven’t jumped into the dedicated outdoor life of most Swiss people, we’re slowly getting used to the idea that we can go outside and enjoy the experience instead of dreading the heat, crowds and stares.

But all this means that my days are disappearing faster than ever, with lots of things to do and wine that isn’t drinking itself. I’m not spending hours in the car or hiding indoors anymore: and that was the time I used to spend writing blogs! Sorry.

To show my apology, I present to you a goodie story that I’ve been saving for a while – the day we went to the Swiss cow parade.

There are a lot of cows in Switzerland. And the Swiss love them. They feed them well, give them lots of room to pasture, and care about their happiness. Even the meat in the supermarket boasts that it comes from “happy animals”. Part of this high level of care (and a very long history of farming) is the use of pastureland in the mountains. But that’s only in the summer, of course – so each autumn, there is a pilgrimage of farmers and their cattle coming down to the warmer, safer fields along the lake.

This cow parade has turned into a big festival, where families dress up their favorite cows in flower headdresses and elaborate bells and tour them around the mountain villages in the hopes of being voted the ‘prettiest cow’.

The rest of us watch the cows go by, try not to step in cow poop (unsuccessfully), and drink wine (very successfully). We also enjoyed stocking up on local goods like sausages, honey, malakoffs and baguettes, and we were serenaded by a chorus of alpine horns.

My favorite part was the guy playing an instrument I’ve never seen before, which I can only assume is called “coin in a bowl” because it is – literally – a coin in a bowl. He would hold this giant ceramic bowl in one hand, spin a coin into its mouth and gyrate the bowl in circles, echoing the sound of a spinning coin along to the rest of the musicians. I’m not sure it enhanced the music in any way, but it was entertaining. And he took his job very seriously.

After the cows continued down the mountain, the magic was over, so we left too. But soon it will be time for the cows to parade back up the hill – and I can only assume the spring parade party will be just as exciting.

To cap off the day, we went into the center of town where there was a wine harvesting party taking place at the castle. There are a small number of communal grapevines, and everyone was allowed to clip off some grapes and add them to the truckful.

Up at the castle courtyard, they were crushing them into fresh grape juice, which was delicious! We didn’t have time to get into the whole experience, but if we had planned it better, we could have bought a tasting glass and sampled all the local wines. Next year!

Christmas Catchup

I can’t believe it’s already the last day of 2015. It’s been a whirlwind year, and an even busier past few months filled with travel, work, settling in, new school and lots more stuff I can’t even remember.

But we were lucky to end the year with a visit from Grandma L, and we managed to fit in a few day trips around the area. Here are the highlights:

We spent a day in Gruyères, a small medieval village best known for the cheese of the same name. As it turns out, it is also home to the H.R. Giger museum – that was a weird discovery. I don’t usually expect to see hypersexualized alien torsos and spinal columns on display in front of a stone house from the 1400s. But the cheese was great, and the adorable local castle even better – straight out of a movie set. We capped off our trip with a visit to the Cailler chocolate factory, whose highlight was a 20-minute animatronic history of chocolate followed by all-you-can-eat chocolate tasting.

In the lead up to the holidays, we headed to the Christmas market in Montreux and took the funicular train up the mountain to meet Santa. Montreux is a beautiful area, with a view of the whole valley and across the lake. Well, apparently it is. It was completely foggy while we were there, so we only saw blank whiteness all around. BigB spent the whole train ride texting me “The Langoliers are coming… Langoliers…” The market itself was cute – personally, I was on a mulled wine tour of the various kiosks, which I’m pleased to say was quite successful. Then we had a weird potato and cheese stew called tartiflette for lunch that had very little flavour other than salt – so basically like all Swiss dishes.

Up the mountain, we arrived at Santa’s Grotto. First we had to walk down a poorly lit underground hallway for nearly 500m until we emerged into some kind of tiny WWII bunker that was decorated for Christmas. The kids didn’t really want to visit Santa, so that was a bust. But at least BigB got to sit on the big guy’s lap. Not sure what he wished for…Then we stopped partway down the mountain at another little Christmas village on the grounds of a castle, where the kids watched a play (in French). LittleB’s assessment: “It had its ups and downs. But I don’t really know what it was about.” J said it was about “magic” and “an accordion”. Sounds like exactly how I would imagine a French christmas play. The adults hung around outside and enjoyed the wood fire and watched the clouds start to clear away for a little sunset magic of our own.

And suddenly it was Christmas!

Best wishes to you all for a wonderful 2016!

Great Canadian Tour 2015: Ottawa fams & jams

Whenever we head home to Ottawa, our main vacation goal is to see all the family. And visiting in the summer means hot days and sticky nights, farm-fresh strawberries and corn, barbecues every weekend, backyard sprinklers and downtown festivals. Unfortunately, it also means a lot of family & friends are away on vacation. So we never get to see all the people we hope to see. This summer was no exception. I think we managed to see maybe 6 friends in total? Sorry, everyone else! But you can always *cough cough* come to Switzerland *cough cough*.

We still had a glorious few weeks enjoying the summery summertime in Ottawa. It’s the season when everything is bright and awake, with the sun suspended high in the sky for 18+ a day, and everyone spends their evenings on the patio with a drink in hand to soak up as much of the sunset as possible.

B and the kids arrived a few weeks before I did and got to enjoy the first strawberry picking of the year, visit some kid play zones and splash on the beach. It was a great chance for them to catch up with Grandma L, who left shortly after to spend the summer on the east coast.

Once I arrived, we tried to fill our time with some more ‘touristy’ activities, since we were on our own most days while our parents or friends were working or otherwise busy. B and I managed to catch a show at the Ottawa Bluesfest – Dropkick Murphys and The Tragically Hip. It was great music… but we were totally, absolutely 100% rained out. I have never been so cold and soaked in my life. I think my body actually forced a reset at one point during the concert, because I fell asleep standing up for like 2 songs and didn’t realize it. But it was worth it!

B also took the opportunity to enjoy a football game at the new Ottawa stadium. He took about 400 pictures and short video clips, which I narrowed down to just two. You’re welcome.

One of my favorite things about Ottawa in the summer are the downtown festivals. One weekend, it was RibFest, which is exactly what it sounds: a bunch of rib stands selling copious amounts of ribs. We had a great time stuffing ourselves, and the kids discovered their love of grilled meat…

But visiting is always bittersweet. All we’re left with are a few photos with the family, trying to keep our memories fresh while we wait for the next time we can see each other. But still, it is always worth it!

 

10 years and counting…

B + S = love, 14 May 2005. Happy anniversary!

Winter magic in the rockies

Well, New Year’s was quite some time ago – but it’s never the wrong time of year to share the glory that is winter in the Rocky mountains.

We spent three lovely nights in a Canmore condo with our friends, enjoying some incredible snowshoeing in the Sunshine Valley, watching a snowstorm blow across Lake Louise, spending frosty evenings in the outdoor hot tub, sharing wine and games into the night warmed by the cozy fireplace, and having delicious dinners of both homemade and restaurant variety to top it all off.

Our snowshoeing trip stole the show. It was a perfectly crisp, clear day, with the bright sun glinting off the fresh snow. The light and air were magical, the trees perfectly framed by clumps of pure white.

We journeyed along the Sunshine Valley floor for hours, taking photos and getting lost in the glory. And that night, we rang in the new year with good food and laughter. It was a perfect New Year’s Eve.

The next day, we drove up to Lake Louise so A could teach J how to ski, while B and I photographed everything in sight, went tubing, drank beer and hot chocolate, and drove around the Lake. So, basically the perfect New Year’s Day.

It was all over too soon! But we’ll always have these gorgeous memories. You’ll want to look at them babies in full screen:

And if those glorious views were not enough for you, here’s a message we recorded for the kids from the valley lookout:

Plus – bonus video of B and I tubing at Lake Louise, with a surprise ending (for me, at least!):

Happy (belated) New Year!

Wintertime in Calgary

In the middle of our winter holidays in Canada, B and I took a week out for ourselves to visit family and friends in the Calgary area. It was our first real non-kid vacation ever!

Our plan was to rent a car at the airport, spend a few days in the city to see the aunts, uncles and cousins that we hadn’t seen in several years, pick up our friends at the airport and hea