Dispatches from the top of Europe

We focused our summer holidays this year on tourist activities around home. Because why go so far afield when we have some great things to do within a few hours of us? So we made the most of a visit from my mom to tick some big ones off our bucket list. And this was a big one both figuratively and literally – Mont Blanc, the highest peak in western Europe!

Mont Blanc is home to the steepest vertical ascent in a gondola in the world, which takes you up to the “Aiguille du Midi”, a mountaintop viewing point at (nearly) the summit of the mountain. It starts in Chamonix, a little French tourist town at the base of the mountain, about an hour’s drive from our place.

When we arrived at the Chamonix kiosk, it was already packed. People of all kinds were milling around – some with full mountaineering gear. I was feeling a bit underdressed in jeans and a sweater, even though it was one of the hottest days of the year: we had escaped from temperatures nearing 40C back home.

We bought our lift tickets and were told to come back for boarding in 2 hours. The town didn’t hold much excitement on an early morning, but we managed to fill the time wandering around, checking touristy shops and grabbing a couple of crepes at a cafe patio that we shared with a bunch of wasps. Some North American tourist at the next table over said “I can’t wait to get home and eat inside for once” – because a couple of wasps outweigh a beautiful outdoor mountain vista patio? Dude.

Back at the line up, we waited another 20 minutes owing to delays. At last it was our turn, and we were driven through the doors and jammed like sardines into the gondola. We were the last ones on, with standing room only and nowhere to hold on – but we lifted off safely and flew up into the sky, watching our car get smaller and smaller in the parking lot below. Once or twice the gondola shuddered, throwing us around and eliciting “whoas” from the group. I’m not good with heights and might have peed a little.

The first leg of the trip took us over the tops of trees and grass, landing at a midway station at the base of the glacier field. We were already nearly 2000 m high and the air was fresh as we exited the lift to transfer onwards. We stopped at a viewing platform to look out across a sweeping wall of rockfall and dusty glaciers. And to take some selfies.

We boarded like sardines again onto the next lift, this time getting a coveted spot at the front of the chariot, where I was able to get a video of the ride (sorry about the reflection of my hot pink phone cover). This was the leg that took us nearly vertical, up another 2000 m into the clouds.

We arrived at the peak and stepped out onto a walkway in the sky, officially 3800 m up. And wow, could we tell. The air was thin and cold, gusts of wind whipping up from the glacier peaks and misting us with droplets of clouds. It was challenge to walk up the few flights of stairs to the viewing platform, suffering from a lack of oxygen and our legs feeling like lead. But we made it, looking out from the top of the world at the nearby frozen giants and into the etched valley below. A plane flew by, well below us.

So once we had our fill of taking panoramas and selfies, what else could we do but visit the cafeteria at the top of the mountain? So we spent the rest of our visit snacking on some overpriced sandwiches and drinks before heading back to the gondola for our scheduled ride home. It was another long wait in an overcrowded hallway, this time punctuated by mild dizziness, and I’m pretty sure it also gave one of the kids a chance to let off a bunch of farts, because some vapors were following us around and it wasn’t pleasant. But we eventually re-boarded and floated back down through the clouds, as our magical trip to the highest food we’ve ever bought was over.

Mont Blanc panorama

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…

Outer space adventure play

The kids have been working on a school play all year, a complicated production involving every class and countless practice runs. It is an elaborate storyline, where a boy from a colourless planet travels the stars to find other colours, collecting friends from all the coloured planets, eventually settling on the multicolour planet where they could all live happily ever after in a place where all colours live harmoniously.

One kid was cast as the “Red Frog” and the other as “Tea from the multicolour planet”. We had to send special dance shoes and black pants, and schedule appointments and holidays around dress rehearsal dates. They brought home music and sang the songs in the car, for months. And at last, this was the week of the big show! As it turned out, each of them was cast for a different night, meaning we had to attend the (same) show two nights in a row…

The best thing about school plays are the little kids who have no idea what they’re doing, looking around the room or dancing hilariously out of sync; equally great are the monotone kids who memorised their lines verbatim and deliver them like a robot. Our kids had about two lines each, but were proud to deliver them with gusto. We also loved the cheesy eighties rocket sounds embedded in all the midi music used for the songs.

Night 1: Red Frog makes his début.



Night 2, déjà vu: Tea makes her début.



I didn’t need to see it twice, but I suppose if the kids ever end up on Broadway, I’ll go more than once, so this school play purgatory was just practice for that. Right??

Netherlands Friends Reunion

We left Paris and rolled into the Netherlands by late afternoon. B slept most of the way, which would be a running theme for the rest of our trip. We had rented a shared farmhouse / cottage in Breukelen with two other families – and we were looking forward to seeing our friends from Belgium and Indonesia.

The place we rented was a little farm with some modern cottage apartments – more than enough for all of us to stay comfortably. And there was a large shared kitchen space that proved essential when hosting 6 adults and 6 kids for 3 days! More importantly, there was a barn full of cows and cow poop and tractors and the kids were in heaven. It was a great few days of nice meals, evening games, plenty of drinks, sightseeing and catching up. B spent the whole time sick in bed, basically on the edge of death from bronchitis. But the rest of us had fun!

On our first day, we took the train into Amsterdam for the afternoon. Wow, it really does smell like pot, and it was crazy overrun by tourists. We didn’t have time for too much, but we managed to squeeze in a canal boat tour. It was looking like it was going to be a pricey tour, something like 20 EUR per person (we were 7), but then in a Christmas miracle some random guy walked up and gave us free passes. Apparently he had won them in a contest but couldn’t use them. Free boat tour! I enjoyed seeing the city from the canals, though I would have liked to explore more of the winding streets and little shops on foot. We did manage a bit of walking around the city after that, but it was cold, and our troupe of kids got bored and whiny no matter how many waffles and treats we gave them, so we headed back home.

The next day we went into Utrecht, where we had prearranged a really nice city walking tour. The guide was a younger guy who went out of his way to make it a fun quiz game, stopping at different spots for fun and spooky stories about the old town, to keep the kids engaged. It was a beautiful little place and I would have, again, liked to see more of it!

The next day was time to go, and thankfully B was feeling a bit better. We decided to stop again in Utrecht for one more quick look around so he could say he saw something in the Netherlands other than a barn and cottage and bed. It was nice to take a bit more time, seeing some little shops and having a nice lunch before saying goodbye to our friends and hitting the road.

It was about a 10-hour drive home, so we spent the night at a hotel in Luxembourg. That was a nice break, just to relax somewhere with a pool and a nice breakfast. Too bad we left the next day and didn’t realise until halfway home that we had left behind our electronics bag that contained ALL of our device chargers and plugs. Argh. Luckily the hotel found them and kindly mailed them along, so we only had to go a week without.

Time to start planning next year’s trip!

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!

I left my heart in Strasbourg

We spent a fantastic long weekend in Strasbourg. What a charming little town! The cathedral is glorious, all the historical buildings are perfectly preserved, the food is delicious, and the city is so easy to navigate. I would go back in a heartbeat.

Being there in September, the weather was a bit chilly, and we had some rain. And then there was the time LittleB got run over by a bike. We were crossing the road and a cyclist went against the light and totally plowed him over. He was fine, just a bit beat up. She was roughed up as well, but I had a harder time feeling bad about it since she was the one in the wrong, even though she insisted he “appeared out of nowhere”. Anyway, no hard feelings, Strasbourg. We still love you.

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!


Summer girl

Sometimes you capture a perfect moment. We were on vacation in New York, horrifically jetlagged, in the midst of an excruciating heat wave, and pretty much about to give up on… well, everything. But this sweet smile in Central Park is one of the moments that has stayed longest and the kind of memory that makes the whole thing worthwhile.

School’s out: Fête des enfants

There’s a tradition here on the last day of school called la Fête des enfants.

The kids spend a few weeks making costumes with their class and then go on a parade around town after school, kind of like a little Halloween party graduation. But the best part is after the parade – a circus fair is set up downtown and the kids get to go on all the rides they want for a few hours, no adults allowed!

J’s class dressed up as jellyfish and LittleB’s as puppies. He was less excited about that. But the parade was adorable, and we were especially lucky because our kids were near the front of the queue – so we got to watch them and go drink at the bar while the rest of the parade was going on. It was a win-win!

Watch the video to the end for the whole show!

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’

A few of our favorite (Indonesian) things

Even though we’ve started settling into life here in Switzerland, Indonesia is still on my mind. I asked the family to list some of their most favourite and least favourite things about living there, and here they are, in no particular order:

My most favourite:

  • Random backyard fireworks. Sure, it was sometimes annoying to be woken up at 2 am by something that sounds a lot like a gunshot, but it was always made up for by the fact that we got to enjoy backyard fireworks. Fireworks make every day a holiday!
  • Cicaks. I loved those little guys, skittering around the house and purring squeakily from behind the furniture. It was like a whole houseful of our own lizard pets.
  • Thunderstorms. I never got tired of the big thunderstorms in Bogor. Even after our house got hit and all our electronics were fried, I still loved the blinding lightning and rumbling fury of the thunder rolling by.
  • “Belum”. I love this Indonesian word. It means “not yet”, as in “Have you eaten nasi goreng before?” The answer is not “no”, because there’s a chance that someday in the future you will eat it, so the answer is “not yet”. Beautiful logic.
  • Swimming, diving, nature, jungles, sunsets. What an amazing place to learn to dive and snorkel. For sure, I have been spoiled for swimming in the rest of the world. And living in a rainforest was amazing. The rare sunsets were always a wonderful treat on the drive home.
  • Movie theatres. Where else can you see a new release movie for under $5, in assigned seating, and for a few bucks more, sit in a theatre filled with lazyboy chairs??

LittleB’s most favourite:

  • Visiting cultural places, like Borobudur. I definitely agree, it was wonderful to see so much culture and history, and such a variety of art and style throughout the country. Let me expand this one to say Batik as well. What a beautiful art form – and I collected way too much of it!
  • Discount prices. Can’t deny him this one – things were very reasonably priced!
  • The people. Of course! I definitely agree wholeheartedly. More on this later.

J’s most favourite:

  • When our house is attached to another house
  • I love you
  • The colors of the Indonesian flag
  • When we are near malls so we can get to malls easier
  • Going to Canada at Christmas

I don’t think she really understood the question…

So what are we not going to miss?

  • Open, enormous gutters. Absolutely. Those things were smelly, filled with garbage and regularly on fire. I was always paranoid the kids were going to fall in and die. I even heard a story about a friend of a friend who fell in and later died from some kind of awful disease. And along with this goes the fact that there are really no sidewalks. Impossible to walk anywhere, and when you do, you risk falling into a gutter or getting hit by traffic.
  • Garbage. This goes without saying. Burning garbage, street garbage, litter everywhere. People picking through garbage. It’s horrible.
  • Water quality. The water was terrible. I’m sure we shaved several years off our lives from the heavy metals and toxins in the water. For a while I thought I was allergic to my shampoo because every time I had a shower, my face would turn red and feel burned, but after I switched shampoo multiple times, I realized it was just the water itself… I’m still having a hard time drinking from the tap and rinsing my mouth after brushing my teeth.
  • Flooding. What do you get when your gutters are full of garbage and there is a tropical downpour? Toxic flooding. Everywhere. All the time. Definitely not going to miss this one.
  • Traffic. See above. I will never, ever complain about normal rush hour traffic again. Three hours or more in a car every day was quite literally killing me.
  • Bugs. Actually, I rather liked the bugs. I mean, even scorpions in my office… it’s cool, right? I did hate the termite swarms, though. I always thought I might suck one in and choke to death on its lacy wings, gah.
  • Over-the-top kids’ birthday parties. Good lord, these were the stuff of nightmares. Take 50 hyper kids, plus their screaming siblings, plus their nannies, then stick them in a room filled with loud music, sugary food and balloons and someone dressed up like a cartoon character from 1974 and you have a seizure-inducing party room from hell.

What about some funny things?

    • Weird habits. For some reason the kids picked up the habit of sitting on the toilet with the toilet seat up. Like, bare bottom to porcelain rim. Weirdos. They also eat everything with their fingers, and we’re currently raging battles at every meal to get them to use cutlery. And they just Will. Not. Wear. Shirts. At home. Ever. Argh! Hopefully the coming Swiss winter will cure them of that habit.
    • Accents. The kids went through phases of speaking with different accents, depending on their teachers, friends, and school assistants. J’s gone through British, Australian and Kiwi, and we’re still trying to get her to say “th” properly (it sounds more like a “d” in her mini-Indonesian accent). LittleB has managed to sound fairly Canadian, but has perfect pronunciation for Australian cities and European football players, so really, I guess that’s a plus.
    • Everything-cycles. These guys who put EVERYTHING on their scooters. It was just flabbergasting. Toilets, tires, gas canisters… I never saw one in an accident, but I’m sure it happened all the time.
    • Engrish mistakes. You know what I’m talking about. It never stopped being funny.
    • DVDs. Every (slightly illegal) DVD we bought for 60 cents had the exact same rating and length: rated R and 109 minutes. It’s like they just used the same template or something! Particularly funny on the kids movies.

But of course, the thing we’re going to miss the most are all the people we met and amazing friendships we forged there. Indonesia is full of the most sincere, light-hearted and deeply caring people I have ever known. My face ached every day from all the smiling.

And we met so many friends from around the world… I can’t possibly even begin to list them all. Here is a small sampling of the many goodbyes we shared, and so many more that we didn’t photograph.

I’m sure there are a lot more things we could list here, and maybe someday I will. But for now, I’ll answer the question “Are you actually ready to say goodbye to Indonesia?” with “Belum”.


So we live in Switzerland now.

It still feels like a bit of an extended vacation, but the reality is slowing sinking in as we get more and more settled. Let’s list the happenings so far:

This is a beautiful place, no question. It has everything: rolling fields of corn and sunflowers, orchards and vineyards in every backyard, mountains all around, a shining silver lake on the horizon, quaint stone villages hidden throughout the valley… and we’ve had days and days of beautiful, sunny afternoons, and fresh, crisp evenings. Flowers are still blooming and fruits are hanging heavy in all the trees.

I know the weather will change soon, and these adorable country roads winding through the Jura will be covered with treacherous snowfall. But we’re keen for some winter! I’m looking forward to watching Saint Bernards frolic through across the snowfields, depositing a barrel of brandy at my feet…. That’s a real thing, right? I’m also looking forward to at least one broken limb this year as the entire family learns how to ski, poorly. It’s a good thing we’re paying 1000 FRANCS PER MONTH on health insurance, just for that kind of situation.

Which brings me to…

Things are crazy expensive here. Of course, being used to our dollars stretching quite far compared to the Rupiah, prices seem even more extreme. But it’s the fact that you have to pay a lot for EVERYTHING that is a hard pill to swallow. Groceries are expensive. Rent is expensive. Parking is expensive. Restaurants are expensive. Trains are expensive. You pay fees for TV and radio (whether you use them or not).

Anyway, we’re basically out of money over here. Would you contribute to a GoFundMe account if we opened one? Kidding, but really, you are going to see a lot more posts on here about “we stayed in this weekend and ate ramen, darned socks and played board games” instead of “we visited an amazing city, bought expensive art and ate delicious food etc. etc…” But I’m sure that we’ll figure out the tricks to saving money soon enough… for now, here are the ways we are foolishly squandering our paycheques:

Our realtor told us that a healthy real estate market has about 4% available housing. Here, it is 0.4%. And all properties are incredibly overpriced. This fun graphic gives you a peek into the obscene costs of renting here. That being said, we spent one day visiting about 7 properties, and we jumped on one just for the sake of having somewhere to live. So we move in next week. It’s great to have a more permanent place to live, if only so we can stop dumping our stuff in various hotels/vacation rentals around the area. We just moved out of a dumpy motel and into a lovely homestay apartment, but I do feel bad for our very generous landlords who have to put up with our shrieking children, B’s socks all over the place, and my incessant mandolin playing… Soon we will have our very own neighbours to annoy with the same things!

It’s a 3 bedroom apartment with an open-concept kitchen/living room. And it’s… 80 m2, maybe? So we’ll be taking a lot of advice from the IKEA small spaces designs. And it’s anyone’s guess whether our incredibly oversized furniture from Indonesia will even fit. Probably not. We’ll find out when it all arrives in October.

The kids are still out of school. Oh my god, please kill us now, or at least come and babysit. Getting them into school has been a dominos game of first housing, then insurance, then local immigration approval, then registration, then planting a golden egg under the light of the full moon… but thankfully we managed to get them registered today with the goal of having them start early next week.

And it’s a local school. In French. Now, B and I both speak French, but we were basically too lazy to speak it to the kids for all these years, so they don’t speak French. Regrets there. Anyway, Switzerland seems to have a generous language integration program, so we’re hoping they pick it up quite quickly. Or they fail out and we pay 50k/year to put them in international schooling…

So far, the people and the life has been great. Before moving here, I heard some opinions that Swiss folks can be unwelcoming or at least a bit reserved, but everyone we have met has been more than welcoming and incredibly keen and supportive towards us. It’s possible that they are just amused by our “quaint” Canadian French and the fact that we are GIGANTIC compared to everyone else. But it doesn’t feel like we stick out too much. In fact, I’d say that this area of Switzerland actually seems a lot like Canada. Take a bit of Vancouver landscape, a bit of Quebec City downtown, and a bit of the Montreal or Toronto attitude and you have Geneva.

We learned how to play Petanque with some new friends at the downtown court, shadowed by a group of enthusiastic local players who taught the kids some colorful new French words. We picked some apples straight from a tree in the backyard. I found out there is a Circus School here, and am counting the days until I can register. We’ve been drinking all the regional (on sale) wine we can find. We played life-sized chess under the watchful eye of a Geneva elder. J had a crazy temper tantrum in a Geneva diner and we had to bodily carry her out in shame. So I guess it’s just like home!


Gong xi fa cai, Kuala Lumpur

We were lucky to get two New Year’s trips this year! After coming home from our trip to the Rocky mountains, we had a long weekend vacation in Malaysia for the Chinese New Year celebrations. It was lovely – turns out we really like Malaysia. What a beautiful place! The people are friendly, the food is great, it’s easy to get around. Jakarta, please take note.

We only had a few days there, so we had to pack it all in.

Day 1: arrive on in the afternoon, tour the aquarium, buy groceries, check into apartment, go swimming, listen to fireworks, watch weird Chinese movies all night. Check!

Day 2: Tour to the Batu caves, colonial ruins & monkey park, century-old fishing village, evening boat trip to see mangroves and fireflies. Check!

Day 3: Water park, science center, ice cream lunch, wandering around. Check!

Day 4: Pack up and visit the Chinese flea market before hopping the train and plane home. Check!

Here’s a whirlwind photo tour:

Thecayas Short Film Festival 2015

LittleB got a stop-motion animation kit from his Auntie for Christmas this year, and he has already started putting it to good use.

I managed to acquire exclusive distribution rights to his first two films (since they were made using my iPad), and I’m pleased to say they tied for first place in our inaugural family film festival. So, without further delay, for your viewing pleasure: Meeting on Mars and Mad Science.

Meeting on Mars: Two spaceships meet on Mars, and alien hijinks ensue.

Mad Science: Trouble is brewing at the lab, and only a daring helicopter rescue can save our heroes.

Hopefully these will be worth thousands of dollars when he grows up to be the next Hitchcock/Spielberg/Nolan.

Flores fun – part 6: bored kids

This is what happens when you go on an off-the-grid trip and the camera is the only toy they have around.

Ok, this isn't so bad
Ok, this isn’t so bad
Well, a little close, but still a pretty cool picture
Well, a little close, but still a pretty cool picture
Mirror effect, I actually like this one
Mirror effect, I actually like this one
So this is where Apple got its commercials from!
So this is where Apple got its commercials from!
Well, this is getting a little bit weird. Like a strange watercolor painting from the early 2000s
Well, this is getting a little bit weird. Like a strange watercolor painting from the early 2000s
Looking artistic and pensive
Looking artistic and pensive
These squares definitely aren't the best option for portraits
These squares definitely aren’t the best option for portraits
Well, this one is pretty nice
Well, this one is pretty nice
But this shade of lipstick just isn't flattering
But this shade of lipstick just isn’t flattering
What happened to the chin/face ratio in this one??
What happened to the chin/face ratio in this one??
B definitely got the short straw on these photos... this is... very unflattering
B definitely got the short straw on these photos… this is… very unflattering
Good lord, this is just frightening. Creepy Santa?
Good lord, this is just frightening. Creepy Santa?

Next time maybe we should bring a few more things to do…

From the archives: Superhero scavenger hunt!

Longer ago than I care to admit, a couple of genius friends in the neighborhood decided to have a party. But it was not just any old regular party – first of all, it was a sad occasion because one of the genius friends was leaving town for bigger and better things down in NZ. But what better way to go out than with a bang?

They decided to craft an epic neighborhood scavenger hunt, where all the players had a couple of hours to run around town like crazy people and collect points for completing tasks along the way. Now, how would you make this more complicated than it sounds? One: have it in Bogor, Indonesia, with a bunch of people possessing varying levels of language skills, and where we’re all a bit crazy to the locals anyway. Two: have it in Bogor, Indonesia, where getting 0.5 km down the road can take hours in traffic and there’s really nothing here anyway. Three: have it in Bogor, Indonesia, where it pours rain most of the time. Oh, and don’t forget, four: dress everyone up as superheroes!

Now, we’re a pretty adventurous family. And there happens to be four of us, so I guess we’re our own built-in scavenger hunting team. And when it comes to superheroes, there’s a pretty obvious family superhero team just waiting to be us: the Incredibles! So we put on our best red shirts and masks, dressed a doll up like baby Jak-Jak, and hit the town.

The Incredi-Cayas
The Incredi-Cayas
Our X-Men rivals
Our X-Men rivals

And now, some of the tasks that we put ourselves through that afternoon:

One member of your team has to ride in a shopping cart and try to prevent crime in the store.
One member of your team has to ride in a shopping cart and try to prevent crime in the store.
A member of your team has to help a street vendor prepare some food.
A member of your team has to help a street vendor prepare some food.
All members of your team have to eat durian!
All members of your team have to eat durian!
Get 1 point for every donut you can stack on a team member's head. Go donut-head!
Get 1 point for every donut you can stack on a team member’s head. Go donut-head!
Capture a photograph of one of your team members flying like superman.
Capture a photograph of one of your team members flying like superman.
Entertain the locals at a street corner.
Entertain the locals at a street corner.
Stop at a park and do superhero tai chi.
Stop at a park and do superhero tai chi.
Find some locals who want to fight crime with you.
Find some locals who want to fight crime with you.
Photograph your superhero team mate relaxing at a spa or massage parlor.
Photograph your superhero team mate relaxing at a spa or massage parlor.

It was a pretty crazy day. Tensions ran high! We were the only team who had to stop at home for a “time-out”. In the end, we managed quite a few of the tasks, but we were pretty sure we didn’t win. But, then – when the tally came through, B’s giant pile of donut face put us over the edge with a whopping extra 16 points! We were the winners!

All in good fun, we left the day with great memories, plus I’ll always remember our friend for putting on such a unique party.

The school, the house and beyond

It’s been two months now since we moved, and in so many ways the time has flown by. Sure, we’ve had our share of challenges and frustrations, but I think what has surprised us the most is how quickly our new house and school have felt like home. Our old house in Bogor was a lovely building, but B put it best when we moved out: “It felt like we just spent two years living in a hotel lobby.” Something about that place never fit with our lives – it was a bit barren, sterile, unloving, and the space just didn’t flow – maybe the feng chui was off, or it was built on some kind of indian burial ground, or something like that. Anyway, it was nice to be there, but we never really settled in.

Our new place just feels right. Sure, it’s a bit of an upgrade to the house itself: now with a pool, reliable hot water, bigger kitchen, plus we have friends living right next door. And the area is much improved, within walking distance of a big mall, lots of shops and restaurants. Of course that means we’re in a loud, hot, smoggy part of town, but the do evenings cool off and we aren’t bothered too much by the noise. But besides all that, the house feels more like us. Less pretentious? More comfortable? I don’t know. Here are some of my favorite spots in the new house:

The antique javanese cupboard we bought, showcasing our bottle collection in the sun
The antique javanese cupboard we bought, showcasing our bottle collection in the sun
The giant sofa that is perfect for everyone to nap on at once.
The giant sofa that is perfect for everyone to nap on at once.
The recycled oil drum bookshelf that our friend made - it matches the coffee table!
The recycled oil drum bookshelf that our friend made – it matches the coffee table!
The old lantern I found in the backyard
The old lantern I found in the backyard
The TV room that we accidentally decorated in a southwestern style
The TV room that we accidentally decorated in a southwestern style
Our entire front entrance, dedicated as a board game playing space, decorated with a photo taken by our friend Jim
Our entire front entrance, dedicated as a board game playing space, decorated with a photo taken by our friend Jim
The beanbag chair made out of recycled vinyl billboards we bought for the kids' reading corner
The beanbag chair made out of recycled vinyl billboards we bought for the kids’ reading corner

The only downside to the move is that now I commute about 3 hours a day. Most days it’s not so bad, and really, I rather like driving myself to and from work. It’s a good chance to unwind and be “off the grid” for a few hours. And so far, I’ve managed to get home within 2 hours of leaving the office. Except for the first night, when there was a freak flooding in our neighborhood and I got trapped for hours on the road. Hopefully that’s an uncommon occurrence…

On my first night driving home to the new house, I got caught in this... for *four* hours. I was seriously questioning life, the universe, and where my decisions had gone so teribly awry.
On my first night driving home to the new house, I got caught in this… for *four* hours. I was seriously questioning life, the universe, and where my decisions had gone so teribly awry.

Meanwhile, the kids have settled into their new school almost instantly. The teachers are all very supportive, and with a bigger school, we’re getting a lot more opportunities to try new activities and have a more varied curriculum.

In his first week at school, he was awarded a certificate for being a "risk-taker" and for being a good classroom helper.
In his first week at school, he was awarded a certificate for being a “risk-taker” and for being a good classroom helper.
His class went on a three-day trip to the safari to study animals. Fun times!
His class went on a three-day trip to the safari to study animals. Fun times!
Organizing 45 8-year-olds to get onto the tour bus at 6:30 am... not so fun times.
Organizing 45 eight-year-olds to get onto the tour bus at 6:30 am… not so fun times.
Kids walking home from school. Most days, B picks them up in cab, and this is the walk down the driveway to our house, after the cab drops them off.
Kids walking home from school. Most days, B picks them up in a cab, and this is the walk down the driveway to our house, after the cab drops them off.
New school, new activities: LittleB signed up for capoeira! J is taking swimming lessons and I think she is now officially part of the dolphin family rather than human.
New school, new activities: LittleB signed up for capoeira! J is taking swimming lessons and I think she is now officially part of the dolphin family rather than human.

As for B, he’s settling in too. Jakarta has a lot more to offer for foreigners, and I think he definitely feels more comfortable here.

Living in Jakarta gives B more social options - more specifically, more guys to play hockey with.
Living in Jakarta gives B more social options – more specifically, more guys to play hockey with.

Countdown to summer!

The last days of school passed in a blur, in the lead up to summer vacation and holidays at work. Suddenly here we are, and I haven’t added an update in a while! So what has happened lately?

Well, most notably, we have decided to move into Jakarta proper, to send the kids to a bigger school and have a few more lifestyle options. So the past few weeks have been packed with exhausting trips into town, looking at places to rent and feeling anxious about the timing and costs. The first place we were most committed to was way outside our budget, even though we knew it would be the nicest choice, being in the same area as our good friends and many other friends – we were just about to sign on when deep down it suddenly felt like the wrong decision. Reluctantly, we decided to keep looking. Luckily, we found another place only days later that was much better suited! A bigger house, with a pool, and within walking distance to a large mall and lots of shops and restaurants. We’re also going to be next-door neighbors with one of my work colleagues, giving me more commuting options. We’ve now finalized that contract and we move in August, right before school starts. Phew!

A few pictures:

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Because of our upcoming move, the kids’ last days at school were quite bittersweet. It’s hard to outgrow something and move on. Even though both kids are very excited to start fresh somewhere new – and certainly we are as well – they have lots of friends and, really, family, here who it will be hard to see less often. At least we will still be close enough for weekend visits.

The final big events at school included an “International Arts” night, where the kids put on music and dance shows to celebrate diversity. It turns out that everyone must be Korean, because most of them danced to a k-pop song. Yay diversity! Here are some videos to enjoy:

Apparently J inherited the same missing dance gene as her parents.

The best part is around 2:43 when B gets stabbed by a safety pin and finishes the dance in tears.

We also enjoyed some performances by the teachers and other classes, as well as a pot-luck dinner featuring food from around the world. We brought blueberry pie. Canadian enough? It was the best we could do! The kids also had a final assembly on the last day.

The older kids playing gamelan fusion
The older kids playing gamelan fusion
The teachers putting on a show
The teachers putting on a show
The preschool kids dancing to k-pop
The preschool kids dancing to k-pop
The whole school (almost) doing a happy dance
The whole school (almost) doing a happy dance
Pot luck international dinner
Pot luck international dinner
B's class playing gamelan
B’s class playing gamelan
B with a gamelan xylophone
B with a gamelan xylophone
J rocking the star tambourine
J rocking the star tambourine
Final assembly group dance
Final assembly group dance

Also because of our looming move, we decided not to make any holiday plans, knowing we could have an unpredictable summer. This was a good decision, because we might need to move or do contract sorting at any moment. But now that the house is sorted, I’m feeling some urgency to book a last-minute trip somewhere! We originally wanted to do an epic trip around Southeast Asia this summer: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos… but now we might settle on a week on a beach in Thailand. If I can get it organized, that is. It’s a difficult consolation prize, but someone has to suffer through these things!

J turns 5!

Dear Sweetie,

I can’t believe you’re already 5 years old! I realize that’s not very old in the grand scheme of things, but it’s the perfect number of years for so many things – a university degree, a healthy run on Broadway, establishing a successful small business, a tasty block of cheddar.

Over the past five years, you’ve put up with daddy’s ceaseless teasing; joined in our overbearing weekend pillow fights and wrestling; sat through endless re-watchings of Ghostbusters and The Three Amigos; laughed at every silly story we’ve told that ends with someone being poked in the eyeball and dies; and managed to choke down your vegetables when we fight with you to eat them at dinner.

And we’ve tried to be patient as we’ve watched you spill every single drink, ever; sat through endless re-watchings of Tinkerbell, Tangled and (most recently) Frozen; as you’ve whined or cried across at least 8 different countries; as you’ve fallen asleep in so many awkward places and we’ve had to carry your dead weight up and down stairs, on and off airplanes and buses, trains, cars, sketchy tuktuks; and we’ve put band-aids on you at least once a week for the past 5 years as you’ve fallen on literally every possible surface in the world.

In your five years, we’ve seen you grow from an adorable little baby into a beautiful young girl. You’ve shared our strange adventures with joy and laughter, and you have lit up our days since the very first moment. It’s both exciting and frightening to see you growing so fast. Soon you’ll be doing things on your own and we’ll be sad to lose our baby, but even prouder of you than we are now.

Happy birthday!

Love Mommy & Daddy

Birthday celebrations spanned a few days, from birthday morning presents to a nice family dinner, to a full blow-out party with all the neighborhood friends. It was a fun time, but I’m not sorry we won’t have to do it again for (almost) another year!

Kebun Raya – Chaperone edition

Well, now that we’re done with the weeks and weeks of updates about our holidays in ANZ (That’s “Australia-New Zealand” for you Northern Hemisphere people, or as we in the Southern Hemisphere like to derogatorily call you, “Northems”), life has sort of settled back into our old rut. Well, not EXACTLY into our old rut, but the new rut seems awfully familiar to the old one. I think they’re related. They’re at least cousins.

One thing that has changed, however, is that I have a TON of time on my hands. I finished up my work contract here in Bogor just before the in-laws arrived for Christmas, and from the day we got back home from sunny Auckland, I’ve been trying to find things to fill that time up. I’ve watched a lot of hockey, granted, but the other thing I’ve started to do is to help out at the kids’ school. It’s a small school, but they do quite a bit of field trips, and I was invited along as a chaperone for LittleB’s class as we took the kids on a tour of Bogor’s botanical gardens, Kebun Raya.

As we were loading into the bus on our way to the gardens, I realized how attached folks here are to the culture of “school uniforms” – despite the permission form specifically allowing kids to wear regular clothes on this field trip, LittleB was the only one to wear “casual” clothes… every other kid had elected to wear their school uniform instead of their regular clothes!

Other than the uniform snafu, the trip went as well and as predictable as one could expect:

  • the kids went crazy and touched every single plant within arm’s reach
  • the loud and rambunctious kids were louder and more rambunctious when given more space to do so
  • quiet and introspective kids can be coerced into being loud and rambunctious with a healthy dose of peer pressure
  • we almost got kicked out of the Orchid house because of an impromptu game of Hide and Seek that had started up
  • cactuses are sharp, and some kids won’t believe it, despite your warnings, until they find out for themselves
  • When kids see a frog orgy, they will ask you to take a picture of the frog orgy, and not stop talking about the frog orgy for days and days
  • irrigation canals are not water slides
  • suspension bridges can be scary when 11 kids are jumping on them simultaneously, actively trying to cause a catastrophic failure
  • museum employees are surly and apathetic here too, it’s apparently not just a north american thing
  • Indonesian museums are “charming-yet-underfunded” at their best, and “an unholy hall of twisted godless terrors, haunting you for eternity with long suffering eyes that will sear into your mind and and manifest themselves as your worst nightmares until the sweet embrace of death finally lifts the curse that has steadfastly followed you for nigh all these years” at their worst
  • expat kids are like catnip to Indonesians, who literally cannot help themselves from either pinching cheeks, or asking you what your name is or where you are from. And then asking you to sing for them, apparently.
  • And, finally, I took a bunch of pictures (including several of the frog orgy)!