You’re So Vain, I Bet You Think This Post is About You

I have come to learn the location of every reflective surface in this house. Before you assume this is because of my own selfishness and vanity, let me clarify that I know this information because whenever I am looking for one of the kids these are the first places I go. All three kiddos have a fascination with their reflection; they love to look in mirrors. It doesn’t help that there seems to be a mirror around every corner. And I suppose I shouldn’t limit this to mirrors because they will use the glass windows just as often to appraise themselves.

For instance, there is a mirror that is right across from the bottom of the stairs. For the last 5 or 6 steps (depending on your height) you can watch yourself walk downstairs, similar to an entrance on a Miss America pageant. There are many times I will watch Taz take a misstep or two on his way down because he is concentrated on looking at himself. He is also prone to watching himself as he cries. He will stagger over to the same mirror as he is lamenting one of the numerous injustices he encounters around here and gaze as his face becomes red and puffy from crying. I am convinced he is going to go into show business. He is such a little actor.

Rapunzel also has a slight obsession with mirrors. There have been times when I have full conversations with her and she never looks at me; the entire time she is staring at her reflection. She will often perform dance routines in front of the windows in the dining room. These will often carry her into the play room, where the mirror is too high for her to see herself. She will pause, mid-leap, register her reflection is nowhere to be seen, and move the recital elsewhere.

Let us not leave out the Little Bean. She hasn’t quite learned to recognize herself in mirrors, but that doesn’t stop her from loving them. If I am holding her and we walk by a mirror she will cry out and point at it. We will stop and she might say, “Dia! Dia! Baby, baby.” She knows it’s me but she just sees a “baby” in my arms. I am pretty positive this is not some sort of identity crisis and in due time she will learn her own face. Sometimes when she and Taz are having a dance party in the living room Taz will move them over to the mirror so he can see what the two of them look like while dancing. She loves this and will usually kick her moves up a notch to impress the “baby” that is watching.

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Tiny Dancers

One of the many things the kiddos and I have in common is a love for dancing. I’m not talking about the technical sort, of which I also thoroughly enjoy having spent many years talking tap, jazz, ballet, and pointe lessons. In this instance I am speaking of put-on-the-music-and-let-it-take-you-over kind of dancing. There are many a morning when Taz will ask if we can put on music and just dance. I always think this is a great idea. Partly because it’s risk-free and doesn’t take a lot of effort, but also because the kids look so darn cute when they dance. Right now Little Bean is quite partial toward spinning in circles and making herself dizzy. She will usually flop on the ground and giggle until she can compose herself and then resume dancing. Taz is also a great mover and shaker. He tends to do a lot more bobbing up and down and “street moves,” which involve him sliding across the floor. Often I will see Rapunzel up from the kitchen table, looking at herself in the windows as she expresses herself through motion. Seriously, they are always moving, and usually with style.

They aren’t really particular to the tunes, which makes it a lot of fun to watch. As you can probably surmise from previous posts I am not a fan of the radio over here. Therefore I bring my computer or iPod down most mornings and choose tuneage from my own sources. They have busted a move a plethora of artists including, but not limited to: Dave Matthews Band, Lily Allen, Vampire Weekend, Michael Buble, OAR, and Ray LaMontagne (for rainy days). Once in Laax, I put on Rihanna’s “Hard” and Stella was grooving all over her high chair. It was an interesting tune for her to identify with, but something about the lyrics describing the hardships of answering “fan mail from 27 million” really struck a chord with the little one. Currently, Taz keeps putting on a Christmas CD to dance to. More frequently than I care to admit, I will find myself singing along to “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” or “Silver Bells”…in the middle of May. The children really enjoy it when I take a video of them with my camera and then let them watch it. I have made several attempts to upload such videos but it is proving to be far more technologically complicated than I anticipated. If you can provide any help on how to do this, I think we can agree that we would both benefit as I would know more about my own blog and you would be privileged to see the skillz to which I refer.

Requisite Random Component of Post: Last night I had the opportunity to see a friend of mine play in a Swiss men’s basketball game. Basketball, as you may know, is not an incredibly popular European sport; that would go to soccer. Earlier this spring I went to an American football game, which is another uncommon game to see played. The team was comprised of members from all over the world: Australia, USA, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, and others. The football game itself was not one of the best played games I have ever seen, in fact it was reminiscent of games I attended in high school. But, it was fun nonetheless. The basketball game was great as well. While it may not have been NBA-grade, I think that’s what made it so fun. These guys, most of whom were in their 30s (ish) choose to be on this team because they truly enjoy the game. In both instances it was amazing how “into” the game both the players and the spectators were. There was a definite passion. I’m so glad I get to have experiences like this whilst being here; it makes me feel much more in touch with the city and helps Zurich feel like home.

Requisite Random Component of Post #2: I recently came into an abundance of good music, thanks to my Harlem Globetrotting friend. I want to share one song in particular as it relates to what I set out to discuss in the first place, dancing. The other day I was taking Little Bean for a walk and this song came on my iPod and I had an overwhelming need to dance to it. I refrained, mostly to prevent startling the cows, but this song just stirs something in me. I’m not sure what it is but I wished that it could be played over loud speakers for all the mountain to hear. Now that I’ve talked it up so much you have no choice but to like it. So, I hope you enjoy!

This is Little Bean’s jam:

Italian Adventure

I was informed last Tuesday that I would receive Monday May 24 off as it was a public holiday. I quickly put together some already loosely formed travel plans and made arrangements to hit up Milan and Cinque Terre for the weekend. Gabri, as seen in previous posts, teaches at an international school in Milan, so we had a free place to stay and fantastic hostess to show us around. I have never been to Cinque Terre despite having studied abroad in Italy, therefore it was high time I got myself to that little sliver of paradise.

On Friday night five au pairs boarded the first of the three trains that would get us to Milan. It was without incident and doesn’t deserve mention, except for the fact we had no idea what was in store for us on the next train. On train nummer zwei we happened to sit next to two fellows in the Swiss Army, who proceeded to regale us with tales of how “pointless” the army is and “what a waste of time it was.” I was the odd man out of the seating arrangement and had to sit by these two goons, who apparently had 9 beers before we even joined them on the train. Each beer is 500mL, which means they had each consumed 4500mL of liquid stupid prior to our acquaintance. Whilst on the train they guzzled down three more. At least 40% of my body was in the aisle as I was trying to remain as far away from my “new friend” as possible. He asked me three times what I was doing in der Schweiz. By the third time I told him we were all marine biologists studying the sea life in Switzerland. Clearly this makes no sense but that didn’t seem to phase him. It was about 1 hour into our friendship when I heard nothing short of a roar come out of his mouth. He belched so loud I could not be sure whether it was a prehistoric creature returning to the present or a bodily function. He proceeded to do this through the remainder of the ride in between bursts of him spilling beer  all over. Obviously, it was a pleasant ride.

Saturday was beautiful. We all slept in and enjoyed waking up to sounds that did not include children. Gabri lives a bit outside of town so we made our way into Milan city center to locate some grub. First stop: Duomo. This is one of the most magnificent pieces of architecture I have seen. It made me realize how much I miss Italian churches and cathedrals. I was awed by its sheer size and the amount to detail. We lunched at a place that offered a great view and a serious amount of sunshine. Now, if you know anything about me, you know that I have a bit of what Jill coined a “glandular issue.” I sweat. And, compared to the Swiss, it’s a lot. Needless to say it got a little toasty sitting in rays of sun so gelato was the next order of business. I lurve gelato. Allie and I agreed this was one of the best gelato experiences we’ve had. It was capital-Delicious. We took our tasty treat and headed on to do a little sight seeing, which ultimately led us to a park to hang out for the afternoon. Once we found a spot on the grass we parked our bodies on the ground and were treated to one of the worst displays of “football” I have seen. After we had our fill of suntanning we made our way out of the city center and back to Gabri’s apartment. It was imperative that we scram as Milan was hosting a major soccer game and the Italians tend to go a little banana sandwich over soccer. To avoid being mobbed/crushed to death Jill, Allie, Gabri, and I went back to have dinner at a restaurant near her apartment. A couple bottles of wine and heaping plates of pasta later we were making our way home when we presented with one pleasant surprise. A party was in full swing at the shopping center directly across from the apartment. The only choice in this situation is to join, so we soon found ourselves dancing along with Italians to such hits as “Mambo Number 5” and “Tubthumper.” Is it even possible to say “No” to a line dance?  After we finished tearing up the dance floor we made our way upstairs for (in my case) a short night of rest.

The Duomo in Milan

Blue Man Group: Gabri, Danielle, Jill, Allie, Me

The park where we lounged in the sun

I awoke at 5:30 in the morning to make my way with Danielle to the train station so we could head on to Cinque Terre. Thankfully, it was easy to get there and there were no problems. We arrived in Riomaggiore and were directed to our hostel. The proprietor informed me that we would be sharing a bed, which is slightly unusual. Jill and I shared a bed in Cadiz but that was only because we feared for our lives. What he neglected to tell me was that this bed would be located in the kitchen. Seriously. You walk in the hostel/apartment and you see a range and sink to your right, a table and chairs to your left, and the bed straight ahead. Through a doorway is an actual dorm where the other 6 people slept. Luckily, everyone was cool and I didn’t feel the need to sleep with one eye open. Danielle and I threw on our swimsuits and headed out to explore. This was, hands down, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I’m sure it would have still looked as beautiful had the weather not been so great. But, it hovered around 80 degrees and the sun was turned on Full Blast. I wish I could describe it better but you will just have to look at the pictures to see for yourself. It’s a place I would definitely like to visit again. Mid-way through our hike we decided to select a spot on some rocks with other travelers and soak up the vitamin D. I have a pretty righteous tank top tan and shorts from all the running I do outside. I’m sure I looked pretty silly in my suit, but nevertheless it was nice to lay out for a bit. More hiking and imbibing in the local dry, white wine completed the afternoon. A definite Must-See.

Houses just built on top of each other on all the cliffs

This is where we sunned for the afternoon

Nature, nature, nature

Vernazza at sunset

Little Bean & I

I love Thursdays. They are by far my favorite day of the week. It’s the day that Taz goes to KiddiesKare so Little Bean and I hang out all morning. Now that Taz and LB share a room she gets up much earlier. No longer do I have at least a few hours to kill before she wakes up, but turns out that doesn’t matter so much. I can still email and read magazines and this little one is content to play by herself and doesn’t get into too much mischief. She woke up with an ear-ache this morning so I figured we should take it easy. I put on “The Princess and the Frog” and read the most recent InStyle my mom sent. Afterward I figured it was time for exercise, so we went on a walk. I dressed her up like Sporty Spice and we headed out into the cold. Why am I still wearing a fleece jacket in the middle of May?! I don’t know, but neither of us were happy about it. We returned in time for lunch and settled into a familiar routine of playing music while we eat. Today it was Dave Matthews Band Live at Red Rocks 8.15.95. Not a bad set. And she loves to dance so she was bouncing around in her high chair the whole time. Matt, I see a future attendee at the concerts.

As I have mentioned previously, she finally started saying my name a few weeks ago. Now she can’t stop saying it. The latest phrase she’s picked up is, “Merci Dia.”  She says it when I give her a bottle in the morning, put her hair back in a butterfly clip, dress her in the morning, change her diaper, and even feed her lunch. It’s almost as if it’s all she can say right now. She is also picking up more of my own favorite utterances, including, “Oh boy!” which is often exclaimed after discovering she has a pretty serious dirty diaper. Now whenever she has made a “cacky” she pats her butt and says, “Oh boy!” Hilarious. Lastly, she’s got “sorry” down pat. “Sorry,” I accidently slammed your head on the door as we walked out of the room; “sorry,” I just stepped on your hand as I was maneuvering through the battlefield that is the playroom; “sorry” I forgot to screw the lid of the cup on all the way and now you’re covered in water. Hey, we all make mistakes.

In completely unrelated news, Band of Horses just released their newest album Infinite Arms. I’ve listened to it a few times already and I approve. I will be seeing them in two weeks when I got to Manchester and Cambridge and I’m really looking forward to it. They don’t have songs from this latest album on YouTube yet but I have included one of my favorites from Everything All the Time. Enjoy!

Last thing, I promise. Recently Pei Wen shared a link to a blog on her own blog and now I have to pass it along to you. If you ever wonder what I’m currently doing with all this free time, your curiosity will now be sated. Hyperbole and a Half has been occupying mass amounts of my time. It’s hilarious. Most of it is random, but that is in essence what makes it so funny. Her combination of storytelling through words and drawings is dynamite. Some of my favorite posts include: “Things That Can Make You Feel Like an Idiot Almost Immediately,” “The Alot is Better Than You at Everything,” and “How a Fish Almost Destroyed My Childhood.” So, if you too are looking to occupy some time I suggest you check it out.

Ich spreche Deutsch… ein bisschen

It’s high time for me to catch you up on my German classes. I have been attending once a week on Wednesday nights for the past five weeks and I feel only slightly more proficient than when I started. In the words of the Mom before I even agreed to this job, “German is hard.” It is. It’s really hard. It doesn’t make sense most of the time, and even when it does, it takes me somewhere around 5 times to get it right. And I even thought at one point that I was good at languages. Hit up one class and that will change your mind, real quick.

We had last week off as it was a holiday the following day and the school decided to close early. Not that I would have been able to attend as I was currently out of the country (see below). After a top-notch day in the city catching up with au pairs and swapping travel stories with Jill, I was ready to tackle this class. Nevermind the fact that I did my homework in a Starbucks a mere 3 hours before it was due; I suppose that shows how seriously I take this class. I showed up ready and raring to go. After a brief lecture about prepositions it was time to get down to business. We were divided up into groups of three and had to take a dialog between a customer and cashier that had been dissected and put it back into the correct order and identify the speaker in each situation. Relying heavily on context clues, my partners and I were able to work through the exercise. Actually, I should clarify that. My new English-speaking Turkish friend and I did the entire assignment while the other member, I believe he is Bosnian, watched in complete confusion and scribbled (most likely flowers and rainbows) in his Kursbuch. I can’t really blame the guy, though. Right before our pause in the middle of class he had gotten into a fight with the lehrerin about wanting to test out of our section and move to the next level. She put him in his place, flipping through his homework and showing him the empty pages and telling him he actually had to do work in order to get ahead. He threw his hands in the hair and sulked like one of the charges I have here at home. Clearly, he was still a little miffed. After breaking the syntax and vocabulary down, I believed we had correctly ordered all the parts. Now it was time to prove ourselves to our classmates. The lehrerin played the CD, which had the correct answers. As each piece of the conversation puzzle came into place I became more and more excited. By the time the recording was finished I was ready to reach across the table and high five my comrade. What am I, twelve? I had to settle with surreptitiously patting my back in congratulations. But, oh no, the lehrerin wasn’t finished with us yet. She now wanted us to take turns reading the dialog aloud. My Turkish friend and I were the second pair to try, after suffering through some serious second-hand embarrassment for a Portuguese couple who read (read: butchered) the part before us. We sailed through our 10 lines of dialog with ease. Afterward the lehrerin exclaimed (in German, natürlich) what great melody we had and the rhythm of our speech was right on. OK, at this point I am a table distance away from chest-bumping this guy. I was so happy to hear that I am actually getting this beast of a language.

I suppose it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, if my family didn’t possess this passive aggressive nature toward me learning their Mother Tongue. The Mom will make comments like, “Whenever Kristina is ready, we will speak High German. She just has to let us know. It’s all up to her. No pressure or anything.” Alright, maybe not that last bit, but the rest of it, yes. Or at dinner just last week, after 45 minutes of straight German the Nonna looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, you can’t understand anything we are saying.” To which, the Nonno replied, “Well, she needs to learn German some way.” (By the way, they happened to be talking “smack” on my host parents, who had gone on a dinner date, and I’m sorry, but I can understand bad mouthing in any language). The thing is, the family doesn’t speak High German, the speak Swiss German, which might as well be a completely different language. Furthermore, each city in Switzerland then has their own dialect of Swiss German. And, it’s not so easy as say, a Boston accent versus a Georgian southern drawl. Words are not even close to the same. For example “to work” in High German is arbeiten and in Zürich Swiss German it’s schaffen. Does that even make sense? Negative. So, can you blame me for not picking up as fast as I am apparently expected to? Again, negative. That’s why I was so excited to do well in class tonight. I just wish they passed out “Caught You Being Good” slips like I did in my Student Teaching classroom last semester. I presume I would have a small fortune by now.

I Stay for the Wine

All I see is nature!

Alas, I am home, safe and sound, from my trip to Italy with the family. Let me preface the storytelling by saying that in no way was I needed on this trip. There was only one instance the whole week when I was left alone at the house with Little Bean, and this was so everyone could watch Nonno (Grandpa) buy two more chickens. Fantastisch. That being said, I actually had a really nice time and felt very lucky to be there. I cannot think of another time when I would have stayed with a family, on their own vineyard, surrounded by miles of other vineyards, where they grow several kinds of grapes to make their own wine, set in the middle of the Italian countryside. It’s opportunities like this when I remember why the dirty diapers and (seemingly) incessant nagging are worth it.

I cannot say that I thought this trip would go well from the start. This thought occurred to me about 3.5 hours into our 5 hour trip, right after the kids had their snack of a granola bar and fruit juice. Traffic was minimal and I was enjoying the mountains and valleys, a stark contrast to the Kansas landscape. About twenty minutes after consuming the aforementioned snack I heard what could only be described as “liquid being poured.” I didn’t remember Rapunzel, who was sitting directly behind me, having anything left in her water bottle, which meant only one thing… A shrill cry broke me from my thought process and I snapped my head around to find Rapunzel covered in her own vomit. It. was. everywhere. Maybe I have made mention of the extreme amount of hair she has (and if I haven’t, then the name should clue you in) but let’s just say it currently had purple highlights. She was completely stunned and had no clue how the contents of her stomach managed to find themselves all over her Hello Kitty t-shirt. After a side-of-the-highway clean-up it was back on the road.

My abode for the week.

The house, set in it's own vineyard.

We stumbled into the house and found dinner waiting for us. this was the first of a week full of outstanding meals. Both the Nonno and Nonna are excellent cooks and then spared no expense on filling our bellies. Some of the dishes (all homemade) included: pizza (made in the wood burning oven they built), gnocchi with porcini cream sauce, Italian sausage with asparagus, pumpkin soup, roasted turkey legs with yellow peppers and zucchini, and one indulgence that featured three different kinds of meat– lamb, chicken, and roast beef. What am I, a dinosaur? I don’t need that kind of meat in my life. But, I won’t refuse it. Every meal, including lunch was accompanied by two things: dessert and wine. For the first, featured sweets were: strawberries and cream, layer cake, ice cream, and one afternoon I walked outside to find the family eating fresh-baked pear cake. I had just finished an hour yoga session in my room and was in a total state of zen. I will blame it on my trance that convinced me to have a 45 degree chunk of that cake. I promptly went back upstairs for an hour nap. Waste of space is a phrase that comes to mind. As for the second accompaniment, the  Dad’s family (which is whose house this is) makes their own wine, which is fantastic. Now, I can’t sit around a table and dissect flavors and ingredients in a glass of wine. You will never find me saying, “Ahh, yes, I can pull the tar out of this one.” But, I do enjoy a glass of vino. In this case, it’s more like 2 or 3 glasses, which is what I was served each night. That doesn’t include the glass or two I had at lunch, or the apero that occurred in afternoon. Thank goodness I was not expected to watch the kids that much while I was this heavily influenced. Granted, I was extra smiley and rosy-cheeked throughout the week, but I blame that on the sun I got and the bliss that comes with relaxation. What can I say, they love their wine. The Nonnies could polish off a bottle easily by early afternoon. Double bottles were opened each night at dinner and were often supplemented with another single bottle or two. Suffice it to say, all my pants fit a little snugger this week.

The kitchen where all this went down.

The family and I took little excursions to nearby towns and castles in the morning, one of which was the Grinzane castle. The area is located in the Barbera region and that is the prominent wine that is produced. The castle provided information on how this became a high production zone for these grapes and how such production has shaped the economy. We also went into Alba, the nearest semi-big-ish city, and visited a church and some shops. The trip was mostly to make a jewelry purchase for the Mom, but the kids and I scored some gelato out of the deal. Just what I needed, more dessert–at approximately 11:00 in the morning. I was happy to get out and moving as I was not totally sure how to keep the kids occupied at the house. There is of course the vineyard we could wander around in, chickens and ducks to visit in their pen, a toy Jeep for them to drive, and a random assortment of toys, but it’s hard to try to entertain kids when they just want to spend time with their parents, grandparents and aunt and uncle. This is why I feel I was completely unnecessary. I was so aware the whole time that I was a part of another family’s memory-making. I can’t help but wonder if they ever feel weird having a relative stranger apart of their holidays and vacations. I know it’s kind of strange for me. How do they think the rest of us manage on our own? I honestly just played with the kids while the parents sat and watched. Still hard for me to wrap my head around that.

That being said, I was given plenty of time to relax. After lunch I was free to do as I chose. Sometimes I would just lay outside in one of the lawn chairs and read/pass out in a food-induced coma. Everyday, save the last one, I did about an hour of yoga in my room. It was great to practice and stretch, something my body was in need of. I would then read or nap, or do both, usually until I heard 5 o’clock roll around downstairs. A couple times I ventured out for a walk around the land. When I left for my first outing they asked, “Do you know where to go?” Oh yes, I’ve just been Lewis&Clark-ing it up in my room, planning routes each night. No, I have no idea where I’m going, but that’s kind of the best part. I think the best way to get to know a city is by foot and to just go out and explore. So that’s what I did. On one particular day I had been gone for about 25 minutes when I heard the first crack of thunder. It only took 5 minutes for the sky to open and my person to become soaked. I made it back just as the hail began to fall and spent the remainder of the afternoon doing yoga with my windows open and the smell of rain filling the space. Again, another “once in a lifetime” moment.

This is the view from my window. Tough life, right?

I wish I could say the ride home went as smoothly (barring the barf episode) as the ride there. I’m almost positive everyone in Switzerland was on the road coming home from holiday. A five hour journey turned into eight. The only thing holding me together was knowing that at some point in my life I would be back in my bed. As we were sitting in traffic, having essential Climbed Every Mountain in detours, I looked out my window to discover, could it be? SNOW! I had to close my eyes and focus on the music flowing in my ears. By midnight we were home, once again safe and sound. Overall, it was a good holiday and I managed to survive. We return again in October for the Truffle hunting season. Count me in!

Looking out from the gravel drive

The Griswalds Do Italy

So I am about to embark on my first real “road trip” with the family. Obviously we have gone to Laax several times, but that’s only about an hour away and not too terribly difficult a journey. This trip, however, will take us 6 hours from home. Did I mention we were driving? Did I mention there are 3 kids? How about I throw in the fact I will be in the back seat with the kiddos. Perhaps maybe I should add that the Dad drives with maniacal recklessness and the Mom is certainly no better. I will top off this sundae with the additional factoid that I will not have my computer and my cell phone will be subjected to astronomical fees should I decide to use it. The house is “set out a ways,” which I take to mean as isolated. See where this is going? Essentially I will be cut off from the rest of the planet for a bit with only Little Bean to keep me warm at night.

But, to put my positive spin on it (I know it’s in here somewhere!), I am looking forward to escaping from Zurich for a bit. I have a tendency to get a little stir crazy so this gives me a chance to get out of Dodge (yes, that is a Kansas reference). I will have my own room so there will be a chance to escape from the madness. And, you know my love for nature hiking, which weather-permitting I hope to be doing a lot of. Also, the family lives on a vineyard, so really, the scenery will be undoubtably beautiful–not to mention the amount of wine I’m sure I will have to test for quality control purposes. Finally, I actually don’t mind being isolated from society for a while. Sometimes it’s nice to not be distracted by technology and electronics; I would call it a techno-cleanse, a detox if you will.

Alas, it will be a while until I return but hopefully I will full to the brim with stories and photos. With all the “together time” we will be having I am sure I will be able to scrape together a few tales. Ciao ciao!