The Time Has Come, the Walrus Said

Actually, it was my host parents who said it, but yes, it’s time for more holiday. Finally, I get to see my family. It simultaneously feels like forever and yesterday that I said goodbye to my parents; ages ago since I saw Matt and Courtney at dinner. Today I will travel to Dublin and I cannot wait to see them. I’m jumping out of my skin. I’m psyched out of my mind. I’m going a million miles a minute. Tired of my hyperboles? We batted around a few ideas of where to go, and ended up deciding on a UK tour: we start in Dublin, hit a few more spots in Ireland, scoot on over to Scotland for Edinburgh and Glasgow, and wrap things up in Manchester. At this point it doesn’t even matter where we go as long as I can soak up as many good times with my next of kin as possible. For the next 9 days I will be cruising around with them, relishing in a reprieve from the family that is more than welcome.

Following this small slice of heaven I will commence holiday with the family at their other home in Portalban, on Lake Neuchâtel. I’ve never been to this little cottage, but I’ve heard it described as rustic, charming, quaint, and teeny-weeny/itty bitty. It will be a tight squeeze with all of us in there, but I’ve always been fond of the lake so I believe it will be a nice time. I’ll be here for just shy of two weeks, drinking in the solitude and “getting back to nature.” I guess the Internet is rather slow so I won’t even bother with my computer. Technology and I had a little talk and we agreed that it would be best if we took a break; re-evaluated our relationship.

Finally, to wrap up my 4 weeks of holiday, I will be heading to Portugal for a week with some friends. We’ve made plans to stay in Lisbon for a few days and then cruise down to the southern coast, the Algarves region. Here, the most strenuous activity I plan on doing is flipping from my tummy to my back in the hot, hot sun. To say that I am looking forward to this week of zero obligations would be an understatement. It’s just what I”ll need before beginning another couple of months without a holiday.

So. I will be out and about for the next several weeks and I’m not sure when I’ll be back to update. There will be the odd day or two when I have access to this device we call the InterWeb, but I can’t promise anything. Hopefully I can throw some pictures up here and a crazy story or five. I’ve set up a few songs here that I’ve been drawn to recently. Some are old and some are new, but hopefully they will keep your toes tapping. Bis Später! Tschüss!!

A Photo Essay

I’m not a “I won’t believe it til I see it” sort of a person, but I think it’s important that I present as much evidence as possible. Perhaps you remember the time I told you about my little dancing princesses? And, how although I have one boy and two girls to look after, there are often three tiny fairies running around? Well, here are some action shots from this weekend in Laax.

Little Bean Fairy

Post spin move

Wings of Love
Up Close and Personal

Now for the real gems

Don’t be fooled by his expression–he is really enjoying himself

Someday, when he is about 16 and bringing home his first girlfriend, this picture will come in handy

Strike a Pose

The Queen of the Fairies

It Never Gets Old

I am referring to the view here in Laax, and in fact, all of Switzerland. Having come from an absurdly flat state I find the element of elevation completely captivating. The Mom, kids, and I came out to Laax for a little change of scenery. Emphasis on the little as we will be here for less than 36 hours. We made our way out here this morning and set up shop. We picnicked outside to a lunch of pasta salad, and while the kids drank Sprite, the Mom introduced me to a trendy beverage amongst women around these parts. It’s a combination of 3/4 beer (in this case Feldschlössen ICE) and 1/4 Sprite. I’m not one to mix spirits by any means, but I will say that it was quite refreshing. She emphasized that no man would ever be caught drinking it, lest his masculinity be questioned.

This afternoon I hit the trails. They are incredibly well laid-out and marked, and are great for wandering. Whenever I go out for a run or hike I usually fail to make a plan. I prefer to just explore and see where the wind takes me. Since I’ve been here I’ve traversed through many a random field, once dodging a flock of sheep. I’ve passed by numerous “Beware of Hound” signs and Verboten posters. I like to think of those as more suggestions than actual enforcements. And I’m still here, right? In any event, I headed out today Falera bound. It’s the town right next to Laax, about 2 km away. The run there was great, the perfect mix of hills and flat bits. Once I arrived I spotted two churches, one of which dates back to the 11th century. It had some beautiful frescoes decorating the walls and one of the most impressive alters I have seen here. Outside the church there is an open courtyard lending itself as an excellent vantage point. From here you can see mountain after mountain, layering back until they disappear. As I was looking around I made a conscious effort to burn these images in my mind: a pine tree blanket covering the chilly side of a mountain, the Rhine river gushing and frothing below, a columbia blue sky dotted with cotton ball clouds. I’m trying desperately not to take these views for granted.

The run back was equally satisfying as a I took the long route and passed through Larnags. There was one point on this leg of the journey when I was running uphill, listening to one of my favorite running songs, sun streaming through the trees, and I kid you not, a whole host of butterflies were soaring around me. As the song reached it’s peak my skin turned to gooseflesh and I was immediately reminded that I am lucky and fortunate to be here. There are rough days and trying weeks (and right now the kids are downstairs competing to see who can scream the loudest for the least viable reason), but this is an experience I will never forget and for which I will always be grateful.

Memory Making

This weekend we were supposed to go to Laax to celebrate the beginning of the summer holiday. The Dad threw his back out last weekend trying to pick up Taz, however, and he’s been feeling sore all week. The parents decided we better stay here this weekend, which is alright by me. I was actually not looking forward to going there as I will be out of Zürich for about 4 straight weeks and I wanted to soak up as much time here as possible. Instead of hitting the road, we hit the lake. The family has a nice little Bryant boat (ya America!) that we cruised around on. We dropped anchor near the island by Rapperswil and lazily swam. At one point I was sitting on the back of the schiff, absorbing as much vitamin-D as possible and I noted to the Mom how picturesque it was. Here we were sitting on the boat looking out over the lake to a little piece of the Alps. I wish I had my camer so I could share the view with you all, but rest assured it was sightly. I missed out on an epic weekend down at the Ozarks with my family and some of Courtney’s friends last weekend and was feeling pretty jealous of their lake time. I’m glad I finally made it out on the water, albeit and much, much cleaner and safer body of water.

On weekends when I work and we stay here I am usually responsible for waking up with the kids, getting them breakfast, and entertaining them until their parents decide to grace us with their presence. At 7:4o this morning I heard Taz yell from his room a floor below mine, “KRIIIIISSTIIIIIIIIINAAAAAA. I want to wake up NOOOOOOOWWWWW!” Ich komme, ich komme. After a morning of yogurt, bread, Wheatabix, and chocolate milk followed by painting, playing “shop,” and listening to stories on tape, the Dad suggested we go outside for bike riding. This is fine with me, except for the fact that Rapunzel still cannot ride a bike by herself. She’s 7. I learned to ride a bike when I was 4. She also cannot swim, which is depressing. She’s just so scared of everything and has no real desire to learn. The Dad asked if I would take them outside to ride bikes, and Rapunzel says, “Yeah, and you can help me learn how to ride one.” Uh, no. I count my dad teaching me to ride a bike as one of my favorite memories with him. There is no way I am going to take that away from them. I kindly suggest that her dad should really be helping her with this. So out we all go to the courtyard. The Dad helps for a little while and then goes off for a run. She’s got it down pretty well and can make it about 2o feet before freaking out, stopping the bike, and mixing her features into a worried state. She also has to “make a break” every five minutes and guzzle my water because it’s such hard work. I encourage her to keep trying, offering my bits of wisdom on how to control the velo. Fast forward 30 minutes and the girl is riding around pretty darn well. Rapunzel wants to go get her Mom and show her what she’s learned. I agree that this is a great idea. She goes in, grabs her mom, and comes back out. The Mom says to me, “Well, I guess she wants me to watch her ride her bike. Hmm.” Yeah, this is so weird. Your daughter wants you to be a part of her childhood. She’s crazy! The Mom watched for less than five minutes and went inside. It breaks my heart to watch these kids work so hard for affection and not see much of it.

I feel like I am witnessing so many memory-making experiences and I am not even a blood member of the family. Sometimes I feel so out of place. Do they ever feel strange having this extra person a part of their traditions and family time? Does it ever get old?

On another, more positive note. I came across this video and, to use a Jill-worthy double-negative, couldn’t NOT show it to as many people as possible. I don’t know why, but I think it’s hilarious when guys do girl voices and impressions and this scene ranks as one of the funniest. If you have the time, watch it all the way through because the end is ridiculous.

This Just Happened

It took me a while to adjust to living in the house for a couple different reasons, one namely being new housemates. I have never lived with young kids without being a little critter myself. It’s definitely a shock when the cries, laughter, yells, and general noise of children fill the house from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can’t escape the sound. You also can’t escape the little intrusions. I think I mentioned before that I have had a couple of issues with Taz about defining personal boundaries. Well, it appears that Rapunzel and I will be having a similar discussion in the morning. Allow me to explain.

The parents are out for a dinner party and I am babysitting. I was scheduled to start working at 6:45 and managed to roll in the door at 6:30. I had time to quickly check my email and empty my day bag before heading downstairs to help the kiddos get into jammies before a night of watching TV. As soon as I put them to bed I did a running leap for the shower. I laid by the lake this afternoon and followed my vitamin-D session with a trip to the gym. It’s safe to say I needed a hose-down.

Now, here I am, in the shower, doing my shower thing, when I hear the unmistakable sound of a child outside the door. Next thing I know the door is being opened and Rapunzel is standing there with a mask of concern on her face. I should point out now that the shower is just one big glass vestibule, and not even the frosted kind. “Umm, yes. Can I help you?” She says that she needs water before she can sleep. I remind her that she can get this for herself and to go downstairs and do it. Tears are about to spring from her eyes when she says she would but she can’t open the lid to her sippy-cup.

So, I open the door, remove said lid and send her on her way. She leaves the bathroom and fails to shut the door behind her. I should now point out that the bathroom opens up to the office which has a convenient row of windows facing right into the bathroom. The houses here are ridiculously close together and we all have intrusive views into one another’s lives. At this point I am looking into the dining room of the kind folks behind us. I am operating under the “I can see you so you can see me” mentality and assume the neighbors are getting a little more than they bargained for when they bought the place. “Hey, Rapunzel, could you maybe grab that door? Yeah, OK. Cool.” She shuts the door and I am left scratching my soapy head in wonder at the lackadaisical attitude of children.

It couldn’t be more than 4 minutes later and I see the sliver of light begin to expand at the doorway. Apparently, she has such weak muscles that she is unable to screw the lid of the cup back on. Once more I open the shower door and assist her. She says thank you and begins to close the door. Just as I feel I will be left in peace she whips it open again and asks me if I’m coming with them to Laax tomorrow. I assure her that I will be there, bid her goodnight and ask her to shut the door on her way out. She then inquires if I will be going to Portalban (the other holiday home) with them in two weeks. Seriously? Is this the time to have this conversation? “Yes. As a matter of fact, I will.” “OK, good!” It isn’t without a couple of tschüsses that she’s finally out of the bathroom and on her way to slumberdom. Obviously she’s not fazed, but I think we might have a little girl talk about occasions when it’s not OK to bust in on someone.

This Cinderella Wears Running Shoes

I feel like I am constantly running for trains. It hasn’t always been this way, though. I think I’ve steadily become more cocky about the amount of time needed to get to my locomotive. When I arrived I was advised to give myself at least 12 minutes to get to the train station from my house. It’s a half kilometer, uphill. I have a pretty decent fitness level, so I thought this was enough time, if not more than, to make it. For the first couple of months I stuck with this schedule, especially given the odds it was snowing and/or there were unfavorable weather conditions. Slowly I began to shave off more time. I could leave with only eleven, and eventually ten minutes to spare. I found that if I up-ed my pace I could book it there in 8 minutes. As the temperature began to increase I found I was arriving to the banhof a little out of sorts and usually sweaty. This is intensely distressing if I have just showered and am planning to go out with other humans. I then have to spend the ride cooling myself down, which involves airing out my underarms–gross. If I thought the Swiss looked at me funny sometimes before, then this sealed the deal. Only two weeks ago I hoofed it up the hill in 6 minutes. This is a personal record.

I don’t limit myself to running for trains up in my tiny town. This happens to me with regularity in Zürich as well. In order to get to and from town I have to take two trains, which connect in Wädenswil. The last train to that will get me back home leaves Wädenswil at 12:04. Therefore, the last train I can catch out of Zürich leaves at 11:38. In a nutshell, I have a curfew; something I haven’t hassled with for years. If I really want to extend my stay in town I can swing by my new favorite station, Enge, and pick up the train there at 11:44. I started having to do this because I missed my last train. Now I use it as a crutch. Not that I need to be up late as I stroll down to the kitchen at 7:00 the next morning, but just the restriction of a Cinderella-esque curfew makes me want to stay out all the more. I find that I am pushing it to the last minute and running to catch my train. There was one instance recently when I was running for my last train in a dress and flip-flops, previously having shed my cardigan from exertion. With approximately 30 seconds to spare I bolted across 4 lanes of traffic to tuck and roll onto the train. Just last night the tram doors shut in my face with the blinking lights on, signaling the tram is taking off and not allowing on any more passengers. The kind soul driving this tram graciously let me on and spared me the need of taking a 5:40 a.m. train back home. I have a love hate relationship with pubic transportation. While it’s convenient and efficient, I still struggle with not being the master of my time.

Completely Unrelated Bit: Whilst surfing blogs this morning I came across this quote on John Mayer’s and found it to be quite helpful for my current predicament. He often answers question posed to him by his fans (don’t worry, I’m not working on my own juicy inquiry) and shares them on his blog. This was part of his response to one (probably 13 year old) girl who asked, “What do you do when you have a bad day?” He said he “time travels” and continues to elaborate. Part of his answer reads:

You can’t travel through time, but you can send your thoughts and hopes into the future to camp out and wait for you to arrive there, where you’ll meet up and hug and decide that everything is alright again.

I like the way he put that. I’m probably not alone when I lament that I can find myself stuck in a rut, stewing in my own misfortune, as in these past two couple weeks. It becomes quite burdensome and usually leads to a downward spiral that leaves me want to call my mom–childish I know, but true. If I can imagine myself on the other side of the problem, removed from the situation at hand, I think it will help me recover. I don’t want to wax poetic on the matter but I just thought I’d share that tidbit of advice. For now, I am projecting myself to next Friday…

Must. Keep. Going.

Taz hit the mark. The face, the body language say it all.

This is about how I feel right now. Frustrated. If I could draw a little dialogue bubble it would read, “What are you trying to do to me here?”

It’s too lengthy to put it all into words, and frankly, as I’ve stated earlier, it does neither one of us any good for me to sit here and complain (that’s what mom and dad are for!) but to be honest, I’m teetering dangerously close to the edge. I think it’s time for everyone to take a wee bit of a break from each other. The job is taking it’s toll on me and I’m ready for some away time. It’s not that the work is difficult–obviously, I sit around playing games and going on walks every morning– it’s actually the exact opposite. It’s how incredibly mind-numbing it all is. A common sentiment among the elders of the au pair group is, “I earned a college degree and now I’m doing this?!” I know, I know, play your little violin for me. I realize I signed up for this. But, that doesn’t negate the fact that I feel I’ve taken a major step down as someone’s live-in servant.

The au pair who worked for my family last year put it best when we talked on the phone last summer during my interview process. I asked her what the most difficult aspect of the job was and I feel she put it best when she said, “You work in a tiny shop, you live in the tiny shop, and the shop is always open.” Living with your employers is a mighty difficult task. If having a bad day isn’t enough, there’s no genuine reprieve from the situation as you have to sleep there and wake up with them the next morning. You can’t escape it. As I was Skyping with my mom this afternoon she could hear Little Bean screeching in the background. She pulled a face and stopped mid-sentence. “What is it?” I said. “That sound. What is that? One of the kids?” “Oh yeah, that’s just Little Bean. It’s her new favorite sound.” This is a scream that registers so high it’s one notch away from being a sound only dogs can hear. There’s a battle between wanting to be a part of the family and not seem like a recluse, and wanting to have my personal space and own life here. Unfortunately these don’t always seem to gel.

So, yes, things are a little rough right now. I’m not currently singing up in the hills à la the von Trapp family. I have no doubt, however, that I will get over this funk and find my way back to sanity. Especially as I am only 10 days away from seeing mom, dad, Matt, and Courtney!! We will be exploring Ireland and Scotland over 9 days and I could not be more eager to see them.

Thank you for letting me get that out, I promise to not make these rants routine.