The Longest Week of All Time

Alas, Courtney has returned to the motherland. Last week was one of the best I’ve had all year. It was so great to see her and spend time showing her things I love about living in der Schweiz. Plus, we had an amazing trip to Istanbul to visit Jill, which was icing on the cake. I will get to all this fun stuff in due time, but first I will fill you in on my time in Italy with the family.

View from the house with the early morning fog.

The ten days I spent in the northern region of our southern neighbor were, hands down, the longest of 2010. Not only did I simply not want to be there, I was looking forward to the following week with a religious zeal. Therefore, the days crept by painfully slow and I found myself performing the role of sullen, angst-ridden teen, a role which I never even played when I was a teenager. I know I could have been more social or perhaps even remotely positive, but in all honesty, it was just too darn hard.

A typical day: I would hear the little angels rouse at approximately 6:15 a.m. and be shooed back to bed by the grandpa until at least 7:00. I would roll out of my horrible excuse for a bed (sheet rock is a more accurate description) around 7:30 and slowly shuffle downstairs. I would putz around, follow the kids, or sit in one of the big leather chairs, staring off into space until we were called to the tisch for breakfast. At this point, the grandma would come downstairs and discuss the most recently broken antique or rare piece of porcealan. The children would be scolded for playing with ancient artifacts and reminded that they could be doing much more fun things around the house (it went without saying that I was responsible for coming up with such activities). After a lengthy morning meal, the kids would brush their teeth and I would clean myself up and prepare for the day. Then, we would head down with the grandpa to the chickens and geese, where we would stay, feeding and harassing the animals, for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. The rest of the morning would be filled with a variety of activities: coloring and playing drawing games, hide-and-seek, playing “restaurant”, reading, memory games. Other stimulating activities included: chasing cats, screaming and slamming doors, poking geese with long sticks or ski poles, covering each other in mud, and of course, breaking things. After a cardiac-arrest-inducing lunch, which often included me eating my feelings covered in cream sauce, the kids would go down for a much needed nap. For the first hour of this nap Taz and Rapunzel would usually giggle and yell at each other or play pretend games from between their beds. The second hour was usually more peaceful and consisted of actual rest.

 

The kiddos feeding the hens in the morning.

 

 

I could take pitcure of this little sweet spirit all day.

 

All this doesn’t necessarily matter because by this point I was free. I could do as I pleased. My afternoons were a mix of yoga, going for walk/run/explores, reading, and studying for the GRE. I spent a significant amount of time in my room, away from everyone. This is when I was an especially moody 15 year-old. I usually surfaced around the time for an aperitif– a glass of wine and a snack. Then it was time for another 7,000 calorie meal. Blessedly, it was then bedtime for the wee ones and I could spend a few more hours narrowing my eyes at book pages. I love to read, obviously, but even 5 hours a day can get a bit much for the avid reader. I wish I would have brought my computer so I could have watched movies or at least scrolled through old pictures, something to break up the monotony of the day.

 

Vineayard View--taken on one of my afternoon walks.

 

I wish I could be more positive about the experience. I was in one of the most beautiful regions of the country and spent a disproportionately large amount of time scowling. From my window I could see miles and miles of vineyards and rolling hills, and yet I found myself unnecessarily sassy and short with people. By the end of the trip I was just shy of being completely mono-syllabic with responses; I was, pure and simple, ready to get the heck out of there.

 

View from my window with almost-daily morning fog.

 

 

My little room (read: solitary retreat) in the house.

 

It didn’t help that the mom wanted little to nothing to do with her family (the dad had to stay at home and work until the end of the second week). She commented that she wanted to get a lot of “work done” while there. Thought-provoking activities I heard about or saw included, but were not limited to: watching “Confessions of a Shopaholic” on DVD, reading the new Mini Shopaholic book, listening to books on tape, playing solitaire on her iPad. To be fair, I did see her tap away at her computer. But I wish she would have been honest with me. I think she could have said, “I want to relax in the morning and just have some time to myself.” Rather, she had to put a pretense of doing work, thus leaving me in the dark as to what she was actually doing, and in turn making me feel like one of her (dare I say, neglected) children. At one point we were talking about a neighbor-friend who just got a dog. The mom was relating that this woman was feeling overwhelmed by taking care of the dog. I agreed, saying, “Yes, some people forget that having a dog is just like another member of the family. They can be a lot of work.” She counters with, “Of course she can always get someone to take care of it.” I looked her back in the eyes and said, “Sure, but what’s the point of getting a dog if you’re just going to hire someone to care for it?” This is her clear solution for her children– hire someone to play with them, read with them, teach them, raise them.

Often, what I find is that I am a luxury for this family, a showpiece. It gets quite old to feel unnecessary. These children want to spend time with their parents. It’s plainly obvious when spending any amount of time with them, and it makes me sad.

One very cool thing I was able to do was help harvest grapes. As I said, the grandparents live on a vineyard and make their own wine. They also sell some of their grapes to a local cantina. The kids and I were able to help them cut grapes off the vine and collect them in baskets. It was sehr cool to be a part of that process. As I mentioned, I also saw beautiful landscape and was able to spend hours in the afternoon exploring. I’m grateful for the experience of spending time in such a gorgeous location, but I am happy that this was the last time out there for me.

 

The grapes just before harvesting.

 

 

Vines

 

Growing Up is Hard To Do

Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.

Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t,

Because, sometimes, you won’t.


I’m so sorry to say so

but, sadly, it’s true

that Bang-ups

and Hang-ups

can happen to you.

You can get all hung up

in a prickle-y perch.

And your gang will fly on.

You’ll be left in a lurch.

-Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss

Forget breaking up, it’s the growing up that’s really hard to do. Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be like this? People speak of graduation being the beginning of “the rest of my life.” Well, to steal sentiments from my own graduation speech, what the heck have I been doing for the last 23 years? It may be the start of a new chapter in my life, but it certainly doesn’t come with a manual like everyone promised. And this whole making decisions thing? Yeah, well, it should only be done with serious supervision and a seat belt. Puh-lease! I can barely decide what I want to wear in the morning, and who sees me? A two year old! How in tarnation am I supposed to make “major life choices” that could (read: definitely will) set me on a path toward my elusive future?

This all probably sounds a little drama. It is. I will be the first to admit it. I sat on my high horse last year at this time, thanking my lucky stars that I was not one of the millions of people looking for a job in an economy that looked about as pleasant as a jug of sour milk. I thought, I’m so glad that’s not me. Cut to one calender year later when I have to figure out what comes after this year of adventure and general slacking off. So far I’ve made one major step in my walk toward What I Want to Be When I Grow Up. I’ve scheduled myself to take the GRE in Geneva in November. Yes, I’m not going to go into teaching after all. At least not yet. Oddly enough, in fact, I want to go back to being a student.

What to do with these test scores, you ask? A mighty fine question indeed! I don’t know. I’ve begun the painful (literally, my eyeballs were starting to twitch and burn from looking at my computer screen this morning) search for a school. How does one decide? There are so many considerations, one can’t help but feel battered by them. Are you my school? Are you my school? I feel like that little bird, hopping around, hoping someone will claim me. The process is ridiculous. It’s hard to be removed from the school scene, not to mention the country. I wish I would have begun this process whilst still in college. But hindsight is 20/20. At this point all I can do is throw on my suit of armor and head into the fight. You want my transcript(s)? Fine. Letters of recommendation? OK, then. A writing sample (or two)? Well, I’ll see what I can do. $50. Now you’re just getting greedy.

I’m trying to take baby steps. There’s no sense in trying to tackle it all at once. Today I was just feeling hypersensitive. At one point I yelled at Little Bean for crying because her food was too hot. I was the one who put it in the microwave! It was completely my fault. What is my malfunction?

Tonight the kiddos asked for a story before bed and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! was the book Taz chose. The little guy can’t even read English, yet this was the old piece of wisdom his paws landed on. I kid you not, when I got to the middle about times getting tough, I actually started crying. Right there on the sofa, little tears just cruising down my face. I pulled it together to finish the story and send them to bed. I think what hit me was this: Yes, this is tough. It’s hard work, but it’s meant to be that way. If it was easy, then would it really be worth it? Isn’t all the hard stuff at the beginning part of the reward at the end?

But on you will go

though the weather be foul.

On you will go

though your enemies prowl.

On you will go

though the Hakken-Kraks howl.

Onward up many

a frightening creek,

though your arms may get sore

and your sneakers may leak.


On and on you will hike.

And I know you’ll hike far

and face up to your problems

whatever they are.

You’ll get mixed up, of course,

as you already know.

You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact

and remember that Life’s

a Great Balancing Act.


And will you succeed?

Yes! Yes, you will indeed!

(98 and 3/4 per cent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

Inhale, Exhale

I am slowly come down from a murderous rage I was feeling toward the Mom yesterday. In an attempt to not let my thoughts be consumed with ill-feeling I will refrain from going into detail; like driving or making important decisions, it’s not safe for me to blog while my emotions run high. I will say, however, that I’m sure many au paupers will agree we don’t get paid enough to put up with much of the baloney sandwich we deal with.

On a more positive note, Jill recently sent me three playlists her friend Jack made, via Dropbox. I’ve been listening to them consistently, enjoying the surplus of new music. If you aren’t using Dropbox now, you should. It’s by far the easiest means of sharing files on this black-magic contraption, the Internet.

This song in particular is one of my favorites. This tune comes on and next thing you know I’m rhythmically bobbing my head and moving my hands like a Disc Jockey. I look a bit of a fool, but I can’t get enough of it. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver is on lead vocals. His voice often lends a haunting quality, almost ethereal. Sehr schön, indeed. Just try to listen to it and not wiggle around. Impossible.

Pick a Little

Little Bean has adopted a new habit. She’s gotten really into picking her nose and coming to show me her finds. LB will go digging for a while, paste a look of concentration on her face, then waddle over to me and say, “Ewwwww.” She will hold out her pointer finger and wait until I remove said treasure from her finger with a Kleenex. Yesterday, after about fifth time she did this, she took matters into her own hands and decided to clean the mess herself. She walked into the bathroom to dispose of her boogies on a piece of toilet paper. When I went into the bathroom ten minutes later I discovered that Little Bean has no knowledge of how to tear off a piece of toilet paper. She had unraveled the entire roll and put it all in the trashcan, which was now overflowing with the stuff. Of course, she also couldn’t disconnect if from the cardboard roll, so the toilet paper was stretch from the wall to the trashcan. I had no choice but to be frustrated with only myself for not coming to help her. This whole situation reminds me of an instance that occurred during my third week in der Schweiz

It can be kind of cute and charming when little ones behave like this, but adults I cannot forgive so easily. I have never been faced with a case of such complete lack of inhibition than by a certain gentleman sitting directly across from me on the train home from Zürich. He was probably mid-sixties and some investor-type fellow. Incidentally, he appeared nothing too out of the ordinary. His behavior spoke to the contrary.

The train had just pulled out of the station and people were pulling out newspapers and iPods to occupy themselves. As we were riding along I happened to look to the window, which has taken on a mirror-like quality since it was now dark outside. I noticed the man across from me was knuckle-deep into his right nostril. No, this was not possible; now way could this man be overtly picking his nose in front of all these people on the train. Then, much to my horror he proceeded to eat whatever little nuggets he managed to find up there. Absolutely, this was not to be believed. At this point I didn’t even know what to do. Should I send out some kind of mental SMS hoping the Polizei will hear me and remove this offender from society? I was barely able to get through this thought when he did it again, repeatedly, throughout the remainder of the train ride. I was mystified as to why this person had an appetite for boogers. Granted, it was dinnertime, but still, I was almost positive there were more appealing options for him at home.

Of course worse things happen in the world. People are dying and starving and suffering from abominable diseases. I recognize and respect these awful tragedies. But, this behavior is inexcusable. This salt-and-pepper haired gentlefellow subjected masses of us to his fetish. Who knows what other passengers, on countless other trains, viewed this? I just could not excuse this man for his revolting behavior. Thankfully, my stop came up quickly and I could leave this guy and let him eat in peace.

That is, until two nights later when I was sitting on a completely overcrowded train and was thankful I even managed to find a seat. I was exhausted, you see, from a day spent ravaging the remainders of a gigantic H&M sale. After dropping my sore body into my aisle seat I rested my head on the back of the seat and let the remaining dandruff of the prior occupant annihilate my scalp. I turned my head and looked into the window, which had once again taken on a mirror appearance. I took notice of the patron sitting across from me and think, Hmmm, looks familiar. Low and behold the man goes digging for treasure straight up his nose and I know where I’ve seen that mug before! It’s him, the same nasal miner from two nights ago. I was once again forced to endure this man’s disgusting habit for another ride home. I am not exactly sure what I had done recently to anger to gods so, but I felt that justice had been served. I immediately apologized for my unknown transgressions. Needless to say, this digger is on my radar and I will not find myself by him again.

Feeling Broken

You know how after a holiday you tend to feel a little abnormal? Maybe your sleep pattern is off; perhaps your clothes fit a little snugger than you would like; occasionally you may feel so dehydrated it’s as if a desert has taken permanent residence in your mouth. For me, returning from my four weeks of holiday led to all these symptoms combined to make one unfortunate combo platter. To sum it up, I was not feeling too hot. Monday was another Disaster Day of Travel, the details of which I will spare you. Basically my flight home was cancelled on Sunday night so my friend Phil and I were granted one night’s stay in Madrid and a seat on another flight returning to Zürich on Monday morning. I don’t know what it is with Madrid, but I seem to have no luck when coming home from the city. Clearly we are not meant to have the special friendship I was looking for.

Back to my predicament. I decided to take Monday off from all activity more strenuous than climbing my stairs to my princess suite. Tuesday, it was time to get back into my routine. After a solid 2 hour nap immediately following lunch I laced up my brand-new tennies (thanks mom!) and decided to head out for a run. Since leaving Neuchâtel I had yet to break a sweat that was caused not caused from the sun being turned on full blast in Portugal. My mind was still back in the rolling hills of the French part of Switzerland where I could run 4 miles and not be fazed. My body, however, was still in the sleep-til-11-and-do-nothing-more-than-sunbathe-eat-and-drink phase and was not prepared for the Body Blast I was giving it. I ran and ran and ran some more. When I couldn’t run, I changed to walking and interval running. I knew about 3/4 the way through that something wasn’t right; I was tired and my form was all out of whack. The only way home is on foot and I knew I could get home faster if I ran. It didn’t feel good, but I did it anyway. The yoga teacher, who preaches “listening to your body,” hauling herself home despite the dull pain throbbing in my feet– trust me, the irony is not lost on me now.

Over the next three days this dull pain has turned into an ugly monster residing in my feet and lower legs. It rears its nasty and deformed head any time I walk or put pressure on my feet. Imagine the pain of a thousand samurai swords stabbing my soles and sides of feet. I know I have a flair for the dramatic, but seriously, it hurts. I have hardly been able to walk. I do this awkward, stiff hobble that makes most people around me uncomfortable. Seeing as though walking is my most basic form of transport my family and I decided I should see a doctor. So I went to his office this afternoon and through a series of examinations, foot prodding, and grunting, he decided to take some x-rays. His overall diagnonsense: I have the pain and symptoms of a stress fracture in both feet–without the actual fracture. So, I am walking/hobbling around with more or less two broken feet. He supplied me with a cream to massage into my feet 3-4 times a day and a tablet to take twice a day. Hopefully, he says, the pain should be gone in a week. A week! That is quite a while to wait, but there is clearly nothing I can do about it. Except sulk, sigh dramatically, and read. I just bought The Help on my Kindle as mom (and it seems the rest of the world) can’t stop raving about it. I’m looking forward to starting it tonight and reading it while we’re in Laax this weekend.

Please forgive me if I seem a little more snarky than usual. I’m miffed that my Get Back into Shape and Order plan backfired on me so tremendously. Here’s to hoping for a speedy recovery!

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.

“Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down”

Why, yes, that is a Puff Daddy reference. And you thought I wasn’t “with it”…

Yesterday was just one of those days. You know the kind: you wake up on the wrong side of the bed (in my case there’s only one but let’s just run with it), and from there everything seems to compound and progressively get worse. On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being a “bad hair day” and 10 being “get down from the ledge!” it might rank at about a 6. When I sat down I had plans to regale you with my tales and woe is me act. But, upon further reflection I realized no one wants to read about that, and complaining really doesn’t translate well. So, let’s settle for the fact that yesterday is in the past and today I rolled down to the end of my bed and got out that way.

(Is it a coincidence that Florence + The Machine “Dog Days Are Over” just came up on my “Genius” shuffle on iTunes? I think not.)

I will be MIA for a while as this weekend is ZüriFäscht. This is essentially a giant party. Around 2 million people swarm our city, which only inhabits roughly half a million people– so one might presume it will become a bit of a zoo. Zürich becomes a self-proclaimed outdoor party heaven and is host to an assortment of activities and concerts. This is, in fact, such a major event that the Doggfather himself, Snoop Dogg, will be performing tomorrow night at China Garden. As of yet I do not have plans to see this soulful singer but I’m sure his melodious beats will carry throughout Zürich and not one of us will be spared his inspirational words of wisdom. ZüriFäscht only occurs once every three years so when it does happen it’s with a bang. The Zürchers have been hard at work giving the city a facelift. The streets have already been lined with booths and spaces for vendors. Temporary stages have been erected and the lake is being prepped for it’s role as setting of an intense fireworks extravaganza. It will be a fun weekend, promising to put us all in a celebratory mood. A friend from back home, Kaitlin is coming in town for the event. She is currently an au pair in Madrid and is making the trip east to join in the festivities. I’m looking forward to seeing someone from home and also sharing a little piece of the city I have come to regard as home.

More exciting news: Today I have a meeting with the director of the Obersee Primary School that’s just down the mountain in Pfäffikon. I contacted her about becoming a volunteer at the school. She said she could use me starting at the beginning of the upcoming school year, so today we will discuss my availability and what I can do to help. I’m looking forward to getting connected with a school here and havign experience working in a bilingual school. Also, now that Jill is set to go on to bigger and better things, let’s face it, I’m going to need something to do in the afternoons.

I suppose today would be a nice day to leave you with a song. Recently I’ve found myself drawn toward this particular tune. I heard it for the first time in Manchester whilst perusing the finds in a vintage shop. I couldn’t help but stop, listen and be immediately attracted to it. Her voice is so powerful and intense I found a whole set of emotions swirling around inside. I couldn’t deny a feeling such as this. The rest of the album is sensational, as well.

Please allow me this small indulgence of complaining:

Unfortunately, yesterday I allowed my iPod, camera, and all other contents of my purse take a little swim as the cap to my water became conveniently unattached–got to love those Longchamp bags, they have that attractively advertised waterproof lining that not only keeps the water out but also in. After dumping the whole soggy mess on a sidewalk upon this discovery I reloaded the bag with the hopes that things would dry out and return to normal. It was only water after all. Well, this morning the only electronic that will work is my über-hip (read: not at all) slider phone, provided by the family, which I actually happen to hate. My iPod is sitting on my desk, stubbornly refusing to turn on. The camera sputtered to life for about 2.5 seconds and went back down for a little shut(ter) eye [see what I did there?]. So, let’s all maybe just say a few words of encouragement for these essential pieces of technology, shall we?