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Jógvan in Switzerland – day 2

The following day we stayed close to home and wandered around the old town in Stans, which is the capital of Nidwalden canton. It’s a town of some 15’ooo people. This is Froglet’s favourite fountain, on the wall of someone’s house. He splashed about in it a bit as he always does, and Jógvan sensibly kept clear while he was doing it!

Jógvan really wanted to have his photo taken in front of this old wall and plaque because he thought it looked pretty. The plaque’s inscription reads:

Ave civis bottmingensis. Hic versi capillus anno MMIX.

The online translator assures me that this means:

Ave citizen bottmingensis. This to whirl hair yearly produce MMIX.

Which seems unlikely. Armed with the knowledge that Bottmingen is a town elsewhere in Switzerland, would anyone like to translate for me?

Finally, we tried to take a picture of Jógvan with the church spire. Unfortunately it was very big and rather far away and he was very small and close. So we couldn’t get both. But Jógvan agreed with us that the details on the church spire were more interesting than him, just for this once.

And that’s all I have time for now. Coming soon: Jógvan’s new item of clothing and his trip up a mountain.

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Jógvan in Switzerland – day 1

The cute bear in the picture above has been staying with us for the past few days. He’s on a world tour before he ends up with a very brave young lady suffering from cancer in Australia. He started off in the Faroe Islands with Hans and Shinta, then stopped over with Henny in Finland before making his way on to America via Switzerland. If you’d like to show him your home town and pray for his future owner too, drop Shinta a line to see if he still has space in his schedule.

Here’s what Jógvan did here in Switz.

Knowing how fond he is of boats, we took Jógvan to Lucern, where we walked along the lake front and watched the sailing boats, ferries, mountains and Froglet leaping on rocks. The mountain in the background is Mt Pilatus. Legend has it that Pontius Pilate came here in his old age and is buried there, hence the name. Legend also has it that Pilate’s ghost, disturbed because of his role in Christ’s death, causes storms on the lake, and that dragons live on the mountain.

At the end of our walk we took a ferry back to Lucern. We had hoped for the paddle steamer but timed it wrong so it was just a normal little ferry. Jógvan enjoyed the view anyway.
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The hills are alive with the sound of…bells!

The Austrian hills may be alive with the sound of music, but ours aren’t. At least, not quite. Swiss hills have their very own sound. We’ll discount the sounds of cars, light aircraft, and farm vehicles for now, and just focus on the one that is special.

Bells.

When we first moved here, we were dismayed to find that the bells of the tiny chapel about 200 m away ring not only at noon and half seven in the evening, but also at 5.30 a.m. Yes, five-thirty. We’re still not sure why. Switzerland is certainly not the type of country where you would expect farmers to be unable to afford their own alarm clock. Nonetheless, the bells do ring at this unearthly hour, and one does eventually learn to sleep through them. Even with the window open. Visiting relatives, of course, are not so fortunate!

A more seasonal, and therefore more trying, sound is that of… more bells. Cowbells this time. Our apartment used to be pretty much surrounded by fields, although now many of the closer ones have been built on, and there is still one little one just beneath our bedroom windows. Every autumn the cows are brought down from the mountains and end up, at some point, just there by the front door for a couple of weeks. Sometimes they’re there in spring on their way up to the mountain, too. And it transpires that cows do not take their bells off to sleep. (I suppose they get used to them like we did to the church ones) So for a few weeks every six months, the night is broken by the gentle sound of cows doing whatever it is they do in the middle of the night, clanging quietly the while.

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On being a permanent expatriate

I’ve been an expat for almost as long as I can remember. There was a brief lull after my sister was born when we moved back to the UK for about 3 years, but then we were off again. Oh, and I returned to the UK to study, meet and marry my husband. No I didn’t study my husband. I studied languages. Perhaps not surprising, when you’ve grown up in several of them.

Less than two years after our wedding, we were leaving the UK for good (well, probably). That was 6 years ago. So for 22 years of my life I have lived in places that were not only abroad, but were not even English-speaking.

There’s something incredibly odd about not being at home in your own country. To many people there’s something pretty odd about not feeling patriotic towards your own country – although as I’ve said before, Brits aren’t as patriotic as other nationalities. And there’s something quite strange about turning up at university to find that although you speak English perfectly, with a perfect RP accent, and understand the correct use of shall/will, everyone else appears to have learnt something rather different. My husband once told me that I sound like a character out of an Enid Blyton book. Well yes. I’ve never read any of the books he grew up with – if I hadn’t returned to the UK when I did, I might have missed out on Harry Potter – but Enid Blyton was readily available on my librarian-mothers shelves.

As a child I rather liked being an expat. I liked attending the local school, learning to speak fluent French but being able to switch back into English for any secrets I wanted to share with my sister. I’m sorry to say I rather looked down on people who “couldn’t be bothered” to learn the local language and try to fit in, who spoke of “going home” for Christmas, as if they were not living long-term in this country. As I and my 3 siblings were quick learners, we were always perfectly contented and at home where we were.

But now, as an adult, in a country where the local tongue is more dialect than language, spoken rather than written, and as such very nearly unlearnable without tremendous effort, I find a whole new aspect of being a permanent expat. Loneliness. I realise why it mattered so much to my mother when her friends moved back “home”, as they invariably did. There is something special about being with another native speaker of your own tongue, that almost no non-native speaker, however good, can quite attain. (I wonder if my friends felt this when I was a teenager – or perhaps it doesn’t apply if you grew up somewhere and are effectively a native). That certainty of understanding as much as anyone can understand, of being understood in the same way. No need to watch the face of your interlocutor carefully to detect the slightest hint of “you just lost me”. Out here, such moments are rare. Or if not rare, then at least infrequent enough that you appreciate them when they come.

Not that we have no friends. We have lovely, wonderful friends. Many, if not most, are expats themselves. (Some are even reading this!) But here’s where the second special aspect of expatriate-dom comes in. Distance. Live in a country that speaks your language, or where you speak its, and friends can be just round the corner, in the house across the road, at church which is only a ten minute walk away. Some will be acquaintances and others will be kindred spirits. But live abroad and suddenly your options are limited. It’s hard to be a kindred spirit when you’re not sure you understand each other all the time. Perhaps no one speaks your language in your neighbourhood. The kindred spirits you stumble across might live nearly two hours drive away. Or they might rely on public transport, making a ten-minute car drive an hour-long trek. Your church might meet in the next city, because it’s hard to worship in a language you command imperfectly even on your best day. (Church becomes study!) And that wouldn’t matter elsewhere, because you wouldn’t rely on those people, the ones so far away. You would have your network close by, as well. Here, distance becomes important.

And then of course, just living becomes hard work. If you want to go out, you need a babysitter – your friends network is too spread out to help much, and of course, the grandparents are elsewhere. Nearly all your sons little friends at playgroup speak dialect. (Your son comes home and speaks dialect to you, and gets frustrated when you don’t understand!) Shopping becomes tricky. The Engineer bewilders people when, on business trips to the US or the UK, he starts excitedly chattering away to a shop assistant. It doesn’t happen here – it would if we spoke fluently, no doubt. The toilets desperately need the attention of a plumber but just the thought of having to try to explain over the phone is daunting.

It’s amazing what we take for granted as children. The ability to easily understand and be understood, to learn quickly and fit in, to call the place you live home and be fully settled and content there. I’m grateful for those things, grateful that my parents settled when I was still young enough to cope, that I was exposed to enough languages as a child to cope now, even when it is hard work.

Who knows, in 25 years time Froglet may be writing something like the above. Perhaps to him, born and bred in Switzerland, living in England would be expatriation.

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Baking this week: Nussheckli, or Swiss nut cookies

I happened across these on the internet and the author asks not to be reproduced without permission so if you want the exact recipe please visit her own blog. She has a photo too, so you can compare!

I’ll just say that the basic ingredients are nuts, sugar, eggs and flour. These seem to be the main ingredients in a lot of Swiss recipes! These cookies caught my eye because they claim to be native to our canton. I’ve never seen them or heard of them but that means nothing as we have few local Swiss friends – most are immigrants from other cantons. So Froglet and I thought we’d make a half-quantity in case we didn’t like them…

Mixing – Pretty round and heart-shaped balls – Um…???

We don’t think they were supposed to all run together like that. Maybe we should have spaced them further apart, or most likely my measuring was at fault. Swiss recipes seem to need precision – well they are Swiss after all! As we don’t own a weighing scale, and I seldom have all the ingredients that I need, my baking usually goes something like “100 g – let’s say a cup – of flour or sugar. 100 g – roughly half a cup – of butter. Chopped nuts? We’ve got ground nuts, that’ll do. Eggs can be replaced with bananas*…” and so on. I did not replace the eggs in this recipe though – pretty sure that wouldn’t work!

The finished product:


Not quite how they’re meant to look! But still tasty.

*A vegan friend taught us this. The ratio is one well-mashed banana for two eggs, if the eggs are mainly being used to bind rather than to raise (and you don’t mind the taste of bananas, of course). Try making banana bread or chocolate cake with this substitution, it’s yummy! Excellent way of using up those going-black bananas that no one wants to eat. You can also use apple sauce, I think it’s 1/4 cup for one egg, but I prefer banana.

Edited to add: We are linking up this post to Simply Made Sunday retrospectively. Click the button to find out all about it!

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Introductory post

Well, it’s the start of Turn off the TV Week. I’m not a big TV fan anyway – I much prefer the internet, which at least has some semblance of interaction with real people – but the rest of the family are, and so ours is firmly off. The internet is going to be used less this week too. Probably.

But now seemed like a good time to start a blog about what a stay-at-home mum does with her kids while she’s trying to keep the TV off. Yes another one, I know there are lots out there. It’s also an opportunity for my non-live-journal friends and family, scattered around the world, to keep up with us. And finally it’s a place for me to work through some of my thoughts about teaching my son to read, potty training my daughter, trying to keep the house nice-ish, and living abroad in a shopless village, in a second floor apartment with no garden. (It’s a nice apartment, mind. Just lacking in garden.)

So who are we?

Froglet is three and a half and very energetic. Like most small boys, he loves Lego, sand, cars, planes, and all other vehicles. Perhaps unlike other boys, he wants ten more siblings (not going to happen!). Clearly he hasn’t been put off by two-month old baby sister Nutmeg.
Doing his fair share of the nappy changing and burping isDad, a.k.a. The Engineer, who doesn’t do blogging, but is a fantastic father and husband.
And Little Nut Tree? That’s me, Mummy. The name comes from the nursery rhyme, as you may have guessed. I love children’s books and rhymes, languages, paper crafts and baking. This should make me an ideal expat mum. However, I dislike cleaning, tidying, teaching and having to say the same thing over and over again. And I’m impatient, and lazy – a recent realisation. And I suffer from perfectionism, of the “if I can’t do it right I don’t want to do it at all” variety. I also have a problem with starting things but not finishing them. There must be a name for this. Except with baking, but then it’s hard to start a batch of cookies or bread and not finish it really.

So as you can see, a lot of things to work on or work through. Well, best get off and do some of it. As usual, the house is a mess.

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SNOW??!!!!!

It is APril 11th, right? I didn’t, like, go to sleep and somehow miss summer and autumn?

So why is it snowing? Not just snowing, but snowing heavily. We have about three inches so far. The snowploughs have been out and everything!

The ski season here actually ended two weeks ago… and we’re not even at skiing height – they’ve probably got a foot or two of the stuff up on the slopes. Wonder if they’d reopen the resorts for a couple of weekends?

Anyway… so Andrea, no worries about the clothes being too warm!!!! LOL

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