Sunday, October 30, 2005


Sitting in the train, Dave Matthews playing on my new toy, the book for Book Club on the seat beside me. Staring out the window at the Swiss countryside on this improbable summer day in late October. I lose myself in lyrics, in colors on the hillside, in this rare solitude. I want to stay on the train as it approaches my station, to stay in this place - quiet, still, alone, the sun through the window, me. Silence. The rattle of the train, the music, a passenger coughing, they add up to a silence in which my mind can wander.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The last dying hours of late summer

October is being very kind to us here in Switzerland - all this week it has been sunny and 20 degrees, warm enough for short sleeves in the sun. The mornings are chill and hazy, but by afternoon the fog burns off and the mountains stand out in sharp relief against the azure sky. Today a friend and I went to a park near the Uni, spread a blanket on the grass, drank take-out coffee and rolled around in the late summer sun with Small Boy. He pulled up hunks of grass and played with dead leaves, every now and then crawling over to destroy the block towers we made for him. The sun was warm - it could have been August but for the dried leaves crumbling in Small Boy's little hands. A last taste of summer, ever so slightly bittersweet.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I have seen the future, and it comes with a babysitter

So even though I feel completely normal this morning - albeit a very tired version of normal - we kept the appointment with the woman from the Entlastungsdienst to help me with Small Boy. I was curious, to say the least, to see how it would go. Small Boy is at that age where er fremdelt - that is, he's deep in the thickets of stranger anxiety. How would this work, passing him off to a total stranger? Would this even work at all? Is there even any point? You have to realize that since Small Boy was born he's been alone with me, R. or Grandma. That's it. I mean, the four minutes he's alone here and there with my friends while I go get a cup of coffee or go to the bathroom don't really count, do they? No, they don't. Let's face it. I'm pretty much with the Boy all the time. So on top of stranger anxiety there's the whole separation anxiety (for Small Boy and mom) to consider. How is this going to work?

Well. They're at the park. I'm at home. That's how this is working.

The first ten minutes were dicey. He sat on my lap and I chatted with Frau S. She tried to hold him, but it was too soon. We all three moved to the couch, where Small Boy plays sometimes and there are always a few small toys, and played together. Gradually I played less and became quiet and Frau S. played more. I moved to a chair. They kept playing. I went out of his field of vision to eat breakfast. They kept playing. I heard Boy giggles. She picked him up and carried him around. Later, he let her change a diaper. He let her dress him. They are right now together. At the park. Without me. (Admittedly since I am not there for all I know he's screaming his head off, but I doubt it. She'd come back.)

I could get used to this.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Off balance

I have often felt off balance in Switzerland, especially at the beginning. Culture shock is just so much more shocking than you expect it to be. You come in expecting not to know the language (unless you already speak it, which was not the case with me), so you're prepared for that. You expect to feel like an idiot when somebody says something to you on the train (did they just ask me what time it is? or if this train stops at station X? maybe to open the window? or if I'm reading that newspaper on the seat next to me? or if the seat next to me free? whatwhatwhatwhatisit?!), and you just look at them with big eyes. You expect to order the wrong thing in a restaurant once in a while. To take a long time making friends. You expect to get lost, to get on the wrong train, to misunderstand the weather report. You expect that. It's still disheartening, but you expect it.

Then there is the unexpected. Or perhaps better to say the unconsidered. There is just so much I didn't think about before moving here. You think about the big things - language, how to find work - but leave the little things unconsidered. Take, for example, personal space. Swiss people (and, I understand from Stringbean, Germans) have much smaller zones of personal space than we're used to in the US. So when I stand in line at the grocery store, the person in line behind me is often actually touching me. It freaks my inner American right out. When I stand in line for an ATM, or at passport control in Zürich Airport, sometimes people cut in line in front of me because I leave so much space between me and the person in front of me that they can't believe I'm actually in line. After five years, it's perhaps the one thing I still cannot adjust to.

There are so many little cultural things you could not possibly know until you arrive. What do you do when you want to occupy an empty seat in the train? Even if it is blindingly obvious that the seat is empty, if you are about to sit down next to somebody you always, ALWAYS ask if the seat if free. You just do. When you buy movie tickets you get assigned seats, which you sit in, even if it means sitting right next to somebody in an otherwise empty theater. When making a toast you make sure you clink glasses, make eye contact, and address by name each person at the table, even if there are 15 of you and you just met half of them. When leaving a gathering you take your leave of everybody individually, either with a handshake or kisses depending on your relationship, but always by name. It seems even after five years I am still learning some unspoken social rule every week, if not every day. Naturally the learning is usually the result of a breach. It keeps me ever so slightly off balance. Even as I'm feeling more and more at home here, I'm also getting used to being ever so slightly off balance.

This week, however, I am literally off balance. I'm suffering from benign parosysmal positional vertigo. I woke up at 04:00 Tuesday and the bed was spinning like a carousel and I had to throw up, only I couldn't stand up. I made it to the floor, but that was spinning, too. I couldn't even crawl to the bathroom. Every movement made the room whirl. R had to go get a bowl for me. We called the emergency on call doctor, who made a house call (at 5 am!) and diagnosed me. I have a prescription to reduce nausea and one to increase blood floor to my ears, but treatment essentially is wait until the crystal dissolves and, as tempting as it is to stay still in bed, don't. Move my body, even when it makes me sick. I could be better in two days, I could be better in two weeks.

If it weren't for Small Boy, this would be an annoyance. A big annoyance, but an annoyance. But with Small Boy, it becomes a danger. Bending over to pick him up after a nap, hoisting him onto the changing table, soothing him in the rocking chair, all these things could make me spin and fall and with me, the Boy. Simply walking across the room with him in my arms could be dangerous. R has taken some time off of work, and my mother-in-law is coming out today, tomorrow and Friday, and a friend will be coming by. For the few hours we haven't been able to cover between now and the weekend, we've hired a nurse to help out. Remarkably, I'm doing much better today. I saw the doctor again (who just might become our regular Hausartz since our old one is back out by Small Village) and he also thinks I'm on the mend. I don't feel dizzy or nauseous, and this morning I actually forgot I was supposed to be careful and flipped my head over to comb out my hair. Nothing happened. I feel, amazingly, almost normal.

So, do we cancel the 35SFr/hour nurse for the one morning we have uncovered, or do I play it safe? It's not about me - even if I were to fall, I'd be okay. I've got a hard head. I know it's no joke. It could be quite serious if I were to be here alone and fall and hit my head. But somehow I always think I'm going to be okay. It's the Small Boy I worry about. I think I'm going to play it safe. Probably.

Monday, October 24, 2005

For Lillian

The view from the Grosse Schanze

These fountains in front of the Bundeshaus were completed last summer and instantly turned into the biggest hit in town! All summer little kids were running around through the fountains - in their clothes, in bathing suits, or just totally naked! I think everybody was surprised by what an attraction it turned out to be.

Looking down Kramgasse from the Zytglogge. They've had the lower half of the old town torn up for about 12 months and it's finally finished and looks great.

One of the fountains.


The ATM knows me too well

I went to an ATM to get money today. Not, by the way, a machine I use all that often although it is just around the corner from our apartment. In fact, yesterday was just the second time I'd used that particular ATM. I put in my card, typed in my PIN, and then the options screen came up - how much cash do you want, do you want a receipt, that sort of thing. The option on the bottom right was interesting - it was the exact amount I usually pull out of the machine, with a receipt. So I touched the screen and completed my transaction.

Then R used the same machine to get money and when he got to the options screen, the option in the bottom right was different - a different amount, without a receipt. The transaction R usually makes.

So the ATMs know our withdrawal patterns well enough to custom-tailor a screen option for us. Convenient, or freaky? I can't decide.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

I've been tagged... J. - days ago - and finally getting to it.

Rules are as follows:
Remove the blog at #1 from the following list and bump every one up one place; add your blog's name in the #5 spot; link to each of the other blogs for the desired cross pollination effect.

1. Never promised you a rose garden
2. ShutterJane
3. SwissTwist
4. Germany Doesn't Suck
5. The Xpat Files

Next: select four new friends to add to the pollen count. (No one is obligated to participate and anyone can play if they want to).

1. Mausi
2. Here in Korea
3. My Topography
4. My Thailand Diary

What were you doing 10 years ago?

Living in the USA, working as a Legal Assistant, and contemplating grad school.

What were you doing 5 years ago?

Wrapping up grad school and getting ready to move to Switzerland.

What were you doing one year ago?

Living in Switzerland, picking out baby names, and getting ready for the Small-Back-Then-We-Didn't-Know-Yet.

What were you doing yesterday?

Strolling through the Old Town, down the main street that has finally reopened after a year of construction/renovation/replacement of 500,000 cobblestones; bumping into friends; buying a new outfit for Small Boy; relaxing with a latte.

5 snacks you enjoy

1. Peanut butter chocolate chip granola bars
2. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
3. Fresh bread spread thick with butter and black cherry jam
4. Pistachios
5. A latte with a caramel apple bar

5 songs you know all the words to

1. The Things We've Handed Down - Marc Cohn
2. True Companion - Marc Cohn
3. The Boxer - Simon and Garfunkle
4. American Pie - Don McLean
5. Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen

5 things you would do if you had a million dollars

(Personally, I don't think a million dollars stretches as far as it used to when people started asking what would you do if you had a million dollars. I think number two below would eat up well over half of the million right there, but I'll play along)

1. Travel (Patagonia, Alaska, Norway, Australia, Croatia are all high on the list)
2. Buy an apartment in Arosa
3. Set aside enough money for Small Boy to go to the university of choice in the country of his choice
4. Buy a new kick ass camera
5. Upgrade to a wider, 8-harness loom and take weaving classes again (and pay for all the baby-sitting this would require!!)

5 things you like doing

1. Travelling
2. Writing - except for when I hate it
3. Weaving
4. Nibbling Small Boy's feet until he giggles his irresistable giggle
5. Cycling

5 bad habits

1. Procrastination (how long did it take me to do this, for example)
2. Swearing
3. Eating cake for dinner after a particularly bad day. Wait, that's not so bad is it?
4. Popping my finger and toe joints
5. Constantly messing with my hair

5 things you would never wear again

1. cat suit.
2. leggings under an oversized sweater
3. Construction worker boots with Daisy Dukes. Don't ask.
4. A beret
5. yellow

5 favourite toys

1. Does Small Boy count?
2. Laptop
3. Loom
4. Bike, even though I don't get out on it anymore.
5. Snow shoes.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

True Love

It must be love, for yes, that is a New York Review of Books I let Small Boy masticate. Not the current issue, heavens no! I love him, but there are limits, after all.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Swiss miss

Sandra's post about all things Korean in her purse made me think about what I refer to as my Swiss personality. Or, rather, my wallet's Swiss personality. In the States, I rarely had more than $40 cash in my wallet at any one time, and I certainly never carried anything larger than a $20. Heavens knows I didn't want to get that look from the cashiers at CVS - you know, that look you get when you hand over a fifty-dollar bill to pay for a seven-dollar item. (Speaking of CVS, the cashiers at any given CVS in Washington, DC, have to be the surliest employees anywhere on the face of the planet, with the possible exception of those at the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, with whom I had the dubious pleasure of dealing back in my Legal Assistant days. But I digress. Back to the wallet.) In Switzerland, on the other hand, I start to feel uncomfortably short of cash when I fall below CHF250 (about US 190 at today's rates). Seriously, I feel uncomfortably short of cash at that point. It's not uncommon for me to have a 100-franc note in my wallet. In fact, it's not uncommon for me to have a 200-franc note in my wallet. Now I'll confess that I'm still a bit uncomfortable with the 200-franc note (who needs a single bank note worth the equivalent of US 150?), but I think nothing of paying for a 4-franc coffee with a 100 note.

You see, cash is still king in Switzerland. A lot of little restaurants or cafes only take cash. The post office only takes cash (or the PostFinance card, which we don't have). Mailing Christmas presents back to the States can burn up a lot of cash, and is one of the few times I'm able to fork over the 200-franc note without batting an eye. I've been in line at the grocery store behind people paying for three hundred francs worth of groceries in cash. I've been in line behind a guy breaking a 1,000-franc note. At the grocery store. That's US 770. Not even at the real grocery store, no, this was at the little tiny emergency grocery store at the train station. He only had about 50 francs worth of groceries; the cashier broke his 1,000 note with a minimum of fuss. People do use their debit cards a lot, and I do, too, but there's still a lot of cash passing through people's hands in Switzerland. Including mine. It's one of the ways I've become rather Swiss.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

How was your day?

I'm eating the cake right out of the bakery box. Yeah, one of those days.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The to do list

I have two piles on my desk. (Well, three, but the third is just a pile of "stuff that should be someplace else but is here on my desk for now.") Of the two piles that matter, the pile to the far left has drafts of current writing projects, submissions from my writing workshop classmates that I need to read, and a file of story ideas. It's the pile of "intellectual" things to do.

Then there's the pile next to it, with the mundane things to do. Let's see, for this week we have
  • send baby blanket to J and T

  • send baby monitors for repair

  • respond to Niece's latest letter

  • go to Fremdenpolizei to renew residency permit (this will consume a morning for sure)

  • e-mail sister-in-law to ask if I should renew Niece's gift subscription to Stone Soup

  • e-mail A.

  • write RR back

  • change address on investment even though we already did this

  • complete a privacy statement for said investment

  • change address for the Elternbrief (monthly parenting letters we receive for free)

  • fill out the forms for Gesuch um erleichterte Einbürgerung, i.e. to get my Swiss passport

  • Why is that last one last on the list, you wonder? Wouldn't you think I'd put that first on the list, you ask? Well, since we were told it would take 12 to 18 months to process the application, what's one or two more days.

    Saturday, October 15, 2005


    In my last post, about Babyfensters, I told you about the newborn girl found in a shopping center last week, and I wrote all about Babyfensters and anonymous birth as potentially newborn-saving options for desperate mothers.

    How rational of me.

    What I didn't do was tell you what I did when I read about "Natascha." (That's how the baby girl is referred to but it is not, we are told, the legal name she has been given. That will remain private.) I cried. I stroked her little picture in the newspaper and I told R we should take her home. For somebody who struggled as hard as we did to have a child, it's hard to see that beautiful baby and to think of her being left behind. I stand by what I said in my last post - I don't judge the mother, and I respect her for the ways in which she attempted to protect her baby even as she was leaving her. It would have been so easy to drop her off on the side of a road somewhere in the dark, or just on the ground in a park, or to do the horrible. But for somebody like me...well, it's a hard story to read. It's a hard story to fathom - somebody leaving behind something I fought so hard to have. I told R we should offer to take Natascha home and he said one of those things that are the things I married him for. He said it wouldn't be fair, that we have our Small Boy and there are probably families still waiting for their Small One and that we should let somebody else adopt her. He's right. It would be miserly, wouldn't it, to get in line, Small Boy in hand, ahead of a couple with empty hands and open arms. And let's face it, Small Boy has me running in circles already; who am I kidding about taking on a Wee Girl? Besides, Natascha should be a family's first child, so that she can be the center of the world for a while.

    And there's always the hope that her mother will contact the authorities soon, that she has found the support she needs.

    But I cry when I read updates about Natascha, and I always stroke her little picture in the paper and I whisper "I'd take you home, Sweetie."


    Friday, October 14, 2005


    EDITED on 31 January to add the address of the sole Babyfenster in Switzerland:

    Regionalspital Einsiedeln
    Spitalstrasse 28
    8840 Einsiedeln.

    On Saturday, a days-old baby girl was found in a shopping center in a town near here. This sort of thing is quite unusual in Switzerland. She was, according to the information the police released, healthy in appearance (though her umbilical cord had not been professionally cut and dressed, indicating an unattended birth), clean, dressed and diapered, wrapped in a blanket, and bedded down in a shopping cart which was left in an indoor shopping center during daylight hours. It's unlikely the child was alone for even an hour before a shopper found her, as I'm sure the mother planned. (It's of course possible that both parents were involved in this decision, but the whole situation points to a mother with few if any social support resources. I suspect a young mother, quite possibly Papierlos - that is, undocumented - who attempted, possibly successfully, to hide the pregnancy altogether.) As far as abandonments go, this one was carefully done, designed to ensure a good outcome for the baby. I personally see love there. Desperation and fear, certainly, but tenderness as well.

    This has renewed discussion in Switzerland of two options for women - particularly Papierlos - who deliver children they can't, won't, for whatever reason, keep: anonymous birth and Babyfensters. Of the two, anonymous birth is far more controversial. It's exactly what it sounds like. You can give birth, in a hospital, without registering your identity. This is not currently permitted in Switzerland (it is allowed in France, where about 560 children a year are born to anonymous mothers). In Switzerland you need the following documents when you check into the hospital or arrange an attended home birth: if married, your Familienbüchlein (the family book where all your official records are noted) and Niederlassungsbewilligung (a certificate of domicile); if unmarried, just the Niederlassungsbewilligung and that of your partner if he's in the picture. Foreigners giving birth in Switzerland need the following additional documents: your residency permit and passport and those of your partner, and your marriage certificate. All patients need to provide health insurance information and a blood group certificate, which you should have received during your prenatal care. This is why I suspect the Steffisburg mother is undocumented - if you're undocumented, there is no way to have an attended birth without exposing yourself. I have no idea if some OBs or midwifes might look the other way on this at a home birth, but there is simply no way a hospital could. They would have no choice but to contact the Fremdenpolizei (immigration). Now in an anonymous birth, none of these documents would be collected. The mother could have a safe, attended delivery and the baby would be immediately in the care of nurses. You can see the trouble with an anonymous birth, however. There is no way to protect the father's rights, and, according to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have a right to know their origins. The child of an anonymous birth could never trace her birth parents or know her national or ethnic background.

    Less controversial are Babyfensters (link only available in German, French or Italian), specially designed baby drop-off windows at hospitals. Here's how it works (if you open the link above and click on "Wie gehe ich vor?" you can view a series of staged photos that show how it works. No language skills required!): You open the window from the outside and deposit the baby in a waiting crib, which is heated to 37 Celcius. You can leave a toy with the baby, or a letter giving it a name, or nothing at all. After two minutes (enough time to allow the parent to leave unobserved) an alarm is activated which alerts the nurses in Labor and Delivery. The baby is then brought to the nursury where it is examined and cared for along with the other newborns. A foster family is found, who can adopt the child is the mother has not returned for the child after a year.

    There is, however, exactly one Babyfenster in Switzerland, and it's not near Steffisburg. So the mother left the baby in a shopping center - a good choice to try to make sure that the least possible harm would come to the baby before somebody found it and called the police, but nevertheless risky. A Babyfenster would have been a much safer alternative, had one been available. The Steffisburg baby is currently being cared for in a regional hospital. She has been appointed a guardian, will be given a name and a birthday (both of which will remain private) and will be placed in a Kinderheim with a nursury for three months, in the hopes that the mother will come for her. After that, she will be placed with an adoptive family (over thirty families have already applied) who will foster her for nine months before the adoption will be finalized.

    I don't know the parents of the Steffisburg baby, I don't know their burdens, and I'm not going to judge them for this. Whoever left that baby went to some lengths to ensure that it would not come to harm before it was found, and there's maturity in that, and basic decency and, yes, love. I don't judge the mother. I can't. What do I know about her life? I can, however, judge the Parliment for rejecting a 2002 proposal to open more Babyfensters.

    And I do.


    Monday, October 10, 2005

    6 years today

    6 years
    5 of them in Switzerland
    4 pairs of mocs
    3 Excellent Adventures
    2 wedding ceremonies
    1 Small Boy
    0 regrets

    Sunday, October 09, 2005

    Oh crapity crap!

    Should I be troubled by this?

    You Are Changing Leaves

    Pretty, but soon dead.

    As seen at Raising WEG.

    Saturday, October 08, 2005

    To the person who found my site by searching for "how to get my passport to Switzerland"..., when you find out can you let me know?



    This morning R stayed home with the Small Boy while I went to the bakery/cafe around the corner. On my way out I checked the mail, to find that this had arrived. Off to the cafe I went, where I lingered, Boy-less, over a schale (basically a latte) that did not have to be a long arm's reach away and this article, which I was able to finish in one sitting. That doesn't happen much these days, at least certainly not during the daylight hours. Amazing how such little things can recharge me.

    Wednesday, October 05, 2005

    Indiana, I hardly knew 'ya

    I love Indiana. I went to college in Indiana, and in Indiana I gave birth to my best self. For that I will always love Indiana. I have cycled hundreds, nay, thousands of miles of rolling Indiana countryside, and it made my legs strong and my will stronger. I learned to win in Indiana, and there I learned to deal with losing. I learned to accept coaching, to let my coach pinpoint my weaknesses, and in doing so he made me a better cyclist than I ever would have been otherwise. (For that I'll always love you, too, Andy.) I have sprinted up Firehouse Hill. I have spent oh! too many miles doing spinning drills on Flat Bottom Road. I have circled Lake Monroe, crossed the Causeway, time trialed in Morgan-Monroe State Park. I have bruised ribs, shattered helmets, and perfected the rotating paceline in Indiana. I became, in many ways, the woman I am today in Indiana.

    Which is why it pains me beyond measure to see this (pdf of actual bill here).

    (Via Julie, Akeeyu, and Susan, who serve up the outrage.)

    UPDATE (6 Oct 09:40 CET): Wow that was fast. Apparantly the bill has been withdrawn. I'm sure the Organized Outrage of the Infertiles had something to do with it. I love the internets. (Update via Susan/In a Holding Pattern)

    Saturday, October 01, 2005

    Things I've been meaning to blog

    I've been meaning to blog about the Swiss vote last Sunday to extend freedom of movement to citizens of the ten newest EU states, but I haven't gotten around to it. Short version: 56% of Swiss voters (turnout was about 53%) voted to give the right to live and work in Switzerland to citizens of the ten newest EU states (the old 15 already have it). The "Yes" vote was higher than expected, and higher than the "Yes" vote back in June for joining Schengen-Dublin. On a political level, I think the Swiss made the best decision possible within the limited playing room they had. On a purely personal level, it just got that much harder for me to find a job should I go looking.

    I've also been meaning to blog about this report (link in German, the report is 63 pages long), which suggests that kids in Switzerland have too many structured activities and not enough free time to be kids and not enough time for physical activity during the school day. All of which puts this old post of mine in a new light, and I'll have to revisit this issue when I've got more time. You know, when Small Boy goes off to Gymnasium (high school for the university bound).

    And I've been meaning to respond to Sandra and Christina's comments in my weaving post (scroll down to Saturday, Sept 24).

    And I've been meaning to describe our no-longer-so-new new neighborhood and the bakery/cafe around the corner and just in general how life goes here.

    Gah! Not. Enough. Time. In. The. Day.