I was going to post on Monday that we were starting week three of school, and now suddenly today is Friday and we are nearly at the end of it! We’ve been working mostly on survival. I am happy to say that my homeschool mom career is far from over – or I can say, at least, that it has morphed into super-hands-on-homework-helper mom: translating, explaining, figuring out: here’s how you say ‘direct object’ in French; when you have a direct object in German it takes the Akkusativ case; here you must plot these points on x,y axes and then color the ensuing picture, Yes, I believe 47 is a prime number; conjugate the verb ‘etre’; here’s how to say ‘crustacean’ in French; Latin? – who knows, you’re on your own. Good grief! My head spinneth. I am glad to say though, that yesterday was a pretty good day. I cannot say that there were no tears, because I have just had a confession that there were some upon awakening. But everyone made it through the day in decent spirits and didn’t have as much of that hit-by-Mack-truck look about them that they have had. Maybe, just maybe, we are finding the first inkling of a system in the midst of the big, tiring mess of school. They don’t really like it, but at least they are finding it. Or maybe they are just learning to be stoic. One of the biggest challenges is logistics. If Artemis leaves the house by 7:25 she can catch the 7:36 train and have time to lock her bike. She arrives back in the village for lunch on the train at 12:21, and if she hasn’t appeared at the house by 12:27 we’ve agreed that I’ll go drive and look for her, because she’s got to be back on the return bus which leaves at 12:59. If I drive her, we can leave the house at 12:53. If she’s biking, she’d better leave by 12:50. And it goes on and on — times four! We’ve got things worked out to the minute, and I’ve become a chronic watch checker. Now this is quite ironic, to which anyone who knows me well can attest. I’ve always been a believer in a healthy cushion of about 10 minutes either way. Which makes me often late, but hey, if you are 10 minutes late to my house, that’s fine too! Hope you feel the same way! 10 minutes doesn’t really show up on my radar! Until now. One day in the first week of this, as I sat with the kids around the table trying to work out the logistics and feeling my head starting to burn, one of them exclaimed, “Now we know how Papa got the way he is!” It’s an interesting thought: are Swiss people naturally punctual or are they forced to develop that way because of The System? In any event it is good for me, because I’ve been convicted the past few years of the annoyance my lateness may cause in my social circle. I really do believe that chronic lateness is the theft of other people’s time, and I want to change. So like Puddleglum I am thinking that these are the just the chaps to get me to take a serious view on life. My, will my acquaintances back home ever be surprised! We’ve got time for exactly three more inhalations of air and then I’ve got to scoot! On a completely other note, today I biked to France! Because I could! In the exactly 105 minutes that Hermes was at preschool, I hopped on a bike and rode to the pedestrian/bicycle border crossing. It took about 5 minutes. No one was there – just surveillance cameras – and so I crossed unencumbered. It’s the same small town where we often go grocery shopping; I was there by car this morning in fact; I had just never gone on a bicycle. I did not take my camera, so no pictures this time. It’s a sweet small French town complete with remains of medieval ramparts as well as examples of unfortunate French architecture of the 1970s. But a nice looking cafe in a town square where I shall return someday for coffee. It would be nice to bike there with a friend. Anyone? On another note, amidst the travails of the school start and life in general, we have been greatly encouraged by our visits with friends and family via Skype and similar media. It’s not quite like being in the same room, and yet it is so much more like it than a phone call. You can make silly faces, for one thing. Last night, as I was preparing dinner, we got a video call from Uncle Chip who after giving greetings, put on a puppet show for Hermes and kept him occupied while I put things on the table. Then we sat down to eat and put the “him” (the laptop) up on the microwave where he could be at the head of the table. Then Uncle Chip said grace for us and drank his morning coffee while we ate our dinner of soup and salad. Skypeing always makes me think of the Jetsons. We are video-calling like George Jetson! The future is now! How grateful I am for the technology that make it possible, that makes sharing our life via this blog possible, that makes your comments and encouragements possible, that makes us feel not quite so lonely, and our loved ones, though far away, not feel quite so far away. I want a life that’s got the best of all worlds, old and new: high on electronic communication, low on mindless internet drivel; high on handmade art, but also high on digital photography and photo sharing; homegrown food, but a big fridge and a good dishwasher; travelling to see the world, but being able to walk to school. I feel very blessed; I feel like I get a lot of what I want.
At long last –thank you for your patience – here it is: a photo tour of “our” house for this year. Apple House is what Athena and I decided to call it long ago, but we keep forgetting and just call it Pommesrats. Pum-RAH. Anyway, here it is ~ notice our car with Swiss plates. It’s nice to have them, but I almost miss the quizzical looks we got while driving around with our Washington ones. To the right of the house (from the street) are the steps leading to the front door. Bella is demonstrating how they work. On the porch (I’ve always wanted a porch!) at the top of the stairs hangs a greeting: Welcome. This is the front door handle – isn’t it cool? Here is my family showing what you will see when you go through the front door. I made them do this. Zeus and Hermes are standing by the door to the kitchen. Athena is sticking out of the dining room. Straight ahead is the bathroom. Artemis is in front of the door to the living room and Apollo, barely constraining his enthusiasm, is by the door to our bedroom and to the stairs to downstairs. Here is the kitchen. No, Wait!…Hey guys, c’mon! We’re doing a tour here! Ah yes, that’s better. If you go through the French doors onto the balcony there are some herb pots that my father-in-law sweetly planted for us. We’ve been enjoying the fresh basil in everything. The herb pots are guarded by a Watch Fox who is missing a front paw. I found him and his brother lying in the tall grasses by the side of the house. I like them very much. Back inside, into the Dining Room. Here is the buffet of Great Aunt Lina. She passed away in the 1970s, and Oh my, there’s quite a family story there, but I will save it for now and just tell you that I am very grateful to Tante Lina because we are also using some of her plates, dishes and an armoire. I just love this buffet, but strangely, most of the Swiss people my age don’t. They are so tired of all the history and old antiques that are all around them that they want everything new and modern, and they think pieces like this are old and ugly. I like some modern furniture, but I find that so much of it lacks soul. This buffet sat in two pieces down in the basement of Zeus’ parents’ house for 30 years. In all the time I’ve know him, I’d never seen it put together. Now it has found a home again for a bit, and it’s perfect to put our minimal table linens and craft supplies in. But I digress… Here is the other side of the Dining Room. The bookshelf in the corner was left by previous renters and the table and chairs were Zeus’ parents that they kept in the attic when the got new ones. I have to admit I like it less than Tante Lina’s buffet, but it’s fine. The table has Very Sturdy Legs! I have an urge to recover the chairs with some funky print – and Tata said I could – so maybe someday when there’s nothing to do…HA! Hey! Who left their computer on the table??! Continuing clockwise around the main floor, we reach the single solitary bathroom. It is teaching us a great deal about Sharing and Turn Taking and what constitutes a Real Emergency. I did not choose the shower curtain. This is the living room, or salon, if you want to be speak French. The furniture is almost all loaned from either the parents or their friends. The kids are playing chess as the table has a beautiful inlaid wood chessboard. Here’s another corner, which is where I am sitting right now, with my computer on the little table. Here is the one piece of furniture not on loan; I made it! I believe I have mentioned all the spare wood stashed in the attics and sheds and cellars of this house. One day I was wishing for a coffee table and hunted about amidst the wood. I found this wooden top already put together in the cellar and then realized that the day before I had seen something like short table legs in the attic! Zeusy had just bought a power drill at Ikea, et voila! It will not win any design awards, but it does the job – holds the coffee and the lego projects – and it didn’t cost a cent. And here is my Sweet Sparrow come all the way from America with me to keep me company. She’s on the table looking at me right now. A little corner of felted happiness. I found this fabric at Ikea; it’s sort of a modern take on traditional Switzerland, and I couldn’t resist. I am going to make a wall hanging. And the last room downstairs: the master bedroom. Someone had better iron those sheets! Oops, though – won’t be me! The stairwell. This is actually looking down from the landing at the top, which I’m sure you figured out all on your own. The front door is to the right just at the bottom of the stairs. I am sensing this would be a great place for a large interesting piece of homemade art. To the right at the top of the stairs – the Boys’ Room. And the Girls’ Room across the way. They will probably be mad at me for posting this with their beds unmade. Hey, it’s just reality, folks. That pretty much wraps up our tour. I will save the laundry room for another time and to see the attics (one has become the Electric Train Room!) you will have to come to visit us in person. Before you go, pause to enjoy the bouquet of wildflowers by the front door. And pass under the watchful eyes of another Watch Fox. We are so grateful for this home for this year – it suits us and we suit it, I think. When we took possession, our landlady said she was happy that there would be life in the house once again. Ah yes! I thought, We’ve got plenty of that! We pray for God’s blessing on these four walls and on those who live here and for all who will come visit. Merci d’etes venus et a bientot! Thank you for coming and see you soon!
Well, we’ve reached the end of the week, just barely. After the fairly successful first and second days, reality sank in for the kids starting on Wednesday, when it was time to wake up and do it all over again. Each day they came home more and more tired and overwhelmed by the prospect of a whole year of this schedule and afraid they will never understand what is going on. It helped that Athena and Apollo could come home for lunch each day, speak English and relax their brains a little bit. After three days of eating at school, one in cooking class (fun!) and two in the cafeteria, today Artemis took the train home to eat and relax her brain with us as well, and I planned to drive her back to give her a little more time at home. I made a yummy meal that everyone likes, and while everyone is worn thin and soooo ready for the weekend, there was a really nice feeling of family togetherness around the table. This is hard, we’re almost to the end of the week, I feel somewhat guilty that we’ve voluntarily inflicted this on you, but we’re in it together and we’re going to support each other and muddle through until it gets better. We’ve had tears from everyone this week, except for Hermes – and I’m willing to bet his are not far off as weariness is showing with his frequent tongue sucking. Each one of the kids has had a moment when they are just DONE; they are discouraged, overwhelmed and they fall apart and dissolve. To be honest, I’ve had some of those moments as well. In addition, this week, Zeus began his Job Hunt For Real, and as such this morning after the kids were all off and I’d come back from the village store with groceries, he needed to debrief and bounce his ideas off me. It was good, and I think I am able that way to be a real help, but it did make me reflect that mostly this week I’ve been a Meal Cooker, Idea Bouncer and Pieces of Kid Picker-Upper. As you may know, my “job” while we are here is to write the novel that I started last year and am “supposed” to write, by which I mean that I have the continuing sense that it is a story that God wants me to tell. (Now this is potentially frightening that I have put it here because you will probably hold me to it!) Helen, the protagonist, has been sitting in her new friend’s apartment for over a year now, waiting for me to once more take up pen and get on with her life. Last week, up in the mountains I read a short book called The War of Art to get my rear in gear and my mindset ready. So the first full day of school in a quiet house for a couple hours, I sat down with ol’ Helen and got reacquainted. It was more of a symbolic act to show the world that I am not waffling anymore, but since then,… well…Helen went back to sitting in her chair with her sprained ankle while I dried tears and made hot lunches and bounced ideas. And that’s okay – I gave myself permission not to actually write anything until next week. And after all, I need to update you, too. C.S.Lewis wrote somewhere about his mother that she was like a Continent, her presence large and solid and stable, and when she died he and his father and brother all lost their moorings. I don’t want to die young and make my family lose their moorings, but I do like the idea of being a Continent for my family. (In a healthy way, of course.) I get to be there for them, hopefully solid and stable, especially right now, showing love with clean clothes, covered books (that’s a whole other post), walks to school, good food, a listening ear and a strict bedtime. Helen can wait a little longer, don’t you think? She’s got a sprained ankle; how far can she go?
We made it in one piece with all twelve bags and a Bella doggy who, while she was really glad to see us at baggage claim in Zurich, seems to be none the worse for the long trip. All of us actually got a little sleep on the plane – the boys got a lot – and arrived feeling pretty good. Zeus’ father and brother came to pick us up and our friends Esther and her kids and Tracy and Rudi came to greet us as well. Manu went to pick up the Blueberry Mazda car and we drove to the Natal Village. We had snacks at our grandparents and then came to visit our house. The Welcoming Committee Our luggage Zeus’ parents-bless them!- had gotten the house all fixed up with beds for our arrival, and there is nothing quite like falling into clean, ironed linen sheets after a long travel. It’s enough to make one ponder the possibility of one ironing one’s sheets as well. But that possibility is pretty remote, I think. Our first day here was spent eating at what felt like all the wrong hours, exploring the house and garden some more, unpacking clothes and walking to the store to buy dog food. Our grandparents, Popop and Tata, provided lunch and dinner for us since I don’t have any pots and pans or much food yet. Zeus hit the ground sprinting early in the morning and was off to the town hall to declare ourselves and jumping through car registration hoops. After lunch he and his dad built a closet for us, because built-in bedroom closets don’t really exist here – it’s mostly Bring Your Own Closet – BYOC. Or Wardrobe, if you will, as in Lucy going to Narnia. In French it is called an armoire. So they put together the armoire for us, and we began unpacking into it. The kids and I felt a little lost all day. What with jet lag, fatigue, warm temperatures, lots of unfamiliarity and a house that doesn’t smell like us, we kept sort of wandering about, feeling like we should be doing something - the past few weeks there was always something we needed to be doing – but not quite sure what. To be suddenly with no extremely pressing agenda in a very quiet little village feels rather surreal. I think we just need time, vitamins and a lot of chocolate to burn off the excess adrenalin still flowing in our veins. The chocolate is quite helpful in the Oh No! What have we done?! moments. But it’s very pretty here and the weather is beautiful and we love what we see out the windows. Looking east – the view from the kitchen, the village church is in the background. Moo. Looking west, to the backside of the house. Our rental property goes a ways further back – through the orchard which extends past the buildings you see in the background. The cherries are ripe and there are also apple and plum trees. The raspberries and red currants are also ripe right now, which soothes my soul since I had to leave both of those ripe at our house. Yum! This was our one casualty from the voyage. My computer was in my carry-on and pretty well packed, but at some point when we were stressed and bundling our things aboard it apparently suffered too much pressure, and the screen cracked. It seems to be working alright (aside from the large alien-with-antennas blotch), but I think slowly the rest of the screen is being affected. So we shall have to see about that. Since I’m supposed to be over here writing, a non-functional computer could seriously hamper my style. It’s now about 4:30 am here. Time now for a snack and another shot at sleeping.
Despite a rough start this morning, even with the patch, I am happy to report that I didn’t get sick on the actual plane. And just before we landed in San Francisco I ate 1 pretzel and so far I’ve managed to keep it down. Here’s the next leg: It’s been a long while since I’ve flown on Swiss Airlines. I think it must be the world’s best airline because they give you little chocolates! We’ve taken over a bay in the waiting area – this is just our carry-ons. As I’ve been typing this, I’ve had a few more pretzels and I think I’m on the mend. I took some more medicine too – my head still hurts, but I’m not so queasy. I think the patch finally kicked in. Thanks for your prayers!