Basel Christmas Market

 Here is a little more Weihnachtsmarkt ~ for all of you and especially for Debi. 

Yesterday (Friday) afternoon after school the kids and I drove to Basel, met up with Zeus after work and went to the Basel Christmas market.

It was very cold but very festive.The Germans and Swiss Germans are the masters of creating charming ambiance with little glowing lights. The market is like its own little mini-city, where for the month of December stands are set up selling all kinds of beautiful arts and crafts and housewares and decorations and clothing and beautifulness.

Somehow cobblestones trap the cold and send it right up into your feet — the same way it did in St. Ursanne. I wanted to stick my toes into my cup of Gluhwein but instead I drank it and gave Artemis little sips (!) and ate snausages and drank hot chocolate.The drinks came in pretty mugs with drawings of the Christmas market that you could return to any other food stand and get a deposit back, or not: and then you could keep your cup as a souvenir. We kept ours! 

This stand sold all kinds of beautiful carved wood ornaments and nativity sets.

This one sold all things made of beeswax.  (Note to Katarina: the girls really like the hat you left here. I don’t know that you’ll be getting it back any time soon. Artemis is wearing right now, as I type.)

It’s funny how some things are so different from Christmas shopping at an American mall — outside in the fresh air, shopping while drinking Gluhwein, trolleys and trams going by dinging their bells; and some things just stay the same: the menfolk of the family were finished  loooong before the ladies and Artemis worried that the photos of her in her warm puffy jacket might make her look fat.

At the entrance to the market there was a festive display from the Doll Museum of little forest critters making their Christmas preparations.  I captured a little video.

A statement from Zeus:  He regrets making monkey noises which are now recorded and saved for posterity. But he made up for it with his cute waving, don’t you think? His idea about adding music is a good one, but beyond my video making skills for the time being. The pictures is still a little jerky — sorry — I am learning. Most of this post was actually written on Stormie — so I am learning about mobile blogging, too —  Ah, the wonders of technology!

The experience was very joyful, except for the moment when we (the girls) realized that there were only 15 minutes left until the market closed (yikes!!). On the way home in the car I kept thinking, “Thank you, Jesus, for sharing your Birthday and your presents with us! What a great party you have every year!”

In a shop window there was an enormous gingerbread house! Wow! It inspired us to come right home and work on a smaller version. Since it’s started snowing again this morning, adding to the 3.5 inches we got yesterday, and we are feeling cozy and holed-up, it may just be a perfect project for today.

A little more Sardinia

IMG_0899 When we went Fishy Peeping the other day, all while I enjoyed watching them grazing seaweed off the rocks, somewhere in the back of my mind was drifting the thought, hey Fishy, you seem very fresh…I bet you would be tasty. I felt kind of bad about that, but when I confessed, Katie told me she often has similar thoughts underwater. We haven’t had fish in a while…Fish sounds nice! So Saturday Paolo went down to the fish market and got some nice fresh mullet. This was especially interesting since this was one of the kinds of fish I had seen seen swimming around and about which I had my tasty thoughts. Paolo baked them on a bed of salt, covered with more salt. It was simple and delicious! IMG_0936  Here they are, our hosts, Katie and Paolo, Diego, and Anita. IMG_0901  ~~~~~ A Visit to Antonica ~ Antonica is Katie’s neighbor, a genuine older Sardinian lady, complete with braided bun and long black skirt. We ran into her in the street one day, and she invited us for coffee the next day.  She has a typical Sardinian house with the front door right on the street and a courtyard garden in the back.  IMG_0982 She made us delicious espresso and we chatted, Katie translating for me the gist of their conversation in Italian. She told us how she met her husband of 44 years who passed away last year. His mother had passed away and he lived on his own, but his sister came every day to keep house for him. Every day on his way to his work with the cows he passed her house and said, “Bon Giorno” and “Buona Sera.” Finally he had one of his friends tell her he was interested. Apparently her reaction was positive, because she said he was ready to marry her the next day! His sister was tired of keeping house for him, and he needed a wife!  Signora Antonica said that maybe they weren’t very wise, since they hardly knew each other when the got married, but that she couldn’t complain. He had been a good husband, and they had had 44 good years together. IMG_0978   IMG_0980 After our coffee, Signora showed us the traditional Sardinian baskets she has woven. They are made from beach reeds and raffia. She is saving some of these for her 7 year old granddaughter who has already asked for them and staked her claim. She was very welcoming and friendly and offered to let me try on her traditional Sardinian costume to take a picture. Unfortunately we didn’t have time that day. IMG_0981 ~~~~~ And now, a few more views of the Sardinia we have been enjoying: twilit road with pampas grassIMG_0892 an artichoke farm IMG_0990 prickly pear cactus  IMG_0943 cacti along a village road – people use them for hedges IMG_1003 sheep making milk to make Pecorino cheese IMG_0776 volunteer cactus in the neighbor’s gutter IMG_0778 in Katie’s garden IMG_0944 feeding the horses that live across the roadIMG_0946 the gang on a windy-day outingIMG_0949  because we are both blond, everywhere we went people assumed Katie and I were sisters. No, but good friends for nearly thirty years! IMG_0954 a natural arch that we went to see just before the rain began pouring and we sought refuge in a cafe and hot chocolateIMG_0956   dinner time – why are we all raising our hands? I can no longer recallIMG_0971 Apollo bored enough to start reading on the KindleIMG_0975 a Signor on his bicycle – unfortunately I was too shy and slow to take the photo from the front – he was quite impressive and robusto! IMG_1000 traditional looking lady with head shawl –  shh…don’t tell Zeus I took this one while driving – I did slow waaaayy downIMG_0947 Pimpe the Gato found a sleeping boy warm & cozyIMG_0968 town square – Piazza Eleonora – in Oristano  IMG_1007-1 some of the ubiquitous trash that has been thrown along Sardinian roadsides IMG_0997 Unripe oranges hanging over a traditionally built wall – constructed from handmade mud bricks IMG_0984 Pampas Grass Parade  IMG_0987  late afternoon haystacks – made me think of Monet IMG_0991 me and my tribe – tomorrow we head back ‘home’ in addition to beaching and visiting, we’ve almost finished reading Percy Jackson aloud and the kids have played several games of Monopoly – the Italian version – so when Diego wasn’t playing, I had to give them my best guess of what the Imprevisiti (Chance) card was saying: Andante in prigione direttamente e senza passare dal <<Via!>> — Go directly to prison without passing Go. IMG_0906 And now it’s time to go and the Sardinian bird says Arrivederci! IMG_1010

Autumn Break in Sardinia

IMG_0789  Okay, I am feeling a little sheepish about telling you what we’re up to for the kids’ autumn break from school. I mean, a year in Switzerland is already pretty great, right? Does it help if I tell you that this trip to Sardinia was planned over a year and a half ago? Or that Katie is one of my very oldest friends? Or that we got cheap flights on Easy Jet? Or that Zeus had to stay behind because of his new job? For the sake of propriety, I could, of course, pretend that so far it’s been cold and rainy. But it hasn’t been! Since we arrived on Wednesday it has been clear and sunny and very warm. It’s been the warm summer we never quite got this year. IMG_0802 We’re staying with my dear dear friend Katie and her beautiful, hospitable family who making us feel very welcome and that increasing the number of people in their household by 125% for this week was exactly what they had been hoping to do. IMG_0783 And of course, when it’s sunny and warm you go to the beach! Thursday we packed food, picked up Diego and Anita from school, and headed out. Apparently the Sardinians are done going to the beach for the year; they have switched to jeans and long-sleeved shirts. The people on the beach at this time of year (including us) are foreigners. But really, there weren’t too many people at all and we had a lot of elbow room. IMG_0785  There were yellow jackets though, so the kids ate their sandwiches standing in the water. IMG_0792  This was a neat old Sardinian town – mostly vacation town now, where some spaghetti Westerns were filmed. I liked the pretty colors of the little houses. IMG_0793 Most of the houses had very interesting door knockers. This one makes me think of Aslan. It might come alive and tell me what to do. IMG_0807 On the way back to town we stopped and bought yummy sausage for dinner. IMG_0808 I am learning a little Italian. It usually goes like this: Katie introduces us as some American friends. O, la bella familia! I smile and say Bon Giorno. Quattro? [4?] Si, quattro.  Then they smile and are happy. Italians (and Sardinians, I suppose) still seem to like the concept of larger families, even though the country has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. The sausage man gave us what we asked for and paid for, and then heaped on about that much again. He was either very generous, or needed to offload a lot of sausage. So we came home with about twice as much sausage as 9 people can eat at one go. Fortunately it is very good sausage as he makes it himself there in his shop, and we are inventing creative uses. Friday we headed to the beach again because the weather is supposed to change in a few days, and really, that is what we came for – beach flopping. But on the way out there, we stopped at an old church that was originally built in 470 AD. Very interesting to think about what life was like here then. The Romans were still here then and Christianity had now become legal in the Empire. IMG_0809 IMG_0812    IMG_0813 This is engraved on the baptismal font that you seen in the photo above. I think that is what it is. And inside the font is a relief of a fish. IMG_0814 IMG_0818 This is a view I see a lot. People waiting for me outside the monument because I am still dawdling inside reading the plaques and taking pictures. But it’s also a photo composition I like – looking out at the brightness from inside the shadowy building. Further up the road there are ruins from a Phonecian village. We didn’t pay to go in, but Katie, who took the 2 hour guided tour a few years ago, gave us the quick 5 minute version while we peeked over the fence, which was more our speed. IMG_0824 This is a house that is believed to have been the bakery as there is still a huge mortar and pestle used to grind grain. There’s also a big bowl, which I realize only now did not make it into the photo. IMG_0826 Here’s another spot in the ancient village where you can see the sewage canal running between what used to be a row of houses. The village was originally Phoenician – those seafarers – and then later the Romans came and took it over, like everything else. Later, when Moors kept sailing in from Northern Africa and attacking, the people abandoned the village and moved to a safer distance inland. IMG_0828 And then our ultimate goal: the beach. IMG_0832 IMG_0834  IMG_0841 Katie told us when we arrived how Sardinia is pretty dry and lacking in trees, because when the Romans came, long long ago, they chopped down all the trees and took them off to Rome.  Hermes, apparently had been listening, because two days later he found this stick on the beach and said, “Look! The Romans forgot this one!” IMG_0845 We played in the water, dug in the sand, snacked, I read a couple chapters of Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief aloud and then we played in the water some more. IMG_0851 The island seems to be mostly volcanic rock – there are lots of lava rocks around, including these black ones on the point. The fishies like to hang out among the rocks, and we’ve been introduced to Fishy Peeping with masks and snorkels. Katie’s husband Paolo is a marine biologist here, so they all know a lot about the local marine life. The water is cool but refreshing and super clear and very salty so it is amazingly easy to float. About five feet out, if you put your head down, you find all kinds of fishies swimming around down by your toes! I found it rather addictive, and had to keep going back to see what they were up to. Here are the girls doing some Fishy Peeping (along with some Italian sun worshippers who sort of invaded our space). IMG_0866 Next on the agenda was to bury each other in the sand. IMG_0868 Before it was time to go, I wanted to get a photo of all the kids in the water. But Hermes, who had been buried and got a bunch of sand on his face upon emerging and had to be dunked, was tired and kind of done for the day. So he didn’t like the idea of a family photo, and retreated up the beach for a scream. After a bit he felt better. IMG_0880 Here are the others. IMG_0878 Ahhh!! Heavenly water and air and light. It’s what our brains and bodies have needed after school immersion into French and managing Swiss timetables. Time doing a bunch of not much in warm weather and water. The weather is supposed to change tomorrow, so today while we can, we’ll go back to the beach. 

Thrift Shoppin’

IMG_0565 The term in French is “brocante” and today, taking the scenic way home through a bunch of small towns we found the hidden treasure of hidden treasures! An old farmhouse barn full of goodies – three floors full and not overpriced. With two boys in the car (well, three) who weren’t quite as into shopping, I didn’t even get to see the other two floors – so I will go back. Isn’t this an awesome old crockery bowl? The strawberries inside were not from the thrift shop, but from the garden, believe it or not. Thank you, past renters, who planted everbearing strawberries. Dessert tonight!


Long, long ago last week before there were wasp stings and cortisone treatments and side effects of cortisone treatments, I had a birthday. I am 41. Here is what I did. Zeus planned to be around home that day to hold down the fort. I left him with an easy lunch for those children, and then I drove to pick up Tata for an outing to Basel. Once every six weeks or so she goes to her hairdresser in Basel and gets a taste of the big city, so this time we planned that I would go along. From here by car, it is actually quicker to go through France, so that is what we did. It takes about an hour. It was a lovely day, and once we had navigated numerous tiny French villages with bad signing and the busy approach to downtown Basel, we parked and walked around the old city. I accompanied Tata on foot to the hairdresser where I was introduced to Olivier, he of the intense eye and swooping bang. “AH!” he said intensely fixing me with his sharp brown gaze, “The American!!”
“er… yeah.” I mumbled and excused myself, feeling not so gorgeously dressed and therefore perhaps a bad fashion representative of my country. Then I had a lovely two hours to myself in downtown Basel, going into shops, going out of shops, hunting in vain for a crock pot, buying cheddar cheese, at last finding a few fun new items of clothing to buy with some birthday money. Here is what struck me as I meandered around: IMG_0380 A whole wall of Barbapapa goodies!!! Barbapapa is a French cartoon character that is like a blob of playdoh with eyes who can change into any shape he likes. His wife and many covenant children who are pictured above also have this amazing ability. Hep, hep, hep, and he’s a boat to take the whole family sailing! Hep, hep, hep, and he’s a carousel ride for the town children while his wife becomes a circus tent and the children all the circus animals!  At parties back home, when the children needed a little down time, we’d put on a Barbapapa DVD and they were mesmerized. None of our little friends seemed to mind that it was all in French. They just knew that this was the right kind of guy to have around – hey, he might turn into a rocket ship! Hep, hep, hep, une bonne chose de faite! IMG_0379 There was also a large display of all things Hedgehog. IMG_0381 And another one with a basket of my favorite things:  mushrooms! However, upstairs in the housewares, there was a definite style trend towards all things and colors American. Interesting, isn’t it? In the States, to sell something we put a “Euro” prefix on it: a Eurotreatment, a Eurospa, a Eurotoothbrush. What that usually means is “more expensive.” We decorate with maps of France and Italy and miniature Eiffel towers. Well, looky what they’re doing over here! IMG_0377 IMG_0378 The map on the pillow says, “Lexington United.” I have never heard of that country. In another store, while looking at a rack of filmy t-shirts with the label “American Vintage” selling for CHF 79 (approximately $79) and thinking that I had never paid $79 for a t-shirt, filmy, vintage or otherwise, my cell phone rang, and I got another nice birthday gift: Zeus was calling me to tell me he had just gotten a nice job offer from a certain Swiss pharmaceutical company headquartered right there in Basel! We would not actually have to survive the winter eating moldy apples from the orchard! Very nice news indeed, but it still didn’t make me want to buy an overpriced t-shirt. I found mine a little later at a better deal. IMG_0391 An architectural detail that pleased me IMG_0388 The Basler Rathaus, or town hall, with daily market. It is painted a very dramatic red with details painted out in bright gold, green and blue, but why there was a huge optical weirdness flag hanging in front I did not learn. It is making my eyes weird out just looking at the photo. I do not approve. IMG_0389 On the Rathaus square, a very busy place to catch trams. I am a little embarrassed to say how nice it felt to be anonymous in a big city, no one knowing my business, and no one really caring either, not even the lady in the housewares department of one store where I asked about a crock pot. “No, don’t have one, muttermuttermutter.” When the matter was pursued, it turned out that they could order one for me, but you had to do blahblahblahblah and anyway she wasn’t about to tell me about it. Oh, well – my money walks. Basel is a nice city – like all Swiss cities somewhat modest, but somehow less uptight than Zurich and less pompous than Geneva. It seems a decent mix of the normal and the international, bordering as it does on two other countries. Erasmus of Rotterdam lived in Basel, which is why I believe he was called “of Rotterdam.” If he’d stayed there, he would have had to have a different nickname, like Mr. Longnose. Erasmus He is the most famous Humanist of the Renaissance, and his work in preparing a new Greek New Testament paved the way for the Reformation. Both Martin Luther and John Calvin were reading Erasmus’ Greek New Testament when they came to understand that Scripture taught grace by faith alone. He agreed with them about many of the abuses of the Catholic church, but in the end, thought they went too far in separating from it, and he stayed in the Catholic church. He also tightly held to the doctrine of man’s free will. And that’s Erasmus! Okay, all done little history lesson for the day. After a couple hours Tata and I met up again, and she took me to lunch at a very chic restaurant overlooking the Rhine River – it’s just at the far end of the bridge. IMG_0383 The Rhine has grown quite a bit since last we saw her, high in the Alps. IMG_0384 Here she has grown into the big river that makes the border between Switzerland and Germany from Lake Constance to Basel, and then from Basel cuts north and forms the border between France and Germany for hundreds of kilometers. IMG_0399 This was the view from the restroom of the restaurant. IMG_0395 Back up above at street level and looking north and across the bridge downriver, you can see the buildings in the distance which belong to Novartis, the aforementioned pharmaceutical company. I have learned that it is a larger company than Microsoft, which put things into better perspective for me. Wow. Our lunch finished, Tata and I puttered some more in shops,and she made me a present of a gorgeous flower arrangement that is still gracing Tante Lina’s buffet. IMG_0401 We loaded up the car, made our way out of the city, through all the French villages with bad signing, back across the border to our own village. Where my family was preparing a dinner party! IMG_0404  with a traditional Lego creation – this time a train that actually moved on the track! IMG_0407 and a delicious gluten-free cake with berries from the garden! IMG_0414 Thank you everyone for a wonderful day!