Goodbye, Sweet Caramels!

I am alone in the house for the first time in over two weeks. Conventional wisdom says that it should be a quiet relief, but actually it feels kind of creepy.  Good thing Bella Dog is here to make me feel not completely without companionship.


Just as I typed the last sentence, dear old Bella Dog came and barked at me that she needed to go outside. Good thing, too. It’s gorgeous, and maybe without her help I wouldn’t have gone to walk in the bright sunlight reflecting off a billion snowflakes on the fields. It’s very crisp and clear, and it makes me hope that our friends the Caramel Family might have had a good view of Alps from the plane when they flew off today. They left this morning, and that is making me feel wistful, too.
I think we’d all nearly forgotten what a beautiful thing it is to have a friend to jaw with, without thinking of vocab and proper verb tenses and even aside from grammar, just knowing that you have likes and dislikes in common and you can chat and discuss them all over again. 
Well, we hadn’t actually forgotten what that was like, but we’d been stoically doing without.
Then we had two wonderful weeks of chatting with friends and hanging out and playing in the snow and feeling loved without trying. It was a much needed antidote for what ailed us.
What ailed us was fall and sinus infections and bronchitis and dark early mornings and school and no friends and dark evenings and work schedules and tricky Swiss logistics and discouragement and Everything. Maybe you noticed that things got rather quiet here on the blog for a bit. 
Anyway, there I was, and then God sent us some friends to be with us. And they truly just wanted to be with us. They didn’t even want to sightsee much, which I had a really hard time comprehending. (still do – I always want to See Everything!) We did take them on a little sightseeing tour which I’ll post about, but otherwise the Caramels seemed very content hanging out in our little village, living our life with us, playing in the snow and eating LOTS of Swiss chocolate. It was so encouraging.
And now they’re gone. They left on the early morning train with Zeus, to relieve me of driving to and from the airport on the 7 inches of fresh snow that fell yesterday.
I determined this morning not to be glum, but to find solace in the housework to be done, in the details of putting the house back together, in order and routine. On the white board in the kitchen I wrote, “23 Days Until Christmas!” in big letters to remind all of us of that big holiday we can look forward to. Hermes and I cooked up pumpkin and smooshed it through the food mill for future pumpkin pies and muffins.
Then we went outside and made snow angels in the fresh snow.
While they were here, the Caramels helped us celebrate Thanksgiving. What a great holiday! Totally and completely American. One of the kids’ teachers asked me, “So does that replace Christmas for Americans then?” Um…No.  A girl in Marina’s class said to her wistfully, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving, but my family won’t!”  ???  Odd, but had we known ahead of time, maybe we would have invited her over.
We celebrated on Sunday afternoon since the kids had school and Zeus work on Thursday as usual.  We roasted two chickens because I wasn’t sure where to find a whole turkey, and I was pretty certain a large one wouldn’t fit in my ‘cute’ little Swiss oven. (The ovens were cuter when I didn’t have four children to feed.) Mrs. Caramel whipped up delicious stuffing from scratch (!) and made her very yummy sweet potato casserole with marshmallows that I had found here once at a rather extravagant price and tucked away.
I don’t think of myself as very traditionalist when it comes to food, but I must say this meal (chicken standing in for turkey notwithstanding) tasted like Comfort. Yum!
On Tuesday we took the Caramel Family for a little walk in the forest. My girls were at school but the boys had had fevers the day before. I bundled them up well and made them get 15 minutes of fresh air.
The forest was so pretty, and this was before our most recent snowfall! People keep saying how unusual it is to have this much snow this early, but I don’t know if quite believe them. I do feel like I should have been better equipped with more snowboots and parkas for all. Hmmm.
Anyway, the forest is deciduous and so very different from the PNW Evergreen forests that I am used to, dark and mysterious. This one is lighter and brighter, especially with all the snow on the ground.
And finally, a couple of introductions:
A petit bonhomme that Artemis made in cooking class. Isn’t he sweet? He is very seasonal for St. Nicholas Day coming up on December 5th, and he and his friends are showing up in local bakeries. This one showed up in our kitchen on Wednesday afternoon. We took pictures and then he got gobbled!
And lastly…I just got a new fangled thingabob called an iPhone – don’t know if you’ve heard of it yet?  It is very sleek and shiny…but felt almost slippery and potentially fragile, and since I wasn’t about to start wearing it around on my belt and since I am not always the gentlest on phones, Zeus got me: The Defender Case. I wasn’t sensing red or hot pink, so he ended up getting me white. Which I like…but…its boxy whiteness kept reminding me of something…  Finally I put my finger on it! A Storm Trooper!
But Storm Trooper didn’t seem like a good name for a girl’s phone. So, I started calling it “Stormy.”
So everyone, meet my new friend, Stormy. or Stormie? or Stormee??  She follows me everywhere…

Hunters in the Snow

More snow is falling. We’ve had several inches, more is now coming down in the middle of the night, and the forecast for this week predicts even more. Here is what it looks like outside the windows right now (well, not right now, because I am writing at night.) IMG_1140 It makes me think of Pieter Bruegel’s Hunters in the Snow. One of the houses even has the same shape. Today on the way to church, we really did see a Hunter in the Snow. But he was wearing bright orange, and his dog was white with spots. hunters The neighborhood sledding hill with a small neighborhood sledding person. Our kids have spent a lot of happy time out there. IMG_1138  I always suspected that every twig of this tree was beautiful. Now I am certain. IMG_1135 In the orchard in back of our house. IMG_1148 A few apples still left on the tree. I really wonder if this is what inspired shiny red Christmas tree balls. IMG_1146 icicles. because they are so pointy and frozen. IMG_1149 At the end of last week we celebrated Artemis’ 14th birthday. With Legos and a bottle of nice ol’ wine. IMG_1151 The Caramel Family is here visiting and they helped us celebrate. It has been a wonderful morale booster for us all to have visiting friends. IMG_1152 Saturday we had a girls’ outing to Belfort in France. We did a little shopping and beret purchasing… IMG_1162 and then we restored ourselves in a French cafe. IMG_1163  My treat – too pretty not to take a picture of, but not too pretty not to eat! IMG_1164

Back in our Tracks

It’s been a little quiet here on the blog, and I’ll tell you why. Coming back to Switzerland, to Boncourt, after the unreal sunny warm visit to Sardinia was hard. A very cold snap arrived at the same time we did, and we stepped off the plane to cold and foggy gray. Being near the sea had brought us associations with Puget Sound and home, and somehow, it seemed that we should board that plane and get off in Seattle. It was rather shocking when we didn’t.
The return to school for the kids last week was also hard, the mornings that much darker getting up, school and language still a puzzle. And now Zeus is away working long days, and we miss him. I spent a lot of time last week missing the simplicity of homeschooling and agonizing over whether or not this all was a good decision.
Fall is a time for hunkering in, building fires, reading good books, game nights, cooking savory meals – in short, for enjoying all the comforts of Home. But when you are far from one home, and don’t yet feel like the place you are living is home, then you feel a little lost and homesick. And that is what we are all feeling.
Towards the end of the week, the Lord prompted me to take myself by the scruff of the neck and do a little shaking: late October is like this, even when you’re homeschooling, don’t you remember? You need some exercise! Cease overthinking, stop pondering how you feel about everything, count your blessings, and do the next thing.
So I got a little exercise, worked on some house projects I’ve been procrastinating about, and tried not to Ponder Everything. God is my Home, and my loving family is around me. Yes, I am homesick, but wallowing around in it doesn’t help anything much. There was a song we sang at church on Sunday with good words in French that were something about being and growing and rejoicing wherever God has put you.
This week has been better – no school-induced tears, I think (although maybe I shouldn’t say – the day is not over yet), and there were some encouraging academic reports coming in: a German test with only 1/2 of the answers wrong instead of 3/4 wrong!  Progress!
So that’s about where we are.
And here are a few pictures to help tell the rest of the story.

Will Easy Jet pay me for the Advertising?

First of all, because it’s just not something you see everyday: the Alps from the airplane. The rest of Switzerland is buried under a sea of clouds.

Happiness is a warm crock-pot

Remember my trip to Basel and my fruitless search for a crock-pot? Well, even before I wrote that, for my birthday a few friends had gone together and got me an Amazon France “Cheques-cadeau” with which to purchase one. Here it is – Mmmm!!!!  
I’m not sure why, but the thought of spending this year without a slow cooker brought me great feelings of anxiety. There is great security arriving home from church, or a soccer game, or just an afternoon of errands knowing there there is hot food waiting and ready to go. The first Sunday I got it fired up with some chicken cacciatore, I immediately felt the desire to invite a bunch of people over for lunch – that’s what a crock pot does for me. I’ve used it at least once a week since. Thank you, friends!
At the moment this photo was taken, it was full of pulled pork, which is a favorite of everyone in the family – 6 out of 6 – amazing! Our small village store had no BBQ sauce, so I had to make some, morphing several recipes that I found online.  It turned out okay – sweet and sour and a little too tomato-y. If you have an easy and good bbq sauce recipe that doesn’t require a bunch of unusual ingredients, I would love to have it!

Memories of the Beach

The week we got back from vacation, we bought Hermes some new fall shoes. They came in a shoe box. And shoes boxes, as you know, are meant to be made into dioramas!  I love dioramas, and I love making them with my kiddos. When Artemis was in kindergarten, we made a lovely one of the solar system with all the planets hanging in space. I used to think of that homeschooling year as a failure, but now I know that if we were making dioramas of outer space, it can’t have been too bad.
This one is “Underwater Sardinia.” One of the stores here – the Migros – has started passing out a pack of fishy stickers for every 10 francs you spend. You are supposed to collect them in a special book, but I didn’t know that. I didn’t even realize they were stickers at first. I just thought, as they lay there next to the empty shoe box, Hey! This could keep Hermes busy for a little while!
And it did! He was very happy as he watercolored the sides of the box blue and the bottom yellow (for sand). The rock is a real Sardinian one which seemed to have fallen into my bag somehow.(!) And the shells are also real ones we brought back that Hermes painstakingly glued into place. Before it dried up a bit, the parsley looked very much like seaweed – that was Athena’s idea – she is so wise.
The fishy on the string has a different fishy on the other side, so you see both when it spins in the breeze.
And, yes, just so you know, I do know that the proper word is ‘fish’ and the plural form is ‘fish’ lest you think otherwise. But now that we’re all sure about that I’ll go back to ‘fishy’.

Jazzy Dog Car

Zeus has spent the month of October working hard at his new job, faithfully commuting back and forth while we played on the beach. Upon our return, in order to facilitate a commute to Basel that is an hour each way instead of two hours each way by train, we bought another car. It is not at all new but had really low mileage. Er…kilometerage? Apparently it really did belong to a little old lady who only drove it to church on Sundays. Or something like that.
It is a Honda Jazz. Which Zeus Mr. Carman tells me is called a Honda Fit in the States. A Honda Fit sounds like a granola bar to me, so I am glad it is called a Jazz. Only when he first told me, I thought it was called a Jazzy. Which made me think of my cousin Christy’s dog Jazzy.
Now Jazzy Dog, who has since passed on to a fluffy couch pillow in the sky, wasn’t exactly what you would call a “friendly” dog. She was a little Yorkshire terrier, and when I met her, she was already advanced in years and pretty set in her ways, perhaps much like the lady whose Honda this was. Anyway, Jazzy Dog didn’t like to be pet by anyone who was not part of her family, and if you tried she would bite you. But her hair was so soft and silky that it was hard not to try anyway. If you were very quiet, snuck up gently on her from behind, and petted her softly she would think you were Christy and you could get away with it for a little while. Until Christy came in the room and Jazzy saw her. Then she’d look startled and whirl around on you. Caught in the act!  Arf arf arf arf arf!!! 
A n y w a y….. the point is that when I thought the car was a “Jazzy”, I started calling it the Jazzy Dog. And it kind of stuck.  Zeus is not very pleased that the car is named after a crotchety little ol’ dog, but I can’t help it. When he is around, we try to use the other name we hurriedly drummed up instead: The Silver Bullet. Now that has a speedy ring to it, doesn’t it? But we all know that it’s really The Jazzy Dog Car.

The Vista ~ La Vue

And then there is a morning like this one, and when we’re cold and tired and fussy about the kids having to leave at dawn, and then we open the door and stop in our tracks because of The Beauty. This was the view from the front door, about 7:45 a.m. a few days ago. Not for the first time, I wish I were a painter.

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.