Friday, May 30, 2008

6 Random Things About Me à la Suisse

I was tagged first by Sher, then by Jawahara, and now by Danie. Sorry ladies! Better late than never. I'm following Danie's suggestion to go expat. So, here it is:
  1. Despite being more than reasonably fluent in French, I still don't like speaking on the phone. For instance, I will sooner go in to the salon to make a hair appointment than call. Imagine that...after four years, even!
  2. While I do enjoy the occasional fondue at the Cafe du Soleil, these are my favourite restaurants in Geneva:
    1. Pizzeria da Paolo - 3, rue du lac, +41 22 736 30 49 - This is a great family-friendly Italian eatery. While the pizza is divine, don't be afraid to try anything else from the menu. The Captain swears he's never had a better penne all'arrabiata anywhere else. The girls refuse to order anything but the pizza margherita. I don't blame them. I'm stuck on their pizza piccante with ruccola at the moment.
    2. Cafe Gandhi - 37 rue de Neuchatel, +41 22 731 41 12 - This is the best Indian food we've found and the prices aren't too bad either. Whatever you do, don't miss the lamb madras (lela madras) and naan bread. An elastic waistband is recommended.
    3. Spice's - Hotel President Wilson, 47 Quai Wilson, +41 22 906 66 66 - Definitely in the hoity-toity department, Spice's is known for it's French-Asian fusion cuisine. Get a baby sitter, get a loan, then prepare for an experience you won't soon forget.
  3. The top three things I think I will miss most when we eventually leave here are my friends (both Swiss and expat), shopping at the marchés, and exploring the beautiful countryside.
  4. If Switzerland could be squeezed in somewhere between Algonquin Park and the Laurentians I would never leave.
  5. My favourite day trip out of Geneva is to Gruyères where you can watch the making of the infamous cheese, eat lunch in the medieval village , work it off as you explore the chateau, then finish with a tour of the nearby Cailler chocolate factory. The sugar buzz alone will get you home in a flash. Bring water.
  6. I shop at either ATAC or E. Leclerc in France for beer, milk, cereal, laundry soap, baked beans, tomato soup, and peanut butter. I shop in Switzerland for everything else, mostly at Migros, but occasionally at the Coop--the Coop has better jam. Whenever possible, I buy my vegetables at the neighbourhood marché. It's held every Friday in front of the girls' school. I normally walk. I'm also a regular at the Corsier bakery which sells the bread made in Jussy and the best mille feuilles on the planet.
So there it is, my first meme. I'm not tagging six other bloggers because...well... I don't know that many. If any of the other 'Bloggers Close to My Heart' are up to the challenge, let me know.

Mixed Blessings

I live in Switzerland, one of the most beautiful countries on the planet, experiencing first-hand a culture other than the one I was born into. My children are bilingual and have ambitions to become multi-lingual. Thanks to technology, the world is a much smaller place than it once was and yet...

MIGHTY MOUSE: Mommy, Eglantine has trop de chance.

MIGHTY MOM: Why do you think she's so lucky?

MIGHTY MOUSE: Because all her family lives here. All of it! We just have four.

MIGHTY MOM: You're right, sweet pea. She does have trop de chance.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

SOS: Save Our Seedlings

Something's gone wrong: the seedlings are suffering from some kind of mold. It's powdery white and covers every last leaf. In sheer desperation, I've enlisted the help of the local radio garden guru. Hopefully she'll have some advice other than for their proper disposal.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Football fever... or is it?

There is no missing that the UEFA European Football Championships are set to begin in just over a week's time. Virtually every store from La Poste to the pharmacies are selling football paraphernalia. Need a Czech umbrella? A Croatian key chain? How about a standard Swiss squeegee? Look no further than your neigbourhood grocery store. The proverbial icing on the cake is a 15-meter-wide, helium-filled football perched over the infamous Jet d'Eau. My prediction is, that come June 7, Geneva will come unglued--and distinctly un-Swiss--with football fever. Now, more than ever, I am glad we live in the campagne. The more vineyards between us and the chaos, the better.

Despite our decided rurality, I can't say our home is completely immune to the general hum of anticipation. Take Mighty Mouse: last week she came home clutching a stack of cartes de foot (football cards).

"Where'd you get those?" I asked.

"Matt gave them to me."

"That was generous of him." Actually, it was extremely generous--as she laid them out on the table, I noted two highly coveted Swiss players. I figured she would pitch them once she discovered there wasn't a single girl in the bunch. Instead, she stacked them carefully and slipped them into her Winnie the Pooh handbag.

Hmm... Something tells me there's a bit more than football fever going on.

Monday, May 26, 2008

And the Wet Dog Award goes to...

Honey the Golden Chicken.
(She'd face the camera, but she's too busy watching for lightening.)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Allergy Angst

I sniff. I blink.
I cough and wheeze.
I think I am about to sneeze.

My nose is red.
My ears? They itch.
My eyelids have begun to twitch.

Don't rub. Don't scratch.
It makes them worse.
But if I don't I think I'll burst.

Just one light swipe.
It's such a tease.
Would someone pass a tissue please?

I've had enough.
I'm getting pissed.
Quick! Someone call the allergist!

I shouldn't weed,
and yet I do.
With that I bid you all---


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sometimes I Just Crack Me Up

I'm putting my shoes on when Emma the Brave asks, "Are we having friends for lunch today?"

"Nope. Pasta. Maybe we can have friends tomorrow."

"Huh?" Emma's mastered the single eyebrow raise. Mighty Mouse still hasn't clued in.

I stand up. "We could have jellied Jack sandwiches with poached Pia--"


"--and Christine crisp for dessert."

"Ewww!" cries Mighty Mouse.

"No? How about Ella elbows and a Sebastian smoothie? Or Granny gratin?!" I'm on a roll.

"Yuck! Mommy, stop it."


Monday, May 19, 2008

Apple Seeds: Week 14

It's hard to believe that three months have passed since we started this little experiment. Our twenty-two seedlings range from 6 to 11 centimeters tall with lots of leaves, woody stems, but, as Mighty Mouse is quick to point out, no apples. The other day I reminded her that it may take 10 years before the trees grow any fruit. "You'll be 15 by then," I said.

Her face lit up. "I'll be bigger than Emma!"

"Uh, no. She'll be 17."

Her shoulders slumped. Maybe I shouldn't have told her.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Kudos to the Captain

Check out the great club house the Captain made for the girls yesterday:

He figures it cost about 50 Euros in materials. We won't mention the cost of the wood-working equipment. That would be too cruel.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Pregnant Pause

I'm working on my resume, trying to make the best of a glaring seven year bare patch. For some reason, the image of a balding man's comb-over keeps coming to mind. Here's hoping I can come up with something substantially more effective!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

Before I became a mother
I never knew
that love beyond reason,
fear beyond measure and
joy beyond belief
could all come together
in the same little package.

To Mighty Mom, the First. You raised me right. I love you!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Book Review: Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz, M.D.

I don't remember learning to read, though I do recall a time when reading was a chore. I was in grade 4 and had chosen a book from the library which was either too difficult or too boring--probably both. It was about cowboys and Indians. Why I ever chose it in the first place is a mystery. I suspect it was recommended by the school's pipe-smoking, lady librarian. She scared me. Nevertheless, a book report was expected Monday morning and by Sunday evening I'd read only a third. I scribbled something onto a page, writing big enough to fill it, then headed downstairs to watch the latest Disney special.

The next morning at school, while we were all working quietly, my teacher, the dreaded Mrs. Cornet, called me up to her desk. A few kids looked up from their books. Such requests were always good for a show.

"How did it end?" she asked. She held my book report in front of her, her thumb practically punching a hole straight through it.

My heart pounded in my ears as I strained to recall the picture on the last page of the book: an Indian lying on the ground, surrounded by other Indians looking sad. "The Indian died," I said.

"But how did he die?" This she said a little louder.

A few kids more kids looked up. Someone snickered. Trying to ignore them, and took a deep breath. "Of natural causes," I whispered.

(Remember, I was nine.)

The teacher then proceeded to ask one of the boys in the class to enlighten me as to the book's real ending, where the cowboy shot the Indian. She tsked at me and sent me back to my seat while the class tittered with 'better you than me' antipathy. Mortified, I slipped into my seat and swore I would never choose a tricky book again.

In Overcoming Dyslexia, Dr. Sally Shaywitz describes what I suspect I was experiencing that year: "the fourth grade slump."
"Around the fourth grade there is a tremendous surge in the proportion of words that are irregular, those that do not follow the regular rules for pronunciation and do not lend themselves to sounding out."

Fourth grade is typically when children transition from learning to read to reading to learn. A child may be able to decipher the reading code, blending the letter sounds into words, but if it is not done fluently and with good comprehension, a dip in reading performance results. One might argue that I should have skipped the Disney special and finished the story. Point taken. But the fact that I was willing to risk the wrath of Mrs. Cornet is proof to me that I was struggling. That woman was a terror.

Overcoming Dyslexia isn't about 'the fourth grade slump.' That's just where I saw a glimpse of myself in it's pages. The book is really about eliminating unnecessary suffering due to dyslexia through early screening and effective intervention.

Dr. Shaywitz walks the reader through the history of dyslexia, as well as it's neurological basis, diagnosis and treatment. Her recommendations are evidence-based, meaning the interventions have withstood scientific scrutiny. As a former physiotherapist, another profession which demands evidence-based practice, it was a comfort to me to know that teaching methods do matter, that teaching a child to read is rocket science, and that Mrs. Cornet's methods might have been lacking.

No one should have to survive grade 4, or any other grade, for that matter. With books like Overcoming Dyslexia, there's hope for us all.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Hamster Road Show

I took the hamsters on their first road trip today, to the school where I volunteer. As you can well imagine, they made quite the impression. I was deliberately open about the fact that the babies were up for adoption, that they needed homes--and soon. After I told this to the first grade class, a boy with a very serious face put up his hand. "Why don't you want to keep the hamsters? Don't you like them?" he asked.

I explained that Syrian hamsters are solitary animals, that, like leopards, they prefer to live alone. "Once they grow up, they'll begin to fight and would probably hurt each other." Or get frisky, I don't add. "I'll keep Peanut, of course."

He nodded and his frown dissolved. For a second there, I don't think he liked me very much.

Kids clamored for a chance to pet Peanut and the babies and, thankfully, the hamsters were more than obliging. Despite this being a poorly disguised ploy to off-load the rest of the litter, it turned out to be quite educational. Questions flew faster than I could answer them. The kids learned that hamsters are mammals, but also rodents whose front teeth grow throughout their lives much like human hair and fingernails. They also learned that hamsters are nocturnal, that they're herbivores, and, thanks to multiple impromptu demonstrations, that they pee and poop without warning.

But despite all my carefully worded explanations, some kids were left a bit confused. As I departed the kindergarten class, one girl stopped me to ask, "So, if someone takes a hamster, do they get to keep it forever?"

"Sort of," I said, "Hamsters don't live forever. These ones only live about two or three years. "

"Yes, but do they have to give it back?"

My mind leaped to the image of this child returning her dead hamster to me in two years time.

"No. They'd keep it forever."

In the words of Mighty Mom the First, "Keep it simple, very simple."

Monday, May 5, 2008

Blogging My Novel: The Six Month Check-up

So how goes the great Canadian children's novel--this century's answer to Anne of Green Gables, where, Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret meets CSI Edmonton?

Uh...Let's just say, we're on a break--the good kind.

Breaks are essential to the creative process. Just because I whipped off two drafts of my novel in the space of four months, doesn't mean such a pace is required, nor remotely effective. By the end of Draft 4 I'd lost both my concentration and objectivity. I didn't like the way the last third of the manuscript read, but I hadn't the mental energy to figure out why. That was my signal to give it a rest. I've continued to read it chapter-by-chapter with the Birkenstocks, but I'm otherwise letting it be, keeping their comments for the big day when I print it in full and read it, cover to cover. And when will that be? Tuesday, June 3rd. I've ordered my coffee already.

So what am I doing with all this free time? I'm submitting queries and stories to children's magazines, researching biogas and crime scene investigation, proof-reading a friend's novel, critiquing another's, and teaching Madelaine to read. I'm also filing health claims and, if I stop blogging now, I might even clean my desk. Thank goodness June 3rd is just around the corner!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Truth Be Told...

...I'm going to miss the little rodents when they're gone.

Five of the nine have homes to go to and all the boys are spoken for--apparently males tend to be more docile than females. From my experience, the boys pee on you every time you pick them up--not an endearing trait in my book, but to each his own.

We'll be taking them to school next week so the girls can show their classmates and so that I can work in some underhanded marketing tactics. All's fair in love, war and hamsters.

(They don't call me Mighty Mom for nothing!)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Simple Pleasures

Tulips that Emma the Brave and I planted almost four years ago,
while the baby was sleeping.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Desperate Times

I've posted signs at the girls' school and the school I volunteer at. I've had friends post signs at their children's schools. I even put an add on the on-line classifieds and another in the Captain's corporate community newsletter. But despite all these efforts, I've only found homes for four of Peanut's nine babies. Oh, sure, there's time. After all, puberty is a solid three weeks away. But still...

I was all set to call into the 'on-air' classifieds program on the English radio station this morning. Ten minutes before it was scheduled to start, I turned on my radio. Nothing. Just static. Figuring the kitchen radio was at fault, I went out to the car. Nope. Finally, I tried the computer. No goods. It was official: the bloody station was, for some unknown reason, off the air.


I listened to static for quite a few minutes before I realized that any sensible person would have changed stations by now, so even if they miraculously began transmitting again before the hour was up, I'd be advertising the pups to virtually no one.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Bragging Rights

I received a rejection last night of one of my children's stories, my first in a while, so please humour this blatent bragging on my part. Think of it as e-therapy.

Check out the latest pencil sketch by Emma the Brave:

It's free-hand. She's seven.