Monday, March 31, 2008

So Close, But Yet So Flooded!

We were so close to being "nearly done" with Switzerland. The paintings we shipped over from Lubbock arrived on Wednesday, the carpenter hung them on Thursday, and on Friday, the electrician was due to install the final lights. No more bare bulbs!

The electrician (Stéphane) turned up with his trusty assistant (EA), who was maybe 19. Stéphane went through everything with him, then left him to get started on the lighting. EA started in the guest bath, installing the light above the sink. Middle of the afternoon, me on the internet, David on a conference call, and suddenly -


"P######!" (Pardon my French, but that translates into "F###")

and then the sound of - not dripping - not running - but GUSHING water. EA had placed a foot on the sink cabinet while adjusting the light, and the whole thing ripped off the wall, pipes and all. The water poured in while David and I ran to get all available towels. EA ran around the hallways, looking for some way to shut the water off, but all we heard were a few "P#####s" as he ran around. David placed a panicked call to the agent, and shut off all electrical power to the flat as I mopped (small drops in the bucket compared to what was pouring through our wall). Then David ran to the basement and managed to get in the central control room (normally locked but fortunately not today) and shut off all water anywhere, and finally the flood stopped growing.

Of course, the neighbors didn't take long to find us - Mrs. Number 3 was in the shower, just about to put shampoo on her hair when the water stopped. The whole Number 3 family came down, assessed the situation, and ran to get towels, mops and buckets. Mrs. Number 3 led the troops to battle in a bathrobe, and the whole family pitched in to help. David, the Number 3 family and I mopped and dumped buckets and buckets of water while EA ran around and apologized profusely.

Somewhere in the mess, not one but two people from the real estate agency turned up, then a plumber (which EA sheepishly admitted was his uncle, and therefore wouldn't yell at him), and we got the pipes cut off and the water back on. Mrs. Number 3 promptly ran for the showers, and the guys lugged a basket of soaking wet towels (every one we own plus some) to the house dryer. (Way to get to know the neighbors!)

The EA continuted to work for a while, getting two more lights installed, as he squished around in his soaking wet socks and apologized every time he opened his mouth. He also admitted that this had been his second water disaster this week... though the first one wasn't his fault. The plumber also admitted that this was the second time that cabinet had been ripped off the wall by a stray foot. Time to change the design?

So... we're not done, but we're getting there. Slowly. Two steps forward, one step on a cabinet, and a whole lot of work later... Maybe we will have lights in June when we go next time. Please.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Where is Annika?

A friend actually had a look at my blog yesterday (surely a first!) and remarked that there were no recent pictures of Annika. I have now added a couple, but it is a bit difficult to find them. Right now, Christopher seems to be the most interesting - and willing - subject. Invite him to pose for a picture and he does it willingly, then runs to the camera, "Me see! Me see!" to see the result. Also, he is the one who wears 3-D glasses upside down and poses in his underwear to show the picture he has colored - completely - all by himself.

Benjamin, if requested, runs away from a photo opportunity, or puts on such a silly face (see the header above) that it is hard to capture his true essence. He got a great new skiing outfit this morning and put it on for the first time (his old one was disentegrating rapidly). He looked so cool and sophisticated, yet he wouldn't allow a single picture.

Annika, on the other hand, is generally obliging. However, her pictures seem to lack the 4-year-old silliness of Christopher's. When she was 4 - and younger - her silliness was preserved on paper, not digitally. (OK, there are exceptions!)

In fact, we have tons and tons of photos of our beautiful firstborn - I only recently realized how many photos we had when I tried to do a 10-year anniversary album for David last month (yes, it has really been that long). The idea was fairly simple - one family photo for each year, and 10 smaller photos of significant events. Of course I had to scan in the first five years to make it happen, but it was worth it - even just going through the old photos, in their dusty boxes from the top shelf of the closet, was like a trip to the past. I have scrapbooked a lot of the first 5 years, but you get used to seeing the same photos that made "the cut" and got in the albums. It was fun to see all the others as well. So what did I notice?
  • 1998 was a lean year for pictures. Aside from the standard wedding photos, we hardly touched the camera on our honeymoon. We have - sum total - ten pictures, one of a hotel room, and various shots of one or the other of us, but almost none of us together. Even our "round-the-world" trip that October didn't generate much more. Fortunately, we had a series of posed shots from a professional photographer in Moscow that we used for our future first Christmas card. Otherwise, we might have had blank spaces!
  • 1999 was all about Annika, and 2000 as well. Annika in one outfit, Annika in another, Annika eating, Annika smiling, Annika not smiling, Annika crawling - well, you get the picture(s).
  • By 2001 and 2002, Benjamin gave her a bit of competition, the "Stora Syster - Lille Bror" theme took over.
  • But by 2003, poor Christopher's birth announcement hardly ranked in the top 10.
  • The rest of the years flow along, except 2006. Daddy passed away in July, and the year just lacked a lot of photo ops.

For the actutal stats in our anniversary album - single head shots, with nobody else in the picture, we have Annika leading with 22, Benjamin with 12 and Christopher with 11. So as for the blog, sorry honey, but you had it coming!

Don't know if the link will work, but the album can be found at:

Anniversary Album

Feeling Sorry for Myself

So here I sit in Switzerland. If I just look outside, there's more than a meter of fresh snow on the ground, plus dustings of light powder the past two days. The sun is out, there's not a cloud in the sky, the temps are just below freezing, and the slopes are brilliant. So why am I blogging? Well, that cold, the one I avoided all winter long, has come to haunt my Easter holiday.

I had high hopes for this week - skiing with the kids, one at a time, to really have a chance to focus on each of them. And then there was the work I might accomplish - I was prepared to take over a whole new corner of the web market this (holiday) week. But I'm afraid these things will have to take a back seat to Vitamin C and paracetamol. So I have my computer, my box of tissues, my hot herbal tea, my glass of water - and I'm taking a chance to update my blog with some pictures and new entries.

Funny thing about blogs... When I started writing a bit more this week, I thought of more and more to write. Now my head is full - not just of coldy gunkiness but - of ideas for more entries.

What else have I discovered? That you can print out a blog, professionally (at Blurb). Now why on Earth would anyone want to print out a blog, some of you may certainly wonder. Doesn't it defeat the purpose? Well, I'm not doing this for you, but for me and my memories. The thought that it might sit in a bound volume, with beautiful glossy picutres, that you could flip through at will (without clicking) fills me with joy. Sort of an addition to my scrapbooking (that I haven't had time to update lately) and the photo albums I do on Shutterfly.

Babysitting and iPods

One huge benefit about Switzerland is the access to babysitting. Swiss Mountain Sports has been outstanding in providing great ski schools (5 kids per class max) and a high level of customer service. Of course, with three kids booked, two weeks a year or more, the Neils are now known. Even better, the ski instructors also double as babysitters, so David and I can actually have a dinner on our own occasionally. (We have had a hard time finding babysitters in Sweden, and after Benjamin scared away a couple of new ones, we have had to rely on our old faithful team - Leonor, Pernilla and Carl - who are now growing up and have a real job, a busy university life and military service, respectively).

Allison has now come three times (!) - a miracle when more than once seems to be more than most can handle. Of course, the boys got to listen to their iPods to help them fall asleep - a brilliant strategy, and one which gave us these wonderful photos!

I just hope they have some hearing left when they reach adulthood!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter and Swiss Neighbors

Some parts of Switzerland are a bit of a culture shock for a Texan. Like neighborly-ness. (Or maybe some of our neighbors just need a life...)

We bought our apartment a bit over a year ago, and we are the only non-Swiss family among the 5 apartments. Since then, have managed to - successfully - add on to the (previously inadequate) parking garage. It was quite a feat, this addition. Not structurally, but in getting the neighbors to agree on who should pony up and how much. Let's just say that I spent an unpleasant hour on the phone with Mr. Penthouse, who was lecturing me on my poor negotiation skills (though I'm sure that if I had agreed with him, my skills would have been exemplary). Mr. Penthouse also lectured me on neighborly-ness in Switzerland, or lack thereof. He seemed to think that I needed to know that his Swiss mother, after 25 years with the same next-door neighbor, received a formal notice one day about said neighbor's dissatisfaction with said mother's shoes in the hall. No friendly hello, no "would you mind...", but a formal complaint, lodged with the apartment board.

So now we have the war of the bicycles. Number 3 has two teenagers, and a vast array of toys - golf clubs, skis, mountain bikes, etc. In the new-and-improved garage, we will have a special place for mountain bikes, but that part has not yet been completed. So what to do? Number 3 placed two bikes at the base of the (circular) stairwell, well out of the way of anyone else. No sweat. Except for Number 4, who moved them to Number 3's garage space. Then Number 3 moved them back again, and then Number 4 moved them again - it became an amusing guessing game each time we left the apartment to see where the bicycles would end up. Then Number 3 chained them together at the bottom of the stairs... which slowed down the process somewhat.
Which led to the war of the parking inches. We came in late at night to find our space blocked by Number 4 (who was also blocking Number 3's space). We knocked on Number 4's door, who promptly came and moved his car. Seems Number 3's car was sticking out an inch or two...

So far we have tallied up one complaint (from Number 4) about walking with ski boots on the stairs. Now we know - boots in the boot room. No exceptions. So I was extremely paranoid about how we would hide eggs for Easter. With a meter of fresh snow outside, we couldn't really see how the Easter Bunny could manage, nor did it really work in the living room. So, David (aka Easter Bunny) hid the eggs in the entry way. As much as we tried, it was hard to keep the squeals to a minimum as our threesome ran around finding eggs. I can't tell you how relieved I was when I met Number 4 later in the day, and he asked if the children were here (!).

And as for neighborly-ness? We will continue to be Texan in all respects, in the näive hope that friendliness will breed friendliness, and that we will eventually become one happy family-of-five-families. I will distribute banana bread and chocolate chip cookies, and we will have people over for drinks (as we have already done). And tonight - we are invited to drinks with our neighbor!!! A breakthrough!

Happy Easter - and special thanks for good neighbors!

The Sock Plot

Socks are a disposable item in our house, not due to lack of effort! H&M must have a plot to get us - I bought days-of-the-week socks for Benjamin - 7 pairs, all different. I bought two sets, so at least we would double our chances of finding sock friends, and then found myself in the laundry room last week with a handful of days, none the same. Of course, I did go back to buy more (to increase our chances of matching even further) only to find that Sunday had changed from orange to lime, and Monday was now blue, not red. Arrrgh!

Then Benjamin started to get interested in the days of the week. "What day is it today?" he would ask, as we were trying to get three kids dressed and out the door for school. "Ummmm" (with a quick glance at the pair of socks in my hand) "Sunday". Or sometimes I would try, "Well, today is Tuesday, but you can wear Saturday socks because you are dreaming of Lördagsgodis (Saturday candy)."

Variety is NOT the spice of life when it comes to socks!

The Dot System

If I only had one child, I wonder how easy it would be... only one set of small socks to sort in the laundry, only one size of outerwear, only one pair of mittens... Somehow, having three calls for new systems of organization that are still in development, at least at our house. Like clothes for instance. Annika's are fairly easy to sort - pink, flowers, girly stuff - straightforward. But when it comes to the boys, I can't count the mornings I have sent them to school in each others' pants. I look up as they walk away, Christopher in a pair of pants rolled up at the bottom, and Benjamin looking like he is prepared for the next flood.

My cousin has three girls, and she told me about her dot system - one dot for the oldest, two for the second one, and three for the third. That way, you can easily pass things down just by adding a dot. So now we have dots. One for Annika, two for Benjamin and three for Christopher. And in general, it works fine. Benjamin, quite frankly, really doesn't care what he wears, but Christopher is totally on board - so much so that he refuses to wear anything that doesn't have three dots. As I haven't quite attacked their entire wardrobe with the marking pen - yet - it has led to some interesting mornings as I go off rushing for the pen before presenting Christopher with a wardrobe suggestion. I bought fleeces for the boys yesterday, two sizes, and Christohper required some proof that his fleece was indeed his before putting it on. After a frantic search for a ball point pen, he was finally ready to go.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Threesome Two Ways

Annika has had a really tough time in school this year. I thought she might have developed a food allergy, since she kept getting sent home with tummy aches, but I have since realized that it has more to do with her social life than with diet. She is in a threesome, and for girls, that means someone is always left out, seemingly Annika, more often than not. Her class is full of girls - 14 of 18 - but each of them has consolidated into a group, and there doesn't seem to be much movement between them.

To top it all off, Annika got a bad ear infection during her winter holiday, four weeks, ago, that still hasn't cleared up. She had to play inside, which meant that she missed a lot of playground time in the group. A fourth moved in and is vying for Annika's spot - she even had a slumber party for the first two, and made a point of telling Annika she was excluded.

As a parent, it is so hard to watch your child be unhappy, especially when you are powerless to interfere. This is, of course, my beautiful, confident, self-assured daughter (though I'm not biased....) The school has been amazingly responsive, but there's still a lot of playground politics that go on. Despite talking about it endlessly in the classroom, the children still don't understand the impact their actions and words can have on others.

And here we sit in Switzerland, with the kids in ski school, and now the shoe is on the other foot. Annika, who is so aware of how it feels on the "left out" side, has been quick to exclude her younger brother in her skiing group (2 English-speaking girls, 2 French-speaking boys and Benjamin). Though it is fun for her to have a friend in her class, it has left Benjamin alone, and vying for attention (which is always a bad situation for him!). Of course she doesn't see the parallel - I mean, really! - it is her younger brother, not a girlfriend, but the impact for him is the same. And of course, it also means that Benjamin can ski as well as she can - something she is loathe to admit! Maybe Benjamin and I will have an afternoon together on the slopes...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

That Little Guy Can Read!

Benjamin and I had a great weekend in London. I thought he would hit it off with my friend's two boys - one who is just a few months older, and one who is about 9 months younger - and I was right. Benjamin fit right in, and had a blast playing with the guys. They were in to Star Wars (Benjamin's current favorite), Dr. Who (totally clueless - both of us), robots and transformers. Benjamin was awash in a sea of boy toys that he had never seen before, and he, typically, managed to ignore most of them and use the cat toys to build a play area for their kitten. London, for him, wasn't so impressive, though I did try to point out a few highlights.

The one thing he did notice was that Alec, who's name Benjamin could never remember, and who is 9 months younger, could already read. Not only could he read, but he could also do two-digit addition and subtraction. Sometimes the differences in the school systems really stand out, and it is hard to imagine my bright children being so far behind their peers in other countries. But I will take comfort in the fact that the Swedish teenagers and adults that I meet are literate, eloquent, and intelligent, and show no evidence that their schooling started a year (or two, or three) behind their peers.

Back to the sightseeing - we went to the London Transport Museum which was perfect for three 6-7 year olds. They had a punch card that you could punch at different stations. The boys took one card between them, and it then became a team effort to collect all the punches. Luca would put all his weight in to making the punch work, hanging from it and pulling it with all his might, while Benjamin and Alec held the card steady. I don't think they understood too much about the history of transport in London, or even why it was such a big deal, but they loved climbing on the various old busses and trains.

The next day, it was giant whales and dinosaurs with his godmother and godfather roped into duty. He loved seeing the T-Rex and the creepy crawlies, and was fascinated by the various animal exhibits, especially the manatees (thanks to a recent video). The crowds (a free museum on a cold and rainy day in London) were a bit hard to take -it took three adults to keep track of Benjamin, and navigating the gift shop with two godparents trying to get him something was a bit of a challenge.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Would You Insure Him?

Yes, Benjamin needs glasses. No big surprise, since David and I are both near-sighted. In the Swedish system, we have to go to a "gate keeper" to get a "remiss" for further care. Truthfully, with their family history of glasses and orthodontics, our kids should have received their "remiss" at birth...

We went to the store to pick out his new glasses, and found out that Benjamin is no Harry Potter, but this pair seemed to be fine. Little did I know that childrens' glasses come in a buy-one-get-one-free-plus-insurance deal - good thing!

Within two weeks, Benjamin realized the power he had been given. When he and Christopher were messing around in the airport and David separated them, I looked over to see Benjamin grinding the lenses into the wall - scratches on both, though more on his "good" eye, which can only force his weak eye to work even harder, so maybe not such a bad thing. Then the next day, when he didn't get the ice cream he wanted, he threw his glasses on the ground (fortunately grass) and stomped on them. One return trip to the store so far, and more to come.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Christopher's Imse Vimse Spindel

This is one of Christopher's favorite songs - a jazzed-up Swedish version of Ensie Weensie Spider. Of course, he doesn't know most of the words, but he does know that it is supposed to get very, very quiet at the end.