Archive for April, 2011

Easter weekend

After our Heidelburg adventure the Friday before we tried to go into Easter weekend with the mindset of LOW KEY! The only plans we had as of Friday morning were that we had invited over 2 couples from church for a casual Brunch on Easter morning.

On Good Friday we took a long walk by the river and talked to Jackson more about the meaning of Easter and specifically Good Friday. We had been reading to him in the weeks leading up to it but it was neat for it to be the real day.  While we were skipping rocks by the river Jackson and I found a rock with lines on it that looked like a cross. He held onto it and thought it was so neat since we were talking about the cross.  If I can get him to help me find it I will post a picture.

We colored eggs together and just enjoyed a quiet day at home.

On Saturday some friends invited us to go on the boat on lake Thun. It was a nice unexpected outing. It was a gorgeous ride. The first half we had glorious sun and the second half we got to watch as a storm rolled in. We got off the boat just as the rain got going. The boys had a wonderful time! I think I had expected the boys to be content to watch the water and look out over the side of the boat..for at least a few minutes. After about 10 minutes they were both ready to run laps around the boat deck. So it goes. About halfway through we gave in and bought them ice cream so that we could all sit for at least 10 mins and enjoy the scenery!

handsome “little BIG boy”

our friends Karen and Andy brought their dog Bella. She and Jackson kept each other company throughout the boat trip. Check out the color of the water!

this may become Seth and I someday if we never have a daughter! This was for real! This dog belongs in Paris!

The Easter bunny did make it to our house in Bern. He brought us a basket for all of us to share. He seemed to focus less on candy this year and more on Spring activities. The basket had a new ball, jump rope, a kite and a bubble tumbler! (since the boys are learning to share (ie fighting over toys constantly) we decided to do a joint basket to reinforce this)

Karen brought a fruit salad…almost too pretty to eat!

the guys showing Jackson how to play an egg knocking game

Jackson happily joined in

We kept the menu simple with my mom’s sausage egg bake, fruit salad, rosti (Swiss hashbrown-type dish) and bread with some berry whipped butter. We finished it off with mini cheesecakes!  I got away with only making the egg bake, whipped butter and the cheesecakes!

Monday we really did nothing but take a long walk together and laze around the house.

Read Full Post »

Heidelburg or bust

Some of you may or may not know that every few months we take a trek to Heidelburg, Germany to buy groceries at the commissary there. The reasoning isn’t that we miss Ranch dressing or salsa but that we can’t afford to buy groceries  solely on the Swiss market. And the Embassy knows that and provides us with a base pass in Germany. I about died when we arrived and I did our first grocery shopping trip. Our social sponsor took me to the big grocery store to stock up. I got a cart full of basics and it cost over $400. No joke.  This lasted us about a week and I was almost in tears to return to the store the following week! If I hadn’t been in so much shock I would have taken a picture of the receipt.  In the future maybe I will do a blog on how much basics cost here like bread, milk, etc. Just for fun! I remember telling my friend Katie when we arrived that we would have to drive to Germany or France in order to buy full out groceries. She gave me such a hard time and teased how “bad” she felt that I would have to pop over to France for groceries. In all honesty, it isn’t a luxury to drive to another country for groceries. France being closeby is so nice, having to go there for food, not so nice.  It isn’t a given that post will have a commissary. We had a small one in Bogota with “necessities” so it is really nice to have a full store in our part of Europe.  We know our access is a luxury. Can we live without American products? Absolutely. Can we afford to buy only locally? Ummm, not so much.

Okay, back to Heidelburg. So basically in  addition to a few treats we buy nearly all of the meat, paper goods,  canned goods and bread we will need for 3-4 months. If we are having guests during those times we buy extra to make sure we can have plenty of meals to offer. It is a bigger job than I ever imagined to attempt to anticipate our grocery needs that far in advance. And an even bigger job to get there, buy that much food, pack it into coolers of ice in the trunk and make the trek back. My friend Leigh has been a trooper on 2 occasions and has made part of the trip with me. She has the benefit of getting a few American goodies but I score the bigger reward of getting a day with her, kid-free!!

A week or so ago Seth and I decided we needed to do a trip but I didn’t want to do the trip alone, and I really didn’t want him to do it alone. SO, in a moment of insanity we decided to make the trip again with both boys! In all reality the day went much better than I would have expected. We had moments of laughter and lots of moments when the boys were reaching to peel off the seal around the windows to make an escape from the car!

We left home at 8 AM and arrived home after 9 PM. Because it was a Friday and lots of people are Spring-breaking we ran into lots of traffic and slowdowns. We made the most of it and enjoyed some family time. We took a few videos and pictures throughout the day to document a typical Heidelburg grocery journey for you!

about 10 mins into the drive. We stopped for gas, trunk full of igloo coolers, and the boys already a bit edgy!

using his sleep sack to attempt a nap…trying to block us out

Blues skies and lots of fields of yellow goldenrod- looking flowers

miles and miles of cars…or kilometers and kilometers of cars, whichever you feel more comfortable with! For us it was miles and miles! We sang lots and lots of silly songs and attempted to lighten the mood. Sometimes our listeners welcomed our singing at other times it caused eruptions of whining and other potentially obnoxious behaviors. The good news is that our kids tend to take turns “having a moment”…well, it could be good news but really what it means it that when they each take a turn you potentially have many minutes occupied by someone’s turn.

3 1/2+ hours and we were finally getting close!! Hang in there boys!

As we approached the gate and sat in a line waiting for our passports to be checked Jackson made up a rap song…Seth did backup

After a quick lunch at the base food court the boys and Seth went to the park on base while I did the shopping.

Jackson immediately recognized the park as being just like the ones in the US that he went to with his cousins. It was padded ground, child-size climbing gear and there was even a safe section for Owen!

after the boys got refreshed and I had the majority of the shopping done they came to offer moral support on the final lap around the store. By the second cart, I was getting weary and wishing that Leigh was there to help me hunt for the final items on the list!  Checkout took a good while. But can I just tell you how amazing it was that cheerful employees bagged my groceries for me. You bag your own groceries in Switzerland which is fine but with 2 carts full I may have melted on the floor in tears. It was so nice to have their help!

We loaded the car, buckled the boys in, refreshed their drinks and snacks and headed on our way.

(oh wait, don’t forget the potty. We strategically held Jackson’s potty out so that it wouldn’t get buried in the massive load of stuff….you are probably thinking for sanitary reasons, however it was for very practical potty emergency on roadtrip reasons. always thinking.)

by 4 pm when we pulled out of the parking lot Jackson crashed! And we jumped right into a huge traffic jam!

We pulled over when we saw a family-friendly place called Schnitzel Huber. Turns out it really was family friendly and the boys were even able to play in a play corner. The food wasn’t as delicious as these boys in the sign make it looks but it was a perfect stop for weary travelers.

We got the boys in their pj’s after dinner, Jackson tried out the new hoola-hoop from the commissary to get the final energy out and we hopped back in the car for the final leg of the trip.

When we arrived home we got the boys in their beds and began to unload the groceries. I meant to count the bags and show you all of the organization of the giant freezer but by then I was a tad bit worn out and had to focus on unloading the slightly defrosted items.


above is one of the loads…this doesn’t include the freezer or fridge stuff. And I meant to take a picture of the receipt. It was as tall as me! After previously budgeting more on a weekly basis it can be frightening to buy for a few months!

In the end we forgot Dr. Pepper for Seth. So sad. That is one of the treats I always bring back for him. Poor guy!  If that is the only thing we forgot though in our 14 hour journey I would say we did pretty well!

Read Full Post »

This post may seem so random to most people.  What on earth do Nilla Wafer Hamburgers have to do with Easter?! Years ago my grandparents (Grandma and Grandpa Seckinger) came to visit us for Easter weekend when we were living in Zanesville, Ohio. If I was home at my parents house I would scan in some pictures just so you could appreciate the history of past Easter dresses and holidays gone by. You can invision poofy sleeves on a nautical navy dress, wavelike bangs (on both myself and my brother Ryan…his was more of the trendy surfer type wave…mine, not so hip.) I am thousands of miles away so luckily there will be no pictures!

Anyhow, that particular year my grandmother brought super fun edible “crafts” to make. For some reason I am having a hard time remembering the rest of them but yesterday as I colored eggs with Jackson the memory of making nilla wafer hamburgers at Easter with my grandmother popped into my head. They were so cute. You use 2 nilla wafers for the bun, a thin mint (or grasshopper) cookie for the meat, color some shredded coconut for some lettuce and use red and yellow icing for ketchup and mustard.  So creative! I don’t remember them having an amazing taste but as a kid I thought they were amazing! Thanks for the memory, Grandma! I am hoping to make these with Jackson some day soon!

Here is the link for a real “recipe ” for them if any of you are tempted to do them with your little ones! Send me a picture if you do them!

Nilla Wafer Hamburgers

Happy Saturday everyone!

Read Full Post »

This morning was the perfect Spring morning. The sun was streaming in the kitchen windows and the house was relatively quiet except for the hum of the load of laundry I had just dutifully started. Owen was down for his morning nap and Jackson was cheerfully waiting to bake cookies with me. I told him after his morning cartoon he and I could make some Easter cookies.  The kitchen was sparkling and smelled of lavender from the homemade cleaner I had tried. I did some Spring cleaning yesterday. Anyone that has been to my house knows that I love to cook and that I don’t so much enjoy or stay on top of  the aftermath. So, this is a RARE morning with a super clean kitchen at our house.

Jackson and I got to work. This recipe calls for lemon zest so I asked Jackson to go on the hunt for the zester. He didn’t know what it was so I described what it looked like and let him look for it in our utensil drawer. I measured the dry ingredients while he hunted…this is a trick I have learned. Send him on a hunt and get some of the messy stuff done while he’s gone. We mixed up our dough, rolled it out just right and cut out the most clean cut bunnies, carrots and flowers.

Now to the real story..The kitchen was sparkling clean but ONLY because I cleaned yesterday. And in the case when you are about to bake with a preschooler it really isn’t ideal to have just cleaned the kitchen! Owen was napping, but only because I had gotten him back to sleep after Jackson woke him up. Jackson woke him up because he ran down in a panic to confess he had gotten too busy and had had a potty accident upstairs.  And our baking didn’t go that smoothly or neatly because, well, it just doesn’t when baking with a little one.

About once a month I get inspired to bake with Jackson. Or let him help me with dinner. I know it’s good for him to learn new things and I know he is old enough to be involved. It all sounds good and developmentally appropriate until we get going. My blood pressure instantly rises and I find myself having to monitor my tone of voice. He drives me crazy in the kitchen. He enthusiastically grabs the spoon from the first bowl, consequently tossing out some of the flour, when I lunged for the spoon before more damage is done he is not disheartened for he is already reaching for an egg. When the egg gets rescued safely from his hands he pushes his finger into the stick of softened butter to see how soft it feels.  Is he doing anything wrong? Nope. Is he listening to my many instructions? nope, not really, but not purposely. He is so excited to be with me and to be learning something new that he cannot control his enthusiasm. And the final product, well, they weren’t clean cut outs like I was dreaming about previously, they were lopsided bunnies and flowers with broken petals.

This morning as Jackson and I baked I had to remind myself why we were baking cookies.  It was so humbling.  I don’t like my impatience and how I get after him for things that really aren’t wrong. I don’t like how I want him to do it my way and I like for the end product to look nice. It isn’t always about that.  He is proud of his work and he is so pleased with the cookies that resulted in the end. Now that the kitchen is re-cleaned and my blood pressure has returned to it’s normal high I can stand back and see that it was a worthy exercise for both of us. Jackson enjoyed himself and it was yet another learning experience for both of us. At naptime today he said “mom, when I am bigger maybe I will get to zest all by myself”.

Friday is Easter egg coloring day! Sheesh, how did we end up with 2 of these projects in one week. Maybe Friday I will catch myself before the dye starts dripping and the eggs start cracking. these years are going far too fast. I want to learn to enjoy it better.

For those of you that would like a good sugar cookie recipe I came across this one in Southern Living at Valentine’s 2 years ago. Like I mentioned, it calls for lemon zest which I think makes them extra fresh and reminds me of this time of year. Here’s the link…Lemon Butter Cookies  .     Sorry I don’t have any links for how to bake patiently with your enthusiastic preschooler. That is a trial and error kind of thing.

Read Full Post »

Bid time is a comin’

It has been a while since we have done a Foreign Service update. So here’s our status currently. We will be here in Bern until July of next year. This August we will be given another bid list. At that point we will narrow it down and make lots of big decisions. Seth and I are able to see a tentative list now and have already begun the process of talking through it. Nothing is jumping out at us at this point. Some are definitely NOT going to make the short list.

Our tentative plan since leaving Bogota has been to return to the DC area post-Bern and to settle down for a couple of tours. We have a variety of reasons for this being our plan. In reviewing the bid list we are beginning to hash out other possibilities and how they may impact our family. This round of bidding will be quite different in that Seth will be lobbying for jobs. They will no longer be directed assignments like Bogota and Bern have been. The other difference is that from here on out most of our assignments will be for 3 years. This is good because it will give us more time to settle in and make a place home but it also brings challenges if you don’t love a place.

This update is basically to say we have no idea where we are headed. We have ideas of how we would like it to play out and we are opening up more options but still don’t have much clarity yet. We are even beginning to talk about what it would look like if we stepped back from the FS all together. GASP. Seth loves his job and at this point we aren’t calling it quits but we are asking the hard questions and really thinking about what our family looks like today and where we are headed. There is a lot of pressure in this job to advance and work the right tours with the right people. We want to make wise decisions for our own family. Thus, we are praying for clarity.

What we have decided is that we will be spending Christmas in Texas with our family this year! By then we will know where we are headed!

Read Full Post »

Rookie mistakes

Yesterday we went to the petting zoo across the river with some new Swiss friends. I may have mentioned them here before. They are a Swiss couple that have lived abroad…in Houston! They have 2 little ones about the age of ours and Jackson goes to an English speaking playgroup with the little girl. They are very friendly and gravitate towards us because they desperately miss the US and now that they have returned they find Switzerland’s social scene to be somewhat cold. Yes, that’s right folks. From the mouths of Swiss natives, it’s cold. Gorgeous, mountainous, beautiful, picturesque, but sometimes rather uninviting. Now we have met some lovely people but for the most part it feels very tough to crack the code and cozy up to the culture. Try as we may. (post coming soon on attempting to be myself, a chronic people-pleaser, in a place that doesn’t want my pleasing 🙂

Anyhow, as most of you know, or probably would assume, I do not speak Swiss German. So when I am out and about I do my best to follow all of the rules but often fail miserably. Miserably but not unknowingly. You see, it is not uncommon for people here to “speak into your life”, as in, offer correction and guidance. Back to the petting zoo. After a fun time of letting the kids run through and enjoying being outside we decided to go into the small cafe for a hot drink and snack for the kids. As Jackson and his friend rushed the ice cream chest, the other mom and I headed to get something hot to drink. As we headed that way an elderly woman began to rant because we had brought strollers into the cafe. My friend spoke kindly to her in Swiss German and she huffed and headed on her way. I am pretty sure we ruined her day or at least rattled her good for her whole walk home. That’s what a stroller can do. I was so thankful to have a Swiss friend to help guard me from my ignorance in the situation. It takes no genius to translate being lectured whether you speak the language or not. But it takes skill to talk graciously back in the complainers native language.

… Now back to Jackson and his friend raiding the ice cream chest. Both kids quietly and politely selected their ice cream and put it up on the counter to pay. Cafeteria-type cafe’s aren’t always Jackson’s place to shine.  But yesterday I was impressed with his success. In the midst of the social tiff though I didn’t check Jackson’s selection. An ice cream cone is an ice cream cone, right? So we made our way to a table and Jackson tore open his cone. My friend sat down and vented about how rude people can be. I looked over as Jackson finished his first few bites and noticed his ice cream was a light brown color. Not chocolate brown, more like khaki. I reached over and took a bite. Sure enough, a big heaping cone of coffee ice cream. He loved it. And it loved him. They loved each other into the afternoon with zero nap and energy plus. It occurred to me that Jackson has NEVER had caffeine. Besides the caffeine in chocolate, he has had none. For obvious reasons. He doesn’t need it.  We have never been on a deserted island with only a coke in sight. There has always been an alternative available.

So there you go, 2 rookie mistakes on a sunny Wednesday morning. A stroller run wild out of the petting zoo and into the cafe  breaking all sorts of laws and a small child experiencing his first, and likely last for a long while, COFFEE ice cream cone. Jackson enjoyed my mistake!

Ella insists upon holding Jackson’s hand. He normally bucks any system but for some reason he complies with her!

Read Full Post »

House full

We have joked about someday having a guest home or B&B. Since being in Switzerland we have had lots of practice! Last weekend we had the calendar booked for Bo and Leigh and Katy Jo to come spend the weekend to kick off their Spring break. A couple of days before, Leigh called and asked if their friends the Higg’s could come along! Why of course! The more the merrier. The Higg’s family also work at Black Forest Academy and have 2 little boys.  And more importantly, they are also from Texas!

The gang arrived Friday night and we all had a fun evening grilling and making homemade ice cream. The kids played until they all crashed.  The next morning when we were all up and ready we headed to Neuchatel. It is a beautiful town in the French part of Switzerland. We originally went because we had heard there was a big brocante/antique sale. When we got there and realized you had to pay to even get in we decided to just enjoy the gorgeous city. We browsed the Saturday market and let the kids have some run time in and around the daffodils. Our other motive for going to Neuchatel was that they have Domino’s. We can’t get an American pizza here so it was a big treat. We picnicked by the lake and had a hard time leaving because it was so beautiful.  We came back home for another evening of grilling and chilling. We had dinner after the kids went to bed which was a big treat.

Owen teasing KJ with flowers

Seth, excited for Domino’s!

Sunday morning, Stefanie and Alex made us a delicious omelet breakfast. After breakfast we went down for some river time. The little boys young and old enjoyed skipping rocks. After some fun play time Bo and Leigh had prepared a big picnic spread.  I don’t know if any of us could even fit a picnic after all of our eating throughout the weekend but who could resist?!

Owen, learning to skip rocks

after skipping a few rocks Jackson decided he needed to rest….I guess he missed that nap from the day before.

Jackson’s friend Ella from school and her family ended up picnicking next to us!

The weather for the weekend and the views of the mountains could not have been more beautiful.  With 11 people in the house, including 5 kiddos, you would expect chaos. But the kids played really well and Jackson loved having a live-in buddy.   And I think all of the adults really enjoyed themselves too! It was a nice break from normal routine. We all enjoyed watching each others children and knowing that we are all in the same boat…the same crazy, rocking, kid boat.

Someone please check on me in August after Leigh has moved back to the US. We are savoring every minute!!! Switzerland is much more beautiful with my best friend close by! We have met lots of great people but you all know how it is, there is something so nice and comforting about having someone from home.

Read Full Post »

Picnic season

I am playing a bit of catch up today. We have been enjoying Spring so much that we are using most waking moments on the weekends to be outside.  A couple of weekends ago we decided to head to Emmental for their hot air balloon festival. We asked our friends Nick and Kima (South African friends…we met in Bogota..living in Zug, Switzerland now) if they wanted to join us. The weather was amazing.  After arriving to the location where we saw signs for the festival we learned that the balloons had landed early in the morning and that there would in fact be no balloons to see. OOOOKKKAAAy. Now that our little boy has been deflated. We decided to take a walk down to the cheese factory. We of course hit up a bakery on our way and stopped for a little snack. Followed by a nice picnic in the grass. Basically we were together for a couple of hours and ate most of the time! It was so fun to see the kids playing together and to catch up a bit. Thanks Nick and Kima for being good sports about the non-festival of balloons. Most friends would have been pretty annoyed to have driven so far.

pretending there is a big, beautiful balloon attached to the basket

sweet Erin

the boys were rewarded after being good travelers with popsicles on the porch.

The next day, Sunday, we were invited to a picnic to celebrate one of Jackson’s buddies birthdays. The picnic was at the Bern Rosengarten that overlooks Old Town. It was another beautiful day. The kids enjoyed running freely while the adults enjoyed picnicking and chatting. A highlight for Jackson was that the big fountain had a bunch of frogs swimming in it.

Read Full Post »

it’s here. Spring is in full swing in Bern. People keep saying it could snow until Easter but the plants and flowers (and me) are choosing to ignore that. We have tons of daffodils and tulips blooming around our home. The tree in our atrium has turned from giant pussy-willow looking buds to beautiful white flowers. Talk about a fresh of breath air after the long winter. The winter wasn’t particularly harsh just long and grey.

We have been in the atrium and yard eating lunches and playing as much as possible. On the weekend we have been getting lots of outside time with hikes to the woods and river and riding bikes on our sidewalk. Owen is exploring his new world with the assistance of his brother. I have been working on potting herbs and flowers over the last couple of weeks. Here is a funny progression of pictures to see what I caught Owen doing….

“What do you mean I can’t undig the flowers???? I am HELPING!”

And some pretty Spring shots. The tulips are just opening up today so I will post some pictures of those soon.

Read Full Post »