February 28, 2015

I’m over winter now. I’m weary of the snow, the white, the bare trees, the cold and the damp. Summer, I’m sorry I complained about you last year. Come back – all is forgiven.

The Black Dog always appears in winter, particularly in February. What is it about February? October and November are bearable because of the pretty autumn colours and the start of winter heralds a break from gardening, less pressure to shave my legs, the arrival of pumpkins in the shops and no flies (I was killing about 30 every night in the height of summer). December is not bad either because there is the build up to Christmas and the anticipation and thrill of the first snowfall. January is survivable because I have a reservoir of stamina and buoyancy leftover from the Christmas season.

winterBy February, my tank is empty. This year has been particularly gruelling with the metre high snow, the icy winds and the subsequent problems with our roof. I’m glad we have insurance. One Sunday evening, there was an almighty bang and an avalanche of snow, ice and some roof tiles crashed to the ground. Our metal snow barrier buckled and broke and the repairman said he can only fix it in the spring once the weather improves. It snowed again after that which made entering and leaving the house stressful as I didn’t want to get bopped on the head with sliding ice or roof tiles.

Another problem with February is that by now I’ve run out of ways to occupy Megan. She hates the cold and is too young for winter sports. My friends feel the same. One of my mates said she is ‘lonely and stir-crazy’. Another said that if the winter weather forces her into further isolation, she will ‘slit her wrists’. Another friend was desperate so she inflated a jumping castle in the basement and then invited us over. It was the best playdate ever!

This week was the half-term school holiday which reduced my entertainment options even more. Places are either closed over the break or activities exclude me because they cater for children aged three and older. My Swiss neighbour said that the reason there are so few activities for kids is because most Swiss/French mothers work so they don’t crave entertainment as the expats do.

‘What about the library?’ my mom asked.

Even that is closed. It baffles me that libraries shut for the holidays because surely that is the time when they would be most useful. My local library is closed the whole of July and August, can you believe it?

librarianSpeaking of libraries, I must tell you that recently I almost got a job as a librarian. My dream job! Libraries are my happy place and I love the studious, muted feel of them. Shortly after writing my post on Edible Books, a friend saw a job advertisement taped to the window of the village patisserie and suggested I apply. It asked for people to work part-time in the little, one-room local library.

My imagination fizzed and bubbled and I began to heavily fantasize about how great it would be to have a rewarding part-time job. When I meet new people and they ask, ‘Do you work?’ then I could reply, ‘Yes! Of course!’ And when they ask, ‘What do you do?’ I could say, ‘I’m a librarian.’

I would not just be any old librarian, but a French one too. The duties included handling registrations, answering the phone, putting books back on the shelf, tidying up and locking the door. When I enquired about the job, they said they would ponder my application which surprised me because I am a chartered accountant. Then I remembered that a premier business qualification is no guarantee of invincibility and anyway, some of the dumbest people I ever met were qualified CAs. So I just said, ‘No problem.’

The downside of a job as the village librarian is that I wouldn’t get paid, which is not ideal as jobs go. These types of roles are always unpaid and done by bénévoles or volunteers. My French teacher said they have the same system in France. That is why library opening times are often inconvenient and random and they are almost always shut over the school holidays. They open when the librarians are available so my local library is only open 3 times a week for about 2 hours at a time.

library1This blows my mind. I can’t understand why libraries are run by volunteers when Switzerland is a wealthy country and can afford to pay fulltime librarians. Most of the books at our local library appear donated. Sometimes I open the cover and it says something like, ‘Dear Celine. Happy Christmas! Love Granny.’ The shelves are also almost bare. Either they have so many clients who have taken out books (which I doubt) or they just don’t have a big stock.

I was hoping to work one afternoon a week and take the children with me. I imagined Megan sitting quietly at my feet paging through books while Jessica cooed and gurgled next to her. I thought this would be possible since the Swiss are open to taking dogs to restaurants, libraries and shopping centres so I assumed I could take my two pets, my children, along as well.

That part of my fantasy was delusional. After our last horrific excursion to the library when Megan galloped through the aisles and skidded round bookshelf corners, I realized she is a lot less well-behaved than the average Swiss dog and I couldn’t possibly take her to work with me.

So, my librarian fantasy dissolved and vanished and I’ve made peace with the fact that for now, my focus is narrow and on my children and I’ll be a French librarian in a few years’ time when they are older.

On another note, I am so proud that for the first time ever, I am keeping my new year’s resolution and we are faithfully writing down our happy moments every day. It is exercises like these that remind me that although winter is becoming a drag, I really have nothing worth complaining about.




February 8, 2015

This week felt long and intense. First of all, Candida didn’t pitch and that screwed up my equilibrium. She’s my beloved Portuguese cleaner who works like a machine between 13h00 and 15h00 every Tuesday. It got to 13h30 and I paced the entrance hall, wondering ‘Where the %&*£ is Candida?’

Her husband then rang to say she was not feeling well.

‘Exactly how sick is she?’ I asked but then I pulled it together and convinced myself that everyone is entitled to flu every once in a while.

IMG_4939The second reason this week was heavy-going was because I was trapped indoors by the freezing, blustery, snowy weather. Isolation and idleness make the days feel so looooong. My activities and playdates were cancelled and my contact with the outside world was limited to Facebook and the Internet. I love being with my girls but there is a limit to how many playdough sausages I can roll or how many Lego towers I can build. It’s a challenge to be The Entertainment and constantly think up stimulating, age-appropriate crafts and activities to pass the time.

Last week it snowed and snowed and snowed. It was as if God was trying to tippex out our village.

One day I walked back from a friend’s house in what felt like a blizzard. The wind slapped us in the face and snow blasted us horizontally with apocalyptic rage. The only way to get home was to focus ahead and walk with purpose which was difficult as Megan was limp and weeping. She kept dropping her gloves and then she stood on the spot, held her hands to her face and bellowed into her red, swollen fingers. I pulled her along the snow and begged her to stand up and walk. Imagine dragging a dead horse while trying to run over sand dunes – that’s what it felt like.

My fingers and toes were numb and two strings of snot bungee-jumped out my nose and were dangling under my chin but I couldn’t do anything about it because I was carrying the two girls and the nappy bag. I was also dressed in my puffy goose-down jacket which doesn’t give much manoeuvrability. By the time we burst through our front door, we were all sobbing.

There is over a metre of snow outside. People say it’s been years and years since they’ve seen this much snow in the area. Our neighbours sculpted a table and chairs in their garden and invited us round for a drink in their ice cafe. When I picked Megan up from school on Monday, a bulldozer was shifting snow and came across a buried car. I took a picture of it:

snow car

The snow is fun as it’s falling but the novelty soon wears off and now I think it is annoying and rather dangerous. Huge sheets of snow and ice are hanging over roofs and if any of it falls, it could slam down like a guillotine.

This is the snow that hung off our roof (it has since fallen and caused no injuries, thank goodness):


Then, this week, the wind (‘la bise’) picked up with hysterical, end-of-world fury. Snow was blowing in swirls, like great flying masses of white. It’s petrifying when you have to drive in that kind of weather. A car spun 360 degrees next to me and I braced myself for the impact which by some miracle didn’t come. For the first time in ages, schools were shut, the bus service stopped and the police closed some roads. They warned of ice, snowdrifts and falling trees.

MegsThe strange thing is that even though it is minus five or colder outside, Megan has insisted on wearing her swimming costume at home. She either wears that or runs around stark naked. It is not like our house is hot, not at all. Our heating maintenance man inspected our boiler in October and asked if I intentionally set the temperature so low for winter. He said the norm for Swiss houses is 22c (hotter than some summer days!) whereas ours is set at 18c because I prefer to save energy/electicity and wear a jersey and thicker socks.

bruce almightyThe first thing I do when I get home is remove my watch and change into my ‘home uniform’ which is an old t-shirt, a fleece, my now threadbare stretch pants and a pair of cheap Chinese plastic shoes. The first thing Megan does when she gets home is rip off her clothes and replace them with the costume or nothing. She is often already starkers and watching me from the doorway before I’ve finished unloading the car. She reminds me of the scene in the movie Bruce Almighty where Jim Carrey uses his God-power to fling off his clothes in a flash.

The other day Megan insisted on wearing her swimming costume to school. I compromised and said she could wear it over her warmer clothes:

Meg school

Fortunately the bad weather is coming to an end and the temperature next Wednesday will be 8 degrees. Yes, EIGHT DEGREES! Whoo hooo! That’s practically summer!