Before the last snowflake melts

I thought I should share a few last impressions before spring comes sweeping in.

And you know what spring can bring… and if the past is any indication at all of what the future entails, it’s about to get pretty seriously crazy.

We let loose over New Year’s in Lenzerheide Switzerland, where the snow was fresh, deep and still falling. Snow angels, snow fights, snow rolling, sledding, digging, building, musing, watching, listening. It was pure joy. We even stuck our heads in to try some headstands. On New Year’s eve we sent up paper lanterns to bring us good luck in 2012.

I am wishing for peace and meaning this year, and starting off the year with close friends and family was a good, although intense, place to begin. As I work on searching for some of my basic feelings, those sticky disruptive ones, that bring me deep within myself to feel the rhythm and energy, I am learning to let go and trust that they will lead me in the right direction even when they seem in contradiction to the personality that I imagine myself to be.

It’s a new road with, what feels like, a whole lot of snow. Good thing I have a strong Aunt who is good with a shovel!

More snow fell up in Schluein than I have ever experienced in my whole long Canadian life. It was wet and thick and presented such a tempting challenge just to walk through… even though the clear intention was to get stuck and have to roll around even more in it. Mia, Nora, Tilmann, the dog Ruby and I spent an afternoon playing and digging to our heart’s delight, until we had a 3-part tunnel and a serious snowball fight completed.

Note that the tree behind Lisa and Tilmann in the above pictures is the same one… just a few hours later in the second picture after the sun came out and the snow plow also came to clear the driveway.

pure mischief preceding the 3 tongues

Back in Zurich, there were a few crystals of frost that would briefly change the light of the city, creating a sparkle in the mornings where the shade would linger while the green would strive hard to fight back.

The warm sun has certainly arrived in Zurich, but I’ll still be dreaming of the winter wonderland in the mountains for a while still.

warm fireplaces, old stories, and other essentials of a German Christmas

I celebrated Christmas this year for the first time in Southern Germany with Tilmann’s family.

A long 10 days of sleeping in until noon (I didn’t even know I had that skill), walking the happy dog in the misty hills, frequent coffee and cake breaks shortly followed by dinner, wine, stories, and games in the evening.

10 adults in total. Full-on German immersion. Thank goodness I was in wine country.

It was just my luck that Tilmann’s family is particularly traditional at Christmas. I was swept into the festivities, and here are a few of the highlights from that part of the world:

– Tree lights are often still delicate little candles in special holders.
My instincts tell me that wood is a common fuel for fire, but my ‘danger danger!’ face was told to trust in tradition…. and that only ‘a few’ accidents happen every year. Hold onto your cats and small children.

We went to Christmas Mass on the 24th. Immediately on coming home, we had to wait (im)patiently outside the living room for the tree candles to be lit for the first time (the tree is also only set up on the 24th). Upon the ringing of a bell we were allowed to enter and be absorbed into the warmth of the candle light. Carols were sung, presents were exchanged and then Christmas dinner was happily eaten.

– No traditional Christmas meal.
Believe it or not, North America has a long-standing tradition that doesn’t exist and (possibly) didn’t originate in Europe. 1 point North Am! We got 2 raclette ovens going and had an amazing session of grilling, melting, seasoning, and stuffing (ourselves that is). We heart cheese. Typical additions to the melted cheese: potatoes, mushrooms, onions, corn, pickles, beets. And of course meat, if you are into that sort of thing (see below on the effects of Christmas drinks).

– A few Christmas Carols that I know are also sung in German. Oh Holy Night, and Oh Christmas Tree, of course (Tannenbaum!)
Unbeknownst to us beforehand, this provided some nice bonding moments as I sang in English and tried to compete with the 3 singing sisters in German. No chance.

– Christmas markets never get old, unless they are of the medieval kind!
We went to a nearby town to check out the traditional market, as well as the completely authentic middle age market. I was already high on the beautiful style of the buildings surrounding the market. And then we stepped into the medieval market full of fire torches, wood stove baking, traditional leather and metal workers, and even a wood-heated hot tub wherein you could watch the crowds as they passed through. We got to try out archery, egg tossing, and plenty of mead as well, to keep the spirits high.

The mead might make you do crazy things though…. the 1-metre long sausages become very tempting for a vegetarian. Tilmann’s sister couldn’t resist.

The time in Germany passed easily, as we enjoyed a deeper sense of gratitude for having each other together that year.

And the dog appreciated a dance partner for his waltz to, of course, the Nutcracker Suite!

December distractions

Checking back through the pictures from December and finding some gems to share. Lots of cool things that pulled me forward into the holiday spirit.

(Yah, a month too late, but who doesn’t want to revisit warm candles, rainy markets, fluffy snowflakes, and decorating a Christmas tree with Nora!)

So December was a particularly rainy month. I visited no less than 4 lovely Christmas markets and was rained on through all of them. Here I visited Schaffhausen, near the border to Germany where the famous Rhine Falls tumble down. The famous Munot fortification at the top of the village has beautiful light pouring through into an open circular stone room. I can only imagine that it used to be filled with activity – people, arms, horses, fire. However, now the room is filled with an eerie green light and the walls echo with every group that walks through.

Looking for oncoming attacks, or checking up on my grapes
Within Munot

Back in Zurich, a few flakes of snow did fall and one last party in our rented room kept us dancing in the warm glow.

And for the first time (that I noticed) the Nutcracker Ballet was playing in Zurich! An old family tradition that I was able to keep up even here. The performance was lovely, and the Opera House was outstanding, just as I would imagine an old European theatre.

Opera House Zurich

And, as always, December was filled with new and touching music. The artists as young men presented ‘the mermaid’. They had previously written 6 songs specifically for the story of the Little Mermaid, and presented with professional sign language translators to perform a concert for the deaf.

Visuals and artistic translation to bring the musical soundscape into the eyes of the deaf

Benji, singer of artists as young men, also played a special Christmas concert with our friend Chregi, of the fridge, at a local organic grocery store. Amazing music in front of organic wine. Yum.

Shortly after I made a quick trip to Schluein to see Lisa, drop off gifts, and decorate the tree. I left dry, grey Zurich and entered into a strikingly white wonderland of peaceful falling snow.

I was free to be a 3-year old with Nora as we chose our favourite decorations for the tree, danced to the Nutcracker Suite, and ate Christmas cookies while watching the snow pile up. I secretly wished the snow would pile so high I would be stuck there until Spring…

But Christmas was within days, and more lights, singing and traditions were to follow…. this year in Germany!

Another memorable Spring

Looking back over the last few years, I notice that each Spring is highlighted by an abnormally high level of chaos and challenge. Whether it was spending hundreds of hours designing a water treatment plant for my final year design project at McGill, or deciding to quit a great job and pack up 20 years of my life to move away to a new ‘old’ world in Zurich, or survive through my hardest academic semester yet as I work towards a Master’s in Environmental Science; the Summer, Autumn and Winter do not seem to be marked with such extreme or unexpected changes to my regularly scheduled life.

This spring was no exception as I wandered my way through an academic/professional/personal interest semester which is just finishing up, of course, with a (bagpipe) toot and bang.

Due to my impeccable ability to plan or possibly a subconscious will to explode, during the final week of the semester and while preparing for a final wrap-up workshop for another research course, both my parents and two friends from Canada, Tina and Julian, came over to visit. For me it was a whole new level of management as I coordinated people in and out of my apartment, juggled clean sheets and fresh bread, hopped on trains up and down the mountains, and pointed people off in the most beautiful/tasty/relaxing directions. (Oh perhaps I know how my Aunt feels!) Despite the chaos, it was a wonderfully fun few weeks and it is now starting to wind down as Tina and Julian just left today, and my parents head back to the other side of the world next week.

And finally, for those who were witness to this saga, I have a new camera! The acquisition of this one is another story, but in short I made a new friend and saved a pretty Swiss penny, and am now the happy owner of a Panasonic LX-5. I’m still getting a feel for it and the increased sophistication as I move into more manual controls and effects, but I captured some moments from these past weeks in order to, once again, file another intense Spring into the history books.

The first part of the visits were up in the mountains, where we could have all the family together- cousins, sisters, aunts, nieces, nephews, dog! There were 8 of us at one point, and sometimes it got a little tiring. But my Mom always kept everyone entertained with endless projects- helping young Mia with a freshly picked cherry compote, keeping the dogs back from a newly painted red wall on the terrace, and endless cooking. But there was some spare time to visit and take in the beautiful panoramas of Zurich and the mountain valley where my Aunt lives.

big city, big valley

But sometimes it did get a little exhausting as well.

Catching a few
Pa and Ma

My Dad and I have a notorious sweet tooth, essentially non-existent in my Mom, so after being solely with her for the first few days I needed to get my fix! Luckily I have been following a local food blogger ( who adores sweets and has created a tour around some of Zurich’s finest sugar havens. So for a lovely drizzling afternoon, my Dad and I had our palettes sweetened with artisanal chocolates from Switzerland, followed by American-style cupcakes, and ending at one of the oldest bakeries of Zurich- cafe Schober- full of french pastries, secret sitting nooks, and deeply rich hot chocolate. It was a delightful tour and we left with a glimpse into the family history of chocolate making in Switzerland by some of the big names such as Lindt, Sprungli, Tobler, and Nestle, to name a few.

French frills and petite perfection at Cafe Schober
Newly (and greatly) welcomed to Zurich- cupcakes!

And Tina and Julian also got into the sweet fun when I introduced them to the famous Luxemburgli of Zurich. Little cream fillings squished between two meringues in an array of colours and flavours like white peach, champagne, lemon, and caramel salt.

The Zurich specialty

Energized from the combination of crispy meringue and fresh fruit cream, we criss-crossed the old town of Zurich, checking out the fish of the Limmat and the cobble stones of the winding streets.

1 fish, 2 fish
Inspired by the Luxemburgli?
Over the rooftops

For many reasons, including the presence of all these Canadians, we held a surprise party for Tilmann. I can’t remember ever being so nervous with anticipation- for the food, the people and, of course, the element of surprise! I had a few indispensable helpers whipping up hummus and roasted vegetables, opening bottles of wine and entertaining the crowd, as we all patiently waited until the last guest, Tilmann, unknowingly walked through the door to a room full of friends and bagpipe tunes. No photos of that moment unfortunately, but you’ll just have to imagine the shock and excitement of everyone there.

A few photos below of the waiting game and the final relaxed conversations later into the night.

As everyone slowly trickles out and the hum of activity in my apartment becomes quieter and my schedule doesn’t include such details like airport trips, fondue making, or afternoon beers, I realize the wonder that visitors add to the regular schedule of life. It wouldn’t have been Spring without them!

Time for the show, eh?

Back in Zurich but still thinking fondly of the snow, and mountains, and trees and friends back in Canada.

The first 3 weeks of the trip were spent in Victoria and exploring Vancouver Island. It was wonderful to spend time fully relaxing with my parents- eating pancakes, drinking tea, watching for the sea otters, and playing cards. We all fit nicely into each other’s schedules as the yoga and golf and choir continued on smoothly. Fortunately for us ‘foreign’ types, there were plenty of great experiences to be had, even in January. Robbie Burns night, for one, where my Dad and his pipe band were the main act, filling our ears and eyes with their melodies and foot high feathered caps, respectively. We even got to dress the part. Very appropriate after the Scotland adventure.

The clan
Bonnie laddie

A meal of Neeps, Tatties and Haggis, as well as the history of the scoundrel, Robbie, completed the evening.

As well, we had to see some of Victoria, including the breakwater, Government street, the Royal BC museum with its collection of themed exhibits, and a good number of beaches.

Canadian wildlife
breakwater at dusk

Tilmann and I also made it North of Victoria to ski at Mount Washington, hug some amazingly big trees, and collect our thoughts at some desolate beaches.

From the top of the island at Mt. Washington, ocean beneath the clouds
9m around, 76 m high, 700 years old- the magnificient Douglas Fir
Brilliant green, even in January
living beard
Hidden waterfall
Back to the roots

And of course, some family time. A late Christmas meal with old friends, and a short day trip over to Saltspring Island. We took the ferry over to Saltspring, on an unfortunately grey and misty day. We missed the views of the other islands, but did find some tasty sea food, an eclectic hardware store, plenty of sea gulls and island dwellers (of the cheese producing and raw chocolate type!)

Ferry to Saltspring

And of course, my twin spent the weekend for Robbie Burns too! Claire and mom below.

At ‘Christmas’, looking festive

From the island, the trip continued to Vancouver for a few days of mountains, parks, ocean, and even a bald eagle! Calgary was the next stop for a visit with many old friends. Such great conversations, a super bowl party, and even caught the end of a chinook! One highlight- dressing up with the girls for the texas themed party.

Calgary- tatooed on my heart

Onto Toronto and Montreal. More friends to discuss about the world, life after school, love, quinoa and where we are all heading next. Amazing how a year and a half doesn’t really create much space between these old friends.

Thank you to all who housed me, drank tea with me, shared in the experiences and inspired me for the upcoming year! You are all in my heart, even on this side of the ocean! To those I missed, there is always room to visit in Zurich!

Canada Teaser

From mountains to beaches, on bikes and ferries. Victoria & Vancouver- Check

Calgary, Toronto and Montreal still to come…

A few mysterious views from the Pacific coast in the meantime

Island destination
Coming home
Long beach longings fulfilled
Misty time
Found new and old roots
Nothing like it...

 A warm hug to all the wonderful people I met in Victoria- you made for such a warm reception, even in cool January. I’m honoured to have heard your stories, singing, laughing, yoga groaning, and wishes for the rest of my trip. Until next time…