You, Me and Teddy

Parenting adventures and activities in and around Neuchâtel, Switzerland.


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A Note on Common Sense

If you don’t know Douglas Adams I recommend you pick up the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy immediately and discover his take on the universe. His comedic philosophical writings are brilliant for all ages.

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Recently I was rereading the Salmon of Doubt, a book published posthumously of some of his writings found on his computer after his heart attack. One piece I came across was brilliant analysis of the concept of common sense. It was written for publication in the Independent on Sunday.

Adams starts off the article by explaining how as opposed to the old Soviet Union which was governed by rules in the West we have always highly valued common sense but we “forget that common sense is often just as arbitrary. You’ve got to know the rules. Especially if you travel.”

He uses the example of “a little run-in with the police” that he had while driving in London and overtook on the inside lane. “Not a piece of wild and reckless driving in the circumstances, honestly it was just the way the traffic was flowing” but enough to get him pulled over. “[A]gast” at the dangerous location the police officer had pulled him over in to berate him while his heavily pregnant wife remained in the car he gave up trying to argue with the officers who were busy stating that he “wasn’t in the universe [he] was in England”! He quickly admired all wrong and excused himself on the fact he had recently been in the US where, of course, American readers will say, it is “perfectly legal, perfectly normal, and, hence, perfectly safe.”

Adams then goes on to argue about the experience he had at the hands of a Californian law enforcement officer when he “parked in the only available space, which happened to be on other side of the [empty] street.” The fast acting officer explained that parking against the flow of traffic “that would be there […] if there was any traffic” is a dangerous crime in the states even if it is perfectly normal on busy English roads.

Lucky enough to get away with a only a ticket. Adams believed the officer would “rather have deported [him] before [his] subversive ideas brought chaos and anarchy to streets that normally had to cope with nothing more alarming than a few simple assault rifles. Which, as we know, in the States are perfectly legal” and, yet, a bizarre concept for Brits to grasp.

While the Europeans and the Americans have generally come to understand each others’ ways there are a few more extreme examples of cultural common sense gone awry. “In China, for instance, the poet James Fenton was once stopped for having a light on his bicycle. How would it be, the police officer asked him severely, if everybody did that?”

But Douglas Adams’ hammer in the coffin of common sense comes in the form of a Japanese example. He “tells of a court case in which a driver who was being prosecuted for driving up onto the pavement, crashing into a shop window and killing a couple of pedestrians was allowed to enter the fact that he was blind drunk at the time as a plea in mitigation.”

Sometimes we complain that our children have no common sense but maybe we should reevaluate this comment. Our children are just trying to learn all the unwritten rules of a complicated world.


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What Went On and Froggy Fun!

I told you how things were starting to kick off here in Neuchâtel as spring starts and we did our utmost to see as much as possible resulting in a busy but fabulous weekend!

quinzaine & jardins

Our weekend started with a wander into town to see the Quinzaine Neuchâteloise. We wandered through the Jardin Anglais which they have just finished replanting for this year towards. The dragon in front of the Casino was looking very smart in red and green and E gave him a roar just to show who was boss.

A little further down there was a brocante going on filled with second hand items in varying states of wear. We also stumbled across one of the Boîte à Trocs (a neighbourhood swap box) which you find all over Romandie. There are 6 in Neuchâtel and although I have read about them I haven’t actually seen one yet. I love the idea of having a place you can put books you’ve finished with or some of the kids old toys for someone else in the area to make use of. Unfortunately it was looking pretty empty so we will have to pop back and fill it up. Goodness knows the kids are growing fast enough to fill one with their clothes that are now too small.

Carrying on past the brocante the gardens turned into a series of lily pad arrangements complete with a flower fog and a golden princess who’s dress and hair were made of plants. A garden wreath design told us that this is to celebrate Neuchâtel’s 200th anniversary of it’s membership to the Swiss Confederation.

Town was packed with stands mainly linked with the shops taking part in the Quinzaine but there were also other stands which I didn’t expect to see including one by the Jardin Communautaire. Unsurprisingly they were also taking part in the Fête de la Nature that I also mentioned. The Jardin Communautaire is trying to create a communal garden on the rue du bassin in the centre of Neuchâtel with the help of the neighbours. Along with this project they are trying to create awareness of urbain flora and fauna and associate themselves with various cultural events. To celebrate the Fête de la Nature that weekend they were doing tastings of various plants made into cakes and cordials. Among others we taste Nettle (Ortie), Dog Rose (Églantier) and Lemon balm (Mélissa) cordials and even a nettle chocolate brownie – all of which the kids enjoyed thoroughly. The ladies were very busy but I managed to get them to pose for a photo before we headed on.

bol d'or collage

It was a beautiful day and the Bol d’Or was stunning to watch from the lakeside – unfortunately for them it was rather laking in wind so it was perhaps the slowest race they have ever had…

Festival goer

That afternoon the kids and I popped over to Cornaux to get a little preview of what was in store for the Corn’Rock festival that evening. A few local connections meant that we sneaked into the sound checks and had a play in the festival grounds soaking up the sun. Even Teddy got to join us on our outing as a rare treat.

stars and hearts

Treats continued as we made ourselves a rather spangly tea using all our biscuit cutters to create a rather appetising feast. If your kids ever decide to get fussy I’m almost willing to bet you can get them to try anything if it is star or heart shaped and colourful.

froggy fountain

That Sunday we decided that we needed to make the most of the fact that it was the Fête de la Nature and head up to the Botanical Gardens to see what exciting things were going on. However, when we arrived the place was so busy we headed on into the forest which was a lot calmer. On our stroll along the path from the Rocher de l’Ermitage (a large rocky outcrop above the gardens) we came across a little frog water trough which over ran down a little stream into a pond teaming with tadpoles.

Well one adventure turned into another and we ended up with a family of frogspawn to look after but that’s another story!

Hope you are all keeping well and stay tuned for news on our new tadpole babies.


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Trying to be serious in the face of a toddler…

This week as the third birthday draws ever nearer I have found myself being tested more and more by my little girl. The problem is that I am starting to get major fits of the giggles as her actions get more and more common.

The table manners have gone seriously downhill recently when my little clown (who is normally a very neat and tidy eater) starts to play up. I think she was born with a natural gift for comic timing because normally I am pretty strict on table manners and find most bad behaviour at the table pretty disgusting. Unfortunately this little girl is starting to get us on a regular basis with her mix of innocence and giant cheeky grins leaving all the adults at the table chuckling behind their napkins while we take it in turns to scold.

Yesterday my little girl got so upset, due to not having the right toy car, she started to scream (fake sobs I might add) for Teddy. Said Teddy was all of 3cm away from her outstretched fingers when spread eagled on the floor. Unfortunately she had lost the ability to crawl, walk or otherwise shuffle in order to move and grab him. This episode continued all of 5 minutes while Granny and myself watched wondering if we should end the tantrum by nudging Teddy the 3cm distance closer. Granny took pity first but not before teddy had to lie stretching out to E on the ground making grunts of effort too in order to get closer to her.

I have also had my eyebrows and hair styled a few times this week by one little girl who insists that eyebrows should be fluffed up and hair should be a mess in order to look “pretty”. Often this is when I am holding her in place on the loo and so I can’t get away without risking her falling in. Now after about the 3rd “No!” I just start cracking up now making me even less authoritative.

Another new favourite is to pin me down and lick my nose until she gets bored or I am giggling too much to even respond.

The worst incident had to be during one of our walks when I was trying to deal with a toddling M (he’s just started walking) and could see that E’s trousers were starting to fall down. I call over to E asking her to pull up her trousers and instead she pulls them off along with her knickers and goes for a little run. Trying to run after her with M in arms and not collapse in fits of laughter was probably one of my toughest moments as a mum yet.

M has caught on the game too recently chucking toys down the stairwell for attention until I come to stop him, at which point he looks at me with arm outstretched through the bars and lets go of the current toy in his hand. 

“plink, plink, plonk, crash….”

This is all then followed by a big grin and he scampers away giggling as fast as he can go.

Some of it is quite innocent like the fact that E now wants to do things like a grownup. She was given her juice in a plastic wine glass the other day and proceeded to sniff and swirl it around before drinking (once again I swear we don’t actually drink that much!). But other times it is the phrases that come out of her mouth such as 

“Mummy! M is all dribbley; he’s a such a state.”

All of this along with the nonsensical comments and “why?” questions and I feel like I’m going mad.

I mean her imagination has gone into overdrive meaning we have to stop mid walk sometimes to have an imaginary phone conversation on an imaginary phone generally recapping the past few hours with any absent friends or family members.

Oh help me! My house is being taken over my monkeys and I’ve lost all self control. I guess its better to laugh than cry.

 Happy Mothers’ Day!

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Waste and Sustainability

dine below the line

A friend of mine is currently taking part in the Live Below the Line challenge. It is an admirable idea: you have to live on a £1 for groceries per day per person for 5 days and donate what you would usually have spent on your shopping to the cause while at the same time experiencing how those who live in poverty exist on a daily basis.

It got me thinking whether we should be taking part and what it would entail. Could we do it as a family? Would my children be able to live on that little food without becoming hungry rampaging monsters? For that matter: would my husband pack his bags for the week and ship out untIl it was over?

I sat down to chat with the Hubby and we discussed the matter. He was not totally against the idea: we decided that it was a good cause and that we should definitely sponsor this friend and continue giving to our usual charities but it would be a more effective exercise for when the children are a bit older. With older children they could actually understand why they were being deprived and we could discuss what help we could think of to give those in need as a family.

In the meanwhile I did a calculation as to what our budget would actually be for a day. It is not a simple matter of typing £1 into xe.com you have to take Purchasing power parity (PPP) into account. I found out that on the US site you were allocated $1.50 a day. As per The World Bank website $1.5 are needed to purchase $1 worth of good in Switzerland. $1.5 with the current exchange rate gives me 2CHF as my daily budget.

So I sat down to work out a weeks worth of meals on a 56CHF budget and quickly saw how much of a challenge it was going to be. I wanted to be as sustainable as possible. We can all live unhealthily for a week on junk and then go back to normal but you aren’t getting a true experience of someone in poverty’s daily struggle.

To remain healthy the kids needed a litre worth of milk to get their calcium requirements every day and we would need some too. Since we were packing in calories on our budget there would be no more skimmed milk and instead we would all go for the whole milk especially as it is higher in vitamins and minerals. We need 10.5 litres a week for the family which represented 27.5% of our budget.

Looking at breakfast the clear winner on cost was porridge. A kilo bag of oats was half the price of most packaged cereals and we could cut some of the milk with some water to cook it and make it go further. We could feast like kings on porridge in the mornings and cut back on the other meals during the day.

Next I looked at fruit and vegetables. The cheapest veg I could find were tinned tomatoes 800g were a mere 90 centimes so I got 3 tins. Carrots were the cheapest fresh vegetable I could find at 2.95CHF for a bag of 2.5kg, onions were the next cheapest at 3.50CHF for 2.5kg (unfortunately you also get a lot more waste on onions than carrots) and 3.80CHF for a bag for of 2.5kg apples. All the other fresh produce was totally out of budget and I was surprised at how expensive the frozen options were too. Finally for our greens I opted for an 800g bag of frozen spinach for 2.60CHF. There went another 27.5% of my budget.

With over half my budget gone I looked at my meal options. Was I going to go with rice, flour or potatoes as my filler for the week? I opted for flour as I could think of many more basic recipes I could adapt for my budget. With flour we could live on pizza, pasta, bread, biscuits and batter-based dishes which all fill you up on very few ingredients. The cheapest I could find flour was for 90 centimes a kilo and 3 kilos would do for my week’s meal plan.

I would need some oil or fat for cooking and I opted for Olive oil as a luxury I prefer the taste and sometimes we would be having pasta with oil and cheese so it had to be tasty.

The biggest luxury item was the sugar that I needed for baking bread. Since I had splashed out on it we would make some biscuits too as snacks for the kids but even so we used less than a quarter of the kilo bag so I guess that would be an extra for the following week giving us more to spend on meat if we were truly living on this budget every day.

As I couldn’t afford a big box of salt I bought a box of 6 vegetable stock cubes to flavour our food. A box came to 1.50CHF and maybe over a period I could save for a box of bouillon powder which could be stretched further but maybe we would prefer to spend the extra on meat.

Yes, I keep mentioning meat as protein was the toughest thing to squeeze into our budget. I opted for a large 800g block on mozzarella for 3.75CHF which would be carefully rationed, 20 eggs for 4.80CHF and a 400g bag of mixed mince for 3.80CHF. That was the best I could do and hoped that the extra protein in the milk would be enough for my growing kids. This all came to a mere 26g protein per person per day if divided equally (not including the low values you would find in the other food stuffs).

The CDC recommends the following to give you an idea on what we should be eating.

Recommended Dietary Allowance for Protein
Grams of protein
needed each day
Children ages 1 – 3 13
Children ages 4 – 8 19
Children ages 9 – 13 34
Girls ages 14 – 18 46
Boys ages 14 – 18 52
Women ages 19 – 70+ 46
Men ages 19 – 70+ 56

So let me give you our very basic but hopefully filling meal plan:

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7
Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast
Porridge Porridge Porridge Porridge Porridge Porridge Porridge
Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch
Tomato Soup Eggy Bread Onion Soup Tomato Soup Burger sandwich Carrot soup Onion Soup
1/2 loaf 1/2 loaf 1/2 loaf 1/2 loaf 1/2 loaf 1/2 loaf 1/2 loaf
Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner
Yorshire Pudding Pasta Pizza Pasta Pizza Pasta Pizza
Spinach Tomato Sauce Spinach & Egg Tomato Sauce (Margherita) Spinach white sauce Spinach
Snacks Snacks Snacks Snacks Snacks Snacks Snacks
apples apples apples apples apples apples apples
Carottes Carottes Carottes Carottes Carottes Carottes Carottes
Biscuit Biscuit Biscuit Biscuit Biscuit Biscuit Biscuit
Milk for kids Milk for kids Milk for kids Milk for kids Milk for kids Milk for kids Milk for kids

I stretched the meat and veggies as far as I could but I had to allow 20% of my vegetables to be waste (trimmings). Here are some example of the stretched recipes.

2 days worth of Tomato Soup

  • 800g tinned tomatoes
  • 150g carrots
  • 160 onions
  • 1 stock cube
  • water

Onion Soup

  • 600g onions
  • 30ml olive oil
  • 10g sugar
  • 1 stock cube
  • water

1 loaf of Bread

  • 225g flour
  • 10g fresh yeast
  • 5g sugar
  • 30ml olive oil
  • 150ml water

Yorkshire Pudding with mini meatballs

  • 200g mince
  • 200g carrots
  • 100g onions
  • 110g flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 290ml milk
  • 30ml oil

Biscuits

  • 360g oats
  • 240g flour
  • 160g sugar
  • 450g milk
  • 40g oil

Pasta

  • 200g flour
  • 3 eggs

Pizza base

  • 250g flour
  • 15g fresh yeast
  • 5g sugar
  • water

Tomato Sauce

  • 800g tinned tomatoes
  • 150g onions
  • 200g carrots
  • 30 ml olive oil
  • 1 cube vegetable stock
  • water

Despite the high calorie foods listed I think we would definitely start shedding the extra pounds fairly rapidly if we followed a 56CHF budget diet. The lack of wine, meat and cheese not to mention cups of tea would be very hard to adjust to. While we generally waste very little the exercise of planning for such a challenge has made me reevaluate what we consume.

I do spend a lot more than 56CHF a week but I buy locally and bypass supermarkets avoiding imported or non fair-trade products whenever possible which brings our costs up. I believe that in this way we are helping to support the social system and doing our bit. This was another stopping point for me as if I were to do the living below the line challenge I would want to do it sustainably and would have to compare with the local farmers’ direct prices.

What are your thoughts on this latest campaign? Is it creating the right sort of awareness? Does it encourage less waste or rather does it encourage people to spend on cheaper less sustainable products?

If you wish to donate to one of the charities associated with living below the line please do so here: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/uk/charity_donation


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April Fish!

I had to introduce my little girl to the concept of April Fool’s Day today as at nearly three I think she is finally old enough to get it.

When we woke this morning I explained to her what day it was and what people generally do on April Fool’s Day. Then I attempted to get her to  play a joke on Daddy to which she responded,

“No Mummy, you are silly.”

Not put off I headed down to get breakfast ready. I had prepared E’s bowl the night before: I froze her current favourite cereal with some milk in a bowl (hiding some ice cubes underneath so as not to be too wasteful). So all I had to do this morning was to top up with a bit of fresh milk and there was no immediate noticeable difference.

cereal

Ever hungry E tried to dig straight in to her breakfast only to be able to dislodge one flake while I ate my bowl happily next to her. Undeterred she tried again.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“Mummy its stuck!”

“Really? Mine’s ok. Look!”

*Frantic attack of the frozen cereal commences.*

“Mummy!”

To which I crack and explain, “April Fool’s!”

“Oh… Silly Mummy!”

I offered her a normal bowl of cereal and she was happy with only a few mutterings of “silly Mummy” from time to time between mouthfuls.

We soon made peace though when I showed her what she had for her tea later. Over here “April Fools” pranks are known as a “Poisson d’Avril” and I got the kids a couple of little marzipan fish from our local Chocolaterie to celebrate today. I love this place and think they do the best chocolate truffles I have ever tasted! If you are ever in Neuchâtel you need to pop by but be warned the owners are approaching retirement and I’ve heard they are going to shut the shop when they do. As good an excuse as any for us to eat their chocolate while we still can.

poisson d'avril

I think in E’s eyes it was just another normal morning with me being just marginally stranger than normal. I can’t wait for next year!

Hope you had happy pranking too this morning.


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Terrible Threes… Anyone?

As we approach the third birthday the tantrums are increasing. I am not sure if its the age or simply the fact she seems to have decided she no longer needs to sleep.

She has completely dropped the afternoon nap over the past few months. Fair enough. She’s about the right age but we are keeping “quiet time” during which she has to play quietly in her room for an hour or so after lunch. This, however, has also become a new battle ground… How destructive can one little girl be? No, actually I don’t want to know what more damage she can do to her newly decorated room.

Never having been a great sleeper we were overjoyed when E started, finally, sleeping every night through just before her first birthday. It seems that just before her third birthday she has decided that bedtime is for “babies” and she is now a “little girl”. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the falling asleep later and waking earlier is going to sort itself out once she gets used to the season change. I did, however, go and buy some homeopathic sleep aids yesterday and plenty of lavender oil to try and help her to fall asleep in the evenings. Every little helps.

Its not just the sleep though, but it does make her mood swings more violent and tantrums definitely become more frequent when she is tired, its the rather new advances in logic she has taken and the recent improvement in her memory that she is starting to test out.

Some of her recent musings that she has shared have included :

  • Daddy is going to be taking her to her swim classes on Saturdays now with the big children while Mummy will keep taking M to the baby ones so they must now be at the same time.
  • The sky is sad when it storms and then gets even sadder because it doesn’t like storms.
  • Mummy’s top is the same as hers because it has a label on it, despite the label being different, and the top a different cut and colour.

While some things seem a bit abstract other things are quite grounded. If, for example, M has decided to throw his food over me and I am upset she will remind me that it “doesn’t matter” and my clothes can be washed. Or if someone is not feeling well they need medicine or a plaster to get better. You can see that she is obviously thinking about things more and developing her own theories about the world.

She is unsurprisingly very stubborn (like both her parents) and likes to make sure she does things her way. If, for example, you want her to go and have her bath she will refuse to go immediately. However, if you say that she needs to go have her bath in one minute and set a timer she will go without a squeak. It is frustrating though if you are in a restaurant and have ordered her an apple juice and she refuses to drink it because she wants fizzy water like Mummy. Sometimes things get a bit lateral too like last night when I asked if she wanted her milk warm or cold and she refused to answer. Knowing if I did it wrong she wouldn’t touch it I pressed her until she finally replied, “blue”.

I think with all of it you just have to stay light-hearted. It will pass. She won’t be this testing the whole time and she definitely won’t still be having screaming tantrums on the floor when she is 20. Well I hope not…

In the meantime I will pick my battles and she can have blue milk if she wants.

blue milk


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Jinxed

Do you ever feel you are being punished for something?

I stop breastfeeding and guess what happens? My usually very healthy family falls ill! Well except me… I think my immune system was perhaps supporting everyone. Or maybe at least blocking the littlest midget from being a source of illness.

Do I feel guilty? Yes. Did I crack and breastfeed again? Yes, but only once for a little boost.

We spent Sunday in emergency after M went really drowsy despite the drugs for fever. We now have antibiotics for ear infections and ibuprofen to combat the inflammation and fevers.

It has therefore been a pretty quiet in this household over the past few days. Every time I try to do an outing just for some fresh air the fevers spike and then I just end up tucking M back in for yet another nap or E in with the iPad or a book.

M is currently sleeping 16 hours a day minimum while E refuses to sleep more than 12 despite being exhausted. I am knackered too dealing with the extreme moods of an overtired yet bored two-nager.

I am, however, learning new techniques of easy play for my usually totally boisterous pair involving den making and basic drawing or painting as they get slowly better.

So if you wonder what black hole I have fallen down now you know. Off to the docs again this morning. Let’s hope we get some good news.

Wrap up warm and take care. Spring is nearly here!