You, Me and Teddy

Parenting adventures and activities in and around Neuchâtel, Switzerland.


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Green Houses

Nope, not another gardening post but rather I’m going to tell you about the concept of Les Maisons Vertes.

The original Maison Verte was created by Françoise Dolto, a psychoanalyst, and his team in Paris in 1979. Based on his experiences treating children he decided to create a centre where parents and children would be welcomed. The centre would be the ideal place to talk through issues and general worries and thus solving or preventing further problems.

“The important thing is that the child should feel secure and be autonomous as early as possible.
The child needs to be sure of himself, free to explore, and left to his own devices to test his abilities with his peers”

(Françoise Dolto, Les étapes majeures de l’enfance)

The Centres are a space to listen and to chat, but also to meet and relax with other children and adults.

There are currently about 15 or so Maison Vertes in Switzerland as well as others in France, Belgium, Spain, Russia, Japan and potentially others I haven’t heard of. Despite a few differences they all stick to similar principles:

  • All are open a number of half days a week.
  • They welcome young children (0-3/6 year olds) accompanied by one or two adults.
  • You pitch up, without reservation, whenever you like.
  • They are all run on an anonymous basis (only the child’s name is written on the board at the entrance).
  • They are free although a symbolic donation is asked of around 3 francs.
  • The team who work there rotate on a regular basis to it is not them you become attached to but rather the place.

There are certain basic rules too:

  • All children must eat and drink in the designated area.
  • All wheeled vehicles must stay in the marked zone.
  • Any children playing with water (or other messy activity) must wear an apron.

We actually have two in Neuchâtel: one in La Chaux-de-Fonds and one in Neuchâtel town. Our local one is called La Courte Echelle in Neuchâtel town on Fausses-Brayes. It is open Mondays and Tuesdays 14:30 to 17:30, and 8:45 to 11:45 Wednesdays and Thursdays.

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While I despair at the lack of things for young children here in Neuchâtel this really is truly dedicated to them and parents like myself. I love the international aspect of these centres. When you walk into one you will almost certainly hear 2 or more languages being spoken. Sometimes it is simply Swiss languages from different regions but regularly enough there will be other English speakers often not from the UK or the States but rather from Asia or Africa. Who would’ve thought in small town Neuchâtel?

It is a bit like going to someone, who has lots of really cool toys’, house (that is the vibe you get). It is all very relaxed with sofas around the place for parents to sit and chat, or you can sit and have your tea (quatre heures as the Swiss call it) at a table equipped with highchairs. They have free sirup for the kids and you can buy a drink for yourself or bring your own. The drinks are really not expensive though if you do fancy a hot drink (the charge is simply to cover their costs).

la courte echelle

There is a cosy sitting room area too with books and playmats which is idea for young babies. I used to go and sit with M when he was very small (able to breastfeed him discretely with the nursing pillows available) and E would run off and play with the other children of her age.

feeling at home

We often spend a fair bit of time in the soft play room which is always good fun. M spend some time pushing around a giant ball – he’s really starting to get there with the walking. It won’t be long now!

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Then we went to go and play with the cars in the “wheeled vehicle room”. All cars, tractors and bikes must stay in this room at all time. Surprisingly the kids obey the rules well I guess because everyone else is doing the same. It was rather soothing being in there with a little African boy while his Mummy sang to him and M bounced up and down on his tractor.

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It is fairly adaptive for most ages; La Courte Echelle is for 0-5 year olds. E tends to spend an inordinate amount of time playing with the water toys, making cakes out of Playdough or making tea for all the dolls in the kitchen but M was far more interested in the cars this time round.

I never feel hard done by parting with my 3CHF donation when we go and often I give a bit more if I can to support the cause. They suggest a donation of 3CHF but it is means dependant and generally symbolic – if you can’t afford it or haven’t got money with you you can pay it another time. That’s the Swiss for you. I expect in anywhere else in the world this service would probably get abused and then it would have to close. La Courte Echelle has been running now for 15 years and I hope it continues to do so for much longer.

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Westside

Nope, I haven’t gone all Rap on you. This is the name of one of Switzerland’s biggest (albeit not saying much) shopping centres. It is really easy to find, just off the ring road of Bern (our capital city), and only 40 minutes drive from Neuchâtel!

We decided to spend our Saturday at Westside doing a bit of shopping, grab a nice meal and most importantly have a good old splash at Bernaqua Water Park.

E at the entrance

It was our first trip to Bernaqua, as M has been too small really up until now, but we had a brilliant time. Apparently they have 18 different indoor and outdoor pools but I think we only went in half of them and we managed to spend about 2 hours there which was plenty for the kids. All the pools are all different temperatures with different attractions and suitable for varying ages.

Our highlights were the kid’s pool area which included a shallow pool (The Jungle) with 2 small slides and various jets and showers and a Pirate ship (Takatiki) complete with cannons that you could use to shoot water at each other. And the raspberry pool (as E termed it) where jets shot up from the floor making raspberry-esque bubbles.

There was also a cinema-style pool (Solaqua) which was filled with salt water and soft lighting showing nature documentaries or cartoons. I love swimming outside when its cold like in a lot of the thermal baths you find in Switzerland. Here they had their “Fresh Water Pool” which you got into in the warmth inside but it lead you outside where they had bubble seats and benches, hot tub, waterfall, stream channel, various massage jets.

We didn’t try out the steam room or the 18°C plunge pool with the kids but we did take it in turns to go down the Canyon D’eaux Vives waterslide! It really threw you about which was good fun and you could collect rubber rings or boats to take down it from the bottom. I can’t wait for the kids to be old enough but we have a few more years yet. They have 3 more waterslides that we didn’t see, one of which you can take kids down accompanied from 4 years, but I expect it is only open in warmer weather. I think we had plenty enough to keep us busy though.

I really enjoyed the fact that the whole place was cash free including the lockers. You paid your entry and then were given a wristband and you simply had to pay the balance on leaving. This made the whole experience at the café, and dealing with any supplementary hours, so much easier.

I should probably mention that the place is not only a water park but also a Spa and a Gym. They also run Aqua fitness classes, baby and children’s swimming classes. I would really like to go back and test their Roman-Irish baths in the Spa and maybe get one of their “Wellness Formulas”.

Roman-Irish Baths

Wishful thinking? It does seem possible for a mum though (funds permitting) as they have a crèche service in partneship with Kinderland just opposite. Kinderland is an indoor play area consisting of 300m2 of fun: from climbing to building or even painting. They take 0 to 8 year olds for a maximum of 4 hours at 3 francs an hour.

kinderland

I will be back at some point that’s for sure. It’s a great activity for any time of year and guess what the Westside centre has its own Holiday Inn so if you are popping through your could stay there on route to wherever you are headed.


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An Alternative Valentine’s Day Card

Today I decided to treat my family with a special Valentine’s Day breakfast. Instead of the usual cereal we had boiled eggs with a difference.

This is such a simple activity I can not believe I haven’t tried it before! All you need are some permanent markers and some eggs.

I recommend drawing on your eggs at least 10 minutes before you put them in the water to boil as the pen has more of a chance to dry and be absorbed into the shell. You might even be best doing them the night before. However, if you are in a rush like I was, it doesn’t matter and they still turn out great.

pan

I hope I have given them a gift in more ways than one as eggs provide complete proteins. Complete proteins are a protein source that provides all of the essential amino acids (also called high quality proteins). They keep our stomachs full and our bodies going all day long.

I will certainly be surprising the kids more often with designer eggs for breakfast.

eggs

Happy Valentine’s Day! (Again)


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Have a break. Have an iPhone obsessed daughter.

Since my daughter was tiny she has been obsessed with a thin cuboid object which makes all sorts of funny noises and colours (my phone). My son also seems to be heading the same way. *sigh*

I bet you didn’t realise but apparently an iPhone is actually very suited to all ages. Let me list the numerous child-related uses I have found for mine so far:

app collage

Baby Monitor

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When E was small I was recommended an app called Baby Monitor which is absolutely fab. You install it on your phone and input a phone number to call if it detects sound and hey presto you have a baby monitor for any situation. We use it frequently when we go to someone’s house and the kids need a sleep but they will be out of earshot. The only downfall is that the app costs about $5 but it has been very worth it for us.

First Aid Manual

0+

Now this is a must for all new parents. The Red Cross has brought out a free, simple and life-saving app complete with video explanations on first aid. They cover all sorts, including asthma, allergies and choking, and I would really recommend downloading it.

Infant Soother

0 – 6 months

I only discovered Sound Sleeper this time around with M but it was so useful when he was small before he learnt to self settle. The app comes in two versions with a lite version to “try before you buy” for free or the full version for $3. Now there are a lot of apps out there that play white noise but this one has a huge selection of different noises from rainfall to a busy market place to a vacuum cleaner and the really amazing option is the one where it automatically restarts the white noise chosen if it hears your baby stirring thus sending them back off to sleep sharpish.

Light show & Lullabies

0 – 6 months

Ok you might be able to coax a sleepy baby to sleep but after a night’s sleep and its 5am and they don’t want to go back to bed you need distraction and calming methods. Pabobo, which is total free, gave me at least another 30 minutes of sleep most mornings by propping it up in their view and snuggling up with them.

Teething Toy

3 to 12 months

No app here… use “as is” if you dare. WARNING: invest in a good dribble-proof case.

Distraction tool

6 months – 2 years

For example, during car journeys where everyone has had enough and the screaming starts, Fisher Price has a wide selection of free apps that E has only really just stopped playing with. They are free and M currently loves them so much he has stopped eating my phone to watch what is going on!

Colouring Pad

9+ months

I found an app called Paint Sparkles Draw for E when she was small. The good thing is that its free and you can have two fingers touching the screen at the same time and still be able to draw which most of the other painting apps don’t allow for.

Toy Phone

9+ months

This app was actually the first one I ever downloaded for my kids. I stumbled across it by accident and it has allowed us to have many a 2 hour lunch in peace with friends and family. It is free and called Phone for Kids. The layout is simple and resembles that of an iPhone with lots of apps which are different games for children. If want only one app on your phone for your children this would be it as it has everything from a dial pad to lessons on shapes to a simple fish tank where you can tap the fish to make them move.

Portable puzzle

2 years+

Toddler Puzzle Woozzle has probably kept E quiet the longest out of the bunch. It is free and filled with puzzles where you click and drag the pieces into the slots. What’s more I’ve just discovered that Swan Soft (the developer) has loads more free puzzle apps.

Learning aid

2.5 years+

The most recent one I have come across is pricey at almost $7 but it really is great for helping your toddler with shape/letter recognition and learning to spell. It is called Endless Alphabet and with it I can at least feel that it is slightly educational if they must play with my phone.

Activity Guide

0+

My new favourite app is called Knoala. It is also free (yay) and a must have for anyone who gets stuck for ideas as to what to do with their children. Download it, create an account and enter your kid’s ages and, hey presto, it generates activities based on your current weather. Truly magical!

Ok, ok… So some of this is tounge in cheek but your phone can actually be a useful parenting tool when used in moderation.

Please don’t frown on me too badly.

N.B. all of these apps are available in the UK store (and US store to the best of my knowledge) and the age evaluations are my own based on my experiences.


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An Olympic Outing

Sometimes plans change. 

On Saturday we went on a day trip down to Lausanne. I thought let’s take the kids on an outing to the Olympic museum as hubby needs to do some shopping and that will just bore them. However, when it came to leaving Daddy, E decided she wanted to stay and have some extra time with him so it was just M and myself.

We walked down the lake front through Ouchy past the port and a fantastic playground, giant chess set and peddle boats but it was a bit chilly to stop except to admire the view. Simply stunning and I have made a mental note to repeat the experience with E in the summer (with ice cream from the Movenpick).

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This was my first trip to the museum which has just reopened after almost 2 years of renovations. It was fairly easy to find with an impressive entrance.

OLYMPIC MUSEUM

We took our time exploring the Olympic park (the gardens that surround the museum). They are filled with various sporting themed sculptures and M found them just as intriguing as I did and we particularly liked the sculpture “Cyclistes, sculpture by Gabor Mihaly”.

ART

There were 3 parts to the exhibiton. Firstly we visited the temporary exhbition on “The Russian Avant-Garde & Sport”. The exhibition took you through the history of the olympics in russia and how it was introduced by the Communist movement (the Tsars had never joined the Olympic movement) and then how artists had adopted the movement. I found it interesting seeing the evolution of sport and art through image and film but it was rather adult oriented with few interactive sections. While it was fascinating to me M was much more involved in his biscuit so we didn’t spend too much time on it.

We crossed over to History of the Olympics exhibit which was instantly more visually stimulating with more animations, buttons to press and flaps to lift. I knew that the Olympics had originated in Ancient Greece as a celebration of Zeus but I hadn’t realised how Greece at that time was not a united country but rather many individual warring states. The original Olympic games were a moment of peace for these states which united the Greek world. It is impressive that around 2800 years ago over 40’000 people attended the games as spectators or participants.

Democracy, respect and fair play

It was a Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin, who revived the games in 1894. His philosophy was to promote “harmony between body and mind, the joy of effort, the struggle for perfection and respect for others.” He wanted to create a universal institution or rather “state of mind” which “no race or time can hold an exclusive monopoly on” – a truly democratic concept.

These values still inspire the movement today and the international torch relay symbolically ties all the competing nations together. I enjoyed seeing the different torches that have existed over the years and in particular checking out the ones I recognised.

uk torch

We skipped quickly through a room of costumes, mascots and architectural models of past Olympic stadiums and headed to the basement exhibit.

Downstairs were the best bits of the whole museum (in my opinions) Firstly we played a spotting game where you have to press a button in a wall of buttons the moment it lights up. Then we went to explore some of the other games (it was like a games arcade in places).

In between the games there was some really pertinent information. One wall was dedicated to images of different athletes and their body shapes. I have tried to piece back together the photos I took of it:

olympic ladies

“Professional athletes all have very different bodies. Ideal characteristics vary depending on the sport, it’s evolution and that of the equipment used. As a result today’s ideal body may not be tomorrow’s ideal body.” Athletes, Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein, 2002

olympic men

I loved this as it relates so much to every day life. All of these men and woman are so different but all are champions in a sport. In order to succeed they have recognised their talents and motivated themselves to go beyond the norm. They are all beautiful for what they have achieved. We never normally see such a range of bodies being celebrated like this with the media being flooded with just one ideal body type.

The museum continued to impress me with its education section on diet and how athletes must eat for their different sports and to maintain a healthy body.  There was also a section littered with inspirational quotes by top athletes reflecting the 3 Olympic Values: Striving for Excellence, Demonstrating Respect & Celebrating Friendship. Luckily the animations kept M entertained while I could read the blurb.

I found the whole place very motivational. The Olympic committee endeavour to educate about democracy, respect and fair play. The whole Olympic spirit is about striving to do your best while creating an environment where bonds can be forged breaking down barriers of culture and race.  The museum is not only great for young children but also for teens and adults. It is a bit pricey (for Switzerland) at 18CHF per adult but I will definitely be back with the kids and I recommend a visit if ever you are in Lausanne.


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P-P-P-Pizza!

Its oh so easy to just buy a pizza ready-made and pop it in the oven (or even easier to pick up the phone) but actually they are pretty simple to make from scratch. Here is my lazy guide to pizza making that even the kids can do.

Ok, so there is a little bit of work involved: You have to buy the ingredients at the shop and make the recipes at some point. This does involves some kneading by hand (if you don’t have a kneading attachment on your mixer). Kneading is a great workout though and can help release a lot of built up tension.

Here is my pizza dough recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver:pizza dough

Ingredients
  • 1 kg white bread flour or Tipo ’00’ flour, or 800g strong white bread flour
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 x 7 g dried yeast sachet
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 4 tsbp extra virgin olive oil
  • 650 ml lukewarm water
  • semolina flour for dusting (you can use normal flour but I prefer semolina)

Method

Sieve the flour and salt on to a clean work surface (or into your mixer with kneading attachment if you have one) and make a well in the middle. In a jug, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Keep mixing, drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.

Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Now remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands – this is called knocking back the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in clingfilm, in the fridge (or freezer) until required. If using straight away, divide the dough up into as many little balls as you want to make pizzas – this amount of dough is enough to make about eight pizzas but I roll thinly.

I tend to make this and freeze 2 thirds as 1 third is enough for us as a family. If you freeze it into pizza size portions it is easier later.

When I know I want to make pizzas I just pop a couple of portions in the fridge the night before and it is perfect the next day and ready to roll. (That’s the lazy bit as I don’t actually have to make the dough when I want to make pizza).

I roll them out just before we are going to eat on to semolina flour as it gives it that nice slightly grainy base. I don’t really throw my pizza about much as I tend to lose it to the floor but feel free.

The next stage is the tomato sauce. Here is the perfect pizza sauce recipe and so easy to do. This is also a staple I have in the freezer pre-portioned and I take it out to defrost with the pizza dough the night before:

Pizza prep

Even Teddy helped

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 1kg tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • salt and pepper

Method

Cook down onions until they are soft and then add the garlic. After one minute add the other ingredients (except the salt and pepper which you add right at the end to taste) and simmer for an hour. The sauce will be nice and thick and relatively chunky at the end but you can purée it if you are less lazy than me.

So this is why I said it was easy. For me it is a meal that doesn’t generally involve any cooking on the actual night: E loves to cook and the assembly is a task she can pretty much do alone. I supervise the rolling if we don’t want too many holes in our pizza bases but the rest is up to her. I like to promote independence in our children and even had her chopping button mushrooms from about 18 months (with her baby knife). I believe that there is no better way of learning than letting your toddler take part in everyday tasks. Of course there is a limit to how much you can bake (and actually consume) or what you can allow your child to clean without it becoming dangerous hence we do crafts too.

The great thing about pizzas is that you can put anything on them. Yesterday was fairly basic though as I had made a mushroom salad at lunch so that went on with some lardons left over from a quiche we made.  As for cheese we went classical again with Mozzarella and Parmesan.
The kids picking out which pizzas were theirs.

The kids picking out which pizzas were theirs.

They took about 20 minutes in a 220°C oven. If you can heat it from the bottom element only and preheat the baking trays this helps you to get the lift and air in the dough like in pizza-oven baked ones.
Calzone
We made two medium pizzas and one giant calzone. Please do give it a go as it really isn’t as daunting as it looks. Happy pizza making.
pizzas


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Chaumont and Any Excuse for a Hot Chocolate

There is no shortage of outdoor activities in Neuchâtel. Neuchâtel is a beautiful medieval town and you literally only ever have to drive 5 minutes to be in the surrounding countryside and the views are stunning.

This weekend was cold but lovely and clear so yesterday we decided to make the most of it and take the kids up to Chaumont to have a play in the snow. Chaumont is a brilliant Sunday activity when most places are shut as there is plenty to do (and even more in the summer).

We often get the funicular up from la Coudre (E loves this) although it only goes once an hour on a Sunday. An hour allows you plenty of time to explore Chaumont or a couple to have a nice lunch in the Petit Hôtel de Chaumont. You can also drive up which we did this time. It is very easy as there is plenty of parking and you don’t have to worry about timetables.

Next to the top of the funicular is a children’s playground which is great for all ages. They have swings, two separate climbing frames for big or small kids and a zip line tyre swing.

little kids playground and view

big kids plaground full

They also have some educational activities about the local wildlife and plants and a picnic area for when its warmer.

trees

Our plan was to have a bit of a play and then warm up with a nice hot drink. I think E would have stayed on the swings until she froze to one but we managed to bribe her inside with the promise of a hot chocolate.

I haven’t actually been to the Petit Hôtel since it changed hands and I was pleasantly surprised. The restaurant has always had a fabulous panoramic view but it has been redecorated and they have made an effort to make it kid friendly with high chairs and some toys and colouring books.

petit hotel

Once we had warmed up we went out again to watch the sun starting to disappear behind the mountains from the viewing tower. It is one Franc to go up per entry but I could squeeze the two kids through the turnstile with me.

viewing tower

viewing tower entrance

Don’t look down as you walk along the slippery bridge… the whole experience is not for those who are suffer from vertigo.

viewing tower bridge

I did not expect things to be as clear as they were for such a grey day. You could see all the way from Pilatus to the Eiger (where we were last weekend) to Mont Blanc!

view to east

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With older children you can walk back down via the Sentir du Temps. I have done this before when E was small and I could carry her on me in a harness. This is a great trail that is lined with carvings that take you all the way from the birth of the solar system through to the evolution of man on Earth but as its 4.5km its asking a bit much of my two year old especially in snow.

So we hopped back in the car to head home to snuggle up on the sofa and watch some more snowy landscapes in Ice Age.

view to south