Archive for November, 2010

Dangerous Disneyland

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

I was reading a Dooce post about a television series centered around Americans house-hunting in a foreign country. One episode’s couple were looking at an upper-floor apartment in Paris and, seeing that there were no screens on the window, asked how to keep their child from falling to his death. The real estate agent said to them, you tell him not to jump out the window and he will not jump out the window. As expected, there ensued a long conversation on the post comments about whether or not Americans overprotect their children.

This is something I struggle with almost daily. There is no doubt that parents here are much less controlling with their children. Small children ride a bike, take the bus, or walk to school on their own. Teenagers from about 13 or 14-years-old spend Saturday night walking around the city center until well past midnight. And parents talk to each other (and smoke, of course) on the playground, letting their children go off and play by themselves. When I mention that I have a running anxiousness in my brain, always looking around the corner for where the next lurker is hiding ready to steal Annie, they look at me like I’m nuts.

Sometimes it gets stupid. The culmination was when I saw a man, his child of about 6 on the back of his bike, neither of them wearing helmets, talking on a cellphone, running a red light. Super. My friend, Nicole, and I have an automatic response when we see this type of thing: “safety third!”Austria’s unofficial motto. Lack of fences around dangerous areas, no helmets, construction going on millimeters from pedestrians.

I guess a less paternalistic attitude could lead to children being more independent and able to solve their own problems. And I am more relaxed about always keeping an eye on Annie than I used to be (although that could just be a function of her getting older.) But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to adopt the 1950’s attitude of kicking the kids out the door and telling them to be home in time for dinner. And frankly, I’m O.K. with that. Although I guess we’ll see how it goes when she is the only child wearing a bike helmet in her school. I see some heated fights in our future…but hopefully no trips to the emergency ward. A good trade, I say.

Bring on the Hört

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

The next blog-post request from frequent visitors Ryan and Renata was to talk about the grocery stores. Before I came to Europe the first time (11 years ago), I still maintained the movie-induced image of Europeans shopping daily, visiting the market, the bakery, the butcher and cycling home with fresh-only food in their reusable grocery bags. Well, the 21st Century has hit even this part of Austria (mostly). I can go to a store as big or bigger than any Canadian Costco and buy pretty much everything…fresh, frozen and/or massivley processed…all in one place.

However, there still are some differences between N.A. and Europe shopping. For one thing, it is much easier and cheaper to get organic food here. There are very strict labeling laws and the consumers demand it, so it is available.

Meats are also much more varied, tastier and often cheaper. As well as the regular butcher meats, there are fresh sliced meat counters in almost every store with lots of offerings. (They also have these weird pressed meats, but I chalk that up to Alpine tradition and avoid those.)

Austrians must have the highest sugar intake in the world. In even the tiniest store there are at least two aisles of chocolate and candy. (We call the Tirolean women in their 20’s hummingbirds because they pretty much just eat sugar and are still ridiculously thin.)

But I have to say the biggest difference is the cheeses. The last trip back to Winnipeg I went to my mom’s local Safeway and stopped by the deli counter looking to buy some cheese. There was lots of cheddar in many brands and flavours (mild, medium and sharp), mozeralla in balls or blocks or shredded, cream cheeses with a zilllion flavourings and some parmesan. That was it. Now, I have no doubt there are amazing stores in Winnipeg with amazing cheeses, but here they are everywhere. There is an Austrian store chain called Billa, which are really glorified corner-stores, and there you can get at least 20 different types of cheeses. (Actually, and sadly, the worst selection I’ve seen is in my neighbourhood store, but even there I can find over 10 kinds.) Cheeses here are often made from fresh Alpine cow milk (or goat if you are into that) and just taste fantastic. Oh, and here is a little-known fact for you to ponder. Cheese is not orange. NOT ORANGE!!!

But back to Ryan and Renata. One of their favourite haunts here is Hörtnagl, (affectionately nicknamed “the Hört”) a high-end grocery store. There you can find a huge cheese, meat and olive counter, specialty foods, and the all-important Fleur de Sel for a reasonable price. Although you can’t use it as cooking salt, a salad made simply with butter-leaf lettuce, virgin olive oil, sweet balsamic vinegar and Flear de Sel is fantastic and has become pretty much a daily event in my life. (I’ve even adopted the habit of dumping a whole cold salad like this over my hot pizza. Delish!)

My only current shopping problem is that there are a couple of chains of discount grocery stores throughout town. Not only do they have the least expensive fruits and vegetables, but they buy sell-offs of consumer goods and sell them for cheap. So, for example, there was a quality children’s long underwear on sale for under 10 Euros. However, it went on sale on Monday and by Tuesday they were gone. Markus and I did each pick up a pair of Thinsulate ski gloves for 6 euros, but I missed the cheap house slippers. The items usually only come through once a year and are often gone in 24 hours. So now I’ve become obsessed with pouring over fliers (yes, they still have actual paper fliers here) and making sure I pounce on the deals I want. Way to add unnecessary and ridiculous stress into my life.

Anyway, I’ve always like grocery shopping (it was my pretty much my sole past-time in my poverty-stricken university days) and I’m happy to say that even though things have changed, Europe still offers a great experience.


Is This a Choice?

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Another busy day, another short blog post. Back to the Twitter feed:

Would you rather be wealthy and ugly, wise and sickly, or beautiful and stupid?

Is this for real? Seriously? There are people in the world who would choose to be stupid? Or sickly??!! (Take it from someone who was in constant pain for 8 months, nothing, oh nothing, is worth sickly.)

I quickly searched the net and there were listing for other answers, but I realized if I have time to read those posts, I have time to write about something better than this drivel that I’m currently writing about. So I’ll just say I go for choice #1, spend all (O.K. most of) my money on worthy causes, and hope that I at least would be sexy ugly.

Artwork by Annie

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

The administrator of NaBloPoMo encourages “wordless weekends” to help ease the burden of posting daily. So in that vein (O.K. so not totally wordless) here is my post of artwork by Annie.

The first 2 shots are during an annual event called Long Night at the Museum, where about 50 local museums are open from 7:00 p.m. to about 2:00 a.m. Entry is free and there are lots of children’s activities. Our favourite was outside the main Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, where they allowed children to paint large canvasses and then displayed them.

Annie's final creation

The rest of the images are Annie photographic originals, either taken with her toy camera or with my not-so-toy camera.


Best-laid Plans

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

(I had to look it up to make sure I was spelling “Best-laid” properly. It looks weird.)

There are lots of advantages to being self-employed. Both Markus and I have worked as employees and as our own bosses. Markus, in particular, seems to be much happier when he isn’t answering to someone else, whereas I can see the advantages of a contained job description that comes from working for someone else’s company. (Because when you work for yourself in a small business, your job is “everything that needs to be done at all times”.)

Markus has been working 6 days a week, almost every week, for the past 3 months. Today he had structured the work schedule to have tonight off. His friend from Canada, Mara, and her son, Julian, are here for one night on a stop-over during a European trip. We invited some local friends over to have dinner with us as well. So you can see where this is going……..

Due to a problem with staff, Markus had to jump in and work tonight. We canceled the Innsbruck friends, I’m picking up Mara and Julian at the train station and then we are going to go to visit with Markus at the cafe. I’m sure it will still be nice, just different than planned.

I’ve always been someone who is good at embracing change on the big scale, but have difficulty being flexible on the fly. (Unless plans are completely canceled and I get to stay home and do my own thing; I’m almost always up for that.) I guess life never fails to give us the opportunity to learn the things we need to learn. Sigh.

Writing About Writing

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Yesterday was the first session of a writers group here in Innsbruck for native English speakers. It was really interesting!

One of the members who is friends with the teacher offered her home, blood-orange tea  and a big pot of soup. It was a comfortable, warm environment perfect for getting creative.

Linda, the teacher, is a retired professor from the American Studies program at the University of Innsbruck. She believes that writing is about accessing deep within yourself to discover interesting and charged energy. Totally non-linear, so right up my alley of course. We started with a relaxation exercise and then memory recollection. She took us through exercises to draw out works and emotions, and then made us do “free” writing where you set a time limit and are not allowed to stop writing. No editing, reading what you wrote, picking up your pen, lifting your head.

It was a frustrating and also weird experience at times, but overall I can see where it is going and think that some good writing can come out of this process. We’ll see over time.We are meeting once a month, and as the group is only going to be about 7 people, there should be lots of great writing, reading of work and discussion.

As well, this Sunday I’m going to see what the local International Choir is all about. Just really pushing my creative boundaries!! Although if I don’t start channeling and seriously focusing some of that energy, my 60+ Christmas cards are never going to get out the door in time for the holidays. Wish me luck.

On the Run

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

O.K., this is going to be what I imagine is not the last of the lame posts this NaBloPoMo. A creative writing professor at the University is holding a series of classes for native English speakers. I just found out yesterday that it was tonight, and the day was already quite booked.

So, I’m running out the door with a pen and notebook in hand, hoping to learn something and be motivated to write more. And meet more English speakers. (I’m feeling very defeated by German lately and not particularly encouraged to widen my circle of locals.)

Hopefully tomorrow will be something more interesting. But hey, day four and still going.

All About the Bread

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

I’ve had a blog post request. For bread. Good friends Ryan and Renate will be making it three years in a row by celebrating New Year’s in Innsbruck with us again this December 31st. It is so special for Markus and I. (And Annie has fun with them too, of course.)

Ryan and Renata work very, very hard, living in Victoria and flying to Winnipeg to work on a contract every week. Every week! One of the upsides to this, though, is airmiles. So they travel. And this year they are off to Kenya with stops in Switzerland and then Innsbruck. (Markus and I are hoping to join them in Montreux if we can work it out with the cafe and Annie.)

When Ryan read that I was posting every day, he must have been thinking about his upcoming visit because his request was for a post about bread. Because really, the bread here is something to look forward to. It is fantastic. And it is everywhere. I’ve found good bread in Victoria and Winnipeg and London (Wildfire, Tall Grass Prairie and the Portuguese Bakery respectively), but you have to look for it and sometimes go out of your way for it. Bread here is very important and very available. There are bakeries every few blocks. (They are like 7-Elevens in Winnipeg.) Even in the airport they have mini-ovens so that the bread can come out fresh for the tired travelers. It matters here. (I’ve never heard an Austrian talk about a low-carb diet.) This isn’t true everywhere in Europe either. Italy, home of fantastic food, serves mostly white bread. Tasty, but white.

When Ryan and Renata come, they slip out to the bakery every morning and pick up a warm loaf. One of Ryan’s favourites is a sunflower bread called Sonnenkraftbrot (sun-strength bread). It has a chewy crust and a soft but dense center.


We’ve also tried, and like, potato bread, walnut bread and even the Bauernbrot (farmer’s bread) is great with cheese and cold cuts.

Although I’ve branched out more lately, the first year I was here I was addicted to Wurzelbrot (“root bread” because of the shape), which I guess technically is a white bread but tastes so lovely. And it even tastes great toasted the next day, as bakery-fresh bread here does not stay fresh very long. No preservatives.


Often times Austrians (including this little family) will have a simple dinner of good bread, cheese, and cold cuts. Delicious.

So we are looking forward to your visit Ryan and Renata. Your bread awaits.

Peace or Freedom?

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

I’m doing a shorter post today, so went to the twitter feed of blog post ideas to see if I could find anything quick.

Instead I saw this: “What is more important: peace or freedom?” This is a question that nations have been founded on and millions of words have been written discussing this topic. It is also a topic that I consider much more American than Canadian for some reason.

So what can I say about it in a short blog post? Well, that I am deeply, vastly grateful, that I have never been in a position in my life where I have had to chose, to give up one for the other. Because as left wing and peace-loving as I am, if I had to live in a world where I wasn’t basically free to wear or say or write what I wanted, I wouldn’t value my life very much anymore. For me, just being alive isn’t enough.

Of course, there isn’t such a thing as total freedom, and more than of course, even if I say or do or wear what I want, it isn’t consequence free. But I get to examine those consequences before I take action and mostly decide for myself if I can live with them. I’ve met and studied with people who have lost literally everything because they weren’t so lucky to be born in a country that values freedom. So I feel closer to this subject than I did a few years ago.

And still I have no idea what I would do if I was faced with the direct choice of peace or freedom. Could I kill someone else to keep my freedom? Or my family’s freedom? Would I risk my life or the life of my children to fight oppression? I now have people in my family history who fought for Hitler and who fought against Hitler. I have voted for people who had to make the choice between peace or freedom…or at least between peace or war. And they believed freedom was at stake, and maybe it was. I’ll never know. It is all so not black and white to me.

It certainly could be argued that I’m just passing on the decision, the choice, the battle to someone else. And that is probably correct.

So I am just going to thank every God imagined that I have been blessed with a peaceful life in a free society. And pray that Annie is given the same gift in her life. It is perhaps the greatest gift of all.

Halloween (sort of)

Monday, November 1st, 2010

My friend, Maria, lives in Antwerp and plans to take her daughter back home to Canada to celebrate a real Halloween some year. I’m imagining her daughter (and Annie) discovering at an older age that there is this place where you are allowed to dress up, walk house to house and then people give you a pillowcase full of candy. It is going to seem like Nirvana.

In the meantime, we do the best we can.

For our Halloween there was pumpkin carving…

And dressing up in costumes…

And the traditional Halloween donkey ride…??

The restaurant where we met, Nattererboden, is a favourite for parties as it is quite rural (although only 15 minutes from town) and has an outdoor playground, indoor play area, petting zoo and occasionally the donky riding. All in a large traditional restaurant setting with fantastic food. (I know I’ve questioned this before,  and I know there are exceptions, but why do restaurateurs in Canada so often think that “family-friendly” means lots of plastic furniture and processed food??)

The kids played in the playground despite it being rather crisp outside, carved pumpkins, made Halloween baskets from a pattern I found on a craft site, and ate candy. The trick or treating aspect wasn’t there, but the kids still had fun.

There are oodles of fun events throughout the winter in Austria, but I’m still glad I’m introducing Annie to my childhood traditions. I’m going with the belief that Annie will be an international child, instead of just confused. And of course for my girl, anything where there is sugar involved is a great event.