Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Sleep schedules…not just for babies?

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Our downstairs neighbour must think he is living in a house with vampires. Not the sleep-in-coffins kind, but the don’t-ever-sleep kind.

There are very few hours of the day when someone isn’t awake in this house. Annie, of course, covers the morning shift nicely. She is supposed to stay in her room until 6:00 a.m., even if she is awake. Although she is getting better at doing this, let’s just say that doesn’t always happen.

Markus has recently had two employees quit on him with no notice, and so the last few months has had many days in the cafe with long hours (like 14 to 16 hours in a day). When he does shut down early he often crashes asleep as soon as he gets home (7 or 8 in the evening), and then of course is up in the middle of the night for a few hours.

Last week I was insanely tired (found out I was battling an infection, again) and had a string of nights where I read Annie her books but then fell asleep myself while snuggling with her. So, being an adult and not actually needing 12 hours of sleep, by 3 a.m. or so I was awake for the day.

I was hoping that this week would be better. Maruks actually had two days off and we had a big, fantastic ski day on Saturday. I went for a walk on Sunday while Markus and Annie hit the adventure pool for several hours, so the exercise thing was covered. And I found a movie in English on t.v. last night so went to bed at an adult-approved hour. Yet here it is , 5 a.m., and I’m sipping my Gano and writing in my blog. I hear Annie in her room crashing about, obviously awake too. Markus will be up any minute as he, understandably, didn’t feel like doing his bookkeeping on a Sunday night and needs to finish it before going to the cafe.

I wonder if Dr. Ferber has any advice for 41-year olds.

The Difference a Year Can Make

Sunday, December 5th, 2010

Annie and Markus had their first ski day! It has been snowing here quite a bit the last two weeks and several of the mountain runs are already open. I was so disappointing I couldn’t join them, but a series of health problems have been plaguing me the last few weeks, (today it is a bad sinus infection) so I spent most of the day in bed. Annie was excited to tell me that she went with Dad down the big hill twice. Last year it took about an hour to get down the full run with Annie, so she has obviously improved.

I did rally for the Krampus parade and we all went together. Last year was a bit of a trial with not only tears but outright screaming, and I swore we wouldn’t go again until Annie was older. But Markus has been prepping her for the last few weeks and Annie said she really wanted to go. Alright then. Well, I guess all the original, non-Disneyfied Grimm Brother tales have toughened my girl up, as she barely blinked when the scary monsters came by. When they were up really close she did need me to hold her, but I think I’d be more worried if she was completely immune to those creatures.

We didn’t stay long as there was a strong wind making it unpleasant outside. But that was fine. Annie got her St. Nikolaus sac filled with oranges, nuts and chocolate (volunteers must be filling those for weeks!) and all was well.

On another note, I like these yearly events as they are a good gauge of my German skills. I understood everything that was being said by St. Nik, which certainly wasn’t the case last year. And when I came home I read 20 pages of the novel we are reading for class in less than an hour. I used to read less than 10 pages per hour not too long ago.

I guess both Annie and I are making progress in our own way.

National Treasure

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

I almost forgot to post today and then sitting here I was thinking, “I got nothin’.” So I started going through what I had done today, and one of my favourite parts was listing to the CBC. I’m sure I’ve gone on (and on) about this before, but it’s my blog so I’ll rave if I want to.

I love the CBC. Love it! I can’t imagine that there is a better radio station anywhere. At least not in English. I’ve listened to BBC and NPR, and the CBC kicks their butts. Or at least I think so. Perhaps being Canadian sways me, as I get the jokes and savour the nuances. But really, I just love the incredible variety of things talked about.

Most days I’ll fire up Q, the podcast, and listen to Jian Ghomeshi, who is perhaps the best interviewer of our time. Because of the time change, I also occasionally listen to the Maritime radio live (the first Canadian broadcast of the day, of course.) Makes me wish I had made it that far east. Someday.

I’ll listen to any program if the topic at all interests me: Quirks and Quarks, DNTO, Canada Reads, the Massey Lectures.

Today I was listening to Tapestry, which is another favourite. I’m a spiritual person with undefined religious affiliations, and I enjoy pondering what I personally believe about the spiritual topics being discussed.

The podcast I played was a listener-request for the interview with Rabbi Harold Kushner, who wrote the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” a story written in large part to address his experience with his son’s death. Rabbi Kushner was funny in a sweet way, obviously wise, very humble and imperfectly human. His conversation this time with Mary Hynes was about his new books, “Conquering Fear: Living Boldly in an Uncertain World.”

Being someone how actually has the opposite problem, in that I too-often dive head-first into life without checking out how deep the water is, I was interested in how this would apply to me.

There were many things that struck me about the discussion, particularly about the fear of failure or the fear of success. Perhaps the point that stuck with me most was that Kuschner believes there is not success or failure, there is success or forgiveness. He has seen time and time again people who believe they have failed being forgiven by the people who love them. Of course, this isn’t always true, especially for individuals who don’t achieve what they were hoping to in a very public way. However, I think this philosophy is very true in my life. The people around me for the most part don’t judge me or hold it against me when something falls apart. They value that I tried and moved on. And I tend to provide the same support with the family and friends in my life. What I’m really bad at is forgiving myself when I “fail”. This program today was a great reminder to do less judging and more forgiving, both to those people in my life but mostly myself. It is a tough lesson to learn.

*On that personal note, it probably is a good time to mention that I’m pulling this blog off the search engines for a while. I’m going to make more of an effort to find work, and first interviews are like first dates…you don’t want to give your whole life story during the initial meeting. So if you are one of those folks who types website addresses into the Google search box instead of the top URL address bar, you might have to change your ways for a few weeks. Email me if you are having trouble and I’ll walk you through it.

Welcoming Winter

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

First day of winter skating! It was lots of fun with Annie and friends Chloe and 2-year-old Julian. So sweet.

Suiting up


Annie only needed a bit of help before she was on her own like last year.

Chloe had a great time too!

I don't have bad posture...I'm holding hands with wee Julian

How cute is this little guy? Markus and I are constantly threatening to steal him away.

How cute is this little guy? Markus and I are constantly threatening to steal him away.

Hopefully coming soon…tobogganing!


Sunday, November 14th, 2010

For the second year in a row, my good friend Nicole from California, made us a US Thanksgiving dinner. (She will be in London for the actual weekend, so we celebrated early.)

Although Nicole is a vegetarian, she ordered and cooked a huge turkey, enough for two or three times the people attending. (Yeah, left overs!) We had beets and mashed potatoes, salad and lentils, puffed pastry filled with spinach and mushrooms, gravy and enough stuffing (both vegetarian and non) to feed an army. So, so delicious. We ate, as is the tradition, until we were exploding. It was great fun.

Margriet and Philip were there  with Annie’s best friend Chloe and her brother Julian, so she had an awesome time as well.

Other guests included two couples who are Nicole’s neighbours, three locals and one woman from Galiano Island. B.C.! How you go from there to Kufstein, Tirol, is a wonder. We had some good chats about Canada and also about the differences between the school systems. (Both of us, being egalitarian Canadians, are theoretically opposed to the streaming that goes on here in the schools, but also realize many of benefits to the children of this system.)

It was a super evening, although driving home I had to stop to get a drink to keep me awake. That turkey did me in. On the menu for today? Turkey sandwiches! Feels just like home.

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.


Ryan and Renata Return!

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

I’m very happy to say that my friends, Ryan and Renata, have returned to Innsbruck from Victoria for another visit. (Actually, I should say Winnipeg, as they came direct from there where they are working on a contract.)

I picked them up in Munich last week and we decided to spend a couple of hours looking at the town. Although we were there only for a short while, we managed to have some glühwein, walk though the old town (which was very busy despite all the stores being closed on a Sunday) and have dinner at the famous Hofbräuhaus beer hall (the epicenter of Oktoberfest and home of the giant beer stein). A nice diversion.

Ryan and Renata in Münchin

Ryan and Renata in Münchin


Keeping warm



As we were reviewing what we wanted to do, it became apparent that I would have my work as guide cut out for me, as we fit in an awful lot last year: Christmas markets; cross-country skiing; downhill skiing; tobogganing; Salzburg; Sud Tirol, Italy; Trento, Italy; hiking; and lots of walking around and shopping. As it is also fun when I get to experience something different, Markus suggested Kitzbühl, which I have yet to visit and only know from the photos of stars skiing there in gossip magazines.

We didn’t see any celebriaty, but enjoyed the town nonetheless. I was expecting an over-the-top place, like Aspen, where every other store sells designer labels, $10,000 watches or trendy art. But, as Markus explained, there are just too many ski resorts in this area to not offer at least a range of prices and options. (Although we did spy a gated community which obviously housed those who could afford the very best.) Overall, a very lovely town.

Old church and graveyard near the city center

Old church and graveyard near the city center

Ryan and Renata in the ancient part of town

Ryan and Renata in the old part of town

The town is highlighted by the Ache river and of course the surrounding mountains.

Kitzbühl is highlighted by the Ache river and of course the surrounding mountains.

Where the wealthy hang out.

Where the wealthy hang out.

For lunch Markus suggested we check out a new hotel, called the Grande Tirolia, which cost €70,000,000 to build. The decor was very trendy, taking inspiration from both its Austrian location and Russian owners, including an entire wall of schnapps bottles, one for each member of the golf club. The Michelin-rated restaurant wasn’t opened for lunch, so we ate in the golf Bistro. Although the design was interesting and relaxing, the food was unfortunately quite bland. But an interesting experience anyway. And the drive around Kitzbühl to reach the hotel was pretty.

Grand Tirolia hotel entry

Grand Tirolia hotel entry

Reception lounge area

Reception lounge area

Ryan and Renata in front of the open kitchen.

Ryan and Renata in front of the open kitchen.

View from the hotel driveway

View from the hotel driveway

I really look forward to going back someday to ski!

Another Childhood Rite of Passage

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

Thursday afternoon, just as I’m finishing a coffee with a friend, Annie’s Kindergarten teacher calls my cell. She was speaking her hesitant English, I guess so that I would better understand the situation.

“Annie is crying a bit. She has put something up her nose and I can’t get it out.”

“Is she O.K.?”

“Yes, you can see it. I just can’t get it out.”

I could tell by her voice she was nervous…I guess not the favourite call to make to a parent…but not terribly worried about the sitiuation. Although I chuckled a bit filling in Nicole and Markus, I still left right away. I wasn’t sure what I would find. Screaming child? Pouring blood?

Obviously, there was no huge stress. Annie greeted me at the door with a smile on her face, ready to tell me about her predicament. Melanie tilted Annie’s head up and I could indeed see a small plastic bead from her favourite craft toy she plays with every day. I’m sure with the correct tool it would take 2 seconds to get out. But not having the correct tool, and not about to start shoving knitting needles up my child’s nose, we went to the hospital.

Annie was completely fine. I, however, got turned around and lost at the small city that is the Innsbruck hospital. This teaching hospital is one of the best in the world, in a country that has one of the best health care systems of any country. Part of that system is individual emergency areas for different problems: back, respiratory, even a separate emergency for the many skiers that are helicoptered daily to the hospital. All well and good, until you find yourself going to 4 of them in different buildings before you comprehend enough of the German to understand that there is a special ER for ears, nose and throat.

Once in the right place, everything went smoothly. There is never more than a few minutes wait at any of the ERs (I’ve been to the Innsbruck emergency, either for myself, Markus or Rebecca, several times over the last 10 years.) We were called in after two minutes of registering into an area filled with equipment attended by several doctors and nurses. A young female doctor helped us out, letting Annie sit in my lap. She was so lovely, speaking to Annie in a friendly voice, always showing her and explaining the instrument (light, suction, pokey thing) before using it. And she spoke perfect English, thank the dear lord. Annie was great, not fussing over anything. The doctor removed the bead and made sure there weren’t others to be found. She even gave Annie a sucker on the end of a tongue depression stick. Yellow, to match the extracted bead.

Rebecca did the same thing, I believe with a frozen pea, back when she was Annie’s age. And Melanie said one of the little boys put something up his nose last week, but she had been able to get it out herself. What is that tendency in children? Putting things in your mouth, I kind of get. But the nose? Where is the satisfaction?

But anyway, alls well that ends with nothing permenetly lodged in the brain. On to the next adventure…

Thanksgiving, Part II

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

Yesterday Markus and I left Annie with the just-arrived grandparents (Nana and Grandpa Drew) and went to our friend’s place for a U.S. Thanksgiving dinner.

Nicole and Tom are from California. Tom is working here at a high-tech company and Nicole is learning German (I met her in class) and looking for work.

We arrived with our wine and a salad and a dessert in tow to be greeted by the most delicious turkey smell that sent me right back to holiday dinners of my childhood. There was a great mix of people: two Canadians, three Americans and the rest Austrian or German, including three children to fill in the required giggle complement. The conversations switched between German and English with topics flowing from politics to wine to work to travel.

We also had some stomach-splitting laughs. My favourite was (and this next part is kid-unfriendly drunken bawdiness) when Tina, a Marketing professor from San Diego, and Nicole shared an obviously inside joke from days gone by, by toasting with “up yours!” instead of Prost! or Cheers! One of the German speakers didn’t quite get the phrasing, and the next round he toasted with the much more x-rated, “Up your ass!” This quickly deteriorated into Ring of Fire comments. Ah, to be drunk and able to make sarcastic juvenile jokes in my native tongue. Loved it.

But the greatest things was the food. Oh my goodness, was it spectacular. Nicole had ordered a turkey, as you can’t buy a whole bird in the stores. Roasting an entire turkey just isn’t a tradition here. There was apparently some tension, as the small Euro oven just barely fit the turkey, but Nicole managed to squeeze it in.

As well as the juicy bird there was mashed potatoes, mushrooms baked in filo, Brussel sprouts, cheese-covered cauliflower, and amazing homemade stuffing and gravy. I ate so much my stomach hurt, and then I ate some more. Just as Thanksgiving is supposed to be. For dessert there was a sort of apple-looking-cake-thing (they don’t have pie here) cobbler, whipping cream and ice-cream. I sigh in satisfaction just thinking about it.

It sure made me miss my old life. But as long as I can carve out these occasional home-styled moments, perhaps that will be enough.

The Hills are Alive

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Do you all know that no one here (and I mean NO ONE) watches the Sound of Music, and many have never even heard of it? Preposterous, I realize. But very true.

My friend Mara-Lee is visiting me from Canada. We met in high school and have kept in touch on and off through the decades. This is her first trip to continental Europe, her only other experience in these parts being a Grade 10 trip to Britain.

We have been having a good time and packing in quite a few adventures. On Saturday we decided to head over to Salzburg, as this was Mara’s grandmother’s favourite place and she wanted to see it for herself. She suggested that we do the Sound of Music bus tour, and since I have visited the inner-city castle three times in the last 18 months, I was game for something different.

Oh you scoff, you unsentimental people. But mix a totally whacked-out British tour guide, fun stories, plenty of singing, and gorgeous scenery on one of the most beautiful days we’ve had in the last few weeks, and you have yourself a most enjoyable day.

I won’t going into the details, as I don’t want to bore you non-lovers with tales and tidbits of a story often told, but here are some of the photos that I think everyone can enjoy.

One of the mountains that the real von Trapps didn't cross on foot.

One of the mountains that the real von Trapps didn't cross on foot.

Lake and gardens used as the back of the von Trapp house.

Lake and gardens used as the back of the von Trapp house.

Don't try to pretent you don't know what this is!

Don't try to pretent you don't know what this is!

Entering the stunning lake area outside of Salzburg.

Entering the stunning lake area outside of Salzburg.

Imagine children in clothing of curtains climbing these trees.

Imagine children in clothing of curtains climbing these trees.

The church where the wedding was held. We stopped here at Mondsee for a walk around the lake town and tasty treat.

The church where the wedding was held. We stopped here at Mondsee for a walk around the lake town and a tasty treat.

Mara-Lee by the Doe-Rae-Me dwarf statue.

Mara-Lee by the Doe-Rae-Me dwarf statue.

So, are you humming the tunes yet? If not, here is one of our family’s favourites.