Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A game for citizenship?

We might need to get one.

Barcelona Sleeping Arangements

In Barcelona Rowan and Niamh both slept on mattresses on the floor since Rowan kept falling off the bed. This is a typical view from about an hour after they go to sleep.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

La Chivita



We tried a sample of this cheese at a market in Barcelona and I thought it was wonderful, so we purchased some to bring home. I was a bit surprised when we opened the package. The rind smells exactly like a used litter box. The good news is that the rind is not eaten and the cheese tastes and smells great.

Muriel's first Christmas

Muriel being walked while Rowan and Niamh open their presents from Santa.
Muriel rests while Rowan and Niamh play with the new train set.


Muriel and the stocking she received from Grammie Annie



Resting while Niamh opens all present within reach.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pictures have been posted!

Pictures from Christmas, Barcelona, Basel, and Colmar have been posed at www.famillemccann.net.


Speaking of Cheese

Here are the cheeses that came back from Spain with us.

Spain Day 5: Part 1

We ran a few errands in the morning, the most important of which was to visit Formatgeria La Seu. Emily went in while I walked the kids. The staff took Emily into the cheese room and let her try whatever she wanted. She came out with two cheeses and a package of olives. We haven't tried the cheeses yet, but you can expect a full report in the near future.

Spain Day 4: Part 2

Niamh, Muriel, and I were a bit tired today, so we took an afternoon nap. Emily and Rowan went shopping/snacking. They visited Caelum, Escriba, and Art Escudellers.

After the nap we headed to Casa Mila via the metro. The metro stop closest to where we wanted to go was under construction and the elevators were not working. We had to put the stroller on the escalator a few times, which was no big deal. Unfortunately, there were a few instances where I had to carry the stroller (and Muriel) up the steps. I wasn't too happy.

Emily and Rowan went into Casa Mila while the girls and I wandered around. Emily and Rowan liked the exhibit, but it didn't compare to the Sagrada Familia even though they were designed by the same person.

After the Casa Mila we decided to look for the Enric Rovira Shop, which meant another metro ride. After carrying the stroller back into the metro station I realized that we had to exit the station and go in another entry due to the construction work. We finally made it to the track only to realize that we were on the track for the wrong direction. We went back up the steps and down the other side. We finally got to the correct station and then we couldn't leave the station because the stroller/wheel chair exit wasn't working correctly. We had to have someone come over and unlock a door for us.

All that and we couldn't find the shop. We may try again tomorrow.



Rowan atop the Casa Mila

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bun in Barcelona


Rowan's Bun enjoyed the trip to Sagrada Familia too.

Tourists: Things that annoy me

A few things about tourists that annoy me.
  • Checking a huge folding map while standing in the middle of the sidewalk. Either move out of the way (preferred) or get a smaller map so you aren't taking up so much space
  • Having a group take up the entire sidewalk while walking down the the street. I know this doesn't just apply to tourists, but there was a group of tourists blocking my path today.
  • Using the GPS function in your iPhone for directional purposes. I had to listen to a guy on the bus make statements based on the output of his iPhone GPS. His statements weren't even close to correct. At least he was smart enough to ask the bus driver for clarification when he noticed everyone else was getting of the bus.
  • Not having all of your liquids in a Ziploc bag at airport security. I can't believe that there are people in 1st world countries that haven't heard of these rules.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Jamón ibérico

We picked up some Jamón ibérico at La Boqueria. I wasn't too impressed at first, as it didn't taste like any ham I'd ever had. I didn't give up and have decided that not only do I like it, I really like it.

Swiss History isn't that straight forward

Writing a history of Switzerland is not as easy as it seems.

Joy to the world: The internet has returned!

Swisscom was able to fix one issue and identify another issue that I need to fix.

The wires in the control room were either loose or disconnected (my french isn't good enough to understand the exact issue). The tech fixed that and the Internet was immediately working, but not the phone. There is an issue with the dsl/phone adapter that is causing the phone not to work. I'm off to interdiscount in a few minutes to get a replacement.

Quadrilateral


Eve gave Rowan a copy of The Greedy Triangle and he has become obsessed with pointing out shapes. He's been screaming "Quadrilateral" multiple times a day due to all of the square sidewalk tiles.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Time Out!


Since we're wandering around town all day we've had to come up with a new method for delivering time outs. Rowan now gets to stand in the corner when he misbehaves. I'm not sure how effective it's been, but at least it gives me time to cool down.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Spain Day 4: Part 1

This morning we took the metro to the Sagrada Familia. I think it disproves the theory of "seen one church, seen them all" to which I had subscribed (is that the correct way to get rid of a dangling preposition?). I have to say it was amazing and I'm not normally one to classify anything artsy as amazing. I think the construction will be done in about 25 years, which means we'll need to schedule a return trip in 2034.

Emily took Rowan up one of the towers and walked back down. I went up after on my own and can't imagine walking down with a 4 year old. The steps were steep, narrow, and, at least in some places, dark. The good news is that we went early and there wasn't a crowd. I don't think it would have been too enjoyable if the stairs were just one big line of people.



Rowan and Bun on the tower.


Rowan running around to burn some energy with what I think is the main door in the background.


This might be the side door. If you look close you can see Rowan, Niamh and Emily next to the door.


Niamh playing at the playground across the street.


Emily and Muriel at the playground.

Christmas Markets: Seen one, Seen them all?

We've been to four Christmas markets and three of the four have been very similar.

The markets in Morges, Basel, and Colmar were all very crowded and selling the same junk. The only difference was the type of food being sold.

The market in Barcelona was mostly dedicated to Nativity figures. At least 80% of the booths were selling these figures vs. maybe 20% at the other three markets.

Rumor has it that Vienna has a fantastic Christmas market, so we've put that on the list for next year. I'm hoping it is something special instead of just more of the same

Spain Day 3: Part 3


We went to the Maritime Museum this afternoon. I give it 2 out of three triangles, which is a full triangle more than Rick Steves gave it. Rowan and I both had a great time and I think Niamh enjoyed most of it. It had information on the Barcelona port as well as on different types of boats. I recommend it to anyone going to Barcelona.

A new skill or just really mad?

Muriel just rolled over. I think this had more to do with her being very mad and randomly tensing her muscles than it did with doing something on purpose.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Spanish seem more friendly than the Swiss/French

I'm not sure if friendly is the correct term, but it is probably close. Yesterday Emily and the child she was carrying were offered a seat on two different metro adventures. That wouldn't have happened in Switzerland or France.

After we got off the train a lady made sure we knew where to find the elevator to the street. Another lady tried to help with the exit that wouldn't open.

I have to say I am impressed.

Spain Day 3: Part 2

Emily and Rowan visited the chocolate museum while I took the girls for a walk around Barcelona. Emily gave it 1.5 out of 3 triangles (3 triangles is a must see according to Rick Steves). Her score includes a .5 bonus for Rowan having a good time. After they were done I went in and had a cup of hot chocolate and I have to say it was way better than the stuff we had in Paris that was supposedly the best hot chocolate in Europe.


Rowan and his hot chocolate


The statues in the museum are all made from chocolate.

Salary cuts are handled different in Switzerland

Agilent recently announced a 10% salary reduction for most employees. I can't find an official announcement to link to, so this will have to do. Employees in the US don't have many choices - they can either accept the cut or quit. At least that is my understanding.

Things are a bit different in Switzerland and in most of Europe. Employees have the choice on whether to accept the pay reduction or not. If they choose to participate in the pay cut, they then have another choice to make.
  • Option A: Take a 10% pay cut (work 10 days and get paid for 9)
  • Option B: Give up 2 "Work Life Vacation Days" per month. These vacation days are either days carried over from previous years or days purchased by the employee. Keep full salary.
I'm not sure if I'm going to participate or not. Like many of the employees I see a discrepancy between employees taking a 10% pay cut and executives being given a significant amount of stock options. If I choose to participate, I'm not sure if I'll do option A or B. The details on the pension contributions and taxes are still a bit unclear.

The good news, at least so far, is that Switzerland is not included in the layoffs that are occurring in Japan, Scotland, and parts of the US.

A long night

A summary of last night:
  • Rowan and Niamh come into our rooa at 00:04 begging for water. I assume this has something to do with me turning up the heat to the mid 90s to help clothes dry
  • Muriel waking up at 1:30 for a snack and being wide wake for about 90 minutes
  • Rowan falling out of bed at 2:30.
  • Moving Niamh back on her mattress at 2:35
  • Rowan waking up at 5:00 asking if it was morning time.
  • Rowan waking up at 5:15 asking if it was morning time
  • Rowan waking up at 5:35 asking if it was morning time
  • Rowan waking up at 6:05 asking if it was morning time.
  • Niamh waking up at 6:25
  • Rowan's first temper tantrum at 6:47
  • Emily waking up at 6:49
  • Rowan's second temper tantrum at 6:51
The day has begun.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Spain Day 3: Part 1

This morning we went up Montjuic, which is home to the 1992 Olympic stadium and Montjuic Castle. We walked a few blocks down our street to catch the funicular that would take us halfway up the hill. The funicular ride went fairly well, but Niamh and Rowan were both scared of the noise when the doors shut. It wasn't a big issue on the way up, but there was a fair amount of screaming on the way down.

At the upper funicular station there is a cable car that takes visitors to the top of the hill. The cable car doesn't open until 10, so we had about 45 minutes to kill before it opened. We walked over to the Olympic stadium. It wasn't nearly as big as I expected it to be. I have to say I was disappointed at how small it seemed.

We walked back to the cable car and waited in the short line to go up. The ticket machine is a little strange. I had to do two transactions: one for the adult tickets and one for Rowan's ticket (Niamh and Muriel are free). I was a bit frustrated that it couldn't be done in one transaction. The ride up was fun and no issues were encountered. We got to the top and Rowan said he didn't want to go in the castle. That caused a small problem until we told him it wasn't really a castle, it was more of a big building. After that he was fine with it. We walked around the castle grounds for a while, but did not go into the museum. Rick Steves indicated it was fairly dull, so we decided to skip it. We were about to go back down the mountain when Muriel decided that not only was she hungry, she wanted to use a bottle. This wasn't good news, as we didn't have a bottle with us. Muriel cried the whole way down the hill in the cable car and funicular, as well as the 5 minute walk back to the apartment.




In front of the "big building"


Niamh in the cable car


Rowan, Muriel and I in the cable car.

Ruffles have ridges


We might have just been really hungry, but both Emily and I thought these ham flavored chips were good.

Swiss Word of the Year

Rettungspaket

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Spain day 2 highlights


Niamh has become fascinated with her tummy.  A taxi driver honked his horn at Niamh and stuck his tongue out her as he drove by laughing.


Muriel had a good day.  Not much screaming until 5PM.  The secret is to feed her as soon as she makes any noise.  Waiting too long can have disastrous results.


Rowan was very excited to go to the beach.  He was a little sad that all of his sand toys were in Switzerland, but he still had a good time.  He made a big hole and a mountain.  He asked if we can go back tomorrow.  I'm not sure about tomorrow, but I'm guessing we'll go back at some point unless the weather worsens.


We walked by the "Block of Discord" in the morning.  The buildings were interesting, but I don't think it was all that exciting.

Passport Control: Something didn't seem right

We had to go through passport control when we arrived in Switzerland. Normally in Europe the line for EU citizens is about 4 times faster than the line for non EU citizens. That wasn't the case here. The EU line was very slow, but we were through in a matter of minutes.

On a related note, I though Switzerland was now in the passport free zone, but I guess I was wrong.

The rest of day 1

We spent Saturday afternoon at the Barcelona Aquarium and wandering around the town. Rowan and Niamh really enjoyed the aquarium, so we signed up for discounted tickets so we can go back again. The aquarium had a moving sidewalk that took us under the main tank, which was nice. Rowan really like the sharks and Octopi. Niamh liked "the fishes."

Upstairs they had a bunch of interactive stuff for the kids to play with. Niamh and Rowan didn't want to leave, but we had to go find a grocery store.

We walked towards El Corte Ingles to find some groceries and found the remains of a Roman tower. Once we found the store Emily and Muriel (strapped to Emily) went to buy the groceries while I walked around pushing a stroller filled with sleeping kids. Emily came out a few minutes later with a screaming Muriel and no groceries. Needless to say, neither mother nor daughter were in a good mood. We walked back to our apartment listening to Muriel scream the whole way.

Muriel had a quick snack and went to bed. The other kids had a sandwich and went to sleep. All three kids were in bed and quite by 6PM.

Emily went back to El Corte Ingles to look around and buy groceries. She did quite well and found a few items that are not easily located in Switzerland (Kit Kat Dark and American hot dogs). The seafood section is supposed to be amazing. I hope to check it out after the kids go to bed tonight.

Apartments are much better than hotels

We survived our first night in Barcelona. Muriel didn't have her best night's sleep, but she didn't even get close to the point of me having to walk her. There was considerable traffic (foot and car) outside our apartment all night. That noise may have contributed to her less than perfect sleeping.

Niamh and Rowan both slept well until about 3:30 when Rowan fell out of bed. It woke them both up, but they went back to sleep fairly quickly. The good news is that Rowan didn't fall on Niamh, who was sleeping on the floor next to his bed.

We had a slight issue with the stove yesterday. The control knob for stoves in the US seem to get hotter as you move in a clockwise direction. That doesn't seem to be the case here. That wouldn't have been a problem, except there are no labels on the stove. It took a long time for that first toasted cheese sandwich yesterday afternoon. I played with the control knob a bit after that and the 2nd sandwich was done in a normal time frame.

I think we've discovered four issues with our apartment, none of which are major issues.
  • no broom or mop in the apartment. Niamh and Rowan are eating breakfast now and the might be more cereal on the floor than in them.
  • no plug for the bathtub. This makes bath time a bit more complicated.
  • small elevator. There is an elevator, but our stroller won't fit in it. It isn't the end of the world, but it would be nice not to have to carry a stroller with a sleeping baby up the stairs
  • the curtains don't keep out the light. There was enough light coming through the curtains last night that we didn't need any lights on in the apartment.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

7 hours later...

...we are in our apartment in Barcelona.

We left our apartment in Morges at 4:45 this morning to catch our 7:05 flight. The airport was packed with people. I don't think I've ever seen it that busy. We used our gold status to use the first class check in line, which probably saved us over an hour. The security line was very long as well, and they didn't have an express lane or a process for people with three kids to go to the front of the line.

We made our flight with minutes to spare.

Rowan, Niamh, and I sat on one side of the aisle and Emily and Muriel were directly across from us. Right before we took off the flight attendant came over and said that Muriel had to sit on the other side of the aisle, as the A321 has 4 oxygen masks on the right side of the aisle and 3 on the left. Emily was not impressed with having to sit with three kids. (I couldn't, as Muriel was going to want to eat.)

The flight took about 70 minutes and was fairly unexciting. The kids were each given a cheap toy from the airline to play with.

More on our arrival after I get Muriel to sleep.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mr. Cooper

Mr. Cooper will be missed.

No Internet, No Phone

Our internet connection and phone both stopped functioning yesterday afternoon. I have to say it was a bit weird to not have the internet. Anyway, I'm not sure when the issue will be resolved, so please call our cell phones if you need anything urgently. I can access email from work, so that is also an option.

UPDATE: Dec 18 -Swisscom is coming this morning to see if they can solve the problem.
UPDATE: Dec 19: Swisscom came, but couldn't find any issues with the lines. We're trying to arrange for somebody to come back today.
UPDATE: Dec 19: An electrician came and was very confused. He said everything seems to be working fine, but nothing is working. (at least that is my translation of what he said. I called Swisscom back and got escalated to deep deep support. That person indicated there was an issue with the line and was going to send someone to check it out on Tuesday. We don't get back until Thursday, so we had to schedule the appointment for the 26th.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Naughty or Nice?

Rowan spent part of the train ride home making a list of who has been naughty and nice this year. The results are a little surprising. We're hoping that Santa does his own research and doesn't trust Rowan's list.

SAM - Not as original as I thought


SAM has something similar out front. I assumed it was a one of a kind, but I guess I'm wrong. We found this in Basel. Rowan wants to know if the man is naked or has clothes. Anyone know the answer?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Low point?

Here are some of the reasons today was a hard day:
  • Emily lost her glove
  • Muriel woke up at 3AM
  • The train back from France was very crowded
  • It was cold (Not Alaska cold, but maybe Seattle cold)
  • Christmas markets are overcrowded
  • I found out how expensive formula is in Switzerland. Note: don't buy it at the train station pharmacy if you can avoid it.
I'm don't want to focus too much on the negative, but I'm having problems picking the low point. I've narrowed it down to three options:

  1. Muriel screaming in a cafe and driving the lady at the next table away before she could finish her drink or croissant.
  2. Rowan attempting to us the bathroom and peeing all over the toilet seat, floor, and his pants. Then screaming so much that he could easily be heard outside the bathroom
  3. Counting option 1 and 2 as only one option, as the lady was at the next table when Rowan and I went into the bathroom, but gone when we came out.

Two Months!

Muriel turned two months old today. We celebrated by going to France. Unfortunately her passport is still stamp free, as passports are rarely even looked at when traveling between France and Switzerland.

She was a bit fussy this evening (following being fussy most of the day), so we got her a gift consisting of a bottle and some formula. She has been having a bottle of milk every night and we thought this might get her back on her routine. It was her first time with formula and I don't think she was a big fan. The good news is that she calmed down a bit and is now sleeping.

Another hotel, another early morning stroll around town

We reserved an extra large room at the Hotel Victoria, but it isn't quite big enough. Or maybe we just need more than 1 room. Muriel was very tired yesterday, so she slept from about 5 to midnight. From midnight to 3 she slept on and off. She woke Rowan up around 3:15 and he didn't go back to sleep until 5:30. Muriel and I strolled the streets of Basel from 4:30 until 6. There wasn't much open until 5 and the temperatures were a bit cold. Here is the good news:
  • I think I found the "French" platforms that our train will depart from this morning
  • Muriel slept almost the entire time
  • I found a model train shop.
Niamh appears to have slept all night, but she got out of her sleeping bag at some point last night and slept on the floor. The good news is that she didn't sleep where Rowan spilled his orange juice last night.

Muriel just woke Rowan up. The first thing he said is that he missed "six zero zero." (It is now 6:08. Rowan is now telling Niamh she can get up now. Nothing like an early start to the day.

Niamh is up and stated "pretty nice." That is her phrase for just about anything these days.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Three Books!

Emily did the evening reading today.

An evening in Basel


We are staying in Basel tonight so that we can visit Christmas markets in France in the morning. The picture above is taken from our hotel room and shows the SBB station in Basel. Note: SBB is the German name for the CFF.

Basel is a 132 minute train ride from Morges. We saw a lot of snow during the train ride, but there isn't much here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

All birth related documentation has arrived

We received Muriel's social security card today. I didn't expect it for another couple of weeks. I believe that is the last document that we've been waiting for. Maybe not, her Mileage Plus card has not arrived yet.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mama Mary and Daddy Joseph

Rowan holds Mary from our nativity scene while pretending to be Mama Mary



Niamh as Daddy Joseph

Swiss separation of powers

The executive branch is a bit different here.

http://www.swissinfo.ch/xobix_media/images/sri/2007/sriimg20070526_7862662_0.gif

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Sunday afternoon in Morges

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Sequence

Grammie and Papa gave Rowan Sequence For Kids for his birthday. It has quickly become the game of choice. However, constant fighting over who gets to be yellow means that the came isn't played more than once or twice a day.




Sunday, December 7, 2008

Happy Muriel = Happy Emily

Samiclaus and Schmutzli

Here is more info related to Saint Nicholas. I'm glad we weren't in Bern a few weeks ago.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Saint Nicholas' visit

Saint Nicholas visited us sometime last night. He filled the kids' boots with toys and candy.

The boots were left outside the apartment last night for Saint Nicholas to fill.


Niamh examines her boots.


Rowan asks for help opening his candy

The kids each received a wise man in their boots. I think our nativity set is now complete.

One of Muriel's favorite places

Friday, December 5, 2008

Raclette

We went to a friends house a few weeks ago and had raclette. We had our own machine 36 ours later. We put the melted cheese on potatoes. As you can see in the photo, putting bacon in the cheese is an acceptable practice.

My understanding is that they make excellent raclette in Valais. We might be making a trip.

I was told that the machine is more or less standard kitchen equipment in Switzerland.

US Dept of State: Switzerland Country Specific Information

The text below is from the State Department's Swiss travel advisory. These are the sections that changed from the March 2008 revision.

CRIME: Switzerland has a low rate of violent crime. However, pick-pocketing and purse snatching do occur in the vicinity of train and bus stations, airports, and some public parks, especially during peak tourist periods (such as summer and Christmas) and when conferences, shows, or exhibits are scheduled in major cities. Liechtenstein has a low crime rate. Travelers may wish to exercise caution on trains, especially on
overnight trains to neighboring countries. Thieves, who steal from passengers while they sleep, can enter even locked sleeping compartments. Thieves have been known to work in pairs to target train passengers; while one member of the pair creates a diversion at a train window or on a platform, the other steals items left briefly unattended.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Switzerland are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Bern, with the
Consular Agencies in Geneva or Zurich, or through the State Department’s travel
registration web site
, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy, Consulate, or Consular Agent to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Sulgeneckstrasse 19, 3007 Bern; Tel. (41)(31) 357-7011 (2 p.m. – 5 p.m.); fax (41)(31) 357-7280. The Embassy’s email address is bernacs@state.gov. The U.S. Embassy website at http://bern.usembassy.gov answers many questions of interest to Americans visiting and residing in Switzerland. The U.S. Consular Agency in Zurich is located at the American Center of Zurich, Dufourstrasse 101, 8008 Zurich; Tel: (41)(43) 499-2960 (10 a.m. – 1 p.m.), fax (41)(43) 499-2961. The U.S. Consular Agency in Geneva is located at rue Versonnex 7, CH-1207 Geneva, Tel: 022-840-51 60 (10 a.m. – 1
p.m.); fax 022-840-51 62.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Construction Workers

Niamh and Rowan made gingerbread houses yesterday.

Rowan and his masterpiece


Niamh at work

Admiring their work


Oops!

I shouldn't have blogged about it. Muriel didn't fall asleep until 11:30 last night. She slept in the swing until 3AM and then came to our room and fidgeted for the next 2 hours. The good news, at least from a fairly selfish perspective, is that I slept rather well other than taking her out of the room at 11:30 and bringing her back in at 3.

Swiss Heath Care

Here are some interesting stats on the Swiss health care system.

  • Approximately 11% of the gross domestic product is spent on the public health care system in Switzerland. The average for OECD countries is 8.8%. (All 2005 figures.)
  • Total expenditure of health per capita is around $4,000.
  • There are 321 hospitals in Switzerland (2007). 68% are public, 38% are private.
  • The average stay is 10.9 days.
  • Cases treated in 2007: hospitals 1.15 million, psychiatric clinics 107,000 and special clinics 209,000.

Source: World Health Statistics 2008, Federal Statistics Office, Swiss Hospital Association

The complete article can be found here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I'm sure this will jinx it, but....

Muriel has slept 7 consecutive hours for three nights in a row. We're trying not to get our hopes up, but I think mine are up.

Sister Bonding!

A Sunday morning walk.

Niamh, Rowan and I went for a walk on Sunday. We took the bus to Echichens and walked back to Morges. It was about a 35 minute walk. We took the stroller for Niamh, so we couldn't walk in the vineyards. We'll leave the stroller at home next time so we can go cross country.


We walked by the Morges hospital, which is where Muriel was born.

This is the view while walking back to Morges. The hospital is on the left with Morges behind it. If you blow the picture up, you should be able to see both the church and the castle. Our apartment is to the right of the castle.



This is the church in Echichens.




This is the bus we rode.