Archive for December, 2007

Tackling the Slopes

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

I am still a little awed by the entire day. I mean…. we spent the day on the slopes skiing in the Swiss Alps It’s positively unbelievable and incredible. Oh, and beautiful.

The day got off to a bumpy start when we found out that the ski school office had no record that Oliver from our hotel had signed the girls up for ski lessons. He’d done it months ago and confirmed it just yesterday. At Chamrousse, if you aren’t signed up well in advance for a peak week (which is any week that is a school vacation), then you are likely out of luck. So I was a little upset. Ok, a lot upset. But it all worked out. The woman at the ski school office acted like I was a crazed maniac and said she’d simply enroll the girls now. How simple. Then she kept saying that she’d enroll them in the ski garden. Which sounded stupid to me. But I couldn’t swear that Kaitlyn can stop while skiing. She said that if the ski garden is too easy for Kaitlyn, they’ll move her up. We got there (finally) and there isn’t even as much of a bunny slope as there is in the Pieu Pieu Club at home. So I was really getting worked up. I am not spending hundreds of francs (which equal who-knows-what in dollars) for her to goof around in the snow. As I told the woman at the office… she can do that at home for free. Well, she could if we had snow. That’s a minor technicality I left out of my mini-rant. In the end, we signed her up for the ski garden.

We got there and it was smaller than the Pieu Pieu Club… no butt lift… less of a hill to ski down… a disappointment. They told us that if she learns how to stop, they’ll move her up to the next level. Fine. I guess we’ll hope for that.

After dropping her off, we went back to the hotel to change into our ski boots and get our ski gear… skis, poles, helmets, goggles. Then we had to carry it all to the lift. About three blocks away. Up hill. Oh, and they don’t plow the roads in town all the way, so leave the crunching sound of snow as you walk. Or, as luck would have it, a lovely sheet of ice to maneuver. None of the hotels are exactly close to the lifts, so it’s not like I just goofed up. But it didn’t look that far on the map. And the map definitely didn’t point out that the trip is uphill. I am very lucky to have such a wonderful husband… because he carried my skis for me. Good thing; I’d have never made it!

At the base of the mountain there are two choices. A chairlift. Or a telepherique. Knowing my experience dangling from a cable in Chamonix, I was hesitant. But, Bill assured us that it was the best way to get to “Middle Station”… which is, as you’d think, mid-way up the mountain. First, I had to get on an escalator in my ski boots carrying my skis. That was a challenge, but I managed it. When I got onto the telepherique, I moved toward the middle and a spot where I could lean, grab and not see out. Once we started the climb I found out I wasn’t the biggest chicken on the thing. Our friend Carol (she and her husband and their twins are with us) was even more panicky than I was. Honestly, it wasn’t bad. Even going over the posts that always cause the dangling car to swing didn’t cause too much back and forth. I’d do that again.

We followed Bill’s advise on where to go next. There is a clump of blue runs that aren’t far from the telepherique stop. But you have to ski over to it on flat land. Which is hard work. Then we started down the first run. Well, Bill did. Carol and I stood at the top and just looked. This is one damn steep blue run. Ben? He hasn’t skied before, so he just stayed at the top where it was flat and goofed around with his skis. I finally mustered the nerve and started down the hill. It wasn’t as bad as it looked from the top.

The way back up is on a butt tow. It’s not like one I’ve done before. I’ve only ever done one at Chamrousse. It’s for one person at a time. This one is a two person butt tow. And even though there’s a bar just below your butt, you don’t sit down on it. It was weird. Not as weird as getting off. At the top of the tow, Bill said pull back on the bar we were leaning on and go to the right. I managed. Then I heard Carol yell “what do I do?” and I turned in time to see her go flying into a wooden ramp where the bars (and confused skiers) go before turning around and going back down the hill. The operator stopped the thing and helped her back up. She said the only thing hurt was her ego. We went down the same slope a few more times then decided it was time to eat lunch.

We went back to Middle Station and sat out in the sun eating pasta and soaking in the view. We could see the end of what looks to be a run there’s no way I’m getting on. It was fun to watch people get to the top of that and stop.. and look… then try to get down. No one had to snow plow down it. So I know for sure it isn’t for me.

This afternoon, Ben and I each had a lesson. Ben so he’d realize that skiing is not impossible. Me, so I can try to get better and eventually be able to ski with Bill on runs he thinks aren’t too easy. My instructor was an older Swiss guy named Chris. He started me off on a run that looked too steep and too narrow. But I went. And I did ok. The trick turns out to be: do what the instructor tells you to do. He knows what he’s talking about. We spent two hours going down runs that were, in my opinion, really steep. … and working on turning. Something I thought I was pretty good at. Turns out (ha ha) I had a lot to learn. He also showed me how to slide with my skis. It’s a much better way to get down a scary hill than to just snow plow your way down.

After two grueling hours of turning and sliding and a little bit of falling (twice… both times because I didn’t do what he said to do), I met Ben back at Middle Station. He was all smiles and felt much more confident that skiing is within the realm of possibilities. We got in line to take the telepherique back down and I realized that for it to go down, it would have to pass through a cement wall. Oops. We were in the line for the one to go all the way to the tippy top of the mountain. At least we realized it before we went to the tippy top of the mountain.

On the ride down, I again stationed myself in a spot to lean and not look out. I heard a family in front of me talking and realized they weren’t just speaking English… they were speaking American English. So I just had to say something to them. They’re living in Germany right now. It was a nice little chat about life as an ex-pat.

The walk back down the icy hill wearing ski boots and carrying skis was even harder than the walk up in the morning. Ben offered to carry my skis for me, but since he hadn’t carried Carol’s this morning, I felt guilty and turned down the offer of help. At long last, we made it back to the hotel.

I know I planned a vacation at a ski resort for a week of skiing. But if I don’t take a day off sometime, I may not be able to walk when we get back home!

The twists and turns of vacation

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

We made it to our hotel in Switzerland. The drive to get here was pretty dull… I slept through some of it. (I tend to sleep on car rides. For instance, I’ve never seen West Virginia even though we’ve driven through it at least a dozen times.)

That last little bit… the part riddled with hairpin turns and steep drop offs on one side? We did it. We decided against the train partially because we just didn’t arrive in the town with the train at a good time… and because the car was packed pretty tight and the idea of unpacking it to figure out how to drag it all on the train, then pack it into the hotel’s car, then unpack it and drag it upstairs to our room… all that just sounded like too much. (For our week here, we have three duffel bags, three pairs of skis, two bags of ski boots, poles, a bag with bathroom stuff, a shopping bag with things Santa asked us to bring, and a soft cooler of drinks. Too much?) The road wasn’t really so bad. It wasn’t much worse than the road to Chamrousse… just longer. Bill was very careful to drive slowly so that I wouldn’t get sick. He had to pull over a few times to let more impatient drivers pass. But we made it.

Our hotel is just what we imagined. We have a very big room. Kaitlyn has her own little room and her own little bed. There is a big closet, which I managed to fill when I unpacked. There’s not many drawers, and the few that there are are stuffed full of socks and underwear.

Dinner is included in our room price. It’s a five course meal. We weren’t quite sure what to expect. Tonight the choice was either racklette or what they call a steak of pork. So we ordered one of each, to share. But there was no sharing going on. It was very good. We also had soup, salad, an appetizer and dessert. Poor Kaitlyn… she was careful to order vanilla ice cream and it came out with chocolate on top. Most people would think that was a treat. She doesn’t. But she really wasn’t too upset by it.

Getting three tired girls to behave at dinner was the biggest challenge. We made the mistake of letting them all sit together. Tomorrow… we’re separating them.

After dinner we went to check out the playroom. There are a few dolls, some legos and a little trampoline. I didn’t want more than one kid at a time on that thing, which caused more conflict. That’s ok. I’m up for a fight if it means being safe.

Retirement Party

Friday, December 21st, 2007

I will never argue with Kaitlyn again over wearing a sweater to school.

Today after school, the teacher held a little party with the students and parents because this was her last day. She is retiring. (She is retiring mid-year because of threatened changes by the government that could cost her years and money.) Knowing I wouldn’t understand much of what was said, I figured it was best to go. She has been nothing but wonderful with Kaitlyn.

First, Kaitlyn rushed to the food table and downed a coke and three sugar cookies in no time flat. She’ll never get to sleep tonight after that. Then another teacher I’m getting to know because her daughter is in Kaitlyn’s class and in her ballet class offered up some punch. I took some and realized after a big gulp that it was definitely not for the kids. You’d never be served punch with alcohol in it in a school in the United States. But here it seemed perfectly normal. And it was good. I asked her what was in it, but I already forgot the answer.

Soon I realized that this thing was not going to wrap up any time soon and that wearing my coat and scarf was going to probably make me pass out from the heat. So I shed those layers, but never really cooled off. I guess that most of our monthly tuition check goes toward paying the heating bill.

I stood there with sweat dripping down my back while we watched a video slide show put on by one of the parents. It was basically his kid’s first year and a half at school, which happened to have a couple of pictures of the teacher mixed in. It was interesting to see pictures of the kids during the day… the field trip to the zoo last year… the roller skating lessons this year… But, man, that was one long slide show. There were like two dozen pictures of cakes made to look like caterpillars from the day this year when everyone was supposed to bring some treat that had to do with creativity and nature.

I don’t know how long that slide show lasted. A half hour? Forty-five minutes? When it was over, the teacher hugged the parent who’d done the work and told everyone he’d been one of her first students.

Then, it was time for the director of the school to give the teacher her retirement gifts. As I’d been solicited to donate to the gift giving cause, I was interested to see what I’d helped buy. A huge bouquet of flowers, some Christmas ornaments, some monogrammed napkins and a gift certificate to a garden store. Not exactly a grandfather clock or pocket watch, but probably more useful.

I managed to snap a picture of Kaitlyn with her teacher and her little French friend. Maybe one day Kaitlyn will look at it and remember the woman who first tried to get her to speak French.

Finally, the party started wrapping up and I got Kaitlyn to put on her coat so we could go. We left at 6:00. An hour and a half and four cookies and two glasses of champagne punch after it started.

what would Freud say?

Friday, December 21st, 2007

I had the strangest dream last night.

We were driving through a French village and that we passed by a girl taking a stained glass window out of the back of a car… when she stepped back into some gravel and was completely swallowed up in it. Vanished. And I didn’t know what to do, because I knew that I had no way of telling her family in the car what had happened. So I did nothing. Then in the dream after we’d driven a while we drove back past the same spot and her family was looking for her, but in the wrong places and I knew I had to stop and try to explain it to them, but I also knew that I had waited to long and she’d have certainly never survived.

The image of that girl disappearing into the gravel has stuck with me all day. So has that feeling of helplessness that went with it.

cookie cutter party

Thursday, December 20th, 2007

Another stay-at-home-mom lesson learned today… when I hosted a cookie swap. Now, I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to do such a thing, but I did. Most people couldn’t come but four did show up.

I had no idea what I was in for.

The cookie-swap expert walked in and asked me how many cookies everyone was supposed to have brought. I didn’t tell anyone to bring any specific number of anything. You’re supposed to do that? Oh. I figured we’d just, well, swap a few. She had brought four dozen, which, she told me, meant that she was to leave with four dozen. All I wanted was to make sure that I didn’t end up with none of the cookies that Kaitlyn had helped me make yesterday. She would not have understood that. Frankly, neither would I.

Another guest struggled in the kitchen with her peanut brittle that remained peanut mush, no matter what she tried (including a stint in my freezer). Still another brought coffee cake instead of cookies. And just imagine the swap-expert’s horror when the fourth guest tried to leave without taking anything with her.

All in all, it went well. No one counted how much they left with versus how much they showed up with. Well, most of us didn’t. And I managed to end up with three plates bursting with goodies to give to the teachers at school…. as well as a plate of Kaitlyn’s cookies to spare.

Je vais….

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Today while we were riding back home from ballet class and the marche in town (where we picked up some veggies, bread and cheese), Kaitlyn said “je vais blah blah blah.” Undaunted by the fact that the third word in her sentence was gibberish she got very excited and proud of herself and said “I spoke French!”

what did you say? what? WHAT?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

Talking on the phone in French is just too hard.

Today, I needed to call the car dealership to change an appointment from tomorrow to a day in January. I’m just not going to deal with it this time… I’m making the new appointment for a day when Bill is here. Or at least, that’s what I’m trying to do.

So I called this morning, told the woman who answered what I need, and she told me to wait. Then she unsuccessfully tried three times to transfer me (I kept hearing her pushing the buttons), then she hung up on me. I called back. Repeated my rehearsed sentence. She told me to hold. Then the line rang and rang and rang and rang and rang…. five minutes later I was disconnected. Figuring I called too close to lunchtime (it was 11:45), I decided to just wait and try in the afternoon.

At 3:30, I figured everyone was back from their two hour lunch and able to use the phone. I called back, gave my line and was successfully transferred to someone who answered. I repeated my line and the woman responded with a question spoken at such rapid-fire I stood no chance to understanding. I told her I don’t speak French well, and the phone is especially difficult. So she repeated herself… and I swear to you… she did so even faster. I thought she was telling me to hang on when she said au revoir. Au revoir?

I called my French teacher. She called them and just called me back to say that the woman had been trying to tell me that their computer isn’t working so canceling is ok, but rescheduling just cannot be done right now. Well, why didn’t she just say so…. S-L-O-W-L-Y?

TURNING into quite a trip!

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

There’s a bit of trouble threatening my picture-perfect Christmas in the Swiss Alps. The road to the resort.

I spent hours…. make that days…. searching the web for a resort that is both family and non-expert skier friendly. Luckily, Switzerland rates its family friendly resorts and puts the information online. After doing lots of reading and fussing, I booked our week in Arosa. It isn’t big. Heck, no one has even heard of it.. including a woman I know who is from Switzerland. But it met all my criteria. Family friendly (the kids ski school is affiliated with Disney). Lots of intermediate runs. Picturesque. One of the highest resorts in Switzerland (there’s already snow). Not too expensive. Places to stay on-piste. (In Zermatt… where you ski the Matterhorn… it’s not family or beginner friendly. You also have to take a bus to the lifts no matter where you stay in town. And I read that the buses get very crowded.) Our hotel owner is taking great care of us already, arranging for ski passes and ski school and answering all my questions.

Here’s the thing. The latest answer to a question he sent me has me a little worried. About just getting there. Read what he wrote, and you’ll understand:

Hello Mandy

it’s true. The road leading to Arosa takes 30 km with 360 turns. Some say it
is scary to drive on this road when there’s snow on the road. From Chur to
Arosa it takes about an hour, same as the train.
I recommend you to wait till the last moment to decide driving to Arosa or
leave the car in Chur. If the road conditions are good I would drive with
the car. If not, leave your car in Chur and head up with the train. Normally
the road is being cleaned all day. And there are many cars driving on that

THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY TURNS. There isn’t a barf bag big enough or a motion sickness pill strong enough.

Strike! well, spare! ok… gutterball.

Saturday, December 8th, 2007

Even though Kaitlyn woke up feeling slightly feverish (our thermometer reports her temperature at normal, but I don’t believe it), I refused to spend the day cooped up. Again.

Originally, I had arm twisted some friends into driving the 90 minutes to Lyon to see the festival of lights there. But the reports of huge crowds, a sick child, a personal case of the sniffles and rain combined to make me propose an alternative. So this afternoon we all went bowling.

The first time doing anything here is a little stressful. We figured out where you go to sign up for a lane (which is called a “piste”… same as the runs at a ski resort)… it was where the mob was crowding the desk. There was no line. There’s never a line in France. Last week, the word queue was in my French lesson and the teacher told me he didn’t know why they include it in the book since it is a concept no French person gets. (Yes, he’s French. Remember, he also blamed the drunk monks for messing up the language.)

Anyway, we finally got to the front of the mob and said we wanted a piste. Naturally, there’s a wait. So the woman asks us for a name, presumably to call when our piste is ready. So we gave her one. Then she seemed to want a last name. So we gave her one. Then she asked for another name. (It was incredibly hard to hear between the employee’s tendency to speak barely above a whisper and the rattle of bowling pins behind us. ) Turns out, she was typing the names of our four players into the computer that would later keep score for us. So when it was our turn to bowl, there was Jennifer, James, Mandy and Hartsock. Since we’d given a last name. Oh, well. Kaitlyn can’t read anyway.

The next hurdle was the shoes. She wanted our shoes then. So as soon as our piste was ready we could just rush off and play, I guess. We handed over the shoes and took stabs at our European sizes. Two of us had shoes a bit snug, but neither of us were willing to go back and try to exchange them.

Finally, she gave us a slip of paper with our number on it and we were sent to wait. Great… we have to try to understand the woman on the loudspeaker rattling off numbers in French.

We decided to get drinks and wait in the bar. All bowling alleys have bars. Only the ones in France have bars with giant cappuccino machines spitting out tiny cups of super-strong coffee. Amazingly, about the time we finished our drinks, I heard the woman call for “vingt trois.” I have no idea how I picked that out, but I did.

Once we got to the actual bowling we discovered that the same French form of etiquette that applies to standing in line (they don’t) seems to apply to bowling. Three or four people would all stand in the area where the bowler picks up the ball and commences bowling, sometimes since that space is small, they’d just wander into our lane, and there’s no hesitation to bowl at the same time as the person in the next lane. This is nothing like bowling in the United States. At one point, a guy decided to take a picture of his friends so he stood exactly in the spot where we’d release the ball… and looked amazed that we wanted him to move.

The best part is the way they have it set up for kids to bowl. Once you figure out that you need to ask for it. Every time Hartsock had a turn, bumpers would raise up in the gutters… making a gutter ball nearly (but not entirely) impossible. Kaitlyn would hoist her bright pink kids ball (I don’t know the weight, it was simply marked xxsmall) then run to the lane and stop in her tracks then toss the ball. Honestly, she was beating me the first half of the first game. Hey, I didn’t get those bumpers!

jolly well

Friday, December 7th, 2007

Ok, January trip is booked. 76 Euros total. When the website asked me if I wanted to see that in “my” currency, I said no. Whatever. It was still the cheapest choice at decent times. And most importantly, we get to see Bill for his birthday and celebrate Kaitlyn’s together just a few days early.