Monday, January 30, 2012

Swiss Post-Mo Club: Getting Better and Better!

We just had a fantastic ice-skating-and-fondue party with three new families! How'd this happen?

Shortly after moving to Switzerland, I signed up as the contact/coordinator of the Switzerland chapter of the post-Mormon organization. But, really, it was mostly just me and two other couples (who didn't even meet through post-Mormon), so it kind of wavered between being "the Swiss post-Mo club" and being a handful of people who happened to be friends with each other. Once in a blue moon someone would visit from the US, and we'd have an actual ex-Mormon gathering.

Then someone emailed me about the group, and I saved his name to include in the next exmo event. Some months later, another person emailed me -- this time a mom with kids in my area, and I met her and posted about it on post-Mo. Then, another family who had recently moved to Switzerland saw that, and here we are.

The conversation was amazing!! We had a group of people who had never (or barely) met before, yet we immediately had so much in common and so much to talk about!

The funny part was that -- by crazy coincidence -- our group got on the same bus with some Mormon missionaries!! No joke!

I tried to make polite conversation with one of them (I'm always curious about the situation with Switzerland not letting any more American mishies in), but I'm afraid I may have made a bad impression. I don't bear them any ill will -- honestly, I thought it was cool that we happened to run into another bunch of people who have this exotic culture in common with us, and I'd be more than happy to have a friendly chat with them.

I have to teach my kids a little better manners though. I'd been chatting with mishie #1 for a few minutes when my son Nico suddenly said (full voice) "Mom!! That guy's a Mormon missionary!" (They learned about missionaries from the Book of Mormon musical.)

Then, as we were getting off the bus, Nico kept talking about the mishies. Later we had a discussion about talking about people who are standing right there and can hear what you're saying, the appropriateness or lack thereof, etc.

Anyway, the event was great fun, and we're definitely planning get together again!!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Just another weekend in Paris!

One of my complaints about moving from Bordeaux to Zurich was the relative (in)convenience in getting to Paris. Bordeaux is three hours from Paris by TGV, with trains every hour. Zurich, OTOH, was more than five hours from Paris. But now we have a new TGV route, cutting the trip down to four hours!! (Still not quite like in Bordeaux, but getting there!) So, when my husband had a conference to attend in France, I took the opportunity to gather up the kids and meet him in Paris for the weekend!

Naturally, the kids were thrilled because they got Bey Blades as their being-good-on-the-train treat. Fortunately that wasn't the only cool part:

Here Leo's pouting because his daddy just told him that he can't go on the ferris wheel.

And here he is happy -- right after riding the ferris wheel. Nico and Leo are both showing off the little souvenir Eiffel Towers their daddy bought them.

Leo also enjoyed riding the merry-go-round of extinct and endangered animals.

To keep it balanced, here's a cute picture of Nico too.

And the obligatory picture on the Paris Metro!

This picture reminded me of this other picture from long ago:

They grow up, but they stay the same in so many cute ways! When they were little, we used to take them out and run them around the fountain to get their energy out, and it's still a fun way to have a race!

I found another space invader to add to my collection.

And discovered that my sweetie has quite a knack for dramatic reading!!

A fun trip overall -- I can't wait to do it again!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cars 2: still my favorite James Bond flick, but...

You may recall that I saw Cars 2 in the cinema with my kids and quite enjoyed it. My husband didn't go with us, so he had to get the kids the DVD for Christmas in order to see it.

He thought it was OK, but found it riddled with problems. For example, the theme seems to be that -- as long as you're being true to yourself -- it's OK to be ignorantly disrespectful to other cultures. (Indeed, the movie seems to say that McQueen had no business expecting his friend not to make a scene everywhere he goes, as a condition for being invited along.) Also, the spies could have transferred their photo anywhere, so why did they arrange to do it at that huge party that was being covered on international television? Neither one of them had any reason to be at that party, or even in Japan at all. (Answer: It was the simplest way for the writers to arrange for Mater to get mistaken for "the American spy.")

Personally, I don't really like it when a script is obviously written as a vehicle for showing off stunning visuals and effects. This film has really amazing, cool visuals, but suffers a bit from this cart-leading-the-horse storytelling. And to have a leading villain who's not only German, but is a professor wearing a monocle -- can you get more cliche than that?

Now, I don't want to see any comments telling me "lighten up -- it's just a kids film." If you're tempted to do so, please read this post carefully first. Yes, all the formulas are new for kids, so they can't tell the difference between something that's original and something that's last week's refried hash. But that's no excuse for phoning it in and acting like kids don't deserve better than last week's refried hash. You guys have probably had the experience of re-watching a film as an adult that you loved as a kid, and being carried away by the mixture of magic and memories. And you've probably also had the experience of re-watching a childhood favorite and thinking, "This is total garbage -- how did I ever watch this?!" And the memory is ruined. So, I hold kids' entertainment up to high standards, and I'm not going to apologize for it.

(Though I will admit to sitting by and not making any negative remarks when my kids choose and like something that I think is total garbage *cough* Bey-Blade cartoons *cough* and I'll even listen and talk to the kids about the stories and characters, etc. But I like to recommend and watch better fare with them.)

That said, Cars 2 is not garbage. I'm actually trying to figure out why I like Cars 2 in spite of its flaws. Crazy plot holes aren't always a major problem if a film has other strengths to make up for it (I learned that from Heat Miser and Snow Miser). I think it's because of the following:

I don't usually like James Bond movies (or action movies in general) in part because the set-ups for the action sequences are so absurd that my suspension of disbelief is completely overwhelmed and I have trouble getting excited about the action. (Related: I really don't need to see any more sequences of people outrunning exploding fire-balls.) But with Cars 2, it's so absurd that there's hardly even any pretense of suspension of disbelief. Instead of having the characters drive cars covered with crazy gadgets, have them be cars covered with crazy gadgets!!! It doesn't matter that it doesn't make any sense, indeed their whole universe doesn't make sense if you think about it. Don't even try to make sense out of it -- just sit back and enjoy! :)

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Our Lego collection -- still crazy after all these... well, I guess it hasn't been that long...

I had so many goals for what I wanted to accomplish during the holiday break!! Unfortunately, I accomplished almost none of them. One of the few exceptions was that I sorted all of the junk that had accumulated in our apartment, including sorting all the kids' toys -- notably the Lego collection! (A little like last time.)

Fortunately, a photographer friend (Maya Lucchitta) visited us, and captured the Lego collection in all of its crazy-sorted splendor!

Thanks -- it was a fun visit!!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011/2012 State of the me address

I was thinking of not writing a "state of the me" this year since I'm not feeling very ambitious this year, so most of my goals are of the "just keep swimming" variety. I want to work harder at helping my kids develop good study habits so that they'll eventually do their homework on their own -- plus I'm trying to encourage their independence in other age-appropriate ways, even when (or especially when) it's easier for me to do stuff for them than to insist they do stuff for themselves. I'd like to continue to get my stuff in order in preparation for moving to a new apartment next Fall. (I'd like to travel light through life, but the kids aren't always on the same page with me on this.) I have some things I'd like to write for Main Street Plaza, and I'm planning to attend Sunstone. And, as always, I need to keep studying German.

Anyone who follows this blog knows I'm always on about learning German. (Just click on my "German Language" label below!) So it seems like I should be done by now, right? It's frustrating that I've put other projects I care about on indefinite hold in order to devote more time to German, and it's still not "done"!

The other frustrating part is that I'd thought that once I got to this level (the level I'm at now), improving my German would stop being work because I'd be constantly getting German practice in my daily life. And it's true to a certain degree. I often read the free newspapers, and I always read all of the ads in the tram and at the tram stops -- and these items improve my vocabulary and my familiarity with different grammatical constructions. (Ads are very helpful because they often include wordplay.) But in day-to-day conversation, people are as likely to speak English or Swiss-German (Züritüütsch, specifically) as they are to speak high German, and the local dialect isn't really mutually intelligible with high German until you've reached a level of both that's... well, higher than the level I'm at.

These days, when I meet new people that I need to communicate with, the first question that comes up is language. Do I speak Switzerdeutsch? No? Shall it be high German, then, or English? After two years of working on this, I still can't just communicate and interact with people without this whole Ausländer! Foreigner! American! thing constantly in my face and everyone else's. It drives me nuts.

I don't mind being different, I don't mind being a foreigner, and I don't mind the fact that I don't always fit in, but I don't like the fact that the second I open my mouth, I get sorted into a little mental cubbyhole that I don't want to be placed in. And I'm tired of always having to make small talk about where I'm from. I don't want to be rude to people who obviously mean to be polite and friendly by asking, but I'm just tired of it. Sometimes I want to reply: What does it matter where I'm from? It's far from the most interesting thing about me...

Also (to make this post more pathetically self-absorbed than it already is) nobody understands why it bugs me. Seriously, nobody. My fellow foreigner-in-Switzerland friends are basically like Of course we always go around with the equivalent of a big neon "Ausländer" sign around our necks -- you'll be happier once you stop fighting it and just accept it. But I don't want to accept it.

The thing is that in France it wasn't like this. It was never like this in France. There I could define myself in my own terms. I feel like I lost something valuable in the move, and it's costing me a pretty penny to get it back.

I was trying to explain it to my Austrian friend the other day. I told her that in France, I would talk to people for a while, and they'd perceive that I have some kind of foreign accent, but it wasn't obvious where I'm from. People would try to guess, and they would essentially never guess correctly. This surprised my friend, and her surprise depressed me all the more. So my crappy German makes it hard for people to believe that my pronunciation in French is (or was? :,^( ) pretty good...? Lovely.

The German language itself is actually quite interesting. My goal for the year is to read all of Nouvelle grammaire appliquée de l'allemand avec exercices corrigés, and do all the exercises. I'd even call it fun if I didn't have so many negative/frustrating associations with the whole procedure. Plus I want to take an evening conversation course, to help me motivate myself to compose my thoughts in German.

I imagine that, once I'm ready to start learning some Switzerdeutsch, the whole procedure will become fun again. Nothing against high German, but on some level it feels like high German is something I have to do simply to get myself out of this hole and back up to ground level again, and then when I start learning the dialect, I'll be building something up. We'll see.

Wish me luck!