what’s in a name?

Hello blog readers!

I’ve decided to change the name of the blog well in advance of our move back, so that it is not quite as ‘living in France’ centric which will make it easier to keep going.  If you visit the old page, you should be redirected automatically to the new site.  Sorry in advance for any confusion!

The new blog is:  www.thecheesetarian.com

If you subscribe by email, please re-subscribe to receive future blog posts.  Warning:  I’ve got some good ones coming up!

a rambling tale of strasbourg and a bear named Otto

20130211-122228.jpg

20130211-122242.jpg

20130211-122319.jpg

20130211-122334.jpg

20130211-122405.jpg

20130211-122421.jpg

Christmas Markets + hot wine; promise me those two things in one location and I’m there.  In this case, that location was Strasbourg in mid-December.

20130211-122435.jpg

Right before Christmas, we jumped on the fast train and rocketed down to soak up the local color and drink our fair share of vin chaud in Strasbourg.  With a name like Strasbourg, doesn’t it seem like the city should be located in Germany, rather than France?  I think so, but although I was born with a directional and geographical disability, I found out that I have the ability to become more adept at geography when it benefits me.

When I think of the term “Christmas Market” the image of little old ladies knitting mittens is the first thing that pops into my head.  The second thing that pops into my head is realization that those hand knitted mittens, although often cute, never, EVER, keep your hands warm.

Getting off the train in Strasbourg, I was surprised not to be assaulted by mittens, but rather I was greeted by every type of Christmas trinket available.  Sadly, nearly none of it was handmade and virtually nothing was even made in France.  From the original product perspective, I would say the markets were a bit of a bust, unless your sole purpose was to expand your collection of mini figurines to surround your model train setup.  But once I determined that there were few goods I really wanted to buy, I changed my focus to determine which market stall had the best vin chaud (hot wine).  Hot wine tastes much better than it sounds, since it has spices in it to make it taste delicious.  Since each stand seemed to have their own recipe, I had to try them all.  In the end, there was no clear winner – it was all good.

20130211-122348.jpg

While we were there, we also found out that the Tomi Ungerer museum was located in the city.  What?  You don’t know who Tomi Ungerer is?  Have you ever read The Three Robbers?  It’s one of few children’s books which includes a blunderbuss, a pepper-blower and a huge red axe.  It is also a book that will most assuredly scare the shit out of your small children (especially if read in a deep voice in a dark room).

This is a magazine with an article about Tomi Ungerer that I bought while in Strasbourg (notice on the cover under Ungerer’s name his quote is “it is necessary to traumatize children” – maybe I like him so much because we share the same parenting philosophy):

20130211-122158.jpg

Tomi Ungerer has been one of my favorite authors and illustrators for nearly my entire life, starting with the original version of “Flat Stanley” (written by Jeff Brown and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer).  Seriously, who doesn’t dream of becoming flat and getting mailed to California?  I still dream of doing that.  Or maybe I will mail myself back to France once I finally leave…..

This year in school, Owen’s class read Ungerer’s classic “Otto” which is about a stuffed bear that was owned by a Jewish boy during WWII.  I won’t tell you how it ends, but I will tell you that it is not an easy read.  Don’t let the fact that the main character is a stuffed bear fool you; Ungerer is nothing if not a realist.

20130211-122215.jpg

In any case, once we found out that the Tomi Ungerer Museum was located close to our hotel, it was on the top of our (read: my) list of things to do.  I was so excited to go to this museum that we ended up arriving a bit early for the daily opening and I found myself nearly climbing up the giant metal gates and screaming like a groupie.  Once inside, we found a treasure trove of antique toys (Ungerer’s personal collection), as well the original illustrations to most of his books.

As we entered the top floor of the museum, Owen spotted the original stuffed Otto across the room and he ran toward him.  In French museums, it is extremely normal to ignore all rules.  In our two years here, I have witnessed untold numbers of people taking pictures of things in museums, even when they are literally surrounded by giant signs forbidding photography.  When Owen asked if I would take a picture of him with Otto, I did a cursory glance around the room to see if there were any signs forbidding photos and not seeing any, I took out my camera and snapped a picture.  As soon as the security guard, who was chatting around the corner, heard the shutter click, she rounded the corner and gave me a severe reprimand for taking a photo where they were not allowed.

In the past I would have been horrified for getting busted, but I’ve perfected my “c’est comme ça” look and I flashed her a shrug.  Even Owen wasn’t phased by her.  He tends to be the (only) rule follower in our family, however he whispered to me as we walked out of the museum, “I don’t care that we got busted.  At least we got a picture of the REAL Otto.”

20130211-122303.jpg

In celebration of our illegal Otto picture, I suggested we go drink some vin chaud (with chocolat chaud for the kids).

team mossot

20130201-113324.jpg

I know that I’ve made no secret about my desire to find an elderly friend in France.  I also know I have written a few times about the elderly woman who lives next door to us, Mme Mossot, however I haven’t given her nearly enough time on the blog to accurately represent how important she has become in our lives in France.  If you don’t remember the stories about Mme Mossot, she’s our 85-year-old next door neighbor who first wrangled the wild kittens living in our garden and after that, she convinced us to adopt JJ (I just can’t bring myself to call him Justin), our massive French street cat.

The history of Mme Mossot is as long as her long life and I could write a two part book about her.  Part I of the book would be about her past life as an artist, an art journalist, an interior decorator, and an animal crusader.  Part II of the book would be about our interactions with Mme Mossot and it would read something like Tuesdays with Morrie, with a lot less death and a lot more quotes and advice. Mme. Mossot is a highly opinionated woman and although I love her for it, but I can guarantee that it’s much easier to be friends with her than to be related to her.

In the early fall, there was a special exhibition in Paris that Mme Mossot wanted to attend and I promised her that the kids and I would go with her.  The exhibit was at the Musee D’Orsay and it was called Misia.  Misia was the muse and benefactor to many famous artists in France in the early 1900s and this exhibit pulled together all the paintings of Misia made by all the famous painters she knew throughout the years.  

Since Mme Mossot lived in Paris most of her life she knows the city very well and when she told me it had been a couple of years since she had been to the Orsay, I believed her until we got to the door.  At that point, I suspected that it had been a little bit longer than a couple of years when she tried to show her French senior citizen’s card to the security people at the entrance of the museum as if it were the ticket desk.  She also tried to write a check at the desk to buy the tickets and although there is still an affinity for check-writing in France, the young man looked at her like she was from another planet.

Part of the reason that Mme Mossot was so interested in seeing the Misia exhibit was because her husband was the nephew of Pierre Bonnard, a famous French painter.  Bonnard was one of the primary painters at the Misia exhibit and when we entered, Mme Mossot started pointing out Bonnard paintings that she had seen before in her life at Bonnard’s house and at other shows of his.  It had always been clear to me that she has lived an exceptionally interesting life, but that day at the museum further reinforced my belief.  

The exhibit was great, and afterward Mme Mossot told us she’d like to take us out for gouter at the new restaurant that had opened at the Orsay.  Once we were seated at the restaurant, we scanned the menu and each ordered a dessert-type snack.  However, as soon as Mme Mossot’s ice cream arrived, she called the server back over to the table.  Apparently the menu had promised a praline cookie on the top of the ice cream, but when the ice cream arrived, the praline was nowhere to be found.  Mme Mossot complained to the server about “false advertising” the server gave her the classic French eye roll and told her they had run out of cookies.  After the server left, Mme Mossot told me that she was a “crusader for the tourists” in Paris who don’t know that they are being taken advantage of by the French and who don’t have the ability to speak up about it.

20130201-113400.jpg

20130201-113418.jpg

Being a tourist can be hard, especially when you live in a foreign country and have a tendency to feel like a tourist all the time.  I’m just glad to know Mme Mossot’s got my back.    

Here is the picture of us in Paris that Mme Mossot took:

20130201-113343.jpg

life plans

20130120-230028.jpg

20130120-230059.jpg

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in France for almost two years and unfortunately, our time is approaching its end.  We were originally scheduled to be back in the US in February, but luckily for us, Tim was granted an extension until the summer so that the kids could finish the year of school and I could have more time to figure out what I’m going to do when I get back.  I’ve been thinking of my best options, so I just thought I’d share a few with you and get your input:

IDEA #1:  American Girl Doll Exporter

I’m not a girly girl and although I had my fair share of Barbies back in the day, I was a bit more interested Barbie’s VW van than her high heels.  Some things never change.  And no matter how many times I read, William’s Doll to my boys and told them I would buy them a doll if they wanted, the only doll that ever gained any traction with them was an antique Cabbage Patch Kid named Xavier that once belonged to my brother.  My kids are the apples that have not fallen far from the tree of me.

Just before Christmas, I was walking outside of school when I happened to overhear a mother say something about needing to find an American to help with a Christmas present.  I didn’t know this mother very well, but since I am both nosy and an American, I decided to butt in and offer my services, although I had absolutely no idea what she needed.  As it turns out, American Girl Dolls are not just popular in America – they are also popular in France and as I learned that day, impossible to buy here.  According to this mother, they are only available in the US; no international shipping, no purchasing through Amazon.fr, no access at all unless you are either on American soil or have a US shipping address.

A big thanks to my mother for getting involved in this situation since,  although I am American, I am living in France, which makes sending things by mail from the US exponentially more difficult.  Only an American would promise things on which she was unsure if she could actually deliver…….

I have realized that in the US, we usually say ‘yes’ then we say ‘no,’ whereas I’ve learned that the French generally start with ‘no’ and stick with it.

Could the exportation of these dolls be a career path for me?  Is it completely legit?  I’m pretty sure that the answers to those questions would be ‘no’ and ‘no’ again, but someone should consider this, since there is apparently an entire continent of girls here dying to take their dolls to the fake hairdresser.

20130120-230119.jpg

IDEA #2:  Nun Candy Exporter

For several summers of my childhood, my parents had a business that was located directly across the street from a penny candy store.  The people who opened it didn’t have many other customers than our gang of friends and since it was the 70s I’ve imagined since then that they were likely selling something else out of the back of the store to make ends meet.  But in those years, my love of pure sugar candy (not chocolate!) was born.

Within the first few months of living in France, Tim happened to stumble upon a small store in a very quaint town and when he came home, he said, “You MUST go there.  It will end up being your favorite store.  They have candy.”  Tim knows me well and when I did drive over there (the very next day), I found the perfect French version of my favorite childhood shop, but rather than selling candy dots, they were selling sucre d’orge.

Sucre d’orge is essentially barley candy made with the natural sugars of barley, rather than the corn syrup version of barley candy that is found in the US.  Sucre d’orge was originally made in the 17th century by Benedictine monks and it still shaped, as it originally was, in the shape of a triangle (or trinity).  I started calling it ‘Nun Candy’ because of its religious origins and when I eat it, I feel better about myself, which I’m pretty sure is what church is supposed to do for you, isn’t it?

Do we need religion as more of a topic of conversation in the US and would my business of bringing Nun Candy to the masses make the things better or worse?  You decide and let me know.

20130120-230656.jpg

IDEA #3:  Fondue Pot Exporter

I love fondue – cheese, oil, chocolate, I don’t care.  I love it all.

A few years before moving to France I really wanted to serve fondue on Christmas Eve and the only thing standing in my way (besides affordable Gruyère) was my flimsy enamel fondue pot.  Was my old dingy pot up to the task of being the proud receptacle for that special holiday meal?  Apparently not, since only moments into my search on eBay, I came across what I considered to be the Cadillac of all fondue pots, Le Creuset.

I became fixated on the Le Creuset pot and then I proceeded to spend an hour (or 8) trolling on eBay trying to win auction after auction, with no luck at all.   My dreams of melted cheese for Christmas were nearly dead.  I could never go back to my shabby pot and with only two weeks until Christmas, I decided to make one last effort at the pot of my dreams.

One night I stayed up until 1am (on a work night), waited until the very last moment (as advised by my friend), and placed a large bid – one that was way above the going price.  With only seconds to spare, the auction automatically went up and up, until the poor other schmuck bidding against me, ran out of time.  I finally won the fondue pot!  I will not divulge the price I paid that night, but it was well worth it, given that my other option was a nervous breakdown.  Mental health = priceless.

In any case, I received my bright orange fondue pot just in time for Christmas and we used it then and many times since.  In fact, we’ve used it so much since then, that it was the first thing I put in the box when we were having out stuff shipped over from the US.

Prior to our move, I was well aware of the French love of all things cheese, but I was not aware of the fact that the French treat fondue pots just like they do in the US – as stuff to be sold at yard sales and given to junk shops.  The main difference between the US and France in this case, is that while the Americans are getting rid of thin enamel pots at their yard sales, the French are getting rid of Le Creuset fondue pots.  SUPER JUNK SCORE!  Especially since my junk hunting skills are very sharp (example 1, example 2, example 3, example 4).

My interest in fondue pots has gone from a holiday obsession to a virtual sickness, since all Le Creuset pots cast off by others are readily welcomed into my home.  At first I thought that I might need another pot or two, just in case I had a larger fondue party at some point.  And when I added a couple more, I thought I might be able to issue an invite to my extended family as well.  After two years here, I am nearly ready to invite my entire town in Vermont over for fondue, I have that many pots.  It is so hard to pass these things up, when I usually find them for less than 1€.  Yes, that does say 1 euro.  I’ve promised them to friends and family upon our return, but I think I may have a few left over…..

Should I stay in France and consider becoming a full-time fondue pot buyer and exporter?  Or should I just amass so many before I leave that I need another shipping container and then I can spend the rest of my life selling them on eBay?  Could it work as a career plan?

20130120-230013.jpg

IDEA #4:  Blogger

It seems like this could work if the following things were true:

  • Anyone beside my mother read my blog
  • I had real people making comments on my blog who were not related to me
  • I posted more than once every couple of weeks
  • I had some companies who would give me money to write this kind of drivel
  • I had some sort of cool contest or giveaway sponsored by some amazing company, or at least a big box store.

A likely career path?  Probably not.

20130120-230136.jpg

Immediate Plan:

So, here’s my newest idea, in an attempt to get a couple more people to comment on this blog, I am sponsoring my own giveaway.  There is no Home Depot Gift Card and no iPad, but instead you can win something even better.  You can win a genuine ‘used’ Le Creuset fondue pot, straight from France and a very nice box of Nun Candy.  How’s that for my attempt at masquerading as a real blogger?

Here are the contest rules, made up by me as I’m writing this:

  1. You have to be willing to wait for your fondue pot/Nun Candy until the summer/early fall, since I will be happy to pay for shipping them to you, but not from France, only from Vermont once I get back there.
  2. You must live in the US (not sure I can afford international shipping on these things – heavy!).
  3. I can’t guarantee that your fondue pot will be orange, but I can guarantee that it will be nice.  It may or may not come with fondue forks, since nice forks aren’t as easy to find.  I can, however, guarantee that the Nun Candy will be tasty.
  4. In order to enter, you just need to make a comment on this blog about why you should win the fondue pot/Nun Candy and/or leave me career advice.
  5. The contest is open from now until my feet touch American soil in August.  How’s that for a large window of opportunity?
  6. To pick the winner I will use what all the other cool bloggers seem to do and put all the comments into that random number generator, so be sure to include you email address when you submit your comment (but don’t expect to hear from me for at least 6 months).  Either that, or I will do eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
  7. If you are a family member or friend who already knows he/she is getting a fondue pot, pretend that you’re someone else and leave a comment anyway.  I can use all the help I can get.
  8. Here’s another idea:  If you happen to win the fondue pot and you would rather take a road trip to Vermont to pick it up, I would be happy to treat you to a nice Vermont beer or two, while you’re in town.  Maybe you could film your road trip to Vermont on the quest for the French fondue pot and you could submit it to Sundance as an indie film?  Good idea, non?
  9. Since this contest is not sponsored by anyone but me, I reserve the right to make other rules for this contest if I realize that I’ve made a massive mistake in some way.

I promise, the winner of this contest will really get a fondue pot and some Nun Candy from me.

Good luck, Ma.

20130120-230151.jpg

a wine trance

20121217-151526.jpg

20121217-151540.jpg

When we were young, the kids in my family would wait impatiently for the Sears Catalog to arrive in the mail around the holiday season.  As soon as the catalog arrived, my mother would sit us down with pens and pads of paper to make our lists of all the things we would like for Christmas.

Isn’t that nice?

I know what you’re thinking right now…………you’re thinking, “Wow.  You must have had an incredibly generous Santa in your life.  You were SO lucky!”

Don’t be fooled by the first part of that story.  In fact, we spent hours, if not days (and maybe even weeks), writing down detailed descriptions of every toy we wanted.  We made columns.  We wrote prices.  We wrote code numbers.  And year after year, we were very optimistic.

And each Christmas morning, we would run downstairs with visions of mountains of toys from Santa/Sears piled underneath our tree.  And every year the big man let us down.  It wasn’t that we didn’t get fabulous things for Christmas, but we NEVER got a single thing that we had chosen from our hours of work with the Sears Catalogue.  Not once.

Now you know where I inherited the ability to subtly torture my children.

This fall in France, when I received a giant wine catalog in the mail, I was immediately transported back in time to my days with the Sears Catalog.  I quickly found myself circling things in the catalog and feeling hopeful.  Then I realized that at this point in life, I am my own Santa Claus.  So rather than sitting around hoping, I got in the car to attend the annual wine sale at our massive supermarket.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I have very simple wine selection criteria.  I have only two requirements:  1) it must be under 5€,  and 2) it should have some sort of award seal on the bottle.  I know there are people who are much smarter than I am, and clearly there are those who know much more about wine than I do, so I choose to leave the big decisions to them.  If the smart wine judges give a decently priced bottle of wine an award, I buy the wine.

When I arrived at the wine sale, it was like a wonderland with crates of wine all over the massive center of the store.  I was wandering around in a daze as wine buyers in fancy suits and pointed shoes walked purposefully with their cellphones pressed to their ears.  Who were they buying wine for?  I have absolutely no idea, but I did my best to represent the low standard crowd with my wrinkled skirt and rounded shoes.

When it comes to buying things in France that I don’t know much about, I have developed one main strategy.  I find someone who looks like she (or he) knows what she is doing and I follow her around (at a safe distance) to see what she buys.  I am almost like an ape in that way, except I apply this tactic to decidedly un-apelike things like buying skin care products.  If there is a woman with really nice skin in the moisturizer aisle, you can bet that I’m trailing her.

I pulled out the dog-eared catalogue I had stuffed in my bag and I browsed nonchalantly while I waited to find someone to follow who was not wearing a suit.  Once I had identified my secret buying mentor, I walked slowly behind him watching what he was choosing.  In a few short minutes my cart seemed to be sufficiently full, and I deflected my buying mentor’s suspicious glances at me, by looking at my catalog whenever he turned around to give me the hairy eyeball.

After I finished loading up on wine, I walked by the bra section and I saw a familiar sight – French women grabbing handfuls of lacy bra and undies sets and tossing them into their carts like they were buying croissants.  Do they try them on?  No.  Do they fret about fit or comfort?  Apparently not, since this is a scene I have witnessed nearly every time I walk by the bra section.  And since I was living the spirit of France that day with a cart full of wine, I decided to toss in a few bras to top it off.

As I wandered back across the store, I go sidetracked by the home goods section (happens every time) and left my cart sitting in the middle of the dishware aisle.  After I was finished looking there, I went back to my cart and started pushing it to the other end of the store toward the checkout.

It wasn’t until I was nearly at the checkout that I heard a woman yelling behind me and I turned to look.  An elderly woman was hobbling quickly toward me.  She was saying something that I couldn’t exactly understand and I figured that she was speaking to the wrong person and began to turn around again.  That’s when I happened to glance down and I noticed that my cart was not filled with wine and bras, but rather with vacuum bags and yogurt.

I had accidentally taken the other woman’s cart and left the poor woman with a cart full of loot that appeared to be the weekly shopping trip for the brothel.

“Je suis très, très désolé, Madame.”

Sometimes I don’t get the language right, but I always know how to say “I’m sorry” correctly in French.  In fact, those are the words I speak the most on a daily basis.

As you now know, Santa really delivered this year – from a catalogue even!

For your added entertainment value, I thought I’d throw this in.  When we’re not buying wine, this is what we do in France for fun:

20121217-151613.jpg

20121217-151629.jpg

20121217-151642.jpg

Neuschwanstein Castle

Following this blog must be a very frustrating experience.  I taunt you with sporadic posts about the many stories I have to tell you…………….and then I wait months to tell them to you. How annoying. Luckily the readership of this blog is so small that I am only annoying a small percentage of the world.  I’m truly sorry that you happen to be in that small percentage.

You may be happy to know that just because the blog has been silent, doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on. Au contraire! In fact, there are lots of things going on – so many in fact, that it’s hard to make the time to write it all down. You can sleep well tonight knowing that the story engine of my mind is chugging along. Or you can punch your computer knowing that the story engine is chugging and yet I give you nothing. It’s your choice completely.

Now back to the regularly scheduled programming.

Here is a story that I started writing months ago for you:

As we were travelling around Germany in the camping car this past summer, we had very little idea of where we would end up each night. However, after our stop at the nudie camp, we knew that there was nearly nothing we couldn’t handle.

One place that received glowing recommendations from a few friends was Neuschwanstein Castle, so we decided to point the bus in that direction. However, after a few nights on the road, we came to a couple of realizations:

Realization #1: The camping car is actually more like a clown car, since once you stop and unpack it, the stuff seems to literally explode out of the car. While we were driving, things seemed to fit neatly in their places, but once we stopped, the campsite became littered with tables, chairs, shoes, dirty laundry and wet towels, just so we could uncover our sleeping spaces for the night.

Realization #2: Once you have unpacked your clown car, you spend the rest of the time avoiding repacking it until you are ready to drive it away for good. That meant that we quickly started to adjust our camping car strategy from just driving around looking for random campsites, to driving around looking for random campsites that were within walking distance of something that we wanted to see. And that is how we ended up hiking to Neuschwanstein Castle rather than driving up to it.

When we arrived in the small town named Schwangau closest to the castle, we found a campsite within walking distance of the castle and managed to secure the last available spot. I’m pretty sure I even did a fist pump for joy when I emerged from the office with the site map aiming us toward the spot. And I may have even smirked a little bit as I walked past the line of camping cars also trying to get a space in this camping area.  I’m just glad those people in line didn’t witness the smirk getting wiped off my face by the realization that our campsite was located directly above the dumpster, which made things……um………….ripe when the wind was blowing in a certain direction.  Still, the stink was a small price to pay for the fact that everyone was wearing clothing at this campsite.

We figured out that a hike to the castle from our campsite would be about 12k (roughly 7.5 miles) one way and since we had completely the Rando with minimal drama, we imagined that the walk to Neuschwanstein Castle wouldn’t be so bad. Additionally, Map Man (aka Tim), found us a route up the back side of the giant mountain to the castle, so we wouldn’t have to go on the average road where all the normal people walk. It’s clear that being normal is something we try to avoid.

The next morning, we got up at the crack of dumpster stink, to start our journey. We packed a lunch, filled up our water bottles and started off. The first 5 miles went fine as we hiked through farm land with cute German cows all over the landscape. We thought we were home free when we finally arrived at the base of the mountain, since we could see the castle perched on top and we knew in less than a couple of miles we’d be there.

That’s when Owen noticed a sign at the base of the mountain, which read, “Ticket Office” with an arrow pointing the other way. He pointed it out to me saying, “Don’t you think we should go that way? It says that the Ticket Office is over there.”

The logic of following clear signage always seems so mundane, doesn’t it?  Where is the adventure in that?  Instead, I said, “We don’t need to go to the Ticket Office. We’ll just buy our tickets at the top.”

What happened next is best described in pictures:

20121202-192548.jpg

20121202-192615.jpg

20121202-192633.jpg

20121202-192655.jpg

20121202-192723.jpg

We climbed up and up on a thin metal bridge bolted to the side of a giant wall of boulders.  It was high.  There was a rushing river below.  It seemed to take forever.  Owen realized he had a slight fear of heights.  This was not a great moment.  Eamon, however, loved every minute of being very close to death.

When we got to the top, we were treated with amazing views like this:

20121202-192749.jpg

And we got to see the castle looming above us as we sat down to eat our picnic lunch, feeling smug that we had walked 12k with nary a whine, we overcame a death-defying metal bridge trek, and we finally made it to the top.

20121202-221906.jpg

Except then Tim noticed a sign that said “No Admittance to the Castle Without Tickets.”  No problem.  There was surely a ticket booth at the top, no?  I mean, what kind of country would be so organized that all the tickets would be sold in only one place?

Did I mention, we were traveling in GERMANY?  Did I also mention that GERMANY is bailing out multiple European countries from debt because of its extremely ORGANIZED and well run government?

Here’s a story shocker:  THE TICKET BOOTH WAS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE MOUNTAIN!  AND I KNOW THAT WHEN I TYPE IN ALL CAPS LIKE THIS, IT SEEMS LIKE I’M YELLING!  BECAUSE I AM!

In fact, the ticket booth is right at the bottom of the hill on the front side where all the “normal” people walk up.

Dear reader, could you have anticipated that ending?  I sincerely hope not because that would mean that my common sense is virtually non-exsistant.  And a parent with no common sense is………….well, actually, I’m pretty sure that’s called “reality TV.”

In case you were wondering, a giant pack of gummy bears makes a walk down a giant mountain much easier.

20121202-221848.jpg

And when you get to the bottom and find out that the tickets are sold out for that day, there is nothing like a game of German mini-golf to appease your utterly frustrated children.  The cigarette butts under the score card just add some additional spice to the flavor of the day.

20121202-192811.jpg

ps- You’ll be happy to know we made it in to the castle the next day.  That time, we left the clown car at the campsite and took the town bus.

20121202-222021.jpg

a new way to play badminton

20120920-124637.jpg

When we got the VW bus this past spring, our main goal was to drive around and see lots of cool things, but I also had one other goal – not to break down in the van.  I really wanted to give my kids some cool memories, but there are some memories that I’d like to avoid.  Like the ‘breaking down in the middle of the night on a dark scary road,’ kind of memory.  Trust me.  I am living proof that those memories do not leave you.

In any case, I had high hopes for our van and our big summer trip and although we had a rough idea of where we wanted to go (Germany, Austria, Switzerland?, Liechtenstein?), we never came up with a detailed plan.  We planned to make a detailed plan, but that really never happened and since we had taken the van on a weekend camping trip at the start of the summer, we had some idea of how camp sites worked in Europe.  We booked places to stay for only the first two nights and then we just decided to wing it, since, as far as we could tell, there were campsites all over the place.

Our ‘fly by the seat of our pants’ plan seemed to be going well for the first part of the first week.  Not only did we hit upon some outstanding campsites, but we got some amazing spots within those campsites.  This was the point in the trip when we started to get cocky.  Our luck had been so good, we started to feel like we were invincible.  {cue the suspenseful music}

Then one day, we took a particularly long time sightseeing and ended up getting a late start on our way to our next campsite.  When we finally arrived at that campsite, there was a huge sign notifying us that all the spots were taken.  At that point I could hear fear start to creep into Owen’s voice when he questioned me about where we would stay that night.  I reminded him of my ‘one star camping area crisis plan’ which meant staying in the parking lot of the closest McDonalds.  For some reason my camping crisis plan did nothing to easy his mind.

So we drove on and about 10 minutes down the road, the same thing happened again.  The campsite was full.  As I was trying to come up with a plan (or at least find the nearest McDonald’s), the oil light came on in the van and a loud beeping sound started.  If you didn’t know this already, there is nothing like the beeping sound of an engine failure to create chaos in the mind of a nine-year-old boy who is prone to melodrama.  As Tim pulled the van over, Owen screamed, “WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE VAN?  AND WHERE ARE WE GOING TO STAY TONIGHT?  YOU GUYS ARE THE ADULTS!  AREN’T YOU SUPPOSED TO HAVE ALL OF THIS STUFF FIGURED OUT?”

If I were telling you this in person, I would stop at this point in the story for a long pause…………………………..and with a straight face I would say, “Poor little dude.  He still hasn’t figured out that he has parents who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing.”

While Tim was dealing with the beeping noise in the van, I started frantically calling campsites in the local area to try to find a spot.  After about 10 minutes, we had solved both crises.  The oil light was off and we had a reservation at a small campsite about 15 minutes away.

We finally pulled into the small campsite up in the mountains and it was one of the nicest we had seen to date.  Green grass under the camping cars (not rocks) and a relaxed atmosphere.  With a sense of smug satisfaction, I said to Owen, “See your parents CAN figure things out, after all.”

The woman at the desk told us to pull the camping car in, get set up and then come to check in at the desk.  After set up, I was on my way back to the desk  when I happened to notice a man walking by to wash his dishes in a very skimpy towel, but I didn’t think too much of it.  Once I arrived at the desk, the woman started telling me about the campsite and where everything was located.  That’s when she said, “So since we’re a naturist camp, the first half hour of swim is the pool is with no clothing and the second half is with clothing.”

And my response was, “This camp is a whaaaa………………….t?”

In case you happen to be as slow to recognize reality as I am, the term ‘naturist’ is the modern-day term for ‘nudie’.  I had booked my family at a nudie camp.  It turns out that there was a large nudie section and a smaller non-nudie section.  Luckily for us (read: me), our camping car was parked in the non-nudie section, but directly facing the nudie section.

When I got back to the camping car, the boys were hurriedly putting on their bathing suits for a dip in the pool.  Trying to sound cheerful, I started the following conversation:

Me:  Guess what, guys?  We’re actually staying in a nudie camp, so if you want to go swimming right now, you won’t need those bathing suits!

Owen:  Did you say, nudie?  Like ‘no clothes,’ nudie?

Me:  Yes, a nudie camp means wearing no clothes.

Owen:  Wow!  Cool!  Can we stay another night?  Can you even do things like play badminton naked?

Me:  Yes, in a nudie camp you can play badminton naked.

Owen:  I want to play badminton naked!

Me:  Do you really want to play badminton naked?

Owen:  Well………….ok, maybe not totally naked.  I know where I want to go – I want to go to an ‘undie camp’ where we can do everything in our undies.

Me:  Owen, you already live in an undie camp – it’s call our house.

While the boys went swimming (at the non-nudie time), I poured myself a tall beer and sat facing the gate of the nudie section, marveling at how uniformly tan everyone looked walking in and out.  Then my mind wandered to the wide range of activities that you do while camping and the health and safely implications of doing those same things while naked.  Then I poured myself another beer.

Just the thought of playing badminton naked makes me shudder.

20120920-124655.jpg

20120920-124713.jpg

20120920-124730.jpg