Yesterday I had a dentist appointment, and while I was there I had a revelation in their restroom.

Sitting on the counter was a mug full of disposable, single-use toothbrushes, individually wrapped and pre-loaded with toothpaste.

When I spoke with our dentist, she said that she had gotten the idea from orthodontists, whose patients often come to the office without having had the opportunity to brush their teeth.  But I saw quite a different use for them.

One of the most annoying aspects of overseas airplane travel (after the expense, lack of sleep, and forced minimal movement for hours on end) is the difficulty of brushing one's teeth.  It's bad enough to have to negotiate the tiny lavatory, hoping the plane doesn't lurch as you attempt to spit into the diminutive sink.  But schlepping a travel toothbrush in your carry-on luggage, and toothpaste in the TSA-approved clear, plastic, quart-sized, zip-lock bag, and negotiating their interaction within the confines of the aforementioned lavatory—well, let's just say it's enough to make many people forego dental hygiene on long flights.

Enter the single-use, preloaded toothbrush:  Light.  Individually wrapped.  No hassle from the TSA.  Brush and toss.  Brilliant.

There's only one problem.  You can order these NiceTouch toothbrushes from  However, since they expect you to be a dentist, the minimum order is 144.  (I so wanted to say "gross!" but that doesn't fit with toothbrushes, unless you drop yours on the lavatory floor while trying to brush your teeth on an airplane.) So either you must plan a lot of travel, or go in with a lot of travelling friends, or have a nice, friendly dentist who will get some for you.

If you succeed, remember this caveat from our own nice, friendly dentist:  they really are for one use only.  They're not made well enough to stand up under repeated use, and have been know to fall apart in very uncomfortable ways.

I'm looking forward to brushing my teeth on my next trip to Switzerland.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 22, 2013 at 7:10 am | Edit
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On Monday, Vivienne received the blessing of the Swiss government; today we travelled to the American Embassy in Bern for a simlar benediction from the United States.  As I did when Joseph was born, I came along to hold diaper bags and other items not allowed in the embassy, which includes purses (or bags of any sort) and cell phones (or electronics of any sort).  Fortunately, winter coats were acceptable, as were a couple of diapers stuffed in the pockets.

Really, it's a very un-welcoming experience, a visit to this little bit of American soil in Switzerland.  Embarrassing, when you think of the impression we are making on others.  (Okay, so Hollywood does a worse job, but at least they're not official.)  There is no waiting room, unless you count the small antechamber outside, where those waiting in line are subjected to the summer's heat or winter's cold—though a roof provides some protection from rain, if it isn't too windy.

But we were prepared.  Joseph and I were well-dressed, and had the stroller with us.  As soon as Vivienne and her parents passed through the security check, he and I started out on our adventure. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 10, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Edit
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I'll never convince a credit-card wielding American, but shopping with cash in a country like Switzerland is great!  I'll admit that I love the convenience of credit cards, mostly for online purchases, buying gas (drive in, swipe the card, pump, go), and the neatly organized monthly statements.  And, of course, never worrying about having enough cash at the grocery store.

That last is part of the problem.  With cash, I see the exact cost of what I'm buying.  There's something visceral about handing over the bills and coins.  The money I had, I no longer have.  And if I don't have enough, I have to put something back on the shelves and buy it later, or never.  I have no statistics to back up my assertion, but I'm absolutely certain that I spend more money, more freely, since we moved away from making most of our purchases with cash.

What's especially nice about using cash in Switzerland, however, is their system of coins and currency.  The smallest bill is the 10-franc note; coins come in 5-, 2-, 1 and 1/2-franc denominations, plus 20-, 10- and 5-rappen (cents).  Note that there is no 1-rappen coin.  This makes calculations very easy, especially since any taxes are hidden in the price of the item.  What you see is what you pay.  With only multiples of five to worry about, it's very easy to keep a running total of the cost of what's in my cart.  Therefore, before the checkout clerk has finished scanning my items, I know what the total is going to be, and with what combination of bills and coins I plan to pay.  And I know exactly how much change I should receive.

I find that extremely satisfying.  I'm not good enough with mental arithmetic to bother with it at home.  Let's see: 14.88 plus 5.54; that's uh, um, oh something more than $20.  Hmmm, should I buy orange juice at $3.99 or grapefruit at $3.85?  How much are tomatoes per pound today?  Do we need mayonnaise?  Oh, bother, I've forgotten the total.  And even if I remember it, I know that when the clerk is done ringing up my order, she's going to add an awkward 7% sales tax, but only to certain items, and I'm never sure just which ones.  So I meekly hand over my credit card and hope every part of the system is honest, accurate, and not broken down.

Cash - multples of five - clear pricing.  What an empowering combination!

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 6:50 am | Edit
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There's some debate just what Emmen is.  Stephan says it's a suburb of Luzern, and I suppose it is, Luzern being a 15-minute bus ride, or an even shorter train ride, away, which we proved today when Vivienne acquired her Swiss passport.  But it hardly has a "suburban" feel, at least as I know suburbs.  For one thing, there's decent public transportation—but that's no doubt because it's Swiss.  For another, most people live in apartments, which says "city" to me, though Janet says that is also a Swiss characteristic, city or no.  There's traffic.  There's industry.  There are plenty of stores, but no strip malls (though there is a mall or two).  Everything is close together, and what yards there are, are tiny.  Children walk to school.  Janet walks to the grocery store (actually, several grocery stores), the train station, the above-mentioned malls, the swimming pool complex, and church.  That feels like a city to me.

And yet....  Emmen certainly isn't a city like Basel, or Luzern, with a lively city center, and centuries of history and culture.  And it has a rural feel, as well.  Also within easy walking distance is a long hiking trail along the river (pedestrian, bike, and also equestrian in most places).  The trail runs through wooded areas where trees are still being harvested by loggers.

(Switzerland is a great place for hiking trails.  There's one that leads all the way into the city of Luzern; we had planned to hike it today, but the -9 degree Celsius temperature was a deterrent.   Perhaps we should have taken advantage of such balmy weather, though:  tomorrow's high is supposed to be -10, with a wind chill of -16 (that's 3 degrees Fahrenheit).

There are also several small farms nearby.  One of Joseph's favorite walks is to the see the cows and goats at the nearest dairy farm, where for a single franc we pick up a liter of fresh, delicious, raw milk.  (Click on the pictures to enlarge.)

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So, what is Emmen?  Whatever it is, it's like nothing in the United States that I know of.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, February 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Edit
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Joseph has two different words for "spin."  One, pronounced "pin," refers to when he, himself, is spinning.  The other I haven't yet figured out how to transcribe, but it has two syllables and refers to spinning an object, like a top, a ball, a block, a coin.  Whether it's supposed to be one word, or a two-word command, the meaning is clear when he hands you an object:  "Spin it!"  You'd be surprised at how many items that are not tops can be made to spin. 

"Pin," on the other hand, can refer to being spun in someone's arms, or twirling himself around till he staggers with dizziness, or being spun on Mommy's office chair.  When he does the last sitting backwards and holding on to the seat back, it can be very fast, and produces an impressive postrotatory nystagmus.

He also likes this, sitting in his space capsule (backpack) and training for NASA.  The position makes up for the reduced rotational velocity.  At the end he is saying and signing, "more."

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 2, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Edit
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This was the first video, taken nearly two weeks ago to let Dad-o know that Joseph is thinking about him even though he isn't here with us.

Joseph got the idea.  Really well.  Ever since then, every time I pull out my camera, he thinks I'm taking a picture for Porter.  (He's usually right.)  One day I hadn't even reached into my pocket, only remarked, as we were on one of our walks, "We'll stop here so Grandma can take a picture."  Immediately he piped up, "Dad-o!"

The other day, Joseph received a big brother present "from Vivienne":  an easel with a chalkboard, whiteboard, and paper roll.  This video is his introduction to the chalkboard—and as you can see, he's still missing Dad-o.

At around 1:08, he says, "Hss, Hss" and make the ASL sign for "help," asking Bappe (Daddy) to help him reach the top of the board.  Around 2:17 he's saying "ssss" which is how he says the letter "S."  The rest is self-explanatory.

We love you, Dad-o!

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Edit
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The real question is not, How Smart Is Your Baby? but How can you help your baby avoid losing his extraordiary powers as he grows up?  As the book of that name acknowledges, every normal baby is a born genius.  If you don't think so, take three years and try to become fluent in a foreign language.  Then remember that most babies can do that with ease.  For multiple languages.  Simultaneously.  And while learning the very concept of language itself.

Joseph and I try to take at least one walk each day.  Most of the time I'm the one doing the walking, and comes along passively in the stroller, because I don't get much exercise going at his pace, and that's half the point of the walk.  (The other half is giving his parents a break.)  Until recently, we'd go where I wanted to go.  But two days ago, Joseph started expressing his opinions in the matter.

He's usually pretty complacent and quiet as we trundle along, so I was shocked when he suddenly started fussing as we passed through an intersection on our way home.  I stopped, and he pointed in the cross direction, clearly indicating that he wanted to turn.  "Aha!"  I thought.  "I know where that road leads."

"Do you want to go see the goats?" I asked.  Joseph quickly signed, "Please."  I made the turn toward the dairy farm, and he was his happy self again.

I found that astonishing enough—that he was able to recognize the intersection.  But it was a straight line from that point on to the goats, and he'd been there many times before.

Then yesterday, when I had planned to walk to the nearby mall, Joseph once again fussed and pointed in another direction.  I decided to forgo shopping and give him his head.

At each intersection I stopped the stroller and asked, "Shall we go this way, or that way?" with appropriate gestures.  Even though I deliberately changed up the way I asked the question (so as not to give him any hints), he led me unerringly, without hesitation, and through many turns to one of his favorite places:  the swimming center, where there are also goats (chickens, peacocks, rabbits, etc.) to see.

But that's not where we stopped.  At the final turn, when I knew for certain that he knew where he was—because he could see the animals from the intersection—he chose to go left instead of right.  So left we went, and this time he led me—perfectly, and over a route that had changed recently due to constructionso he'd only been on it a few times—to the library.

I'd been that far before, but after the library I was in new territory.  I explored, following his directions, until we came to a main street, at which point he decided he didn't like that and asked to go turn around.  We explored a bit more, then I decided we'd had enough and headed back towards the library.  At that point Joseph fell asleep, so it's a good thing I knew how to get home.  But if we ever get lost, I'm asking him for directions.

My brother was like that as a child, though at an older age.  He might run off (as he did in Yellowstone National Park when he was six) but we could count on him to find his way back.  Unfortunately, he says, he lost much of that ability as he grew up.

So how can that loss be prevented?  Is such skill like a muscle that must be exercised regularly?  Use it or lose it?  It should be easy to devise "navigation games" and create increasingly difficult puzzles through the years, to keep the skill sharp.  But it would take a conscious effort to make that happen: no one seems to care about leaving no children behind navigationally.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Edit
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Joseph's language abilities are growing steadily; it's amazing to see how much he has learned in the short time I've been here.  And that's just in English!  It is so strange to hear Swiss German words coming from his mouth, and to see that he obviously understands when Stephan speaks to him.  The latest game is for him to hand Janet one of his number puzzle pieces, whereupon she says (for example): Mommy and Grandma say nine.  The Germans say neun.  Daddy says nüün."  (The last two sentences are said not in English, but in German and Swiss German, respectively.)  Then Joseph gets her another number and asks, "more."  This is as close to formal language teaching as he gets—because he asks for it.  Mostly he just hears people speaking and figures it out, as all babies do.

Of course a 19-month-old does not speak clearly in any language.  Joseph has a few words that anyone can understand, but mostly it takes a parent, or a grandparent who has been living with him for a while, to make out what he is saying.  For example, it took me some time to realize that he knows the number "0," because the word he uses doesn't sound at all like "zero" to me.  But it is consistent and always associated with that number.  (And, no, it's not the German or Swiss German word; Joseph says "null" clearly.)

It's especially helpful that Janet has taught him many ASL signs.  It's too cute, really.  Please, thank you, help, water, sleep, milk, down, play, Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, airplane, train, and more, including the very useful toilet.  Joseph will often speak and sign at the same time, which helps me understand his speech, be it English, German, Swiss German, or Josephese.  I know I'm going to be helpless on the phone, though.

Note:  I love American Sign Language, but what sadist designed the sign for "please" to involve rubbing the hand on the chest?  No one who had to do the laundry after a toddler's spaghetti dinner or yoghurt-and-muesli breakfast, that's for sure.

And Vivienne?  Janet's beginning to learn the difference between the cry that means, "I'm hungry" and the cry that means, "I need to go to the bathroom."  But I'll let her write the post about Elimination Communication.  :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 27, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Edit
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Every day, after the noon meal, we follow the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer "Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families" noontime liturgy.  Joseph loves the time and is an active participant, as they use hand motions for many of the prayers.  (Some, at least, are a legacy of Janet's American Sign Language minor.)  For example, at "Give praise, you servants of the LORD" we raise our hands high in the air; at "in quietness and trust shall be our strength" we flex our biceps.

Then comes time for the reading, and Joseph jumps up to get the Bible for Daddy.  After that we pray. Before Vivienne was born, Joseph would put his hand on Janet's belly to "pray for the baby."  Now he puts his hand out, says "baby" and looks a little confused.  :)  After the Collect, he will often join in with a hearty, "Amen!"

That's it:  short but sweet and powerful.  It's especially delightful to watch Joseph's enthusiasm for "praise the Lord time."

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 8:05 am | Edit
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As you might have guessed by the blog silence, we've been a little busy around here.  We have Baby News at last!

Vivienne Linda Stücklin
Born at home in Emmen, Switzerland

Saturday, January 21, 2012 at 12:26 p.m.
Length: 53cm (21in)
Weight: 3840g (8lbs 7oz)

I would never say that anyone's labor was easy, and this certainly wasn't, but it was a WHOLE lot better than with Joseph.  Consequently, Janet is recovering quickly and enjoying little Vivienne immensely.  So, you might observe, is Grandma.

(Click photo to enlarge.)

Vivienne was only a few days late, but the wait seemed long because Joseph had been a week early.  Once Janet was sure she was in labor, Stephan's parents joined us to keep Joseph entertained.  He did get to see his sister's birth, though I'm sure he won't remember it in years to come.

Ten years ago, I had no idea why anyone would want a home birth.  Now it's glaringly obvious.  That could be a whole nother post.  For now, suffice it to say that hospitals and doctors are great when it comes to emergencies and high-risk circumstances, but haven't a clue when it comes to normal childbirth. What a difference an experienced midwife makes—and how wonderful to give birth in (and to be born into) one's own, familiar nest.

Joseph had a rough first day (and night—hence so did the parents), bursting into heart-rending tears every time Vivienne cried.  But Janet learned to calm him by enlisting his help in calming his sister, such as patting her gently.  By the next day he seemed to have accepted the idea that her cries were a form of communication.  He loves to give her kisses, and sometimes even suggests to Janet that "Baby" needs mommy milk.

Some of the old anxiety returned today when the doctor came and Vivienne cried more than usual (more accurately, her cry was a bit different from usual).  I think tomorrow she is getting her first heel stick; remembering how his cousin Jonathan curled up in a ball and sobbed, "I didn't want them to cut my baby's heel," I think we may try to distract him in another room when that happens.

Vivienne herself is doing great, working on advanced degrees in eating, sleeping, eliminating, and charming the world.

But for the rest of us, sleep is still a bit on the short side, and I am up 'way too late working on this post.  So, enough for now.

Welcome to our world, Vivienne!  Congratulations to the family, and good night to all!

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Edit
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An international child, Joseph might start his day with leftover pizza, or rice, or bread and peanut butter, or a tortilla with "spices" (more on that later).  But for the most part his breakfast is "no no bissi" a.k.a. yoghurt and muesli.  Unsweetened muesli and plain yoghurt—and he loves it.  His drink for all meals is water.  He feeds himself with a spoon quite competently, although as you can imagine some cleanup is required.


For breakfast I might have yoghurt and muesli, or cooked oatmeal, or good Swiss bread, or yummy, fresh Swiss eggs (with golden yolks). (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Edit
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It's hard being a long-distance grandmother, whether the distance is 1000 miles or 4800.  Certainly I'd rather our grandchildren live just down the street!  But one compensation for the loss of frequent interaction is the joy of seeing how much the children change between visits.  As we await the time when I'll have baby news to announce, I'll share a few stories of life with Joseph, 18 months old and soon to assume the important role of big brother.

John Ciardi said that a child should be allowed to learn, "at the rate determined by her own happy hunger."  Joseph's current "happy hunger" is for letters and numbers.  He  has a wooden puzzle of the upper case alphabet that is the first toy he takes out in the morning, and again after his nap.  This was supplemented at Christmas by the nicest number puzzle I've seen, which includes the numbers from 0 through 20 and arithmetic operators as well.

alt (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 9:21 am | Edit
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If I weren't eating so well at the famous Swiss Zum Stücklin, I might be sad at missing the Outstanding in the Field event held at our favorite egg (and more) farm, Lake Meadow Naturals.  Not that I'm in the habit of spending $180/person on meals, not even in Switzerland, not even when we ate at the incomparable restaurant at Les Trois Rois in Basel.  But I'm happy for our local farm to get such national recognition.

Les Trois Rois
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 13, 2012 at 9:16 am | Edit
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We went to Naples a couple of weekends ago.

No, not that Naples, although there are some superficial similarities, such as a location on the southwest coast of similarly-shaped peninsulas, a warm climate, and inhabitants who speak both English and a Romance language.


We were nearing the expiration of the hotel voucher we'd earned by listening to a timeshare presentation in Hawaii, and chose to use it at the Naples Grande Beach Resort, a Waldorf Astoria hotel in Naples, Florida.  You see, it was a $200 voucher, but good only for the hotel room, and only for one night.  Hence the pricy hotel.

It’s a four-hour trip—about like driving from Florence if you’re thinking of the other peninsula—and we made it longer by stopping in Lake Wales for several hours.  That’s where the lovely Bok Tower Gardens are.  (As usual, click on a picture for a larger image.)

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One of my favorite places in the Gardens is the Window on the Pond, where we can observe the wildlife from inside a duck blind style shelter. Corn kernels are scattered on some large tree stumps to encourage the birds to come close. But as with any bird feeder.... (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Edit
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This was just posted on Free-Range Kids, and deserves to go viral.  So I'm doing my part.  The author, Darreby Ambler, is a writer and mother of three from Bath, Maine.

These were the travel rules we used with our kids when they were smaller.  They are now 15, 19, and 21, and travel independently and joyfully around the world. (You can tell from the rules that it wasn’t always this way!  Hang in there, parents!)

Ambler Family Travel Rules and Responsibilities
  • It’s good to talk to strangers.  The outside world is full of them.  The place you don’t have to deal with them is at home, which is where people who can’t cope with strangers will stay next time.
  • Each traveler is responsible for finding things to be excited about, and sharing that enthusiasm.
  • If the enthusiasm of others embarrasses you, pretend otherwise.  Being cool is dull, except in a sports car.
  • Unusual foods are part of the point.
  • Staying home is usually more comfortable than traveling, but traveling is more interesting.  Prioritize well.
  • Travel disruptions are normal and a good way to show your readiness for more challenging adventures.
  • Remember that your dislikes do not make interesting conversation.
  • Wash your hands.  You have no immunity to foreign germs.  Throwing up is not interesting.
  • You have travel in your future that you can not even imagine.  Adhering to these guidelines makes you eligible for such travel.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Edit
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