Living in 1800s Heidi Hut in Jura Mountains Switzerland

Heidi Hut in Jura Mountains SwitzerlandSurviving in our rustic little chalet chiseled out of the side of the Jura Mountains, a few miles from the French border, is challenging as we adjust to living in the 1800s.

In the morning I shiver under my duvet, while Gerald cleans out ashes and then starts a fire in our burning stove, which holds two, foot long logs at a time and provides our main heat.Heidi Hut in Jura Mountains Switzerland

From the outside our chalet looks cute, but inside I feel like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Nothing fits. I bump into furniture and hit my head on low hanging beams. The Swiss were short especially at the turn of the century.

A stone wall divides the main room, the size of box car, into a kitchen and living area. Our refrigerator is the size of one like in a college dormitory. Ditto for the freezer squeezed under the stairwell.

Fortunately, we have indoor plumbing at least downstairs. Our water closet, the size of a telephone booth, is as cold as an out house. If you perch too long on the porcelain stool, which feels like squatting on a block of ice, you end up chiseling icicles from your bottom.

Heidi Hut in Jura Mountains SwitzerlandThe staircase, so steep and narrow, must be navigated sideways and leads to 2 bedrooms. In our bedroom, the antique armoires are too narrow to hang things, so I rolled up our clothes and stored them in baskets under our bed.

Knotty pine walls and a wood beamed ceiling make it cozy. Two shuttered windows overlook the little red train track, where a 2 car train shuttles workers, skiers, hikers up and down from the mountains to Nyon in the valley.

The other room upstairs, used as a make shift office, has a bunkbed piled with junk awaiting our move. Between the rooms an open area with a ladder, gives access to an attic that we never enter for fear of stirring up ghosts or wild animals.

Upstairs, lacks plumbing. I cannot safely navigate the stairs a dozen times a night to the bathroom. Instead, I use a porta potty balancing on a crate in the closet sized nook at the top of the stairs. The seat, sized to accommodate a toddler’s butt, is so tiny, I fear I’ll tumble head first down stairs every time I pee.

Like in Laura Ingall’s Little House on the Prairie, in order to survive the winter, a local lumberjack dropped a truckload of timber outside our door. We stack 3 cords, a ton and half, of wood in precise neat piles like Jenga blocks. Now I understand why Swiss make wood piles so tidy. It’s to keep them from rolling down the mountainside.

Chores are endless living in the past century. Like laundry. I wash 5 articles at a time in our miniature machine. Then like pancakes on a griddle, I flip socks, long johns and t-shirts on racks in front of the wood burning stove.

We don’t have a phone line or TV, but we can access Netflix - limited over here - so we watch any international series available. We followed Scandinavian murder mysteries, Spanish dramas, Italian comedies. Last night, so desperate for entertainment, we tuned into an Egyptian soap opera with French subtitles.

But when I wake up in the morning and throw open my shutters, the view of sun rising above the evergreen covered mountainside is inspiring.

Part of the reason for moving here was for this… to drop right down smack dab in nature when walk outside our door.

We are living in a scene from Heidi.

The only way we could get closer to nature would be by camping out. Sometimes I think we are.

Sold Our House in Two Days

A year ago, after our realtor sent photos of our place to his client list, we sold our house in two days, before it even went on the market. Of course, it sold immediately! It is the perfect house, which makes me wonder why we decided to leave it.

We found another place just as fast. After visiting only three houses and talking to two builders, my husband announced, “We must decide. I hate shopping! I don’t like dithering around.”

“Gerald we aren’t talking about buying a pair of shoes! This is a house. We need to be sure what we are doing?”

But when was I ever sure what I was doing? Our reasons for moving from our old house… too big, too many stairs, too much yard. So what do we do? Build as big of house, with as many stairs, in the middle of a mountain.

We signed on a new place, not yet built in St. Cergue, Switzerland in the Jura mountains. Since our new house, a triplex like apartment, will not be ready until July 2022, we are living like vagabonds.

To make thing more complicated, we are guests in this country. I am American, Gerald French. We scramble to figure out details like how many days we could spend in the states without losing our C residency permit allowing us to live in Switzerland. Even harder to negotiate was how long we could hang out in America, especially since Gerald as a “foreigner” is required to leave the US within 90 days of entering.

What started almost as a whim, snowballed into a major life change and my head is spinning, still unstable from my brain surgery almost 2 years ago.

Is it from brain injury or circumstantial, from trying to pack 23 years of living into a dozen boxes and start over again on a mountaintop in my mid 60’s?

Where has my common sense gone? How did I get so caught up in my husband’s middle life crisis? Does everyone my age feel this urgency that time is running out that we must rush to do all the things we dreamed in our youth.

Nothing is working out as planned.

What can I be thinking moving into the mountains with my bad back and worn out knees, where every step out the door requires going up or down? There’s no pain-free level ground here.

Fortunately my husband, like a little kid with a new project, is in his element dealing with the architecs, builders, bankers, realtors and notaries. His enthusiasm and expertise keeps me going, because I am lost.

Our biggest mistake was buying a “virtual” home, which builders promised would be ready by June 2022. Last fall, the project manager met with my husband and told him that our house would be finished earlier, by April or May 2022. Then in December, we received an alarming email saying that we wouldn’t get the key until probably the end of December 2022 but June 2023 at the latest. Or if you read the contract’s fine print, it “clearly” states that the very latest deadline would be 14 months from finishing the foundations date, which could mean June 2023 as they started several month later than expected. Anyone following here ???

What went wrong?

In the meantime, we stack another load of wood to heat our “temporary” rental place, a medieval chalet the size of a trailer. To keep from going crazy, we go out everyday. We wander our around our new village, walk by our “plot” and worry.

Why haven’t they broke ground the foundation of our building yet?

Tools to Help Ease Bad Back Pain

For the past 55 years I have lived with back pain and I could write a book on how to cope since I have tried every self help tool available.

As a teenager, my right leg went numb from a herniated disk. In 1978 the standard treatment for ruptured disks was traction and surgery, but I argued my way out of the hospital, refused the knife and began chiropractic treatment.

I will swear my life on the benefit of chiropractic care, which has kept me mobile in spite of slipped lumbar disks, compressed dorsal disks, 2 whiplash injuries and the combined trauma of a professional basketball career, a car crash, a bike accident and a ski wipeout.

Chiropractic therapy, a team endeavor, requires the patient’s investment in following recommended strengthening and stretching exercises and a healthy diet. I advocate the physical therapist and chiropractor’s belief that one should exercise to help maintain health.

But in addition to keeping active to help ease the ache, I tried every gadget on the market.

Back pain is so universal, you may be interested in some of the tools I use.

The Thera Cane, a simple, inexpensive device is a hard cane with nodules that can be used to self-massage trigger points.

The Wet Vest allowed me to run again, but not on land. The vest that looks a bit like a life jacket keeps you afloat in deep water so that you can run without back or joint pain. http://www.hydrofit.com/wet-vest-ii/

The Swiss ball, a large, heavy-duty inflatable ball with a diameter of 18 to 30 inches can used for various exercises to strengthen and stretch muscles.

The heat lamp may be an old fashioned remedy, but lying under an infra-red lamp helps muscles relax.

My chiropractic memory foam sleep pillow allows me to rest with neck support and my body pillow gives leg support and helps me maintain proper alignment during the night. The only drawback is that with all the pillows, there may no longer be enough room for your partner.

Massage of any kind helps. I even have my own (used) massage table, however it only works well if you can actually enlist another person to give you the massage.

I call the Bemer, a magnetic therapy device, my magic carpet. This mat made of a pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) was designed to increase microcirculation and boost the blood flow which benefits the body’s cardiac system, regenerative abilities and mental acuity. The mat is attached to an electronic device that looks like a digital alarm clock. It's supposed to heal everything from your headache to your cat's depression (no kidding) by using a low magnetic field. Improvement of microcirculation and reducing fatigue have so far been confirmed, but I am not convinced.

Ice and hot packs, the ancient standby, can be alternated for acute injury. Hot baths in Epsom salts can be used at home for good old fashioned backaches. But if you have access to thermal baths with jacuzzi or any kind of water jets you can get even greater relief.

My Everstyl reclining chair, made by a French company specializing in ergonomic furniture, was designed to give proper support to the back. This deluxe lounge chair has multi positions including a full recline which alleviates pressure on the lumbar spine.

The Inversion Table is my new favorite. By hanging on a table upside down, gravity takes the weight off the vertebrae and disks.

A yoga mat is a must for stretching; it works best if used several times a day because the older you get the faster everything tightens up.

The Theragun, my husbands new favorite toy, is a percussive therapy device creating vibrations to offer a powerful deep muscle treatment.

As part of chiropractic care, I have tried TENS, massage, computerized traction and high intensity laser.

I also had a go with acupuncture, cupping, reflexology and sophrology, but I will save the explanation for my next post.

Am I totally pain free? No, but I am still upright, mobile and tracking 10,000 steps a day.

Fine Art of Tidying Up for the Disorganized Brain

cluttered officePropensity for organization is an inherited gene, which I lack. Tidying up will never come naturally, but I thought reading Marie Kondo’sThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing would spur me into action.

That clever little Japanese lady created a brand name consultancy agency and reality TV show based on her KonMari Method to eliminate clutter. Combining philosophical wisdom, Japanese cultural traditions, and practical advice, she makes staying organized sound easy.

“The act of tidying is a series of simple actions in which objects are moved from one place to another that involves putting things away where they belong.”

Therein lies my problem. I truly believe books belong under my bed, words belong on paper everywhere and clothes belong on chairs (to eliminate folding.)

Ah, clothes tossing, a big no, no. Marie elevated folding clothes to an art form claiming, “Every piece of clothes has its own sweet spot.”

“By folding clothes,” she explained, “we transmit energy to the fabric and show appreciation for the way clothes support our lifestyle.”

Sun set on yet another day before I finished blessing all my favorite basketball T-shirts.T-Shirts party

It took an additional week to “energize” my closets by hanging items from heavy to light.

Following her crucial adage “sort by category not location” can be exceptionally challenging in compact Swiss homes where little rooms are stacked atop one another like Jenga blocks.

As a writer, you never know when the muse will strike, so we have a desk in our bedroom, the guestroom, the loft and the living area. Pencils, pens and papers litter every room except the bathroom. Little notebooks fill every coat pocket and drawer.

Worse yet, bookshelves abound in every available space including hallways. When Marie Kendo insisted books should be sorted by dumping them out on the floor, I wanted to cry. Laid out, my book collection could loop around the block twice. How can I limit my love of literature to a mere dozen Hall of Fame books?

To further add my dismay, she insisted that you keep your papers in one spot.

“Put your house in order and your life will change dramatically,” Marie Kondo claimed. “Effective tidying requires only 2 parts – discarding and deciding where to store things. Visualize your destination.”

I breathed deeply and meditated as instructed. But when I opened my eyes, I was still surrounded by the same damn mess.

I wanted to give up. Then a miracle occurred. After searching on 2 continents to no avail, I was convinced my prize boots had been confiscated by border control during one of those random luggage searches on a trans-Atlantic flight.

“No one would steal a pair of boots!” my husband exclaimed.

lost & found boots“It wasn’t any old footwear,” I whined. “They were new Vasque ultra dry, winter- proof boots guaranteed to keep toes warm up to 40° below and I only wore them twice!”

Miraculously, during my Japanese inspired cleaning frenzy, I found my “stolen boots” sitting on a shoe rack in our entryway where they had been hiding in plain sight for 2 years.

Bless you Mari Kondo.

Still I wonder if putting things where they belong only befuddles more so my chaotic brain.

Appreciate the Pat-Down: Airport Security Personnel Deserve Thanks

My Frenchmen gets grilled at customs on arrival in the USA, but with my American passport I usually glide through security with a warm, welcome home greeting. Oddly enough, I have more trouble getting out of the country.

On one return trip to Switzerland, I was halted for bringing a tube of nutritional gel in my carry on luggage. Another time, Delta airline personnel stopped me at the boarding gate after checking my passport.

« M’am I’m sorry, you are not authorized to leave the country. »

And so I learned you cannot fly internationally on an US passport if it is within 90 days of expiration.

Everyone knows that firearms, liquids, or scissors are forbidden aboard, but did you know that you may carry on antlers, artificial skeletal bones and air mattresses with built-in pumps? (see rules here)

I would also suggest do not wear dark glasses no matter how light-sensitive you are. Do not wear layers. The more you put on the more has to come off. Do not carry anything in pockets.

After waiting my turn at security, I stepped into the full body scanner and the TSA official insisted, “Empty your pockets.”

I pulled out my prescription sunglasses and Swiss residency papers. When she told me to raise my arms, a Swiss bill fell from the papers and I instinctively tried to grab it. Big no no.

“Do not move arms in the scanner,” she explained as she goosed me. “On the scan, it looks like you are trying to hide something.”

After the pat-down, the agent swabbed my fingertips with a blue tissue to detect explosives. An alarm went off again.

“Security check female passenger, “ she radioed backup into her armpit.

“Please step aside. Come with me. Bring your belongings.”

So as trays flew by on the conveyor belt, I scrambled to collect carry on possessions – Kindle, computer, tennis shoes, jacket, mittens, back brace, neck pillow, eye mask, and an ounce of toothpaste, body lotion, and lip balm in a quart sized plastic bag.

“Do you wear any medical devices?” another TSA official asked.

“Do toe inserts count?”

Apparently so. Off with socks. Out with my individually designed silicone toe separators.

While impatient passengers stared, I stood with my arms out at the sides, as another official felt me up again.

Some folks would be offended by such a rigorous investigation, but I commend the TSA and US Department of Homeland Security for doing their job well.

In the past, as an international traveler, I waited 6 hours with a team for a connecting flight in the Brussels airport, a week before the bombing. On the tarmac in Athens, I evacuated a plane due to a suspicious package and in a terminal in Paris I saw a bomb squad detonate an abandoned piece of luggage.

I am grateful for our security officials. Throughout my interrogation, the St. Paul/Minneapolis Airport officials remained polite, professional and patient.

I will gladly strip down to my skivvies and stand spread eagle if it helps keep our skies safe. Some consider it a violation of rights; I see it as assurance to travel freely in a society where so much has gone wrong.

Kudos to our TSA workers.

How many of us would be dedicated enough to frisk, irate strangers in overcrowded holiday airports without pay during a government shut down?

Wild Ride Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

Though Americans may share the same language as the British, we differ in many ways especially when it comes to cars/driving. In the UK and Commonwealth countries such as Australia, the car’s steering wheel is on the passenger side. The driver sits on the right, yet drives on the left side of road.

In England, I fear going anywhere near traffic even as a passenger. On recent trip there, my son sat on the right side to drive on the “wrong” side, the left. I rode shotgun- a hair raising experience – I kept thinking we would crash in a head on collision.

As we wound through villages on pencil thin roads through a maze of round-abouts, I felt like I was on Mr. Toad’s wild ride in Disneyland.

In England, I start stimming every time I get into a vehicle. Granted my anxiety may be greater because I am directionally challenged. I am one of the 20% percent of the population that has trouble orientating themselves in space and distinguishing right and left.

Left-right discrimination involves higher neurological functions integrating sensory and visual information, language function and memory. This problem, more common among the left-handed, women and people with a high IQ, offers no consolation.

I blame my older brother for my directional disability. Born with a map in his brain, he hogged our family’s spatial orientation gene.

The only thing scarier than driving in England is walking in England. As a pedestrian, I am afraid to cross the street; I can’t figure out which way to look for oncoming traffic. Like a deer in headlights, I freeze on the corner too terrified to set foot off the curb.

The roadways through villages are so narrow that even while walking on the sidewalks, I hug the brick facades fearful of being sideswiped by those wrong way drivers.

Driving on the wrong side will never be on my bucket list, but if you do dare to drive in the UK here are few tips.

  1. Hang a ‘think left’ poster on your dashboard. Remember to look first to the right when crossing the road. Take care when pulling out of junctions, one-way streets and at roundabouts.
  2. Beware that unlike the rest of the continent, which gives priority to the right, there’s no priority to the right or left on UK roads.
  3. An octagonal stop sign with a solid white line on road or a triangular give way sign (dotted white line on road), where a secondary road meets a major road.
  4. At all crossroads and junctions, ‘Stop’ or ‘give way’ may also be painted on the road surface. But in England’s typical rain and fog, I doubt you will ever see that.
  5. Traffic flows clockwise round round­abouts and not anti-clockwise as in countries where traffic drives on the right.
  6. UK drivers set a lively pace, which is often way above the prevailing speed limit.

Lastly, if you do drive in England, be sure to slow down and wave when you see me still standing on the corner, waiting to cross the street.