Down Memory Lane

We recently had some friends visiting from Vienna.  Since the weather was less than ideal, we headed to the town of Broc to the Cailler chocolate factory.  I expected to taste a lot of yummy Swiss chocolate that day, but I didn’t expect this trip to send us off down memory lane, all the way back to when Mark and I first met.

Mark and I used to work for the same, large, Minneapolis based food company.  He has spent is career in sourcing for them, buying everything from oats to chocolate to sugar to milk.  I, on the other hand, was working in R&D as a product developer. At the time, I was working on one of the biggest national baking brands.  And one day I got a phone call from the new chocolate buyer.  Spoiler alert, it was Mark, and he asked me if I could go on a business trip to Africa to take a deep dive into the cocoa and chocolate supply chain and meet with the main suppliers.  I said yes.

dMkct3DJQDCN%XqiTqacvg

That was a whirlwind business trip that started on the cocoa farms in Ghana and went up through the behemoth chocolate production plants in the Netherlands and Belgium.  We met with the largest cocoa and chocolate suppliers with the goals of understanding every aspect of the supply chain and also deepening our level of collaboration on topics ranging from sustainability to new product development.  And sometime during that incredible, yet exhausting trip, Mark and I managed to become friends.

Fast forward to today and we are a family living in Switzerland, where fine chocolate is a way of life, and visiting a museum all about chocolate.  Cora looks extremely bored and unimpressed in these photos.  Probably because she has never had the pleasure of eating chocolate before.  And also because she is blissfully unaware that without chocolate and that business trip, she might not be here today.

nJ89sUObQKCZGPMGL4+w6w

 

Advertisements

Life Lately : 4 Months

Poor Cora didn’t have a very happy 4-month birthday yesterday.  I have been sick with some sort of cold/flu/plague superbug so I haven’t been up for much of anything this past week.  Mark even worked from home a couple of days last week just to help me out where he could and allow me to rest.  I haven’t been really sick since we moved here, so to have such a strong, miserable, flu really knocked me off my feet.  Luckily, Cora and Mark have remained healthy so far.

IMG_2030

We also had Cora’s 4-month doctor checkup, complete with vaccinations.  The poor girl got a jab in each of her chubby thighs and, of course, doesn’t understand when you tell her that it’s for her own good.  But other than some dry winter skin, she’s doing well in the health department.  She is 5.96 kilo (just over 13 lbs) and 62 cm long.

We have been doing a lot more tummy time lately because Cora is tolerating it a little better.  She hasn’t rolled over on her own yet but we have been practicing.  She also has started putting everything in her mouth.  No signs of teeth yet, but she loves to chew on her  Wubbanubs and her Sophie giraffe.  She has finally figured out how to use her hands so getting things to her mouth is a lot easier for her than it used to be.

Hopefully I can kick this illness soon and we can get outside more.  It is supposed to warm up to the 50s and sunny for the next week so that fresh, Swiss air will be calling our names.

MM: Parenting All of My Children

In the weeks–and now months–since Thalia’s little sis, Cora, was born, I have been up and down the emotional spectrum.  Joy arrives in an instant and then tags in sadness almost as quickly.  In the course of a day, big smiles are followed by a few heavy tears and then back to laughter.  Of course, this oscillation existed in the months following Thali’s birth/death even before Cora was born.  But now, for the last three and a half months, I have encountered a new challenge.

I have a very good friend who also lost a child due to stillbirth.  His son passed away around one month before T did.  So in terms of following someone else’s footsteps down a path most people never have to forge, finding the clarity to step into a few of his tracks was one of the strategies to get me through each day.  Each individual’s experience with grief is both personal and unique. But, sharing what each of us were going through gave me perspective as well as different ways to approach the difficult aspects of child loss.

For me, in particular, something that I have struggled with is finding the balance of remembering and cherishing my first born, Thalia, with the more demanding needs of parenting a living baby–my second born, Cora.  After a long day of taking care of her while I’m at work, Kelly definitely needs a baby break by the time I get home.  Dad’s second shift – here we go!  I would have it no other way though: to be able to hold and play with my C, whom I love more than I ever thought possible, is the greatest blessing.  But in these moments, I can’t always find the time for T.  When I became aware of this notion, it made me upset. How do I be a good dad to both of my girls?

7m2Y3ba6Ria7GH167AW1Ow

Enter aforementioned friend.  When I shared my struggles with him, he filled me in on some of the topics from the grief group that he and his wife attend.  The one I found most interesting and, in a way, difficult to comprehend, was the idea of ‘parenting all of my children’.  At first, this seemed a bit silly – how do you parent a dead child?  The idea was too abstract to be implementable.  As you who know me well know, if I am anything, I am practical.  What was I to do with this?  But my friend went on to share some examples from the other bereaved parents on how they “PAoMC”.  Some parents would sing songs to their angels or talk to them while they would go for a walk/run.  Others would just find a few moments in a day to be alone with their babies who couldn’t be physically with them.  In the traditional sense of parenting, none of these activities would register.  For an angel child, this is parenting.

As we’ve shared, Kel and I have always done our Thalia parenting in the evenings on clear days when the sun is setting.  But now, I find other ways to parent both my girls.  I don’t have a lot of formal structure to it.  From time to time, I’ll talk to her and tell her about what I’m doing or how I miss her (of course, that I love her).  I ask her what she is doing and how she likes to spend her time these days.  I ask Thalia to help her little sis as much as she can to show her the way of things.  On this request, I know she’s being an obedient daughter because Cora frequently stares off into the distance and has imaginary conversations with big sis.

u2qgo8dbsywz2mg5gtxcg.jpg

So, dad life continues.  I try to work hard in all aspects of life to be a good dad to T&C and a supportive husband to Kel.  A wise person once told me that your life never plays out exactly like you expect it to.  And while I didn’t expect to have my parenting duties include talking to a little angel, I’m happy to know our family is always together, despite where–and in what form–we each reside.

 

Money Diaries

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I find this part of the year a little stressful.  Starting the new year off fresh is a great feeling, but we are also faced with tax season, a meeting with our financial advisor, and reevaluating our budget with the new little addition to the family.  Grown-up decisions have to be made, and therefore, well thought out.  Mark is great at this.  I am not.

img_0929

Taxes

We do not do our own taxes anymore because of the complications of living abroad.  Mark’s company, thankfully, hires a firm to navigate both the US and Swiss tax waters for us.  This definitely makes it easier, but we still have to take a deep dive into every aspect of our finances and provide them with every accurate detail.  We still own property in the US so that plays a part.  And Switzerland charges a “wealth” tax (which, for us, is more like an all-your-assets-no-matter-how-meager tax), so every single account we have has to be declared.  It’s still a lot of prep and work on our part.

Long term planning

We have a financial advisor back in the US who has been helping us with long term savings goals.  We meet with him usually around this time of year.  This year we had to layer on a discussion about savings for Cora’s future.  Luckily, we finally got Cora’s social security number so we can start opening accounts in her name.

Budget

We approach our budget a little untraditionally, but it has been more important lately with the higher cost of living in Switzerland and me not working.  It isn’t so much about hard limits as it is about an understanding of where our money is going to go this year and a reality check on short term savings.  Some areas are based off of expenses last year, some are estimates and not really tracked at all, and then there is the travel budget, which I actually do pay attention to.  We can get carried away with that one.  We are also saving for a down payment on a new home when we get back to the US, so we do make some financial decisions with that goal in mind.  We update the budget at the start of each year just to make sure we are still on track with where we want to be.

So that’s what we are thinking about these days.  That and other important things, like how to keep these razor sharp baby fingernails in check.

Say Cheese!

I can tell that the days of these staged photos with nice lighting and clean outfits and sitting still are coming to a close.  Cora’s personality is shining through more and more every day, and she definitely has her own ideas about what she would like to do and when.

How can I tell?  I had to click the button about 300 times in order to get just these three photos.  And one of them still has spit in it.

Spit bubbles are her favorite.  And trying to shove her entire fist in her mouth.

Here is our latest round of photos in an incredibly cute outfit that I wanted to capture before she grew out of it.

Sleeping Around Here

Sleeping is a big deal in our house.  Mark and I love sleep, and we knew this was an area that would be significantly impacted once we had a baby.  Since we’ve been married, we have been pretty good about getting to bed at a reasonable hour to get enough sleep.  Thankfully, Cora is also aligned with this idea.  I certainly would still like more sleep, but she’s definitely gone easy on us as a newborn.

When she was born, she would go down around 10 at night, sleep for 4 hours, get up to breastfeed once, and go down for 3-4 more hours.  After that second stretch, we would usually be up for the day.  I used to worry that she wasn’t eating enough, but she’s been gaining weight just as she should.  Since then, that first 4-hour stretch has been getting longer and  longer and now she sleeps at least 8 hours, if not more.  We have moved her bedtime slowly up as her sleep has gotten longer, and now Mark starts her bedtime routine at 7 pm.

img_1066

Cora used to wake up some time in the 4:00 hour to eat again and go back down until 7 in the morning.  However, I recently started dream feeding before I go to bed, usually around 10 at night, and now she’s sleeping consistently past 6 am.  I can see on her sleep tracker (we have an Owlet) that she often wakes up once or twice around her old 4:00 hour, but she always goes back to sleep by herself without crying.  If she could just stretch it out until 7 am, I think we’d have a dream scenario!

So how does she do it?  Well, I think she’s just a good sleeper and we are very lucky.  But we did think about this before she arrived and implemented some things to help her sleep well.  The same things won’t work for all babies, but this is what works for us.

  1.  We have a bedtime routine.  We’ve evolved it since she’s grown, but we try to stay consistent with it so she knows we are winding down and it is time for sleep.
  2. She sleeps in her own room, by herself, and has ever since she came home from the hospital. I am an extremely light sleeper, so I knew having her in our room wasn’t going to work for us.  But I also think this has helped her be confident in her own bed.
  3. She does sleep in her crib, but we also use a Dock-a-tot.  If you don’t know what this is, think of an insert that fits inside her crib to make it smaller and cozier for her.  It was originally developed for safer co-sleeping but we use it differently.  Little babies can get overwhelmed, if not scared, in big cribs by themselves.  Sleeping in the Dock-a-tot helps her feel more secure.
  4. She sleeps in a swaddle.  I had started out using the same blankets that she slept in at the clinic after she was born.  Eventually she would work her arms out, though, and they would flail around waking her up.  So we switched to a Halo Sleep Sack swaddle, which has been magical.  I wish I would have switched earlier.  I do take her out of it to feed in the middle of the night because she always needs her diaper changed and I don’t want to get it dirty.  But taking her out and going back in doesn’t seem to bother her.
  5. She sleeps with white noise. We have a small white noise machine in her room and have been using it since she came home.
  6. The white noise machine also has a night light on it, which is the only light I use to see when I go in to feed her at night.  I never turn the lights on at night – thus the risk of getting her sleep sack dirty during the diaper change if I don’t take her out.
  7. I use a video monitor.  This has been really great for us because I can easily check on her and see if she’s awake without disturbing her.  She often doesn’t cry when she wakes up so this is better than a sound-only monitor for us.
  8. We use an Owlet, which is a little sock that she wears that monitors her sleeping, heart rate, and oxygen level.  I don’t think this really helps her sleep at all, but it sure helps me.  It will alarm us if she ever stops breathing, but I also like it because it tracks her sleep.  I can see exactly when she wakes up at night and how much time she spends in light sleep and deep sleep.

It sounds like we have it all figured out, so of course everything is going to change soon.  The 4-month sleep regression is around the corner.  She’ll start rolling over so we will have to stop swaddling. She’ll outgrow her Dock-a-tot.  And we also have a pretty heavy travel schedule kicking off in April.  I hope we’ve set up good habits that will grow with her but only time will tell!

Life Lately – 3 Months

Cora is growing by leaps and bounds.  We have her 3-month checkup next week and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she’s grown several centimeters in the last month.  I get on the emotional rollercoaster whenever she outgrows clothing and there are several outfits on the verge of retirement.  She’s growing so fast!

img_1454

She has also discovered her hands this month, but has not yet figured out how to use them.  She has, however, figured out how to chew on her fist and it always looks like she could almost fit the whole thing in her mouth.  It is too early for teeth, but her saliva has come in and she loves to blow bubbles or just spit it out rather than swallow it.

Cora has also started to laugh. It isn’t a cute baby giggle, more like a loud burst accompanied by a huge gummy smile.

She loves to have babble conversations and that’s always how I can tell if she is done eating.  Well, either that or falling asleep.  Nursing to sleep is not a habit we want to start so that’s another layer to the napping challenge.

She’s just not a great napper – the world is just too interesting, even when I make her room as boring as possible.  But she’s still a champion sleeper at night.  I know we are headed into the 4-month sleep regression soon and I’m starting to think of strategies to get through it.

The one thing Cora hates these days?  Tummy time.  No matter how I try and help her (and I’ve read all the articles) she rarely makes it past 5 minutes without getting upset.  Not even her favorite toy, blue rhino, can appease her after 5 minutes of tummy time.

Our days fly by right now and we are working on penciling in a routine.  A lot of my time is spent feeding Cora, trying to get her to nap, and laundry.  We walk to the store almost every day when the weather is decent.  When she is sleeping I get a little time to pay bills and do our travel planning and before I know it, it’s time to make dinner.  Dad comes home and is in charge of pajamas and story time and then Cora goes to bed.  Life is pretty simple at the moment, and I feel blessed that I can soak up every minute with her!

MM: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” – W.S.

What’s in a name?  Many things to be certain.  And what we have recently become certain of is that names can be complex, especially when adapting them from one culture, country, and syntax to another…

facetune_21-12-2018-10-01-57

After Cora was born, Kelly and I paid special attention to how the clinic noted her name in her official birth documents (which would become the basis of her birth certificate and official name).  Why the extra degree of caution?  Well, the root cause of our soon-to-be-discovered-trouble began many years ago when the U.S. State Department–the issuer of U.S. passports–printed our names in CAPITAL LETTER script.  For fun, have a look at your own passport and verify the same: U.S. passports are all written in CAPS.  As such, our last name ‘McCullough’ is written as ‘MC CULLOUGH’ (the space denotes a capital letter within the name).  This is a seemingly benign alteration until you migrate said passport to another country and use it as the basis for establishing your residency…

The plot advanced when Kelly and I registered ourselves in the Swiss inhabitants’ system last year.  At that time, they established our family name based on our passports–which note our name as ‘MC CULLOUGH’ (note the space).  Now here is where things went wrong…Because Switzerland writes their official names in lower case script and didn’t understand the upper case script used in American passports, they recorded our name as ‘Mc Cullough’ (with a space in it, converting the name into two words).  So, officially, in Switzerland, I am called four names, ‘Mark Edward Mc Cullough’.  At the time, we, frankly, didn’t even notice nor would we even have cared since that matched our passports.  For context, my US driver’s license and birth certificate note our last name correctly as ‘McCullough’.

Back to the clinic…we insured that they wrote Cora’s last name as ‘McCullough’ (no space).  They did so and sent the paperwork to the cantonal office where we could request copies of her birth certificate.  We did this and upon their arrival we found out that her name was kept as-is ‘Mc Cullough’.  Problem.  With the help of a French colleague, we discussed the situation with the inhabitants’ office asking them to remedy it.  Despite having sufficient documentation to prove my name claim, in typical Swiss fashion, the office informed us that the matter would be under investigation for approximately three months and there was no guarantee that it would be rectified.

So, decision time.  Wait for three months to see if our name would be changed or continue on the process of getting Cora a passport and SSN with her last name as-is (Mc Cullough)?  Since we couldn’t leave the country legally with her sans passport, we chose Door #2 and made our appointment at the U.S. Embassy in Bern.  Our expectation was that they would understand the situation–having been the root cause themselves–and would change her name back to ours in processing the paperwork.

With birth certificates (noting the wrong name) in hand, we headed to Bern.  While sitting with the staff that day and completing the application for her documents and citizenship, we asked to have her name corrected on her Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) which is used as a birth certificate in the US for babies born abroad.  The Embassy said they could only use the name from her Swiss birth certificate as her official name! Despite our explanation and their understanding of the root cause, we were out of luck.  Hilariously, in a circular-logic-filled-scenario, they suggested that we attempt to change her name after she was registered.  When I asked what documentation would be needed to do so, they explained to bring an updated Swiss birth certificate.  IF WE HAD HAD THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE, WE WOULDN’T NEED TO CHANGE IT AT ALL!!!!

So…this story doesn’t have a happy or a sad ending, yet.  Upon writing, we are approximately two months into the saga without any update from our canton on our family name change request.

Stay tuned for the dramatic ending, coming soon.  Regarding the post title, remember that Romeo and Juliet killed themselves at the end of the story.  Let’s hope our ending is more pleasant…

Christmas Markets

My favorite part of Christmas in Europe, without a doubt, is the Christmas markets.  I absolutely love heading to the town square, picking up a mug of vin chaud (or Glühwien, depending on where we are) and browsing the stands for both gifts and snacks.

We have a Christmas market here in Lausanne and a big one down the shore of the lake in Montreux that we like to visit.  We also have been known to travel for them.  Last year we were able to go to the granddaddy of Christmas markets in Vienna at the Rathausplatz.  This year we drove up to Colmar, France for the weekend to visit the town and explore the market.

Facetune_22-12-2018-21-26-25

We were lucky that I had the foresight to book an Airbnb early.  There was little chance if getting a place to stay in the small town if you waited too long – especially the weekend before Christmas.  Our place was small but awesome – less than a block away from the main part of the market.  This was especially nice with a baby in that we could easily stop back at any time if needed.

The market was crowded, as to be expected, so we left the stroller and put Cora in a carrier.  Luckily she still pretty small – around 4.5kg (11 lbs) – so still very portable.  We strapped her in and immediately began our favorite Christmas market activity – progressive eating.

Colmar is in the Alsace region, which has flipped ownership between France and Germany, and has very much taken on its own identity.  There is plenty of French and German influences, but Alsatian is unique as a whole.  We ate our way through the town starting with tarte flambée and continuing with rösti, bäckeoffe, nougat, and choucroûte.  Calories don’t count at Christmas, right?

This was also Cora’s first trip away from home.  Luckily she did really well – sleeping in a new place didn’t seem to phase her.  She also was happy in her carrier, first straining her neck to look at all the activity around her, and then promptly falling to sleep.  Our goal to turn this girl into a little adventurer has begun!

 

Cloth Diapers – 2 Months In

When I was pregnant with Thalia, I did what 99% of pregnant moms do – I went on Pinterest.  I read endless articles on what I needed to buy, what I needed to do, how to prepare, etc.  Articles about cloth diapers caught my eye.  Did you know that babies use about 3000 diapers a year?  That. Is. Crazy.  Since I knew at the time that we’d be moving to Switzerland and I would not be working, thus have extra time, I decided to dig in.

IMG_0467

After a lot of research, I built my stash before we left the US and also received diaper gifts from friends and family.  It is an investment, but will definitely save big bucks in the long run.  Especially in Switzerland.

fullsizeoutput_1f1c

Now that we are a couple months in and I can confidently say that I LOVE THEM!  And Cora seems happy in them too.  They fit well, she is less likely to get diaper rash, and I’ve heard it will be easier to potty train when we get to that point.  Even at night we haven’t had any problems – and this little one is sleeping up to 8 hours already!  Since she’s still so little and exclusively breastfed, we haven’t had to add extra liners or extra absorbency yet, but we are ready when we do need to.  We also use cloth wipes with plain water, which works just as well and is probably healthier for her little bum.

For those naysayers who think they are gross, let just me tell you this.  Cloth or disposable, you are still going to be  changing dirty diapers. A lot of them.  You are still going to be storing said dirty diapers in a bag or bin until it is time to take them out.  The biggest difference that I see is that instead of taking a heavy load of garbage out every 2-3 days, I do a heavy duty load of laundry every 2-3 days.  And we do use disposables when we go out for more than a couple of hours.

For anyone considering cloth diapering, I’d say do your research and don’t be scared.  As with just about everything, diapers have advanced since the days of my own cloth diapers. Gone are the days of the giant safety pins.  And new fabrics and detergents make them work better than ever.

And for those of you not interested in diapers, hopefully you enjoyed Cora’s 2-month pictures!  I know I took them and she’s my child, so I am 100% biased, but I think they turned out really cute.  Lashes for days…