The Best Days of Their Lives

The everyday stories of family life, told with love and joy

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 3)

Puddle time

It has been raining a lot recently. Every day is grey and wet. The main beneficiary of this situation is Mtoto. He probably thinks puddles were invented for him. Big ones, small ones, deep ones, shallow ones, he’s in them all.



The other day he was out in the rain with a pal who had less appropriate puddle-jumping footwear – Mtoto wears his fleece-lined winter boots. Mtoto’s friend kept finding puddles and shouted to Mtoto that he should jump in them. Mtoto duly obliged. Cue glee all round.

I’m all for encouraging Mtoto’s love of puddles. It means that he’s excited to go out in the rain – whereas lots of children get conditioned to dislike the rain. Just think about all the negative connotations us adults give to rain, “bad weather”, ” mucky rain”, “a terrible day” and so on. It’s hardly a surprise that our kids don’t like wet weather!


Tall tall Duplo tower

Guess what we made today? Yes, you have probably already guessed from the headline – a Duplo tower.

In the past, this would have been a normal day at “the office”, but since we moved onto regular Lego when Mtoto turned three the Duplo has hardly had a look in.

After two days of full-time stay-at-home fathering, plus every spare hour spent on voluntary work, I needed a slow start to the day. We spent a good chunk of time reading and laughing at Mr Men and Little Miss stories this morning, then after breakfast we got down to business.

Duplo bricks are great fun for toddlers, but compared to Lego they feel quite basic, clunky and uninspiring. But that was what we needed today – some mindless ground.


Of course, things don’t always turn out like that. First we both built towers as tall as Mtoto. It was satisfying but not challenging. And the need for mindless activities evaporated into a new challenge – a tower as tall as me.


Once that was done, we realised that the sky, or rather the ceiling, was the limit. After one false start we did it, with a tower just short of the ceiling. Considering that I’m working largely one-handed, it felt satisfying to complete the challenge.


The tower was approximately 130 storeys high and rather bent up top. And that was the basis for some interesting conversations about buildings, gravity and balance – after all, every day is a school day.


Finally we went online to learn how tall Duplo towers get. While the Lego records are frequently challenged and well-documented (over 35 metres tall) you have to dig around a bit for Duplo. On the record setters website some guy has a tower around 2.6 metres tall, which is similar to our tower. But that’s only the half of it. On Ben Akrin’s  blog, Ben shows a tower he and his kid made that was over 5 metres tall and he includes a great video of a tower being knocked over – Mtoto loved watching it!


We spent the rest of the morning playing train tracks, Duplo, animals and Winnie the Pooh stories. And this afternoon we are going on an adventure.

Oh and our tower came down, gleefully pushed over by Mtoto.

Cloud in a jar

Today Mtoto and I became home scientists and we made our own clouds. Really we did loads of things but this was our special experiment.

I found the instructions for this in a book, but there are loads of examples online, it turns out.

We used:
An empty gherkin jar
Hot water
Ice cubes
Food colouring

We got the hairspray especially (around 4 CHF in the Coop) but everything else was in stock already. We usually buy our food colouring from our local Migros.


I boiled the water in the kettle and got the ice cube rack out of the freezer. I poured lots of water into the jar and added way too much colouring. Really you only need the water to be 2-3 cm deep and it doesn’t have to be as hot as boiled. You also only need a few drops of food colouring.

I sloshed the water around in the jar, then put its lid on upsidedown. Once I had shown mtoto how to get the ice out of the tray he loved taking responsibility for that job and he carefully placed each cube on the upturned lid.


Then I removed the lid and I sprayed hairspray into the jar and put the lid back on.

Mtoto was amazed by the clouds and loved watching them swirling around in the jar. Some escaped and we were both excited to see the clouds rise. Mtoto was soon in charge of spraying the hairspray into the jar, though I had to help him by holding the can.


We talked about safety issues such as not spilling the water and not spraying hairspray near anyone’s faces.

It was also a great opportunity to talk about how clouds form and Mtoto does ask a lot of questions, so it was a satisfying experiment. So satisfying that we repeated it to show L when we had the play dough out after dinner tonight.

In case you’re wondering, adding hot water to the jar crests warm moist air, which rises and is cooled by the ice above the lid. Then it needs a surface to condense onto to become cloud droplets and the hairspray provides this. As the warm air rises and the cool air sinks, it makes a swirling effect.

It wasn’t clear what the colouring does – perhaps it helps make a colourful contrast between the water and the cloud.

I am the crazy man skipping down the street

We were skipping along the road. We didn’t have skipping ropes so Mtoto said we had to wave our arms about in the air, as if we had skipping ropes. So this is what we did.

Of course, I have one arm in a splint at the moment, so I must have been quite a sight as I leapt about, waving one arm in the air. Especially to the man who came out of an apartment block and almost collided with me.

Momentarily, I stopped jumping and waving my arms around. But then I realised that I didn’t care what this man thought of me but I do care about having fun with Mtoto and feeding his imagination. I gave the man a smile and then I carried on with my crazy dance down the street.

In Geneva we never get tired of the mountains

Today we had lunch with some friends who live on the 9th floor of an apartment block in Grand Saconnex. I spent a lot of time looking out of the window to the snowcapped Jura mountains. Wow!


There’s something that you should know about living in Geneva – in 17 months I haven’t met anyone who has become tired of looking at the mountains. Sure, people miss where they came from and lots of people move on, but those majestic mountains stay.



Mategnin is one of those places that you would probably would never know was there, unless you looked for it. Around 10 minutes walk from the end of the 14 tram route at Meyrin Graviere, Mategnin is a Pro Natura managed nature reserve.

We have been there several times, me and the boy. We have seen Great White Egrets, Grey Herons, Teal, Mallards, Nuthatches, Great Tits, Blue Tits, mice and more.

Despite the delightfully long boardwalk, the semi-hide and the information signs, Mategnin isn’t ultimately a destination in itself, but somewhere we go when we are going somewhere else, like Meyrin, CERN or Prévussin.

So it was today, when we were off to see friends for lunch over the border at Prevussin. We stopped off in Mategnin and saw Jays, Mallards, a Grey Heron, a Wren, Robins, Chaffinches and a Nuthatch.
Once we were out the other side of the boardwalk we enjoyed the “no unicorns” sign, which must mean that unicorns are allowed everywhere else, right?

We also saw a car from Andorra and an old Prefect car in Meyrin, adding to the oddities of the day.

77 days until the 2015 London Marathon

With only 11 weeks left until the 2015 London Marathon, I took off yesterday on my first long training run. I was supposed to run 10 miles. If I was sensible about it, I would have run exactly 5 miles and then run the same way home again. But it didn’t work like that in my mind. Instead I started thinking about where I would like to go (Sionnet Marshes) and I set off. But I didn’t go straight there, oh no. Instead, I decided to run through the village of Cologny and up a steep hill, Chemin des Ruelles, which I usually enjoy walking down. There are some interesting flat-roofed houses off this street, including one with some intriguing art in the garden. Cologny and other surrounding villages have been dubbed Geneva’s Beverly Hills and in recent years wealthy Russians, Kazakhs and Uzbeks have been moving in.

From Cologny to Vandoeuvres, another village with lots of private-gated homes, across the fields to Choulex and finally over to Sionnet Marshes. Along the way I saw woodpeckers, Blackbirds, tits, Robins, sparrows and some wonderful treecerepers. I didn’t go right through Sionnet, as I was getting cold and I was over 5 miles out, but I decided to run homeward along the Seymaz river. We’ve often seen Kingfishers along here, but in the gloom I mostly saw Moorhens and Mallards. And then, for one glorious moment, I came across a treecreeper, at about my waist height, which didn’t move from the tree by the path until I was almost upon it. I could have reached out and touched it. And then it flew. Time went from slow motion to normal speed again. I followed the Seymaz all the way to Chene and by then was getting a bit too cold.

Finally, one hour and fifty-one minutes and thirty-eight seconds after setting off, I was 11.45 miles down the road, but best of all I was home. Some chocolate and a quick bath later, I was off out again to the pub to see some friends and catch the end of the France – Scotland rugby game.

My pace in the run was an average of 9:45 minutes per mile. Still a bit faster than my intended race day pace. I’ll be using my next few runs to try and slow down some more and take it really easy. But the main message I took from the run was that my knees are okay and the ice skating injury wasn’t so bad. Although I’ve not been running as much as I should, by not running when my legs were sore, I’ve been looking after them. Hopefully the break will stand me in good stead in the rest of my training programme.

The great Geneva fire engines

If you have children who love fire engines, then Geneva has a treat in store for you!

Old fire engine #1

Old fire engine #1

Not only is there a fire engine museum in Geneva, there’s also a fabulous fire engine climbing frame in the Ecole de Mail, around the back of the large fire station. We visited both today, as well as having a look through the gates of the working fire station. There’s so much to see!

The unassuming museum

The unassuming museum

The fire engine museum is in an unassuming building at 1 bis, Rue du Stand. It’s fairly central, less than 10 minutes walk along the Rhone river from Bel Air (or for us, a Janathon walk of half an hour from home) and there are plenty of bus and tram stops closer by. Set over 3 floors, it hosts a couple of large engines and a smaller 4×4 at the front, as well as a handful of smaller vehicles at the back. Upstairs are the horse-drawn fire engine carriages, buckets, uniforms, extinguishers and that sort of thing.

Old fire engine #2

Old fire engine #2

Mtoto had been looking forward to going to the fire engine museum as soon as he heard about it. Although we were both feeling ill and I was planning to have a day in, we went anyway, such was his enthusiasm. Sadly, it all dissipated just a few minutes after we got there. The concept was good and I’m sure the delivery will work for kids who are older than Mtoto.

The slightly intimidating staircase

The slightly intimidating staircase

The drawbacks are simply:

1. You can’t go in the fire engines.

2. There’s no obvious logic to what is placed where.

3. There’s no reception or obvious starting point.

4. There’s no trail, information pack or anything like that.

5. I don’t know who the staff are as no one introduced themselves.

6. To get from the ground floor to the first floor you have to go up a wooden staircase of about 20 steps. While it feels solid, it is hard work with a toddler.

7. There’s no shop or stall selling fire engine toys.

8. The entrance is through a curtain of blankets. Pushing the buggy through first, I almost smashed Mtoto into the bumper of the first fire engine that is parked dangerously close to the entrance and there’s no warning about it.

There's only a few inches from the blanket to the truck, so watch out when you come in!

There’s only a few inches from the blanket to the truck, so watch out when you come in!

If I was on my own, I would have loved this museum. There are enough artifacts with information signs that I could have ambled around the museum for an hour or more. I loved details like the fire hydrants holding up the rope around the vehicles. What is a drawback when I’m with a child is a quirk when I’m on my own.

Fire truck with snow plow!

Fire truck with snow plow!

After the museum, Mtoto was desperate to get to the fire engine playground and we couldn’t get there fast enough. We did stop off though to look through the gate into the modern fire station at Rue du Vieux-Billard where we saw a fire vehicle with a snow plow on.

Fire engine playground

Fire engine playground

The fire engine playground is in the Ecole de Mail off Rue Gourgas and is opposite a larger playground in Parc Gourgas. It is about 10 minutes walk from the museum. The fire engine was installed in 1999 to celebrate 100 years of the fire service in Geneva. It’s a pretty good space. Mtoto needed a bit of help to get into the cab and to get around a couple of ladders, but otherwise he was fairly capable and enjoyed himself a lot. We stayed for around half an hour, which was pretty good going, considering that there is only one attraction in the playground. We didn’t visit Parc Gourgas this time, so we’ll have to tell you about it another time. Next week, maybe.

The fire engine from the rear

The fire engine from the rear

The fire engine museum is only open on Wednesdays and Sundays 10h-12h and 13h30-15h30, closed at lunchtime and closed in July and August, as well as on public holidays. The fire engine playground is in a school so the best time to visit is on Wednesdays, the weekend, or in school holidays and is probably worth combining the visit.

If you want to learn more about Geneva’s firefighters today, check out their municipal webpage, which includes links to photos of their recent work.

Ecole de Mail playground

Ecole de Mail playground


Blame the patriarchy

It turns out that the trouble Mtoto and I have making friends and meeting up with women, who are the vast majority of people looking after children in this city, is all down to other men.

A friend got in touch. She and her husband read my “Man Friends” post the other week. I paraphrase. He said: “Typical of women isn’t it?” She said: “Hang on, don’t blame the women.”

She and I bumped into each other today and while we walked (that’s my Janathon exercise for today, folks) our kids to sleep we talked. And she told me that this business of women not wanting to meet up with stay-at-home Dads might be because of the husbands (read partners etc). It’s just a theory she said. But what are the wives going to be telling the husbands about their day? That they were meeting up with some chap? The husbands are going to be getting jealous about who exactly these chaps are that their wives are hanging out with. So it isn’t worth the hassle for these women. Much easier to simply hang out with other women.

I conceded a point. Both she and another friend who I had been meeting with today know me and my whole family. They’ve met L, they’ve met me. They’ve met Mtoto. They’ve seen me with their wives and their kids and they’ve seen me with L and Mtoto. I’ve been for beers and football with one of the husbands. Maybe when other men don’t perceive me as a threat to their relationships, it can all work out. Other women who I’ve hung out with for an hour or two, I met at a French class. We’re fellow students, it’s okay.

Assuming that my friend is right, I took it on in a different way. The problem isn’t me, it’s what I represent and how that might make people question themselves and how they’re living.

I’m a guy and who has chosen to spend every waking hour with my kid. After all, I encouraged L to apply for the job that she got, knowing that it would force all kinds of change upon our family. I’m having lots of fun. You might see it as a career break. I see this as an opportunity to explore all kinds of different paths that I might take in life. Are other Dads spending enough time with their kids? Have they got the right balance of time with their families? Is it okay to admit that they would rather not spend time with their kids?

I met a guy recently who works in commodities. He asked me what I did. He told me that although he doesn’t have any kids, my job is his second favourite choice of everything, coming only after being retired. He doesn’t have any kids yet, so he hasn’t had to make the hard choices about pursuing that dream. But other men have and hearing about a stay-at-home Dad can make other men uncomfortable about the choices they’ve made.

And all of that is why lots of women are uncomfortable around a stay-at-home Dad.

Snow running

It started snowing around 1pm. Beautiful swirling flakes falling from the sky. By 6:40pm when I needed to leave for my evening run, it was still snowing. Beautiful, if a little slippy in places. When the Geneva Runners left the Bains de Paquis around half an hour later, there were only 9 of us. It was worse last week, they said, when the wind was biting. Apart from the hum of the slow traffic and the bright red of brake lights, it was peaceful running in the snow. I even stopped to take some photos, though none came out well.

I was the last of the group, and fell further behind as I gingerly made my way up Imperatrice hill, only to find that two runners had kindly waited for me. We ran some of the way from then on together. My favourite part of the whole run came when I took a path alongside a field and ran in crisp and otherwise untouched snow, while my companions ran above me along the road. It could have gone on forever, but it was only 200 yards or so.

Later, we had burgers in the Clubhouse. I had the California, my concession to healthy eating because it has some avocado in it, while piling my plate up with ketchup and brown sauce. The contradictions lay next to each other on my plate and merged in my belly. Helped down by a pint of beer. In 90 days time, I will hopefully be relaxing having finished my first marathon earlier in the day. Maybe I’ll see if I can have the California again. But with a bigger plate of chips.

Tonight, was a good marathon training night.

Janathon: back on the garmin/strava stats tonight. 6.11 miles in 1:02:09 at 10:11 a mile.

2015 birds: today I saw a Sparrowhawk for the first time in 2015, on a cycle route round the edge of the ZIMEYSA industrial estate up at Meyrin. We also saw Blue Tits, Great Tits, Robins, Chaffinches, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, a Green Woodpecker, Carrion Crows, Blackbirds, a Song Thrush and Greenfinches. As usual on the lake we saw Coots, Mallards, Pochards, Tufted Ducks, Little Grebes, Mute Swans, Black-headed Gulls and Great Crested Grebes.

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