lundi, avril 30, 2007

Surprise Garden Party for His 41st

Strawberry Cake courtesy of the Nährings

He turned 41 last week, but we couldn't celebrate since he was in Italy. I was tempted to just let things be, since nobody ever bothered to do anything for mine anyway. But I've always done something for his Birthday and so last minute it was, but it got done anyway.

We were supposed to go to Cristina's place in Karlsruhe, but I proposed that they come to ours instead. Then I emailed the Sommerhalters like 3 days before and the Nährings 2 days before and got them to join us. Hubby of course was in the dark, he thought that only the Dugands were coming for a simple lunch.

He was swimming in the indoor pool with the kids when the first guests arrived. As the Dugands are usually late for their appointments, he thought that he could afford to go ahead and take a dip. And the good thing was that of course he didn't bother to come out of the water when he heard the bell ring.

It was Stéphanie (the Dugands' eldest who came by on her own and she was starting to panic when she saw that the rest of her family had not arrived yet), followed closely by the Nährings. Then the Sommerhalters arrived and Hubby must then start to question about things as too many times the doorbell had rung. He must have also heard the noise made by the newly-arrived children (we had 11 kids in total yesterday), Mr Nähring's piano-playing...Voilà, that's why we called it a Surprise Birthday Party.

As you know, I do not have a BBQ pit. But I got the Sommerhalters to bring theirs plus the meat to be grilled. This Made in America charcoal pit shaped like an apple. The Dugands came with Cristina's famous Empanadas and Marinated Chicken (for BBQ). The Nährings brought the Birthday Cake.

Myself, it worked to my advantage that Hubby had his Team Building and could only fly home on Saturday night. I had some time to prepare a few dishes beforehand, e.g. Taboulé, a Chocolate-Coffee-Banana Cake, Thai Green Curry Chicken...and put them away in the second fridge before he could notice them. Then, it also worked out that he should decide to sleep in on Sunday morning, and I could get the Tomato Salad, Fruit Salad, Plain Rice, Strawberry-flavoured Whipped Cream done. He only saw me prepare the Foie Gras (Duck Liver) Toasts, the Prawn and Leek Risotto and the Spaghetti Aglio e Olio. Whew!

Wasabi Peas courtesy of One Wheel

Cristina's Mexican and Colombian Empanadas


Tomato Salad (Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar from Modena)

Udo's BBQ Treat

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio (a huge success)

Prawn and Leek Risotto

Thai Green Chicken Curry (another success with the guests)

Fruit Salad (with Mint Leaves and Grand Marnier)

We had to keep the bulk of the kids away from the Playroom though, for if the older ones started to play the Playstation, the younger ones would turn up and smash the Plasma TV like they nearly did the last time. We have a rather big garden with a swing and a slide and the weather was really good, so you wonder why those kids wanted to stay indoors, don't you?

Prezzies for the Bday Boy

Towards the end of the day, Maria asked me to take out some of my recent purchases so that they could all admire them. That wasn't a good idea as I've been trying not to catch too much of Hubby's attention on them. But to say no would be to arouse too much suspicion so I took out a few items...

Nähring Mother and Son

As expected, Hubby started to sharpen up after the 3rd or 4th item. He slumbered through the Turquoise Betty Barclays leather sandals, the Marilyn Monroe-style FREE beige dress, he was happy that I was showing off the Tahitan Pearls he got me...but he perked up when I brought out the Escada Sunglasses and the Hugo Boss Leather Dress.

"Since when do you put on Sunglasses like those?"

"What's the point of paying so much for a pair of Sunglasses that you'll never wear?"

"I've never seen you in anything that you've bought in the past 3 years..."

"When you finally take them out it's usually to give them away!"

Ahem. Maybe it's time to mention that unlike my dear sister who loves putting on whatever she has just purchased, I have a weird tendancy to only put on something that I've kept inside my wardrobe for at least a few months. I dislike wearing something newly acquired. This applies to clothes, shoes, jewellery, pots and pans and almost everything else. C'est comme ça.

I told him that soon he'll be seeing me in some of my purchases from last year as they've stayed long enough in my wardrobe. I forgot to tell him that he shouldn't be complaining, since it is this weird tendancy of mine that made it possible for me to accept his need to buy hundreds of bottles of wine and keep them for years in his cellar...

More Playgrounds in Stuttgart

Where we live there are at least 4 playgrounds round the corner and every one of them is different and interesting in their own way. Last week I've made an effort and brought the kids to 3 different ones and I said effort as that's not really my kind of thing, hanging around playgrounds. It would have been better if I could strip and suntan, or if I had more literature with me, but I ran out of it and it was a pain staring in the empty air in front of me for 4 long hours.

The last playground we went to was a little further from our house though. It was in Stuttgart Mitte just before Charlottenplatz and it was really nice. Like an oasis in the middle of a noisy city, it is surrounded by pedestrian streets and low-rise housing. The highlight was this water thingy they had that occupied the kids literally for hours. And there's a bistrot on one side of the playground and a café on the other, so if there's nothing else to do one can at least eat and drink.

Discovered it when Tiff arranged to have breakfast with Maria and myself in the café there last Thursday. Sigh, I'll miss breakfast with my girlfriends when I leave Stuttgart.

And if you come by car, try to park in the street where there is the Edeka supermarket and Kamps Bäckerei (next to the U-Bahn stop "Olgaeck"). It's 50 cents for the hour and free after 2pm on Saturdays.

I marvel quite often nowadays over the fact that in spite of the low birthrates, they have such excellent playgrounds almost everywhere here in Stuttgart. Trying to encourage the Germans to have more babies this way?

mardi, avril 24, 2007

Visit to the Paediatrician

For a few months now I've had to bring Baby Girl to the Paediatrician for a urine test. They have found a little blood in her urine and kept testing her now and then - as if the blood will miraculously disappear over the weeks.

She seems to be in good health so I am just waiting this out too. But I guess that I'll have to put my foot down if the next test (in a fortnight) should prove to be positive again. Ask to see the Doctor, get him to do something etc.

I wonder sometimes at the lack of utility in my life. But then, someone has to fetch the kids around, feed them, check their homework and bring them to the Doctor. Smart women hire nannies and Au Pairs to do the job, while they move the Earth and fulfill themselves. But I just couldn't bear the thought of being away from my kids, and having to deal with another unrelated person on a daily basis. It is horrible the feeling of guilt, it is stronger than my frustrations of a useless housewife.

Anyway, as I was sitting in the waiting room reading my copy of The Economist (Hubby has subscriptions to Le Monde and said magazine now and would try to bring them back to me every week), Emine walked in with her kids. My Albanian classmate from last year's German class. We blah blahed in our broken German (I tried to laugh at the appropriate moments hoping that she wouldn't notice that I couldn't catch half of what she was saying) for like 10 minutes and then I noticed an Asian man walking into the room with his 2 kids - and they were speaking in Cantonese.

Hey, that I could more than understand! I asked the guy where he came from (China) and we started to exchange the usual questions (e.g. how long have you been here etc). Found out that there's a Chinese restaurant above REAL near the airport that may be quite edible. And his wife works for BETA, a new big Asiensupermarkt in Hedelfingen. You see, it's always when you are going to leave a place that it starts looking good. That has always been the story of my life.

Then another woman walked in and she had a Carnet de Santé in her hands. So she's French. I could have struck up a conversation with her too, but then, what the heck, I'm gonna leave Stuttgart soon. What's the point of making more friends? And having to leave them behind - again.

lundi, avril 23, 2007

Sunday Lunch

Thought they said that it would be cold over the weekend, with decreasing temperatures in the week seeming to confirm that - but well, we had over 20ºC finally and it was really wonderful.

I finally got Hubby to take out the Garden furniture so that we could eat out in the courtyard under our Magnolia tree (minus the flowers - all dropped already, imagine the amount of sweeping we had to do). The children like it too as they could cycle, ride on their scooters etc in between bites (OK, not good for table manners and digestion).

No, we didn't do any BBQ as we do not possess a pit. Will definitely get one when we move to Italy, but for now, we have nada. Dutchess' advice about charcoal cooking being the best still rings in the ears, but the Hubby would have nothing of it. If you want a BBQ chez moi in the future, it'll have to cook on a Gas BBQ. Monsieur has better things to do than to build a charcoal fire. Some men love to DIY, but not mine, I guess. I didn't marry the Postman, and I didn't marry Bob the Builder either.

So took out my heavy iron grill and put it on the electric stove. Made a Thai Pineapple Rice, Tomato Salad, heated up a can of Heinz Baked Beans, cooked some Bacon and Eggs Sunny-Side Up and grilled a dozen of Merguez Sausages, a succulent Entrecôte steak...

Then Hubby had to mow the garden. It was a Sunday and we were not supposed to do that, of course. But we had been on holiday, he had procrastinated for a few weekends and since he no longer lives in Stuttgart during the week, we did not see any other option. The grass reached the knees. Wild flowers were blooming.

The doorbell rang in the middle of the mowing. Shucks, must be some kaypo neighbour coming to read us our rights (the Germans in general like to poke their noses into their neighbours' business). I started to tell Eldest Son not to get the door, but it was too late.

Well, just as well that he did. It turned out to be his best friend Marcel, the little brother and the mother. Though they didn't call before to say that they would be coming (they live in Karlsruhe now - an hour away). And I was actually sun-tanning topless in the courtyard.

We were wondering earlier if we shouldn't have invited friends over for tea on such a nice day, so I guess la question ne se posait plus. Marcel is now studying in the European School of Karlsruhe, a school built for kids of diplomats of the European Union, and costing 12000 Euros a year. But his family doesn't have to pay a cent for any of their 3 kids, they were lucky to win their plea for a scholarship as the father (HP guy) had to work in Germany, the kids couldn't speak German and couldn't go anywhere else. Cristina, the mother, is a born businesswoman and is supplying Karlsruhe and Stuttgart with her home-made Empanadas. Kind of like our curry puffs (but without the curry and usually with meat).

We blah blahed for an hour or 2 and then drove to the Clara Zetkins Haus together.

Wonderful place this little house in the forest in Sillenbuch, Stuttgart. It has a playground with slides, swings, see-saw, sand pit etc and kids just love it there. There is a small restaurant in the house serving drinks and simple German food and also small rooms that you can rent for conferences, tea parties, music lessons etc. I always get a plate of Fries with Sauce (from the roast meats they serve) to grow fatter on when I'm there.

Then I made us Shuijiao Soup and we spent the evening in front of the TV. The French Presidential Elections, my dear friends. We are on opposite camps, Hubby and I. He's for Segolène Royal and the Socialists. I'm for Nicolas Sarkozy on the Right. Not that I like the guy, but I just am not a Socialist. Besides, if we get Ségo we also get Hollande (her partner and Secretary of the Parti Socialist). I can't stand the guy. Though if she announces that if she gets elected President Dominique Strauss-Kahn would be made Prime Minister, I may change my mind and switch camps.

Ironically, the guy with sympathies for the Left works in a Capitalist company seeking to make huge profits and he spends half his time firing people for that. Me, I am more for the Right, but those who know me know that I've spent my teenage and early adult years doing voluntary work for the Elderly. I was also a CWC member of the Democratic Socialist Club back at University. So it doesn't really mean anything, Right or Left, it's the programme that really matters, nowadays the lines are often blurred.

Anyway this is like watching Star Academy since nobody in this house voted yesterday. Come to think of it, I have never voted in my life - and not for lack of want. Just never got to.

samedi, avril 21, 2007

My First Pair of BIG Sunglasses

As I am very very myopic and astigmatic, I wear only prescribed sunglasses and they tend, for some reason, to be like the normal glasses I wear every day of my life. I do not wear contact lenses (too lazy and really I've no time) and I have yet to undergo Lasik surgery (no one to look after my kids), so I have never owned any of those movie star BIG sunglasses that I see almost everybody wear when the weather starts getting good.

I must be getting a little frustrated about that since I couldn't tear myself from the sunglasses on display a few days back when I was browsing in the Escada boutique. I picked up a couple (goodness, they cost as much as if not more than a pair of leather shoes) of them and started to try them on. Only problem was that I couldn't see nothing without my glasses. I stuck my face onto the mirror, but still I couldn't figure out much of the sunglasses I was trying on...

I should have had better sense, but I gave in to the temptation and just grabbed a pair and paid up. I have always laughed when I saw people putting on big sunglasses with big logos on the sides, so I got the one pair with the Escada logo printed tiny but all over.

I still do not know if it suits me at all. I haven't succeeded in seeing myself in it yet.

PS : This is the kind of stuff that I can publish as Hubby doesn't ever visit my Blog. He has no time, you see. I would worry more about my father, as he's going to say, "Lotus, why did you buy that rubbish you can't even wear when you should be giving me more pocket money to buy 4D with?"

Happy Wedding Anniversary

You would think that it's a Saturday and it's our Wedding Anniversary (the one at the Townhall - the ROM, for Singaporeans) and we would be making an event out of it. But alas the first thing he said when he finally got out of bed this morning was,
"I need to call F. James. We have to discuss the coming Team Building..."

Then we sent Eldest Son to his football match, went to town for lunch and when I reminded him that it was our wedding anniversary, he made a detour to Eppli (the Auction House that sells both old and new stuff) and got me a little something. It would have been better if he had thought of it himself etc, but well, what to do? I didn't marry the Postman, as he liked to tell me.

He got me a simple pair of Cultured Round Tahiti Pearl Dangling Earrings with a tiny Diamond each. Set in 18K White Gold.

New (so no need to add the usual 20% to the price tag). Tahiti pearls tend to be big (average = 11mm) and anything from grey to black, so I'm quite pleased to find a pair that are small (7 mm?) and of a grey colour with nice lustre that is quite pleasant to the eye. The pearls are round and smooth. Pity that Eppli doesn't provide detailed gradings (e.g. colour, shape, size, lustre etc - for some basic education, this site in French is pretty good : Must say that I've never understood why they have to be so expensive though. A pair of grey Chinese cultured pearls would cost at least 6-10 times less.

Anyway, now I'll have to look for a matching ring and pendant.

To tell the truth, I can live without all that stuff. I almost never put them on anyway. But since Hubby is working so hard and I'm stuck at home looking after the kids (and doing nothing important), I look upon the jewellery as a symbolic materialistic compensation for the situation. Better I spend the money than someone else, n'est-ce pas?

I didn't get him anything, as I do that almost every other day and he does have almost everything he would need. I wouldn't even need to offer him rather popular contemporary gifts like adrenaline-filled hours in a Ferrari since he would be able to procure himself that. Though I could eventually sign him up for a boat navigating course if we have time to spare in Brittany. Or Ski Paragliding the next time we ski. We could also get him a leather jacket (through the Italian luxury leather connection) and a pair of branded sunglasses (he'll have to try them on and we would need time for that) in the next few months. I guess that since I do not work nor do I get any housekeeping money, buying him an expensive present using his own money is kind of ridiculous.

When we got home, he went on Skype and continued talking with Mr. James. Till past 9pm. I got so fed up (having to eat dinner late again, will end up farting the whole night - pardon the explicitness) I left my dinner preparations (for Sweet and Sour Codfish) and went to pick out toys from the children's stockpile to give away. Now that we're moving soon I am taking the opportunity to give away clothes, shoes, toys etc etc.

He ended up having to finish preparing dinner where I left off when he finished his call. Voilà that's our wedding anniversary for you. So damn laofu laoqi*.
*"Old couple" in Mandarin.
PS : The picture is not fabulous, but one can see the jewellery. This inspired me to replace the picture of the ruby ring I got a few months back (check said post in November 2006 if interested).

mardi, avril 17, 2007

Lunch at Locherboden, Austria

On our way back to Stuttgart from Maranello, we had to drive through Austria. At one point, at just past 6pm, Baby Girl wanted to go to the toilet. So we made a toilet stop at this restaurant along the way. I had to clean up Baby Boy too as that idiot had actually peed in his car seat.

We ended up having dinner at the restaurant as the view was really wonderful and there was a little playground (slide, swing...) for the kids.

View from our Table

As I sat looking around me, I marveled at the way things were so often clean, neat and organised in the German-speaking countries. You feel safe for yourself and especially for your kids. They have a low birthrate, but it doesn't stop them for making room for children (baby chairs, playground, kids' menus...) almost everywhere. You only face difficulty when you try to rent a house or book a hotel room and they tell you "No dogs and children allowed". And that's why they have excellent Family Hotels because people with family need to stay in structures adapted to receiving them properly. Not stupid, those Germans. Very square.

Of course do not expect miracles with the food. Though we were pleasantly surprised with the Cream of Garlic Soup I ordered (I love garlic), it was excellent. Very creamy, very garlicky, simply delicious. The Steak with Pepper Sauce that Hubby ordered was so-so, as was my Spareribs. But the portions were huge and the price reasonable and the view and setting really made it worth the stop. The children had the famous Austrian Schnitzel (breaded pork escalope) with Fries. I don't think that they cared what they were eating, they just wanted to go and play.

Can't remember the name of the restaurant though. As usual, I've left the bill on the table after I paid up. But it's in Locherboden after you take the exit Nº 113 (Mötz-Reutte-Fernpass) at the highway on your way to Germany from Italy.


Hubby was keen to bring me to this restaurant in Modena where he dined in recently with an Italian colleague. One good thing about being married is sharing almost everything with your chosen half. Which probably explained why he has put on as much weight as I had over the past few years (though how he managed that without getting pregnant remains quite a mystery).

The restaurant Zelmira is situated in a small and quiet street in Modena, with a little open space and a fountain just in front of it. It was 25ºC that afternoon and we were thus able to lunch outside. The tables were nicely dressed (quite chic) with vertical vases (quite an idea) just perfect for soft-stemmed cut flowers.

The menu was quite limited, but Hubby assured me that the quality of whatever they had was excellent and quite worth a try. After we had ordered, a few amuse-bouches were offered to us to help whet our appetite as we waited. We shared two starters (one of which was White Truffle-filled Black Squid Ink Ravioles) and each ordered the same Angus Beef with Balsamic Vinegar (we were in Modena after all) main course. The children shared a house specialty starter - Fried Nest of Small Pasta with Beef Ragu Sauce - and that was followed by an Angus Beef Kebab. Accompanied by the usual plate of oven-roasted potatoes. The meat was tender and the sauce delicious. I seriously must start working on my balsamic vinegar sauce.

This time we kept some stomach room for dessert. Hubby had a Honey Soufflé with Whipped Cream and Caramel while I had Puff Pastry filled with Crème Patissière and served with Berries. Eldest Son had Vanilla Ice Cream drowned in Coffee and was really excited about being allowed to have coffee so directly.

Restaurants in Modena are in general quite expensive though. Good to bear in mind that you can eat just as well for less in the little towns all over the region, though you may not get to enjoy the rustic city charm of Modena as you consume your meal.

P.tta San Giacomo 17
Tel : 00 39 59 222351

Osteria Di Via Selmi

Between Maranello and Bologna, there is this town named Vignola with a little medieval castle and famous chocolate-coffee cake Torta Barozzi ( It was one of the possible locations for our future house (when we were considering the school in Bologna) so we decided to visit it to have an idea of what could be awaiting us.

There was an agricultural fair going on that Easter Sunday. Not a big one, but the asparagus, blood oranges, artichokes, strawberries, Parmesan cheese, fresh pasta, mortadella ham, olive oil etc that we bought there were really good, among the best we have ever tried. We also saw, for the first time, Cream of Balsamic Vinegar. The culinary possibilities are quite interesting with this product, I can't wait to try them out after we move to Italy.

We bought some gelati from one of the shops outside the fair and the different flavours were excellent. I look forward to tahpowing styrofoam boxes of the good stuff in the future.

Then we walked around (really small town) a little and decided to look for a place to lunch in. We came across this small restaurant Osteria/Enoteca di Via Selmi and decided to give it a try.

The restaurant is divided into 2 halls with the kitchen in between. The one at the main entrace is a little dark and small. The other one leads to another street and has some sort of a terrace/garden. This one has high ceilings (with wooden beams and orange drapes) and is much brighter. Quite lovely, actually. The waiters are young and friendly.

Hubby and Eldest Son started with a specialty of the region, Tortis in a clear Broth. I had Grilled Prawns. The babies looked at us eat. Then the 3 kids shared an Oven-roasted Rack of Lamb (it was Easter) with Oven-roasted Potatoes, Hubby had Beef with Balsamic Vinegar Sauce and I had Spaghetti with Seafood. All very good, if a bit too salty. And I am not a fan of roasted potatoes. I usually prefer French Fries or Potato Purée. We skipped dessert as Hubby actually was suffering from Gastric Flu (though, ahem, still eating), while the Babies were doing their social rounds in the restaurant (and bothering the other diners, needless to say).

They do 5-course Meat or Fish menus for 27 and 32 Euros respectively and we would certainly go for them the next time we dine in.

Modena and Bologna are the culinary hotspots of Italy so we're in for a good time food-wise. Just imagine Parma Ham, Parmesan Cheese, Balsamic Vinegar, the best Italian wines etc all just next door to wherever we'll be staying. Though I still prefer Lim Chee Guan sausages and my much missed fishballs anytime, man.

Update :
Hubby went back there last week with a colleague and had a Beef Tartare to start followed by a Bisteca alla Fiorentina. He said that the latter was succulent, really excellent.

Osteria di Via Selmi
Via Selmi, 3
Vignola (MO)
Tel : 00 39 335 13 36 227

lundi, avril 16, 2007

Hanging Around Maranello

Many envy the fact that I would soon be living in Italy. Though somehow I never envied myself for that. I have moved enough in the past decade to know that each place has its own charm and merits and should be enjoyed in its turn. And then my week in Maranello confirmed some of my little suspicions and I tell you that for now I am quite happy to be back in Stuttgart (and shopping again in Metzingen).

I have always complained to whoever would listen that Stuttgart is small and boring, the food sucks as does the weather (the feakish last winter was an exception though). Italy has great Art and culture, the food is great (though pasta is not fishball noodles and after a week I got damn sian of it) and the sun is certainly often shining there - but man, is this part of the country disorganised, public transportation almost non-existent and the landscape incoherent (e.g. tile factories, a few cultivated fields, towns here and there along the roads, more tile factories...).

I suspect that being a tourist or a resident changes everything. It is charming to be approached by friendly Italians, get honked at or overtaken by the car behind you, enjoy crumbling buildings that really need a new coat of paint, never get to buy bread because the bakeries are closed between 1 and 4pm, and spend 10 years waiting for a bus (if there is one) - when you are a tourist (wah, so rustic!); when you know that you are going to live there, all of the above can be a little unnerving.

We spent one full day visiting a private school in Bologna and a few houses between Maranello (where Hubby works) and the city. The school charges 1350 Euros per child per month and you get the impression that it would cost even more at the end of the day. When you were introduced to a teacher (mostly American or English), they would tell you what they teach and also mention that they also do private lessons (huh?). The school can tailor-make your child's entire syllabus, and the Principals (a pair of sisters) really want to make him happy. When you have a daydreamer like Eldest Son, you like to hear that. There is hope after all.

And if you want to rub shoulders with rich kids and their rich parents, this is the school to be in. But between you and me, I don't think that it's very healthy or desirable.

More importantly, Bologna is a mess. Circulating in the city would be a nightmare especially in the morning rush. And the school is situated on a hill where parking is almost inexistent. Hubby took a look at the narrow streets and said, "I give your Lancia Phedra one month here." (Incidentally, they have changed the rules again and I'll be able to have my Phedra with the glass roof, leather seats and Xenon headlamps after all - but still no automatic gears, they don't make them any more)

And even if we were to spilt the travelling between us (i.e. live between Maranello and Bologna), it would still take us at least an hour each each way to get to school/work. It wouldn't work out in the long run. We are tired before we even start.

Now, the houses. I really wonder how the Italians manage financially. The houses we visited all cost as much as our house in Stuttgart - minus a few rooms, the kitchen, closet space, the garden, the swimming pool, the terraces, the forest and the calm. They all have like 3 bedrooms (and we are 5), a tiny wall for a future kitchen, a small garden (with full view of the neighbours) and best of all, Italian relatives of some sort. There is always some brother, uncle or nonna (grandmother) living in the house next door. (Shudders)

We may just be cruel and try to transfer Eldest Son to the English school system. At 11, it'll not be easy, poor boy. But if they will take him, the International School of Modena-Montale is just 15 minutes away from Maranello by car. And it's a newly-built school, with Swedish rigour (formerly created for the employees of Tetra Pak). And if they wouldn't teach him some French there, then I (oui, moi) will have to take over teaching him the language (beggars can't be choosers, ok). Plus help him with his English. Then, maybe that's too much after all.

Enough of our hiccups. What's Maranello like?

Actually, except for Ferrari, there is nothing much there. But quite a mess as usual. The town, not Ferrari.

Ferrari is of course beautiful. Hubby's office is in a modern glass building just behind the building (Gallery of the Wind) where they test-drive the new Ferraris. He sees a new Ferrari drive past his window every few minutes. Apparently he's starting to get blasé about them now.

There's also a Ferrari museum (12 Euros per entry and 5 Euros extra for the audiophone). When I arrived at the parking, there wasn't a single place left. I trembled at the thought of the crowd awaiting me and the kids inside. But where were the visitors? The museum is very small and yet it wasn't full. Which leaves one to the conclusion that those cars outside were just squatting the parking (mental note : I can do the same too in the future if I manage to find a place to squat).

Actually I didn't pay. Hubby's PA made a call to the museum and I just had to announce myself at the ticket counter. I don't think I'll pay anyway if I have to. It's like a fifth of the Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart, twice more expensive and not half as interesting. You only pay because you are a super fan (me I'm the Mini-Cooper sort) and want to ooh and aah over the Ferraris (must say they were quite racy and beautiful). Eldest Son of course is a fan and well, at least someone was happy. His favourite exhibit was the Enzo Ferrari (see photo of red car above).

Then there is the Ferrari Store. And again you have to be a fan because the goodies do not come in cheap. 25 Euros for a cap, 50 for a Polo shirt, 690 for a leather bomber jacket. Ferrari staff enjoy 20% discount storewide, but the remaining 80% is still quite a lot, don't you think so? Makes Hugo Boss look almost cheap.

I drove to 2 supermarkets one afternoon. Got pretty sick of eating out and dreamt of cooking seafood (Hubby lives in a service apartment in Ferrari's Maranello Village 4*). I wonder where they buy their fresh fish 'coz I couldn't find any at all. Anyway, I made a Prawn and Pancetta Risotto one evening and a Spaghetti Bolognesa one afternoon - and all these with just 2 pots and a wooden spoon. Italian cooking is really quite simple. I often wonder what joy they find in eating pasta or grilled seafood in the restaurant when they can jolly well make the same thing at home. In Singapore, seafood joints are special because it's too much work trying to make your own chilli or pepper crabs or drown live prawns. And you prefer to eat your noodles outside because you wouldn't be able to cook enough broth at home to make your noodles tasty enough. Our hawker favourites need lots of people eating them in order to be really good. OK, so I digress.

There are however gelaterias everywhere and they are mostly all pretty good. My favourite flavour is Pink Grapefruit. Eldest Son always order Coffee, Nutella and Stracciatella. Baby Girl Strawberry. Baby Boy wants whatever everybody else is holding in his/her hand.

Just beyond the park with the Ferrari Monument however, is this chic residential area with lots of big houses with big gardens and the road leads to green rolling hills and other villages. Ross Brown used to live in this big castle-like house overlooking the park and it's up for rent now, by the way. 5400 Euros per month.

I was unfortunately bored there. All we ever did was wait for Hubby to come home and that guy didn't usually turn up till past 9pm. And he would spend the remaining hours either on the phone or on his computer or reading press releases on the toilet bowl. Work work work. It was horrible eating dinner at 10pm and then going to bed just after. I suffered from serious indigestion after 2 nights. Most Germans earn decent salaries and finish work at 6. How come no matter where we are Hubby always has to do long hours?

I brought the kids to a park in Fiorano Modenese. The grass had not been mowed for a long time. They reached your knees. I also let the babies drive their Enzo Ferrari, but it was too stressful trying to make sure that they did not drive it into a wall. The car is really fragile.

I should have driven to the beach, but I didn't want to risk traffic jams and besides I do not think that I'd survive looking after 3 kids alone at the beach. And I sat around thinking of eating curry. Actually talking about curry, do you know that at the Ferrari canteen(s) they always serve a curry dish? Ever since they started having Indian technicians working with them. I have not tried the curry pork (or was it chicken) they were serving at Maranello Village 4*, it looked kind of weak and I do like my curries strong. The stronger the better.

I just remembered one more thing: if you like to rub shoulders with Ferrari people, lunch or dine in the Self Service Restaurant in Maranello Village 4*. Also, quite a number of the staff dine in this restaurant La Brace in Maranello Town centre (usually late in the evening) as many live away from their families during the week. The restaurant serves pretty good pizzas, pasta, grilled meats and seafood at reasonable prices and Ferrari staff get 10% off their bill.

We return to Maranello for the Spring break. I am honestly not really looking forward to it. Stuttgart now doesn't seem all that bad after all.

Spring Skiing in Flaine (French Alps)

Flaine (1600-2500m) is probably one of the few ski stations in the world "enneigement garanti". It had been designed and built for skiing, a good-sized station with slopes for every level of expertise. Its modern architecture took some getting used to at the beginning, but it grows on you with time. It was no coincidence that on the 31st of March this year, at least 3 French families working for the Fiat Group in Germany set out to spend a week skiing in Flaine. Last winter had been warm. And Flaine was probably one of the few ski stations in Western Europe that had snow even in early Spring.

Our Hotel-Club Les Lindars (Cap Vacances) was waiting for us as we arrived in Flaine at around 8pm. It would be its last year in the ski station, the building from which it operated had recently been sold to UCPA. We collected our magnetic ski passes and our keys (3 double bedrooms for 5, but we would finally sleep in only 2 of them), deposited our luggage in the rooms and headed straight to the restaurant for dinner. The cool thing about being on full-board is that we had our 3 meals always warm and ready for us and as they came in the form of buffets, there was always choice and variety not to mention loads to eat (I've put on 3 kgs, by the way).

This season Eldest Son prepared (and obtained) his 3rd Star (3e Étoile) with the École de Ski Française (ESF). Baby Girl in her 2nd year skiing collected her Ourson and Baby Boy his Piou Piou. Hubby was to perfect his technique in Class 3 and useless me repeated my year in Class 1 and would probably stay in it forever. I had a pretty good teacher this year though. Hélène explained herself well and I've learnt quite a bit from her. Épaules toujours face à la pente!

It was a bit of a rush every morning though as we had to bring the babies to the Jardin de neige (for children learning how to ski in their 1st years) before we joined our own groups for our lessons. But after that we would be free till 5pm, the Mini Club of the Hotel taking charge of the children for lunch, activities etc. After dinner in the evening there would be some activity or programme organised for those who wished not to go to bed early - e.g. cabaret, karaoke, café théâtre etc. We usually let Eldest Son roam free after dinner. There were loads of kids of all ages around and he always managed to find someone to play with. This year he met Florian again, a Belgian boy he got to know the year before in the same hotel!

It was really sunny during our first 2 days in Flaine. Then it started to snow for a day or 2. I am a bad skier and get really affected by my surroundings. If I couldn't see ahead of me, if it's snowing and foggy, I wouldn't know how to ski. I would just be overcome by fear. There was a big case of gastric flu among the kids in the hotel and Baby Boy vomitted on the night it snowed. I seized the opportunity to stay in with him the next day. Whew.

Then the sun returned with a vengeance. We all finished the week with tanned faces (and white rings around the eyes - like reversed Panda). Baby Boy recovered in less than a day so I had to return to my class. We went up to the top of the mountain with the DMC (big cable car) and I trembled all my way up there. But the sight of the Mont Blanc changed everything. The sky was clear and blue and we could see the peaks floating in clouds, beautiful white slopes, mountain deer, the village below...I got on the red slope(s) with my group and just skied like I've skied all my life. We did half-pipes, narrow passages, toilet bowls, endless stretches for 3 full hours and I actually didn't whine for once. I am also happy that I've finally learnt to turn on parallel skis and have also managed skating movements so that I could rest a leg on every turn. I was still very slow and tired easily, but at least my last day skiing had been a pleasure and not a literal pain. Maybe my next season would finally be all pleasure. I really hope so.

Mention must be made of Baby Girl. She cried non-stop on her first day (I was in a ski lift a few hundred metres away and could hear her!) and frightened her young and handsome ski instructor (when she should be charming him). We had to threaten and bribe her so that she would return to her class the next day - and not cry. But after that, she could ski faster than me and really seemed to love it. Amazing how children pick up skiing so quickly and never seem to tire. We had to separate her younger brother from her though, for if he saw her crying, he would cry too. Baby Boy was a natural at it too, I was told. Nadège his instructor wanted to bring him home with her and she said that one had to stop the boy or he would ski too quickly. And he's only 3.

We left Flaine (legend had it that it was created from a Giant resting) on a happy note and made our way to Maranello in Italy via the Tunnel de Mont Blanc.