Monday, December 25, 2006

Frohe Weinachten und ein Gutes Neues Jahr!

A little of the girls Christmas - some White (drove a little up the hill to get some snow and out of the fog) and some American Girl Doll action. We leave for Minn. tomorrow am and then on to FL for some Disney, NASA and sun before returning 1/7. So - until then..... Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Barcelona architecture

Barcelona - A Feast for the Eyes

A view near the Olympic complexes looking down from the Museum of National Art (a castle in itself). What an amazing city. There is a lot of new construction due to the boom for the 1992 Summer Olympics (doesn't seem so long ago!) but it is mixed with incredible architecture from the last 5 centuries - a true blend of old and new. Some of which is absolutely wild of which I will have to include a photo or two with next blog.
View toward the start of the Las Ramblas at the Columbus monument. Barcelona is the port where Columbus was received back into Spain upon discovering the "New World". And, yes, I recognize the controversy with those of Scandinavian background who may also hold claim to the New World discovery - upon observing the character of Northern & Southern Europeans, I would say the Southerners yelled loudest about it.
Proof that American culture pervades the world - we cannot escape it. Is it just Disney - No!! - what I don't have are pic's of at least 5 Starbucks coffee shops within walking distance of each other (depends on who's walking of course). I did not succumb to Starbuck's in Spain! I ordered my cappucino's at the street cafe below our hotel. You have to draw the line somewhere. And proof that Bart love's me - he went and ordered my cappucino himself on our last morning - he doesn't even drink coffee. Oops - before I get too high handed about traveling and ignoring our "American" pop culture traps - we ate dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe - Barcelona!!!!! YES!!! It was soooooo good. Bart had ribs and I had a citrus chicken salad and the girls had regular old hot dogs with fries. You see - I have not had a salad that did not have either french (different than American french) or italian dressing on it since we left the United States. Yep - Switzerland has a variety of choices of dressing - French: full fat, lowfat or nonfat and Italian: full fat, lowfat or nonfat - hey, that's 6 whole varieties, right? And forget getting barbequed ribs unless you are a butcher and have a great b-bque recipe (yeah, I know we could make it from scratch but in some things we are hopelessly GenX and would like a bottle of KC Masterpiece). Now that I am totally guilty of blogging my runon thoughts - Will confess that we plan to indulge ourselves by drinking as much RootBeer as we can while we are in the States after Christmas!
Back to beautiful Barcelona - warmer than Zurich! We stayed on the Las Ramblas which is part of the heart of town, an avenue with little auto traffic - a large pedestrian boulevard full of souvenir vendors, small pet vendors (turtles, bunnies, ferrets,mice,exotic birds, roosters & chickens (can we say bird flu) and other various 'not legal to sell on the US street' small creatures) and a multitude of street performers (the girls really got into dropping change into buckets to see what they would do). Christmas market goods in Spain. It is interesting to see the differences in Christmas decor/goods in different countries. The nativities were very popular here - all the figures from the Manger to the Roman Army are available. And people were shopping - we had not been around that many people in a long time - Not even in London was it so crowded on the street at times. We kept a firm hand on the girls.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Nutcracker, Santa Lucia, & Samiclaus

Rachel and Friend as Mice for the Nutcracker performance at school.

Swedish Students celebrating Santa Lucia. Tradition that originated in Italy and brought to Sweden. Celebrated by songs remembering Santa Lucia (was burned at the stake by an irate fiance who claimed she was a witch - why he did this? she gave all her money to the church as God answered her prayers in healing her mother - the fiance lost his dowry!), candlelights and traditional Swedish ginger cookies and Lucia bread.

Those are real candles! The girl with the candle wreath on her head is wearing a scarf under the wreath to protect her head from all the dripping wax!

Kendra performing as the Snowflake Fairy in the Nutcracker Performance. Pic's didn't come out great in the dark.

The bounty brought by Samiclaus! In Switzerland (and other European communities), Samiclaus (the Swiss Saint Nicholaus) comes on the birthday of St. Nicholaus, Dec. 6th. He is a woodsman sort of "Santa" dressed more like a monk w/ long beard and accompanied by "Schmuzli" and a donkey carrying the load. Samiclaus "tells" the child what they have done good and not so good during the year and if not so good, Schmuzli (in black) will take the child into his bag and make them give toys to all the other children. Samiclaus visited the girls school and they were giving treat bags for being "good." This pic is of the bag Bart received at work - Samiclaus goes everywhere! - and apparently Bart was a good boy this year. Traditional bounty is clementines, nuts, dried figs, chocolate (of course) and these cookie type ornaments.
Reminded me of our Christmas stockings growing up - had a small present in it and then oranges, apples, nuts and Christmas candies (some of which stuck to the bottom of the stocking for the next year). Was this traditional from parents living in Germany? I don't know. Mom?

And then, Rachel class went thru the Dutch tradition of hiding a shoe/slipper for St. Nick who would then stuff it with goodies and leave bags of presents on St. Nick day. Rachel had grand plans of receiving her presents this last Wed. I kept telling her we were not Dutch and our Santa would arrive at our
regularly scheduled time during the night of Christmas Eve so they can open presents Christmas morning. She was happy with her goody bag from Samiclaus.
And the Swiss celebrate on Christmas Eve with a dinner (whatever the family likes to eat best) and the arrival of the Christkindt (Christ Child) which is announced by the sudden arrival of a Christmas tree and presents - apparently the Swiss mum is cooking, dragging the tree in thru the window (traditional thought of how the tree suddenly arrives) decorating and arranging presents while Swiss dad is either out for a walk with kiddos or has them tied up in a bedroom until they can come out. Santa down the chimney doesn't sound so bad.

Above all - our family enjoys reading and celebrating the story of God who humbled himself to come in the form of man, a tiny little baby - that he might know our temptations and weakness yet not succumb to them. And then give his life that we might have freedom! What an awesome Christmas gift! Merry Christmas!!!!!!! The Olson's

Upside down Christmas Trees!

I don't know where the upside down tree trend started and honestly, I don't care. I think it looks weird whether in Switzerland all hot pink & lime green or in the States, traditional but dangling against gravity. Yes, this strange display is right here in Wadenswil along with the traditional hanging lights and REGULAR Christmas trees. (And if any of you reading this have an upside down tree, well, I'm sorry - that you have an upside down tree! - Love you anyway)

A typical fall/winter looking day as we head down the hill toward town. The snow is getting lower but we've yet to see it our our house.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christmas Time is here

Well, it has been a busy week and it is not quite over. Will probably tell all tales in a couple emails. This last Sunday was the Christmas Program, Choir Sing and luncheon at the church we are attending. It is held early as much of the Expat congregation starts its holiday traveling as soon as kids are released from school. Rachel was a narrator and did an excellent job of speaking - I really think she liked that microphone (who would have imagined that!!) Kendra was a sweet little sheperd - courtesy of an old sheet, the magic of mom's new sewing machine and a bit of a Star Wars costume. All the kids did such a nice job and the girls really enjoyed being a part of it. I did sing in the choir in spite of going to only 2 practices a month ago. Due to being sick, guests, etc... I hadn't gone in a while even though Bart & girls did, but bodies were needed and my recall is decent from lots of practise in IA. BUT, we started singing "I'll be home for Christmas..." and I about lost it.
This will be the first Christmas for me (Susan) that none of my immediate family will be together for the Holidays - since Kris was born (she's younger and I'm going to start using her age now :) ). And we are missing Des Moines. Looked at pictures with the house in it and Max last week - wonderful memories. Have had some emails from friends there and we miss Valley and the neighborhood. However - it is VERY COLD in DM right now and we still have had only 2 nights go down to freezing. Granted, they are canceling World Cup skiing events in Europe due to the lack of snow in the Alps (looking at the warmest winter, they say, in 1300 years) - but my snow shovel is still in the garage and I don't look forward to slippery steps.
Funny note: Kendra is standing in front of our Christmas tree - Yes, we dragged our beautiful, artificial Noble Fir over here. With two storage boxes of ornaments. As I am decorating I think "Where is the tree skirt?" In Des Moines storage. "Where is my this, that and the other thing?" In DM storage. As I am sewing "Where are my 'whatever'?" In DM storage. By time I got down to the basement to sort items for shipping, you can imagine that I was a little tired of making 3-5 year "take it or leave it" decisions. So, I did not really go thru the Christmas boxes or sewing boxes well and have much of what I don't need and stored much of what I do want. Funny, REALLY!!
Enough of my homesickness and will get on with the other events later in the blog.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Christmas Mart/Funnies

Mom & I found this amusing in Lugano - a bust of Giorgio Washington. A gift from the US - not sure why they chose to give it to the city of Lugano, and we don't think he ever went by "Giorgio" but it was one of those things that make you stop and say "Hmmmmm."

Here are a couple pic's from the Zurich Christmas Mart - one of the largest in Switzerland. It is held at the HauptBahnhof (Zurich Main Train Station) and has over one hundred booths of cheeses, sausages, baked goodies, international gifts and the Gluwein (spiced hot red wine - very hot, lots of flavor but low alc. content). The Christmas markets are very popular throughout many of the European countries and many make a vacation/travel tour of it. We love the giant Christmas Tree - is sponsored every year by Swarovski and is hung with over 6,000 crystal ornaments (all on white silk cords-much prettier than many of my ornaments hung by grey metal hooks) - and some of their bigger crystal figures are displayed at the foot of the tree - beautiful.

Again - we had some funnies/incidences/experiences with living in a foreign place this week:

  • We have a lot of roundabouts (traffic circles) here in lieu of traffic lights/stop signs and we have learned the rules about right of way BUT last night, there were two horses w/ riders waiting their turn - makes you think twice as we didn't see that one in the traffic book.
  • I (Susan) got to drive home from the KPMG Holiday party - the other partner's BMW 540 - Sweet!!! Dear Santa, This year I would like BMW 540...... Wake UP!!!! But I was very nice and careful as I do not wish to have my license pulled - they yank it at 30km over posted limits.
  • A lady in Lugano whom my mom & I asked to take our picture asked where we were from. On learning we were Americans, she said "Thank You - I cannot explain in my heart what I feel for you and Australians and what you did for us in Albania. My heart is full toward you and we have nothing to give, we are so small and you are so big. Thank You." Her eyes were starting to tear. Many times we are led to believe that people would rather spit at us (it is better to keep a low American profile here as an Expat - if you wonder about this - email) but there are others who have been helped by our country that are very appreciative.
  • After going into Zurich to say I would like to buy the sewing machine I looked at the previous week, I was asked to "please come back the next day" as they must have it delivered to the store. So I went back on Thurs. and found out they only accept payment by Postcard (many payments are done thru the "post office" - too much to explain now) or cash. I zipped to the "Bancomat" around the corner to pull out cash (we are now starting to hoard cash for when needed- thanks for the tip Brenda (Shanghai). And proceeded to spend an hour learning about the mach. with the nicest people who spoke very little English. Fortunately, I have been sewing for a long time (thanks Mom) and we had great fun - my working on my Deutsch and she working on her English.
  • Kendra crying this morning while waking up because last night's babysitter, Katelyn, was gone. Sounds like Bart & I need to go out some more!
  • Silly thought but - I am always talking to dogs here - they don't understand English words! Sounds silly but Max "understood" a good 35 words or so - I am just mumbling nonsense to the dogs.

Busy week ahead - Christmas program at church, Nutcracker performance and" Winter" Concert. Hope you all have a GREAT WEEK and MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!!!!