Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ouch! That Hurt!

This is what I found when I went to the dinner table after Bart set it on Sunday night.

The morning sermon was on the Christian Walk and Marriage. I'm pretty sure Mr. Cary spoke about "husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church" from Ephesians 4. Not sure I want to ask Bart to set the table again - any thoughts?

What's worse - Kendra and Rachel decided it was an easier way to deal with the butter knife the rest of the evening. So now I not only have to re-train them, but I have to look at a 2-inch slice running down that big pat of butter. I know - there are still worst things to worry about - like Rachel burping as though she were in a frat house.

What really hurt was today's visit from "die Post." Another box arrived! From Gymboree! After 1 1/2 yrs of living here, 'smuggling' things thru customs or shipping large "gift" boxes from family and friends - I decided I would order something and ship it internationally from a company willing to do so.

I got a great deal on a jacket, jeans and 2 shirts - $64 was my total. And I gulped a little at the $20 international shipping but figured I got such a good deal, even $84 was still a good deal for what I purchased. And I figured since my merchandise total, etc... was under 100chf, that surely there would be little if any VAT on the box (value added tax).

OOOOOHHHHH! How naive I am. And how thoroughly whipped and never to even be tempted to do that again! 27chf later - Yes! Twenty seven Francs later (might as well be $27 at this point considering the dollar is now 1.09 to the 1 chf) - I am allowed to have my box. And the worst part - I don't even know what I am paying the 27chf on. I can see I was charged 10 chf just for them letting the box into the country - but the rest????? Considering the receiver never sees all the customs paperwork that goes with the box, I don't know if I've been charged tax on the $64 worth of merchandise (oooowwwweeeeeee), the cost plus shipping of $84 OR did Gymboree declare the full value of merchandise for me to be taxed on. Das is sehr teuer und schlimm!!!!

Yep! Won't be doing that again. The girls better wear it ALOT because I'm not sending it back!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Where's the Turkey?

You're lookin' at it! This year, I didn't find a whole turkey in our local grocery. And by time I was seriously looking, it was too late to go into Zurich and purchase a small turkey for 80 - 100 chf. I also spent some time driving around Horgen trying to find the "chicken man" to no avail. Soooo, there was Turkey Scallopini instead. They sell about any kind of meat ready to schnitzle.
But there was dessert! Chocolate cake will become an additional dessert tradition as Kendra listened to me discuss the apple and pumpkin pie and then said "I don't like pie. But I do like chocolate cake." For dessert, we invited another US KPMG family and our Swiss neighbors who enjoyed seeing what Americans do/eat for a holiday. We explained as they came in that the TV would be on (rather rude in Switzerland) as our tradition includes:

FOOTBALL!!!! while we eat dessert. So we watched some Thanksgiving day football as well - notice how dark it is here for this afternoon game!
Mom and I got a little skiing in on Friday. Hard and a bit icy in the morning as we had a couple warm days. But it softened as the sun came up and we took some good runs before lunch - and the clouds rolled in. You can see the clouds behind us here - we took our last 2 runs in white-out conditions and decided that we didn't need vertigo to end our day. We had a great time as it has been about 11 years since we've gone skiing together. It was a wonderful and relaxing visit.

But poor Mom, wearing my perfectly good but circa 1993 Obermeyer ski jacket. Guess it's time I invest in newer model should I decide I don't want to wear my parka?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The box is here!

I couldn't wait to post again as my doorbell rang (while I was putting all my freezer items back into the newly thawed out freezer) and 'the box' had arrived. $115 and just brimming with things we cannot get here - or get cheaply that is. It's a big box.
And here are our goodies:
The 2 pairs of cowboy boots (1/2 off on Sierra Trading post) are an input error on my part - I meant to order one pair. But God must have had a hand in it as he knew that Kendra would want a pair as badly as Rachel - and mom loves the cowboy boot so...... Along with Mac'n'Cheese, various 'drugs', socks, undies, shoes, sno-boots, a jump-rope (please email Bart soon and ask him how many times he's jumped), Ziploc's (see prev. blog on $$$ - a box of 20 baggies costs me 2.80chf - I promise to stop now), razors, Ranch Dressing Mix, gifts (please don't ask the girls about any items on this post :) ) and chocolate chips (milk? not semi-sweet?). I am soooo grateful to Bart for picking all of this up! Note to self - semi-sweet on list for next time. Don't be defensive - you don't make the cookies so how would you know.
Below is the stash my sis brought in her luggage in Sept. Emptied most of their suitcase with this stuff. We are not kidding about the lists that go to visitors/spouses when traveling back & forth. We rationalize that they just have more room for souvenirs when they leave. Yeah - we'll be packing light when going home for Christmas. :)
Notice a theme: Ranch dressing and Mac'n'Cheese. Truly American food products!

Money & Mom

Mmmm - I promised a pic or two of pastries sometime. This was today's breakfast from Migros - one of our local 'supermarkets.' I still can't spell the name of this pastry -esp. as they change it from time to time (I think from High German to Swiss German). But it is a yummy thing filled with plum jammy stuff - and don't make faces at the plum filling - it is sweet and yummy. Trust me! The pastry will also start our discourse on money. How I was stunned when last week I went to pay for my Kirsche Waehe (a cherry tort) and it was 3.20 chf. Since we moved here they were always 3.00 chf and the bakery lady said yes, the prices have gone up. So has milk, butter, etc...

And unless you never watch any kind of news whatsoever, you must be aware of the fact the US $ has fallen in comparison with foreign currencies - it is a 'weak' dollar. Unless you are traveling in other countries it may not really sink in unless you are watching your retirement portfolio's etc... Bart is paid in USD and we transfer $$ into our 'Swiss bank account' as we need it for bills, etc... And always looking to do it when the exchange rate is favorable. It has not been favorable for a while.

So - a little math for today. When we moved here, 1.00 chf was approx. $0.78. So if I paid 100 chf for groceries I knew it was costing me about $78.00. But now, 1 chf is about $0.89/0.90 which is a good 10%+ difference. Add to that, the increasing prices in Europe. The cherry tort's I love used to be approx. $2.34 and are now $2.85 - a 22% increase. Doesn't mean I will quit eating my tort's - just that I think more carefully about what I need.

Bart just returned home from KPMG's annual meeting and said all the European partners had long lists of things they were shopping for to take home. Including him - I can't wait for the box to come this week! And it's not that we don't get some equalization here but it makes you think really hard about the extra's.

You are all running to get your plane tickets and fly here right now, aren't you! Not a good way for me to advertise that I would love to have some visitors!!!!! But just a reality of life.

Speaking of realities - My Mom's coming! Gma Elaine will be here in 2 days so look what I am doing!

Defrosting the freezer! Which I mentioned about 6 months ago I needed to do. What a mess it is. And I hope the Magnum bars aren't melting in the fridge - should probably put them outside in the snow! Now - this freezer is LARGE by European standards. My sister-in-law in Germany has the typical one drawer freezer at the bottom of her fridge. Her fridge is smaller than mine - see below. I would guess my fridge is about 12 - 14 cu. And you wonder why we have to go shopping more often. Most expat's we know all buy a separate freezer so they can store ice cream and frozen pizza's. Maybe a reason why most European's don't make ice for drinks either - there is no room.

Below you can pick out our litres of milk - not sold in gallons. On the right, next to the lemon juice is a tube - yes, an aluminum tube - of mayonaisse. Depending on what we're having, I do break out the 5 chf tiny, camping size jar of Hellmann's.

So I started out with defrosting because my Mom is coming. I have this habit and I KNOW others do - especially when we don't live near our parents - that certain things must be done before they arrive. Like they really care when they haven't seen you in months about the state of your freezer. Or how many have finally painted that bedroom because so and so is coming?

But I know that if Mom cannot get that darn freezer drawer to shut because of layers of frozen fuzz, she will suggest that maybe we should defrost the freezer. And she's right. And if I was at her house, I would say the same thing. But when you live with it everyday, you kind of ignore it and say "I'll get to it." So I am always motivated before a visitor comes to "get to it." I'm not picking on you Mom - you're just the visitor for whom I'm defrosting my freezer - you'll thank me when you go to shut the drawer with the Magnum bars in it (you know you want one).

So Please - ignore the poor exchange rate, visit us and let's see what I get done next!

The last bit for today - more baked goods. It's Thanksgiving and we are going to celebrate it Thursday night. On Thanksgiving day no less! Because it's not a holiday here, many expat Americans opt for Fri. or Sat. due to time and husbands availability from work. But Fri. & Sat. are booked so we are eating on Thurs. But, :( , no turkey this year - can't find any. But I know where to get some tasty rotisserie chicken.

As is stuffing and you are looking at it:

The loaf on the right is for tonight's dinner but the others need to be cubed and dried out. I have to admit I am/was a Stovetop girl. But there is no Stovetop here nor are there dry bread crumbs/cubes to be had. If you want them, you make it yourself. I am a fan of healthy but quick cooking. Cooking is not quick anymore. A friend and I were talking about how much cheese we shred here. I would love a large bag of Colby/Jack shredded cheese - from HyVee - on sale for $3. Those were the days.

That said - I wouldn't trade these days either. Happy Thanksgiving Week!!!!!!! And safe travels to all!

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Week to Forget

Flowers that Bart ordered for me (& girls) to have delivered before he even knew what kind of week it would be. They are beautiful and we are sooooo looking forward to his return tomorrow morning - 10 days. A long time no matter where you live and what you're doing. The other highlight was the box from my bestest friend in CA - please meet Hannah Montana! No wait, that's Rachel's shirt and belt - ah, the wig. Yes, they can now transform themselves into little Hannah Montana's "you get the best of both worlds" and they even let me dance around with them - FUN! But I haven't tried on the wig yet :).
And look at our pretty first snow. Ski resorts are opening up between this weekend and next - I'm ready!
Those were the highlights.

I think there is only one other week or shall we say 'period of time' that is on par with this week. And with the different moves, travels, etc... I've had a few experiences but this sticks out - as far as torturous Mommy memories go. I think back to the time I went to the family cabin with the girls - Rachel a toddler & Kendra under a year - and Max. It was winter and Gma Vel was there for a day or so and when she went back to Sacto., we stayed on. I did this several times before any school was involved and always felt perfectly safe as we had Max to guard us - it always worked out great. Here's Max w/ girls a couple years back:

The morning we were to head back to San Ramon, I packed all our luggage in the Suburban, broke the port-a-crib down, did the 'cabin cleaning' we do when we leave and then let Max out for one last 'relief". At that point, Rachel decided to get sick. And Max came back smelling of something so very noxious that he had chosen to roll around in. And we had 2 hr drive home to look forward to. So I clean Rachel up and then proceed to march outside - where there is a foot of snow on the ground - and bathe Max because I couldn't handle the smell. And proceed to say a few choice words to him about how I didn't care that he was cold and freezing getting a bath in the snow and that he deserved it and if I had to be miserable, so did he. Told him didn't I?

Fast forward to this week: I was fine until Mon. when the cable went out (no phone or internet), and got frustrated with being able to understand people but not being able to express myself - in German, and dealing with a discipline issue I just didn't want to deal with (but did of course because that's what parents do), and late arrivals of technicians turning into late kids to school and - well I could go on. It culminated this evening with Kendra losing her dinner in the back of the car. At least we weren't moving. And Rachel was able to take care of Kendra in the house while I was all the way down in the garage cleaning things up - at 9:30pm. Somewhat glad Bart wasn't here but at the same time - certain things are harder to work around.

Right now, I would love a garage that was attached to my house. And big closets like we had before. And I know of several dear friends who are in either financial or physical difficulties right now and so all my small challenges combined are really nothing in the big scheme of things. But I am grateful to a husband who thinks to send flowers before he even knows I need them. And thankful to a God who helps me handle it all even when I don't want to. Thankful, Thankful - and next week - Thanksgiving! Yeah - Mom is coming for a visit. I must find a turkey. Yeah - and I need a trip "home" which I will thankfully get in a month.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Raebeliechtli - The Great Turnip Parade

Girls on the 'wanderweg' heading to our neighbors.Girls with their 'Raebeli' joined by L, neighbor's daughter.
Kindergarteners at the local school singing their Raebeliechtli songs.
So the girls and I were invited by our neighbors to join them with their daughters school in the Raebeliechtli Umzug. Or as I might like to refer to it "The Great Turnip Parade." Because that's what they are - carved turnips. It is an old tradition here and marks the end of the harvest - the turnips being one of the last items out of the garden. And they hollow them out and carve pictures into the skins and with a candle in them - they are very cute. Old tradition held that the 'Raebeli' could be lit each night and kept through the winter on the window sill. Back in 'ye olden times' that might have worked but with indoor heating and electricity - the need for turnip candle holders has diminished but continues to be a sweet tradition marking the change from harvest to winter.
And considering this was Thursday night and on Friday afternoon I drove home from Thalwil in the first snow flurries of the year - it certainly was appropriate timing.
And what was I doing in Thalwil? Renting my ski's! And snow was falling out of the sky! It was a beautiful thing. It's the most wonderful time of the year..... Funny how some people enjoy the snow and some do NOT. I am always a bit wired by it. I even enjoyed it in Iowa. Must come from years of driving up to Tahoe and watching for the snow line in anticipation of skiing for the day. I was the kid who chose a birthday at Squaw Valley and then another at Heavenly in lieu of a birthday party with friends. Mom even took me out of school to do it. So maybe I was a little weird but I can still remember each of those days clearly. Best kind of Birthday presents I guess.
I don't think there can be any doubt that Bart & I have girls with personality - if this pic is any indication. It's all Rachel - 100% Bart is in MN right now with his parents and then will head to FL for Annual Mtg. He was calling me from Target asking how many boxes of Children's Chewable Benadryl he should get and Oh, look, there's Children's Nyquil and, OH, I was a wee bit jealous. I could just imagine what the aisles looked like and all the different choices and opportunities there might be to just get whatever you want, whenever you want, in a language you don't have to guess at and each item for less than $10 (don't get me started on the $ vs the Franc right now, Boo Hoo).
It's a Small World After All coincidence of the week - some of you may remember a post re: friends from Valley Church that we ran into in Orlando last Dec. - totally caught us all by surprise. Well Bart flew into MN late Thurs. night and had plans for about 6 hrs in Minneapolis with his dad for some shopping before heading to their place - 4.5 hrs NW of the cities (think cold and Fargo). So they are in the Mall of America getting lunch and run into our neighbors, Heidi & Mark w/ boys. Our houses faced each other and speaking for my girls - they loved playing with the boys and still insist that we must move back to a neighborhood where Brandon will be living someday. And we loved having them as neighbors - So Bart really enjoyed getting to have lunch with them. What are the odds? Honestly - Have you been to the Mall of America? Just being in the same place at the same time - Wow!
Enough rambling - may happen more when Bart is gone as I have noooo one to talk to :) .

Sunday, November 04, 2007

An Unexpected Weekend

As my last post dealt with food different than I would be eating in Des Moines, IA, I felt I should add a quick update based on the conversation I had with my Swiss neighbor. We started talking about our kids and food and I mention how Rachel now rolls her eyes and says "not Chicken again!!!" when she gets to the dinner table. And my friend mentioned how they had 'pferdefleisch' on sale this week at the grocery store and her daughter also is grumbling about it. Well - 'pferde' is horse. Please remember that we are NOT living in North America right now and a whole other realm of meats is enjoyed on this continent. Good old aged beef is hard to come by here - thus the whole chicken issue. I laughed and told her that is probably one meat that I will not eat (not the only one, just for this story's sake) and she smiled and said - because you can ride on it? She seemed to understand that we don't find it an appealing part of our diet for cultural reasons. I'm thinking it would be really tough although it does look nice in the package - many of us reach for it thinking it's a fillet until we see the little animal outline on the label. I'll have to get some pic's of that sometime - handy when you don't know the animal words yet. :)

On to the weekend:
We were supposed to visit some castles in Germany but Kendra decided to submit to the stomach virus going around on Friday. I called Bart and let him know we were definitely not driving to Germany and we got all the reservations rescheduled without any hits to our pocketbook - last minute cancellations can be costly.

This is the dear little one pre-illness posing with one of her weekly masterpieces on the dry-erase board.

So in light of us finding ourselves with 2 days of free time unexpectedly, we did what any normal family might do late fall. We slept in. And then I got to drink my cappuccino in bed - and Bart even brought me a fried egg w/ croissant - IN BED! It was heavenly. I might add that this is Sat. morning, K had been able to sleep thru the night after 12:30am and was on her way to recovery with Mom & Dad asking every half hour if she had been drinking her water. I was not neglecting my sick child for the luxury of breakfast in bed.

Once we roused ourselves, we (Bart) got on to the lurking task of 'winterizing' the rest of the out of doors stuff and then we tackled the storage area and my closet. It feels sooooo good to have all of that done. Bart has a US trip coming up and with the family schedule lately - the timing was good.

But I noticed something as I cleaned out my wardrobes and switched summer things for winter things (as I am vertically challenged, I have to switch things around so I can reach what I want to wear without aid of a footstool) - I have a color issue. You can see below - and don't think I would have shown picture's if I hadn't just cleaned it ALL out (including the big bag to kleidersammlung - think Goodwill). Aside from blue jeans and a few red items - all my winter clothes are shades of brown, green (dark), cream or black. My summer clothes are a little better - I throw some pinks and light greens in.

This was news to me. I thought I wore more colors but I don't. Hmmm. But I like the colors I wear so it really doesn't matter. So much so, that I plan on buying another black long sleeve T in the States in Dec. Because maybe, one of my other 7 black long sleeve T's just might be on it's last legs, or is dressier, or too short, or.... any number of reasons. Bart will now read this and insist I don't need an 8th black T nor a 7th shade of olive green/brown T. But if I can get it cheaper in the US, I should really do it!!! Do I dare count my short slv black T's?

My frivolous paragraph for the day. :)

By Sunday, K was feeling much better and R had enjoyed hanging onto the sicky coattails as they watched episode after episode of 'The Suite Life of Zack & Cody', 'Hannah Montana' and 'That's So Raven.' In fact, if you like, Bart and I could sing any of those theme songs. Yup - and tell you which are our favorite episodes. As if we didn't get enough eye candy via TV, we decided to go to the IMAX in Luzern and catch 2 movies: The Alps and Deep Sea. We reserved our tx ahead as the IMAX is very popular on Sun. (esp. as there are no stores open and the weather is cold).

If you decide to catch an IMAX film and The Alps is showing - it is excellent and gives you a view of why we personally love the mountains in Switzerland. And thanks to the geological expertise of my mom's husband, J, we were able to quickly mouth the answer to the question "what are the rocks/mountains made of in Switzerland?" which was voiced in the movie. That answer being "limestone, limestone, and limestone - oops here's a bit of granite too." My words, not J's - he did impart some good knowledge of such things while he was here so our "tour guide" repertoire in the mountains is improving. Again - excellent film and if you can't get to Switzerland to see them in person, it would be the next best thing.

So the weekend turned out well and K is off to school and I am making lists of things I would like Bart to 'smuggle' back in next week.