Thursday, January 31, 2008

Passports - They do Expire!

Often we get Passports and think "Wow, these are valid for such a long time." And then, if not traveling outside the country often, you kind of forget that they do, in fact, expire.

We have some visitors coming in March - I am sooooooo excited - and due to an experience an acquaintance from school recently had, I thought to ask 'my other mom' when her passport expires. I'm glad I did. It expires in Sept. '08. Which will be fine for coming to Switzerland(CH). Because the Passport expires AFTER the 3 month expiration window.

Yes - there are expiration windows that certain countries have. If your passport expires less than 3 months after the return travel date from CH back to the US - they aren't going to let you outside of the airport when you get here. And preferably, they have not let you depart from the US to take an overnight flight scrunched up in a little airplane seat only to find yourself stuck upon arrival.

Belgium also has this law along with several other countries. You can easily find this information out from any travel agency or by searching "passport expiration rules" and your browser should direct you to several sources.

You see - a family we know from the school was traveling to Australia for Christmas and figured to break up the flight by staying over in Singapore for 2 nights and sightseeing on the way. They landed in Singapore only to be told by immigration there, that it was not possible for them to leave the airport. Their passports expired in June 08 and Singapore has a 6 month expiration window.

They were faced with the prospect of waiting 44 hours in the airport (brutal!) for their scheduled flight or get re-booked on an earlier flight if available. Fortunately, the whole family was able to re-book together on a flight that left several hours later. Mind you - they were traveling with 5 & 7 yr olds and international flights very often leave once a day (ex. Zurich flights leave the East Coast btwn 5 - 8 pm depending on the airport). They were really lucky.

And because their final destination was Sydney and the return was Sydney, the agent in Zurich did not notice the "long" layover in Singapore. Ouch!

We find it interesting that for the past year - each time we've flown back to CH from the US, they've required us to show our B Permit (resident alien Visa) for CH. Bart doesn't always get this but I have for the last 4 returns. Most other families we know are never asked for their B Permits and usually don't even take them along on their travel. Anyway....

Moral of the story is - If your passport is expiring within the next year and you are expecting to do some overseas travel, make sure to check the immigration laws in the destination country and start your passport renewal process before you desperately need it.

I won't get into all the Middle Eastern immigration laws - suffice it to say that if you've traveled to Israel and then want to go to another Middle Eastern country, you'd better get yourself a new passport.

PS - In case you ever wonder why we refer to Switzerland as 'CH' or the Swiss franc as 'chf' - 1. it's a lot easier to type than 'Switzerland' and 2. is the official shorthand for the country dating back to the original "Confederation of Helvetia" in 1291AD.

Fascinating history incorporating wars (and their 'neutral' stances), Reformation, technical and social world contributions and Banking. But you'll have to look it all up yourself. My next long-term project for German class is to write an essay "auf Deutsch" to explain the US Presidential election process. Can that be a prayer request?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Back to Hawaii - Oahu

OK - Flipping a bit between Switzerland and Hawaii. They don't have much in common other than we were in both places. And - due to learning a 'new' alphabet - realized that some of the Hawaiian alphabet pronunciations are more 'European' vs American.

Probably because the Europeans actually got there first - the Americans claimed them later. And I do mean claim. If you study the history of the Islands, you find they were "discovered" during the time of "explore and conquer" by larger European nations. The Hawaiian islands had already been unified by Kamehameha I and maintained a very established monarchy and system of government. They welcomed the information the Europeans/Americans would bring but in doing so, lost their independence government and many lost their lives due to exposure to foreign diseases.

Didn't know you were going to be treated to a little history lesson, did you? Well - that's just a gross overview (gross as in large and general) of a fascinating history - both of our country and theirs. On to the fun stuff:

Here we have Santa Grinch! We first saw Santa Grinch Christmas '04. How many people can say their kids dance to the singing of Santa Grinch every Christmas? As you can see, there is much singing and dancing going on in the Tafisi household. Makes up for the lack of cold weather - Nothing says Christmas like "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch!"

The baby gate stayed put until it was time to open gifts. Too bad it covers the view of the entire Oakland Raiders Christmas Village under the tree. Yes, nothing says Christmas like the Oakland Raiders. Or their little dog named Oakland. And here are all the cousins at a neighborhood lites festivity. The whole circle was decorated with over the top Christmas light items - Mickey, Rudolph, Pooh Bear, Nativities and giant trees made of beer bottles that had lights synchronized to Christmas carols. Not the true meaning of Christmas but it was very festive looking.

JT (Jiovanni), Teihanni (Hanni-girl), Rachel, Tavanni and Kendra. You can yell any name with "anni" in it and my sister's kids will respond. Did I mention they were absolutely adorable and how much fun we had with them? I even changed diapers. Had to learn the wrestling maneuvers again but so enjoyed spending time with them.
And here's Santa Neti! Neti showed up at the top of the stairs and it didn't take two seconds for 2 yr old, Tavanni, to yell "Hi Dad." And we thought he was so well disguised!
The girls and JT dressed in various animal costumes at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. If you are on Oahu and want to learn about the cultures that influenced the Islands, let the kids play in a cool learning museum (volcano education) and see beautiful artifacts - we'd encourage you to go. We always enjoy our visits there.
Took the kids miniature golfing. Actually, Bart and I were the only ones who actually golfed (he won). The kids just took off and had more fun hitting the balls into the water features and getting wet than actually trying to drive anything into a hole.
Will have more later from the Big B-day party for Teihanni in a couple of days.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Same View - Different Looks

This last week provided some beautiful days and beautiful views. These are taken at various times of day - looking in the same direction (SE). The city of Zuerich is the opposite direction and while a nice place to spend the day, our best view is toward the mountains.

This was at about 7:45am and the ripples on the Lake were pretty wild. And it was cold - esp. as I took the pic in my PJ's. Probably accounts for the slight blur as my hands started to freeze. Couldn't be bothered to put on a coat. And NO - nobody is watching the crazy American lady in PJ's out on her terrace. There'll all inside eating their gipfel's (croissants) and drinking their morning expresso/cappucino, reading their 'Zeitung' and trying to understand the US election process. As if theirs makes more sense.... This was taken around 8pm - and it was still cold. But the sky was sooooo beautiful and the moon has been full and incredible this week. My favorite part of the day is when we've locked the front door, turn out the lights and then take in this view before heading to bed. I probably wrote that same statement a year ago. It's still true.
Another AM shot. You can see where all the air traffic is. Which brings up an interesting topic - All our Northern European air traffic comes in from the SW - not the North. Why? might you ask (as if you cared but I'm going to tell you anyway). Because Germany does not wish to share it's airspace with Switzerland and thus flights going in and out of Zurich must avoid any pretense of being anywhere near Frankfurt or Munich. See - the Germans and Swiss have a mutual thing about each other and it's not always complimentary depending on who you talk to - maybe another day for that topic, especially as I don't want to generalize unfairly. And this at about 4pm - Yep, it's still cold.
And although it's cold, it's not as cold as our friends have it in IA so we shouldn't really complain. Except most people like to complain about weather and we are no exception. But I do love the snow and pretty sky that the cold brings with it so I'll quit complaining now.

Enjoy your day whereever you are! Our God, is an Awesome God - and very creative judging from the view!

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Big Island - Part II

Back to HI - Bart and I say this was the best trip to HI so far. The other trips were great too - sister's wedding, Christmas '03, etc... but this is the first time we've had fun, real fun, with our kids on the islands.

They're both good swimmers now and we went boogey boarding and snorkeling and swimming. Bart and I could actually sit by the pool in conversation with each other or some random guest and not have our eyes glued to the water every moment. Freedom at the pool. And at the ocean - no one crying about how there are waves at the ocean (dare I say, DUH!!).

We found that Rachel loved snorkeling with Bart. Her mom too but just snorkels when the water and sun are perfect. Otherwise, there are dark shadows and shadowy things and fish in your face and mom quickly swims back to shore while trying not to admit that she's just short of a panic attack. I'm glad I'm a strong swimmer. And fast enough for my age. I'd hate to admit any weakness. :)

Rachel was a natural with her little board and should I find the picture, I would post her and her posse - a group of 3 boys of the same age that were also out there. It was too cute - and I guess a sign of things to come. Good news is - she was holding her own and not acting silly - just being one of the guys.

Kendra has her attack face on - probably said "that was awesome!" or something equally loquacious (see, I'm trying to get Junie B. Jones out of my head and using BIG words). She did get rolled a couple of times by the waves - "always watch the ocean", "always stay on your board." She's learning.
Bart and Rachel out snorkeling. It's really cool to watch them out there together. Enjoying each other's company. I spend so much time with the girls that it's great to see them connect with Bart in areas where I can take a back seat. Otherwise known as working on my tan with a magazine while they float in the water - far out in the water.

It's not that I don't want to snorkle. I like snorkeling. When I can see about 20 - 30 ft in front of me, and the sun is shining through clear water and I can see the fish coming toward my face. Instead of suddenly appearing in front of my face. That's all.

Funny Conversation and proof that our children are learning in school:

Road Sign in Kona - Construction - 250 feet

Rachel: What 250 feet?

Parent: You know, they are telling us that in 250 feet there's going to be road construction.

Kendra: But whose feet did they use to measure it with? (Background - she had to measure everyone's foot to see how that would make a difference if it was used for a measurement)

Parent: Well, like you measure with a ruler. One foot is 12 inches. So they measured the distance and it's 250 feet per the ruler. Not someone's actual foot.

Rachel: Oh - so like measuring in meters?

Parent: Yes - it would be something under 100 meters, like 80 - 90.

Rachel: OK. That makes sense.

Tis True. Our kiddo's are getting more comfy with metric. And quite honestly, why didn't the US make the conversion when there was still time? Having to use both - the metric is easier in certain ways. But that's just a personal opinion. I like my weight in kg!

WOW! That's just about all I can say is WOW!

Thank you Kevin Henkes of "Lilly and the Purple Plastic Purse" for this title. Again - 9 years of reading kids books out loud has taken over my neurons and transmitters.

I just went to post Part II of HI and almost closed the page. Because I didn't recognize the Blog page. It wasn't mine. Until I noticed the title's were the same and all of a sudden, I recognized the pictures.


My artistic and technically proficient and fabulous bro-in-law J has created a new look for us. As I pointed out to him - I'm not good at this sort of thing (computer bloggy creativity) but I am bored with looking at my own blog and could you please help me for I will pay you money because all I'm good at is reading (and perhaps spending the money I have saved by cutting my family's hair - hee hee). He said "Sure - just send a pic or two that you like and I can work on something."

So last week I sent a few pic's, let him know what colors I like and didn't have much else to offer him - oh, a couple title change ideas.

And this is what he did. And I love it. And you can always check out other things he can do by clicking the Kris & Jason link.

Thank You Jason. Sooooooo....How much do I owe you man? :)

Friday, January 18, 2008

I Frighten Myself!

I was checking the blog for comments - thank you S and J for your comments! But I re-read my posts periodically to check for errors and realized something horribly frightening -

Several of my HI - Part 1 sentences had 'Junie B. Jones' written all over them. AAAccckkkkk! I cannot even describe how I am feeling right now. I have been a voracious reader since 2nd grade and fearful of ever writing anything 'real.' Because I feel I am a good reader - not writer. And I have many writers I enjoy but I've never been wrapped up in the intellectual side of the writing.

Obviously! No offense to the author of the Junie B. Jones tales of which my girls adore (because I think one of them can really relate to Junie but I won't reveal which kiddo!), but it's never been my goal to emulate Junie's "style" or conversation habits.

Apparently reading Junie B. Jones is (almost) a Flower Girl this week had an impact. "See how......" "See the ......" I can hear myself next post "SEE HOW THE SALT WATER, WIND AND HUMIDITY MAKE MY HAIR SUPER FRIZZY AND FLUFFY" (note - I don't bother with a curling iron there based on experience - the ponytail is your friend)

SO - they aren't ready for Patricia Cornwell and the Kay Scarpetta series yet. Post-mortems at bedtime reading are probably not recommended. SIGH

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hawaii - the Big Island, Part 1

Now that we have our home computer back, I am somewhat in-between the laundry, german homework, bible study homework, kids homework and don't have to start dinner for about 10 minutes - I can post a few pic's from our holiday in HI. I often feel like I need to downplay our vacations/holidays/long weekends. I don't know why. I know we are very fortunate to be able to travel as we do. But we make some sacrifices too in order to afford it. For instance, have you ever seen my fingernails or my family's hair cuts. They are obviously not professionally done but we get by (Bart's turns out nicely though - I think) (and I do get mine professionally done as the thought of anyone in my house taking scissors to my hair is a nightmare). Think about it - Saves approx. $150 - 200/month - just on that alone. And I no longer have take-out coffee conveniently available - that's at least $60-80/month. Besides - In Zurich, Starbucks costs the equiv. of $5.50 for a tall cappucino (not even a double shot) - ouch.

Anyway - Going to Hawaii is the place we most often get the "you're so lucky" comments on. Yes - we have been 6 times in the past 13 yrs. But Why? Because my sister insisted on living in Oahu, marrying a local and then had the nerve to have children. So, yeah, we make the effort to go. And it's really hard. To wake up to this:

"This" is Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Our first stop-over on our HI "Weinacht Ferien" in order to adjust to the 11 hour time difference and enjoy a bit of family vacation together. See the snow at the top? Of the 13 ecological designations in the world (ex. desert, alpine), the Big Island contains 11 of them and it's my favorite island of the 5 we have been on. See how sloped and domed this 'dormant' volcano is? There are 5(?) of them that make up the Big Island and it's still growing thanks to Kilauea. The mountains in Switzerland are so different being of the glacier persuasion so it was a complete change of environment. And WARM.

So we exchanged our 'snow coats', boots and pants for shorts, tshirts and flip flops. Rachel is checking out the view our first morning off the balconey. Now - it is winter in HI so it was not hot and it was very windy. But warm enough for sand and ocean fun as long as the temp was up.

Kendra loves breakfast and this is her rapturous expression upon eating the scrambled eggs that Bart fixed. Unfortunately, hard as we tried to find them in multiple places - no mini chocolate donuts. Have they disappeared from the shelves of the US of A grocery stores? Are they so popular you show up when the delivery truck arrives? There were mini-powdered donuts but we really wanted chocolate. So we passed and I think the Christmas Captain Krunch at my sister's made up for it.

Here we are at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This is our 3rd visit to the Island and 1st to the Park. If you have the time to go - GO. We enjoyed it and I really didn't expect to very much. Even though we didn't get to see hot lava (you can imagine the girls going on about that). But the girls became Jr. Rangers and that made it enjoyable and interesting as well.

Kendra was forever running up and down the beaches - or rolling in sand - or burying herself in sand. Sand, sand, everywhere. More later - have to get dinner going.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Happy Bday Bart!


I'll let the readers figure out which BIG birthday this was. Although he knew we were going somewhere, his co-workers and I have been torturing him with various hints such as ballroom dancing, salsa dancing, dressing warm and bringing the ski helmet, etc.... He was relieved to find himself accompanied by me (Susan) and various co-workers, neighbors and church friends to a Mediterranean restaurant in Rapperswil called La Fuente. He was pleasantly suprised and everyone enjoyed a different venue as no one besides myself and friend K had been there.

We enjoyed a Tapas buffet then main course and dessert - chocolate Sacher tortes or fruit torte. It was all YUMMY. And I wish many of you reading this could have shared this event with us.

It's times like these I really miss: 1) many of our friends and family who would be with us on such events and 2) our own house to entertain such number of people in without worry about the neighbors/noise.

So Happy Birthday Honey! I love you, our girls love you and I am so thankful to God to be married to you. You make me laugh, enjoy life, keep me from getting too serious about the little things and I hope we have another 40+yrs to enjoy this great adventure together. I'm a lucky lady.

PS - We are still trying to get back into the swing of things, needed to get our computer back and feeling like laundry and people have priority over computer time. So am working thru stuff and will get back to regular posts VERY soon. And emails. I promise.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Jet Lag

We are on our 5th day home and I think we are over the hill when it comes to time. We've decided that it's much easier to recover from jet lag when you are arriving to a destination that is stimulating and costing you money each day - have to be awake to enjoy the scenery, right? There are all sorts of theories re: jet lag and how to switch to local time. Sometimes they work, sometimes not.

Even at church this morning, about 1/3 of us had been back in town for a few days or just arriving - and everyone in various stages of wakefulness. I know James (teaching Elder) focused on our section of the church quite a bit - were we the only ones awake? Was it an attempt to keep us awake? Either way - we got a good message on the God of Abraham. It did occur to me - they didn't have to deal with jet lag in the the time of Abraham - but I digress (happens alot when one's brain is half-firing).....

As all the overseas flights West to East arrive in Zurich in the morning (in at 6:30am Wed. the 2nd), we generally allow ourselves a nap the first morning and tough it out for the remaining days. So after going to bed at 11pm Wed., the girls woke up at 3am Thurs. morning, 5am Fri. and 6-ish Sat. and Sun. No naps during the day and they are in bed by 7:30pm. They are pretty squirrely and I am ready for them to go back to school tomorrow. I still say that taking a Simply Sleep/Benadryl is great for staying asleep - but it doesn't work for kids - brutal!

But after waking a girlfriend at 10:30am on Fri. and then finding they had been home since Monday, I'm feeling pretty good about our progress. They've been going to bed late, getting up for a couple hours around 5am and then going back to sleep by 7am and getting up at noon. So she was glad I woke her up.

This is what happens when you return home to a foreign country when everyone else is either still gone or still sleeping off their jet lag and there is no motivation to go anywhere because the Country is still on Holiday. Even the grocery was still closed Jan. 2nd. And we couldn't pick up mail at the Post until the 3rd. Speaking of mail.......

We had a great time looking through all the cards, photos and letters that were waiting for us. Please know how much that connection and remembrance means to us. Thank You! Thank You!

And the winner of the Olson Holiday Challenge (Christmas Card) was a college friend of Susan's, MP from Redding. The correct countries/places being Switzerland, Rome/Italy, France(Riviera), Copenhagen/Denmark, USA/Kennedy Space Ctr, Paris/France, Vienna/Austria and Prague/Czech Republic. Thanks for the emails guessing - most were only off one or two countries.

So we are ready for the New Year and what it has in store. And wishing all of you in Iowa and California/NV a relief from what has been some nasty weather. We have friends here whose family was delayed coming out of Iowa due to the storms this Christmas (you wouldn't believe how many Iowa/Minn. people we know here - it's funny). Stay safe, dry and warm. And praying for safe travel for Susan's Mom, Elaine, as she heads out of Reno for DC today.

Friday, January 04, 2008

We're Baaaaack!

Hard to believe it's been so long since I've written on this Blog - Dec. 14th was the last post. That was a fairly good day. I found out that night that our hard drive was intact and they were repairing the power pack and backing up the drive. And Rachel's fever had gone down so we would be able to catch our flight - so that she would be sobbing "this is the most horrible trip ever, I wish we had stayed at home" in LAX 24 hours later.

Everyone has to have a bad travel story. Right? We're working on several now - can't forget about the London trip.

I know we don't get much sympathy for going to Hawaii for 2 weeks of our Christmas break but ... they are 11 hours behind Switzerland and it takes anywhere between 24 to 27 hrs to fly to/from - this is flight departure to arrival time only - doesn't include the getting to/from airport time. In short, it's no small effort to get there and you need the time to recuperate from the hang-over, I mean, jet-lag (they feel similar, not that I've ever been hung-over in my lifetime :) ). But I love my sister and her family and we just HAD to go - she keeps having these cute babies!

So on the way to the airport, Bart and I decide that getting up at 3:45am for a flight was a new record for us. To catch on-time flights to Heathrow then on to LAX - oh my gosh but 13hrs or so on a plane is a long time. May I just add that the security and number of times we had those passports out was unsurpassed as of yet. Then we landed in LA and found our flight to Kona was delayed for 45 min. No big deal - these things happen.

We go park ourselves for the next 2+ hrs in the Admirals Club (perk of certain flights we take) and then arrive for boarding at the gate only to wait another half hour so they can "clean the plane." By now we are begging the girls to stay awake until we get on the plane because we have now all been officially awake for 24 hrs - they did not nap on the Heathrow to LAX flight! And the girls are falling asleep standing up. We get on the plane, Kendra promptly falls asleep and Rachel is getting ready.

Once everyone boards - it is about 8pm now, they announce that due to mechanical issues they cannot resolve, the flight is canceled, and "could everyone please go to the customer service counter where you will be issued vouchers for hotels and rescheduled for your destination." Bart is my hero. He was on his Blackberry before he was off the jetway and about 6th in line at the counter. Believe me - he can rival any Swiss at marching thru a line - and boy can they strong-arm in line. That's a topic for another day.

But - Rachel started crying on the plane. She was so tired - she does NOT operate well under sleepless conditions. And I'm sure people thought she was spoiled, not realizing she wasn't crying about getting to HI - she just wanted to sleep. Kendra woke up enough to get off the plane and then curled up in a chair and fell asleep again by customer service. But Rachel planted herself at the base of a pole and sobbed with her head between her knees - for about 1/2 hour. All I could do was pat her head and stand next to her. She just had nothing left - and thus the "this is the most horrible trip....." comments.

We did make it to the hotel, we caught our flight to Honolulu next morning then on to Kona. So all in all, our anticipated 26+ hr trip to Kona ended up being a 44+ hr trip. We were tired. But we woke up (at 5am), put on swim suits and flip flops and felt much better the next day.

We had a lovely time with each other and then with family on Oahu. More about that later. And pictures eventually when we get our tower back - the Swiss are slowly making their way back to work. I think I woke the computer guy up when I called yesterday afternoon - their first day back to work since the holiday started - Christmas Eve! I don't think anyone anywhere is really working unless they are at a grocery store - their just hanging out and getting ready for next week before they do any actual work. I'm just callin' it like I see it.

Will have to do this in small pieces - a lot to get caught up on at home AND the girls got Webkinz for Christmas - need I say more. Mom gets reduced computer time 'til school starts again.