Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Good News!

I just saw my Russian Neighbor whom we will call N.

She is alive and well and looked perfectly adorable in her apron and gloves, helping her husband move tile into the house. Asked how she was, she said "Perfect." I'm still not sure where she's been all winter but at least it now feels normal to have seen her. And I know she is very shy - with limited English and German skills so she never has seemed to socialize a lot.

Unlike her American neighbor who tries to talk in her very imperfect German with anyone who will listen. How desperate! Hee Hee

So - welcome back to the neighborhood, N. Whereever you may have been. And I will be trying to find out this Spring when she is out gardening - that is when we've had small chat's in the past.

Feeling a bit Disconnected

Sometimes I feel a bit disconnected living here in Switzerland. I could say 'we.' I know Bart misses many of the games (football, basketball, etc....) that he would choose to watch if we were back in the States. Although he did manage to stay awake for half of the Superbowl this year (starts here at 12:20am), he had to watch the commercials via download on the computer. I know he'd love to be sitting in someone's great room with a big screen eating queso & chips, laughing at commercials while he watched the whole game without thinking how he was going to manage work the next day on 3 hrs of sleep.

The girls - well, we get Disney, Boomerang and Nick via the UK so other than the fact they wanted to go to London for the premeire of High School Musical 2 - I think they are doing OK. And the fact that we don't have Target, etc... to provide for them the latest toy in every form imaginable - they're doing all-right. In fact, we find there's less temptation to get them all the 'stuff' here because, well, it's just NOT here. But there are other things.....

My friend K and I were going for a walk yesterday which started me thinking about this disconnected feeling. She said something about watching the Oscar's red carpet on German TV yesterday morning (Oscar coverage started at 2am here). I realized I had not watched any of it and even though the results are available on Yahoo - I've not even peeked. Not even at the dresses yet - and it's already Tues. morning. But we've been here for almost 2 years now and I've found that sometimes if I can't have the cake and eat it too - I just don't want it. I want the Oscar red carpet AND the show AND the People magazine follow-up AND the In-Style magazine issue (not to mention the Golden Globe and SAG awards red carpet fashions).

I can only get bits and pieces of the shows, no People magazine and someone keeps buying the few US versions of In-Style from the Kiosk in ZHB because by time I get there, only the UK version is available and it's just not the same (plus they fill in with segments of prior US editions which I find a waste of money if I've already gotten my hands on a US edition). Don't ask Bart if he thinks the 2 lbs. of paper are worth the money - he claims it's ALL advertisements and only 20 pgs. worth of articles. I try to explain that in In-Style, most of the pictures ARE the articles but he just doesn't get it. Men! But then again, I don't read Sports Illust. now that Rick Riley's retired - the column is just not the same for me now.

So - we find ourselves drifting a bit from pop-culture in the States. Haven't heard the latest music, seen the latest movies - I don't think we're too far behind with TV due to the writer's strike. But then my friend K said "I didn't even know Heath Ledger was dead until they mentioned it on the Oscar's show." Uh - disconnected and not paying attention to her Yahoo News Main Page.

And this post is revealing the shallow side of my nature. When it comes to fashion, well, yes, I have a bit of shallowness in me. And would love to hit a mall right now and shop the sales. Because all the sale signs are gone from Switzerland until July. Sad isn't it.

Another disconnect - in a little exchange I had with another Blogger, I recognize we have neighbors but we don't 'belong' to the neighborhood. Stems from the fact we have not seen the wife of our neighbors, right below us, since about November. He's Swiss, she's Russian and has a 12 yr. old son and she moved here to marry him (the man) about 4 years ago. And I know she couldn't always travel with the husband because she's still waiting for her Swiss passport (with certain passports your travel to many countries is restricted and require expensive travel Visa's - she only has her Russian passport right now). So Bart & I sometimes make morbid jokes about it but it really got me to thinking - Did she have to go back to Russia, but left the son behind for school? Or because someone needs her there? Did she lose her license? (this is easy to do in Switzerland - if you speed over a certain % above limit, you lose your license from 1 - 12 months - approx. 70k people/year lose their license for some period in Switzerland) Is she hibernating for the winter months? Occasionally I hear a female voice but I don't see anything.

It would be considered rude for me to ask. And I can't think of a reason to go to the door. But no one tells us anything. We are not the neighbors people go to to say "hey, we'll be on vacation for the next 2 weeks Or can you watch the house/water the plants/feed the cats/pick up mail?" We didn't even have to do much of that in IA but everyone kind of knew what was going on with each other. And if someone was gone for a while - you knew why. At least you would see tire tracks in the snow going in and out of garages even if you never saw anyone. It's a completely different culture.

So it's an impersonal, neighborhood existence. We really rely on school, church and work acquaintances/friends to maintain a healthy balance outside of our family life. Which, by the way, the family life is good. Bart is working ALOT right now and the girls keep praying that "daddy will get all his work done so he can get home early and spend time with us." This is a good thing - they are so used to having time with him that they are really missing him while we get thru this tough season. Which probably won't end 'til April. Sorry girls.

And disconnected with extended family. Missing Deb and her family after a great week with them at Christmas. Kris is growing and entering her third trimester and I wish I could put my hands on her baby belly - whether she likes it or not! :) And attend the family Baby shower in Sacto. this weekend. Bart's neice just had a baby boy in Dec. and we just got to see pictures. And my Aunt Ro just sent a long email updating me on that side of the family which was great.

I teased her about someone on that side starting a family Blog. So I could keep up. I enjoy keeping up with everyone even though we are so far away. I like blogging as I feel it cuts down on the number of long emails I should otherwise send. But I do eventually get to the emails - eventually. My apologies if I owe you one.

So as I'm missing my sisters - I leave you with this. Judging by hair length, my guess is we are 1 1/2 - K, 3 - D and me - 5 1/2 yrs old. Mom can correct me if I'm wrong. And see our little matching dresses that Mom made. I think she made things like this 'til I was about 8 and didn't want to match my little sisters anymore! Man - my head looks huge - think I grew into it later.

Anyone care to comment on what Kris is thinking there in the sand? That face cracks me up!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Davos - Ski Week

I've been looking forward to a trip like this for a long time. A week-long ski trip with my girls. My mom did this (I think a 2 nighter) with me and my sister's when we were about 6, 8 and 10. I take my hat off to her - it's a lot of work. Even though we were going for a full week vs 2 nights - it's was a lot to do and I only have 2. But she was younger! My grandmother was a grandmother at my age! I felt old at times during ski week but it could have been the cold I caught.

Here's a little recap of both trips:

Boreal Ridge (1977-ish) vs Davos (2008)

Small Family resort in CA vs Large Destination Resort in Switzerland

Boreal - for beginners, families and those who don't want to drive further into Tahoe vs Davos - home to the World Economic Forum, rich Swiss and neighboring Klosters where the British royal family likes to ski

Boreal - 1 1/2 hrs away from home in West Sacto. vs Davos - 1 1/2 hrs away from Waedenswil

1 mountain - 3, maybe 4, chair lifts vs 5 Mountains - LOTS of t-bars, chair lifts and gondola's

Boreal Lodge vs 1 bedroom apartment which I was lucky to find without breaking the bank

Sleeping several to a bed vs Sleeping several to a bed

Hamburger w/ fries vs Roesti w/ melted cheese, bacon and a fried egg on top

3 kids (6, 8, & 10) vs 2 kids (7 & 9)

No colds vs 3 colds (and a trip to the Apotheke(pharmacy))

Susan reads Nancy Drew "Secret of the Old Clock" vs "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"

Susan is 10 yrs old vs 4?-ish (compared to Mom who was only 30 yrs for similar trip)

"Carry your own skiis" vs "Carry your own skiis"

Play outside in a snowbank vs do flips on the giant trampolines

Everyone speaks English vs approx. 6 - 7 languages heard (of English - American and 3 versions of the Queens English)

Dad didn't join us vs Bart came at the end of the week and thru the weekend

We had FUN! vs We had FUN!

I don't think it matters in the end - where you go or how big or small. And I am still so thankful to my Mom for taking us on that trip - it was such a great treat for us. I think the girls will have some really good memories of our week. I know I will. Even though we had colds. I have always enjoyed skiing and am happy to share it with the girls and have them enjoy it. I have a great memory of my sisters and mom from our trip 30 yrs ago and I hope to be thinking of this one 30 yrs from now (I hope, I hope). So thank you again Mom and thanks to Bart for being willing to part with us (he being adequately supplied with frozen dinner options!).

Here is Kendra in one of her 2 runs thru the gates at the end of ski school Friday - she got 2nd place in her class - Yeah Kendra!

And Rachel working on her backflip on the trampoline - they loved this!
Rachel running the gates for her class - she took 3rd place - Yeah Rachel! Bigger and tougher class so I was really happy for her. It is the 75th Anniversary for the Swiss Ski School this winter (standardized thru der Schweiz) so their medals are commemorative which is cool.

Isn't this precious! Not that any of us like the T-bars. They use them alot here unless you're at a bigger resort and the length/steepness of the hill calls for a chair lift. Ugh!

Beginning of week Ski Schule drop off - in all I'd say there were 300 people milling around between parents and kids. It got better as the week wore on - it is also half term (mid year break) for schools in the UK so there were a lot of families out for a partial week holiday. Kendra made friends with a little boy from just outside of London and was sad to see him go on Wed. after class.
I was up on Jakobshorn (pronounced Yah-cubshorn) for some skiing while the girls were in lessons. Now if I could just ski like that guy in the picture - ahhhh. The snow was good but a bit hard/icy in the mornings. And my skiis were too heavy but I'm saving that for my Goldilocks post :).
Another view from up top. I always find it fascinating to ski up on open mountaintops here - hardly any trees at all! There is a lot of "off-piste" or free skiing available here but my knees can't handle it and they do have casualties (already this year) so it's not my cup of tea. A nice groomed run with a bit of powder suits me fine.
Kendra on the trampoline - she was doing her ballet moves.
So that was Davos and a very fun Ski Week. Now we can officially say we've done it and not just spend the week saying "what do you want to do? I don't know, what do you want to do?" And we had even more fun when Bart arrived because 1. it helped me out being I was sick and all and 2. we just like being a family on vacation! And the way his week has gone since returning - it's really, really good that he got some time to relax.
Cheers to you all and I will dig up something else to share soon. Still not quite over the virus.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Quick Funny

I've just been called a "numb-butt" by my precious daughter Rachel.

All I could do was laugh. I have been given this title today as I have been on the computer for quite a while - cleaning up email, downloading and editing pictures, blogging, looking at friends pic's, checking ski reviews (while the browser keeps crashing) - I still have this miserable cold, it hurts to talk - what else should I do besides the mountain of laundry.

Apparently, there is a poster in the IT room at school of a figure with a pillow strapped to it's behind and who is staring, glaze-eyed, at a computer - titled "Numb-butt." How much does that Int'l school education cost? And this is what we get?!

Compassion International - Febr. Blog Month

OK - We're back (again! I feel like I use that "we're back" bit alot) but I'm not ready for anything as I've had a BAD cold since last Wed. and have just kept going for sake of the family and vacation. But I have the best husband and very sweet kids who have been willing to let me sleep and not pressure me too hard for anything.

So I am going to put a plug in for Compassion International before I sort thru vacation pic's and decide which little skier's I want to post.

February is Blog Month for Compassion International and they sent a team of Bloggers to Uganda last week. "Blogging" has become a unique form of communication in this day and age of technology - I know I enjoy reading some blogs regularly for news, entertainment, inspiration and just to stay in touch. Compassion's goal with this particular trip is to educate others about the work they are doing and the needs there are in Uganda through the avenue of blogging.

I have put the URL link to Compassion in our little sidebar. I confess I am technically challenged in that I am unable to get the whole link for the Uganda Blog Site picture and everything to show. I'm an accountant - not a techie. So you just click there and then get into the Febr. Blog month site. Sophie (aka BooMama), Shannon (Rocks in my Dryer) and Anne (FlowerDust) are blogs I am familiar with on a regular basis - the other sites are equally good as I check them out - Shaun Groves has some really great comments.

We sponsor a child (Eloisa) in Mexico (matter of fact, that happened as a result of the 'Gloria' tour in DM which Shaun Groves and others were performing). Although her story is different than that of the children in Uganda, the comments brought by the bloggers there make her seem more real to me. We got a nice letter last month with a crayon drawing from her. We have so much - and such a little bit can make a difference.

I know - more deep thinking.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

To Last thru the Week -

We are taking a 'proper' ski holiday for the girls winter school break. Actually known as Ski Break by most schools in Switzerland because we had 'winter' break over Christmas. And most people - Swiss and foreigners alike - use this time to indulge in the Swiss passion for skiing.

So the girls and I are headed to Davos for a week and Bart will join us near the end when he can get away from work. I will not have a computer - I am taking a lot of books and will watch German cable TV. Maybe improve my German by watching (the rest of the world seems to learn English by watching US/UK tv) - the German version of American Idol is running - it's really funny and well, I don't want to make fun of them but, the German accents with English lyrics - hee, hee.

Anyhooo - will leave off the blog for a week with some funnies. Bart informed me that I was really "heavy" on my other post :) . Sometimes things are heavy. But the following are not -

Here is a 'pretty girl' I found while walking around during a riding lesson. Here's another 'pretty girl' during her riding lesson.
Can you tell which parent Rachel and Kendra are related to from this Pic?
Can you see the little, white wire running off our roof into the window below? It's attached to the satellite dish which is not visible to anyone except a helicopter or anyone playing on the roof.
Can you see the wire now? We are the top unit - try real hard to see that wire. Apparently, it is an eyesore and the neighborhood is in danger of looking like an Auslander compound. So we must have the satellite installers come and re-route the wire so that the 8 people who might look up our way cannot see it. We apologize in advance to anyone who would have us as neighbors upon our return. At least WE clean the snow off the steps so as to not KILL anyone trying to get down them. Ooooh - maybe that is our neighbors evil plan - that the Auslanders fall down the steps..... OK, I'm exaggerating a bit but we do have a neighbor who creates a hazard by not cleaning off the snowy stairs which then become an ice-slick. And I'm afraid to do it or they may get use to my generosity and never do it themselves. Here is our other 'pretty girl' on old fashion day. Recognize the dress Aunt Debbie? K kept asking how 'old' the dress was so she could tell her class. Gma E made it around 1982 when the Gunne Sax style was popular in CA - she was quite the seamstress - that dress is in excellent condition. Especially considering it was originally worn by the official tomboy of the "Bianco Girls."
My mom found this card at Hallmark in Virginia and sent it to Bart for his Bday. OK - all of my IA readers - Can this challenge be met? I'm still racking my brain...... Just another sunrise - which is coming earlier - Yeah!
So - enjoy your week and I look forward to mine - skiing and spending uninterrupted time with the girls. Bart has been supplied with several nights of frozen lasagna and chili so he should survive!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Lausanne - Lucky 13th Anniversary

Bart suprised me with a little overnighter for our Anniversary last weekend. While I did know I was going somewhere, I didn't know where until we switched trains in Zurich for the "Bern, Fribourg, Lausanne, Geneva" train. I guessed Lausanne or Geneva and figured Lausanne was the better bet as it's a bit closer than Geneva - I was right and my prize was time alone with my husband. Short of getting a babysitter for evenings, we have not been alone overnight anywhere since Nov. '05 - when we first faced the fact we might be moving again. A 'look-see' trip to the East Coast - never did move there.

So our friends, M & J (from Cedar Rapids! and the Minneapolis office), watched the girls overnight for us. Kendra wanted to know if Matt could drive (left the car). I assured her that as he was the youngest of a large family growing up on a farm in IA and he's probably been driving since he was 10 yrs old. Kendra says, "Yeah, tractors and stuff, blah, blah, blah." But at least her mind was settled as to whether he could get them to ski lessons or not. And our minds were settled as it was snowing pretty heavy when we left and the fact that he did grow up driving on a farm in IA gave him more qualifications to drive our children to ski lessons than if he had grown up in say, Los Angeles. The man knows how to drive in the snow!

Our pretty view from the train.

In front of the Olympic Museum/Park - The IOC is located in Lausanne in some beautiful villas on the lake (Lac Leman aka Lake Geneva by some).
There were many beautiful and interesting sculptures there at the park.
It houses the torches from each of the Olympic Games including a little history of each.
Click on this pic below for the larger image and read - especially at the bottom. One of the funny things we find about living in Switzerland. They may be 'neutral' but never doubt the quality of their military prowess. Why do you think the Vatican has used them for security for hundreds of years?
Some random lady enjoying a walk lakeside. Really, after the museum, we just enjoyed walking around outside. No one was saying "what are we going to do next?, I'm hungry, I'm thirsty, I'm bored, When can we go back to the hotel?, I'm tired of walking, Can't we play just a little longer (on playgrounds while Mom & Dad stand around freezing their back ends off)?, I don't want to go out to dinner." There was beautiful silence except for our occasional conversation - mostly people watching conversations. We really enjoyed it.The gentlemen in the park playing chess. Oh, they were involved in the game!
Sunset over the harbor.

Looking toward Montreaux the next morning - BEAUTIFUL weather! after the previous day.And your typical European power plant on the way home.We had a great time, the girls had fun with M & J and it was a welcome and needed break for Bart & I. Now it's back to work!

"I thought they fixed that?"

So R is watching "That's so Raven" on Disney the other afternoon while K's still at school for cooking class. I am doing something productive and keeping Raven in view with the corner of my eye. Because we like Raven (yes, even Bart) and we sing along to the theme until we can't keep up with the rap because my ears are no longer capable of catching all the words and I don't like to mumble songs or hear anyone else mumble either. Too much about me....

The episode dealt with the interest Cory should be showing for his school project dealing with Black history and the pride he should take in it. And Raven is trying to get a job in a store with her friend only to have one of her visions in which the hiring employee says "I don't hire black people." If you don't know about Raven's visions (she can see into the future you know!), her predictions are very often misunderstood and lead to funny escapades - thus funny show.

Rachel immediately says after that comment "I thought they fixed that?!" I'm intrigued. I ask "Fixed what?" R - "You know, that people aren't supposed to be looking at the color of other people's skin for stuff. The store can't do that. I thought they fixed that."

Oh - that it were so easy that prejudice could be "fixed" like that. And how at 9 yrs old, she truly believes that skin color is NOT an issue. And how glad I am of that.

I'm sure you wonder why I am choosing to talk about this on our little blog re: family and Switzerland? Often we think of prejudice as primarily a 'color' issue. But it is a race, religion, health, language, education, financial and location issue as well. I allude here and there to the fact that we are Auslanders here in Switzerland. While, overall, I love living here for various reasons, there will be relief in other ways when we do return to the States. You can just be yourself without feeling that, in some way, the reputation of your Country rests upon your shoulders whenever you meet someone.

A prayer request was posed in Bible Study this week for the son of a British family who attends Swiss School as they are long-term resident's here. That when he goes to camp next week, he won't be racially abused as he was last time. His skin color is no different than theirs. He understands and speaks Swiss German fluently. But he is not one of them. This is not the first friend I've known here who's child has suffered racial abuse in the local schools here. And the schools don't know how to deal with it. They do not have the same programs here as exist in the UK and USA re: bullying.

In many places in Europe, and especially here, the children are expected to 'sort it out' without much, if any, parental/authoritative intervention. Families and traditions are old here and the local bully may be the 7th generation in town and nothing will be done because of family status. The bigger cities (Zurich) are more 'enlightened' but the further you go out, the more the old traditions hold fast.

Switzerland has a lot of pride and they do not bend easily. They hang onto a lot of stereotypes of people from other places and you have to work hard to change those stereotypes. Add a really difficult local language to learn - which is not useful outside of the german part of the Country. Worst - you could learn the Swiss German in St. Gallen then hop over to Basel and find you can't understand their Swiss German. The dialect varies so much. So 'foreign' children are very often excluded because of language differences. It's hard for kids in Int'l school to integrate with the local kids as they are getting 'Hoch Deutsch' in school vs local kids speaking 'Schweizer Deutsch.' And school schedules just make it hard to have lots of free time anyway.

And don't we all have our little prejudices? Fear and ignorance creates prejudice - Webster's - "an opinion made without adequate basis." What do we do with our prejudices? Do we hang onto them? Attempt to educate ourselves and others around us? Recognize when we may say or do something that might harm another based on perception/prejudice/lack of knowledge?

We are proud to represent our Country here and try to break some of the unflattering stereotypes they have of Americans. And, admittedly, I must caution myself against making comments about "the Swiss" when I am frustrated.

I'll get off my soapbox with this:

"Jesus said, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul - Love him with all your mind.' This is the first and most important commandment. And the second is like it. 'Love your neighbor as you love yourself.'" Matthew 22:37-39

So go out there and 'love' someone who may be a little different than you - I know I've received some and it makes such a difference.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Greatest thing since Sliced Bread -

- IS SLICED BREAD! Above are the various "ready" breads I might use for sandwiches - in the back is a silzer roll (like pretzel dough in bread form - yummy), front is a 'wegli' (nice soft white roll - wonder if these were the rolls Heidi used her money from Frankfurt for to provide the 'Grandmother' in Dorfli with - so she didn't have to eat the hard brown rolls anymore) and then we have 'Toast.' A dry version of Wonder Bread. When it's in larger sized they call it "American" toast. It's like serving PB & J on cardboard paper and I use it only for emergencies. The girls think it's fine when smothered with Nutella. Now - the kids didn't eat white bread at home/lunches until we moved to Switzerland (those yummy white rolls) unless at a friends, vacation - Panera. Bart & I like wheat and we always had whole wheat bread. Make that sliced, whole wheat bread. It took a while to find a whole wheat bread here that wasn't full of nuts (including walnut which I'm allergic to) or that didn't taste like whole wheat sawdust. And have I mentioned that NOTHING is sliced except for the cardboard Toast.
Kendra is particularly in love with the whole wheat bread (above) I found in November courtesy of my German teacher. It's only baked on certain days so I try to hit the store on the right day. Not that I know what the day is yet - I just try to get lucky.
So I buy 2 loaves at a time, slice them up and stick in the freezer for storage. Because these are fresh breads. There are no preservatives. Even the Toast only lasts for a week - and it's dry to begin with. But it's sliced.
So next time you pull out your baggie of sliced bread - say a little prayer or thank you for the sliced bread. It may actually be - the greatest invention!
My little whine for the day.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Last bit from HI - I promise

One last look at HI. In Oahu. We really had such a good time getting to know my sister's kids. But after 4 nights in the same house with 5 kids and 7 adults, the Olson's checked into the hotel down the road. And we got to spend a lot of time especially with JT (4 yrs) who is like a little man and a real joy to be around.

Grandpa Paul gave the girls little digital camera's for Christmas which they were thrilled about. Now, our only problem will be managing their pic's along with mom's. As the computer just started to make funny noises again, I figured I'd back up the Jan. picture files (everything prior was backed up by the professionals at the computer repair shop). It only took 3 1/2 CD's to back them up - OH - maybe I take too many pictures. The kids are all hangin' loose with Uncle Neti.
The balloon man at Teihanni's B-day party was a big hit. Kendra is getting her palm tree with monkey. There were giant hat's, dogs, giant spiders, love birds in a giant heart - he was the best I've ever seen. Not that I am a big expert at balloon animals - we were all quite impressed.
And the special 1 year old - Teihanni - Princess for the day.
The Tafisi Ohana - JT, Deb, Tavanni, Neti and Teihanni.
Ohana is Hawaiian for family. Hawaiians are known for their friendliness and hospitality. We always have a great time when we stay with my sister and her family. It has brought another culture to our growning family and we have great appreciation for Neti's barbeque - good job Deb!
Most of you reading know the reason for such a great big party for the 1 year birthday. For those that don't, a brief explanation. In the Hawaiian culture (and many Pacific Rim/Asian cultures), the 1st Birthday is cause for great celebration - it may be as big as a graduation, even wedding party depending on the family. If a child was able to stay alive thru the 1st year, it's chances of long life were great - dates back to when infant mortality rates were much higher that they are today. This tradition has continued and therefore we've tried to make the effort to attend these parties and we've only missed one. We had just moved to Switzerland and missed Tavanni's party.
So - that's HI. I will be moving on - I have furry tales to tell, anniversary to share and general complaints. But we have to see how the computer holds up - I think I'll be shopping this week.