Friday, May 30, 2008

We LOVE Flowers!

Maybe "We LOVE Flowers!" is a bit strong for the family. How about "Mom loves flowers and so we indulge this obsession of hers." Would you care to see all the wildflower pic's she takes on every hike?

Thus - When in Amsterdam, in MAY, one must visit the Keukenhof Gardens - the largest bulb garden flower park in the world. If you are staying in the city, it is very easy to arrange a half or full day tour. You get on the bus, they tell you a bit about the gardens/surrounding area and then they drop you off at the Keukenhof and you meet your bus at the arranged time.

This is the best kind of 'tour' to take if you don't wish to wander around with a bunch of strangers and follow a guide holding an umbrella.

I was so busy in the Fall that I hadn't planted any bulbs this year. A first for me in about 11 years. Nor did I get the flower beds prepped for winter which as of now, I am reaping the results of my "lack of labor." Anyway - the trip out to these gardens definitely satisfied any desire to see tulips, lillies, etc...

After about 1 hour, Bart said "Huh, I thought you were a good gardener. Until I came here!" To which I replied "I am not 30 full-time gardeners, nor do I plant 7 million bulbs by hand."

So here's a bit of the Keukenhof:

The Lilie Exhibition - more than 35,000 lilies of approx. 300 different varieties. I really wanted to see this but knew that Rachel and I would have a short window of opportunity to go through before our allergies started up (I have to remove all of the pollen "thingies" if they are in the house). It only took about 2 - 3 minutes for our eyes to start itching and about 5 for Rachel to start sneezing. We had to speed though but it was beautiful. Loved these feathery red tulips.
Besides the bulb gardens, they have naturalized plants (hosta, bleeding hearts, lamium, woodruff, etc...) and other flowering bushes (rhodedendrons, azaleas, etc...) so everything really blends together outside of the sculptured garden areas.

Prettiest flowers we saw all day! Unique and one of a kind! Not for Sale (at least not today).

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Answering some Questions.

Alright. Now that I'm done with tons of yard work, ironing my husbands shirts (I left mine for another day and lo' and behold - already there are more of his to be done), kids are in bed and I am NOT going to sit and read when I should be working on homework, I will answer a few questions. These are primarily from a good family friend who was here visiting recently.

"Some of the things I found interesting after visiting were the differences as to how food is marketed vs. US . Things like paying for parking at the market, having to pay for the shopping cart, the fact checkers sit vs. standing. The colorful eggs, the fact milk is on the shelf (not in the refrigerated section), how it is packaged and the reasons why those differences exist [if known]. You covered bread issues, what you cannot buy that you miss, and recycle issues very well which gives 'us' a sense of differences. Are any of these differences above due to land use and/or production? How much is government controlled?

I'll do my best with this topic. And will use US $ equivalent - as the Swissfranc and US $ are within .02 - .03 cents of each other - really, it's no problem. I'll convert it for you!

1. There are few places where you have free parking - I typically pay .50 for 1/2 to 1 hour at most stores/grocery, $3-$5 for train parking and $5 - $12 for mall parking. I once made the mistake of staying at the grocery store parking lot to do a bunch of things in town, including lunch, and ended up paying $12 for going over 3 hrs. If I had left before the 3 hr mark it would only have been $3. It pays to move your car around, however inconvenient.

2. The shopping carts are in their stalls all locked together. A $2 coin (the franc doesn't become paper until the $10 denomination) unlocks the little chain and then you get your $2 coin back when you return the cart. The only inconvenience this ever causes is sometimes, I'm caught without the right coin. There is generally a change machine nearby OR I may opt to buy fewer items and use a hand-basket instead.

3. This ? wasn't asked but since I'm on the grocery topic. There is a .30 charge for paper bags and there are only tiny plastic bags available for small items. I re-use all my bags and keep a bag full of them in the car. I've also been known to lug a litre of milk, banana's and cheese home in my purse - don't laugh!!!!!
We also bag our own groceries - I have a hard time watching someone do it for me in the US now.
AND - we weigh our own produce (each item has a number - ex. carrots are #71 at Coop) on scales which then pop out a little bar coded price tag. It is sooooo embarassing when you've forgotten to weigh your apples and are holding up the line.

4. Checkers do sit in the grocery. I'd imagine this beats standing up for 6 - 8 hrs. Probably better on the legs, feet and back.

5. Colorful eggs. They have "piknik" eggs here. Hard-boiled , sealed and good for about 3 weeks - not refrigerated. They are the best thing for hiking and the girls like them for lunch. I do refrigerate mine when I get them home. Because I've been trained to do so. I know some US families won't get them. Why not? They're perfectly good and I don't have to do my own hard boiled eggs.

6. Milk. There is some milk sold on the regular grocery shelf and some in the refrigerator section. The milk on the shelf is UHT milk (high heat pasteurized). It usually has a 6 week expiration date and does not require refrigeration until opened. This is great to have when you are out of town for 2 weeks, returning on a Sat. afternoon and the grocery stores are closed until Monday morning. It does have a slightly different taste to it (like the difference between CA and IA milk - I have my preference - CA cows are happy cows) and we typically buy the fresh milk for everyday use. The fresh milk here doesn't last as long as the milk in the States though. I could buy a gallon of milk that had a good 2 weeks before the expiration date - here, it can be up to a week but sometimes it's only 3 -4 days.

7. I miss buying shredded Mexican cheese mix, HV Ranch dressing mix (thanks to all who contribute to our supply - Rachel's little Dutch friend asked where she could get some so her mom could make dip for carrots!), Jalapeno peppers, brownie & cake mix and familiar family drugs/vitamins.

8. Recycling is huge. As is throwing things away. There is no "throw it out on the curb" pickup twice a year here. You have to take it yourself, get the vehicle weighed before and after and then paying your little dump fee. However, the Hauptsammlung does not smell like a dump so this is a good thing. But the place to take the glass - where we throw them all away by color and aluminum - is different than the place to take the plastics and well, it all is a chore.

Switzerland is a land-locked country which utilizes it's space efficiently and they don't want to look at landfills. They burn (somehow it's supposed to be efficient and do it in a way so as not to mess up the Ozone layer) what they can and recycle a large bit. Packaging is kept to a minimum. If you buy a pair of shoes, they ask if you want the box or just a small bag. We probably throw out 1/3 the amount of garbage we used to per month. Even the food packaging is less.

9. Of course, everything is government controlled! In general, what they are controlling makes sense. Most of the 'rules' are for the good of the general public and not the individual. They maintain a close watch over quality of food production and imports. Bart was just reading how they are temporarily lifting their ban on the import of potatoes for the EuroCup in June. They are afraid they'll have a run on french fries. That explained alot - I always wondered why I can only find 2 kinds of potatoes in the store - neither are new (red) potatoes or Idaho russets! Apparently, there are potato diseases out there that Switzerland doesn't want to catch. While their potatoes work well for Roesti, they are missing something when cooking other dishes.

I'll have a post re: Euro'08 soon although no one in the US seems to care much about European Football. aka - Soccer.

10. Rules, rules and more rules. At least the rules are either spelled out for you or are common sense. Many of the people here are more frustrated in going to the States as many rules are not clear and there is not much graciousness for lack of knowing all the rules.

The rules here that allow for camera's to take pic's of my car speeding down the street is the same law that keeps it safe for pedestrians and kids to still walk to school. So I accept my part by driving the speed limit and stopping at the crosswalks - because this is a pedestrian right-of-way country. If a citizen sees someone doing something wrong, they can take a picture, go to the police and the police will investigate. It may sound nosy but the crimes against persons here are very low - they have a low tolerance for these things. So while I don't always like the feeling that someone might be "telling on me", I'm also not afraid of a lawsuit because I have a pool in my backyard without a 6 foot fence enclosing it. Because in Switzerland, if an accident occurred, it is an accident as long as we did not deliberately contribute to the incident. I hope that all made sense. If not, let me know. It can be hard to explain.

A country without litigation lawyers. Because they still take personal responsibility for their actions. That's all I'm going to say about that.

OK. I think that's enough for now. There were more questions which I will tackle later. Have to get to my homework - which includes adding to the shopping list for Bart's Orlando trip!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Congratulations Kris & Jason!

I don't have a picture but if you link to their page (right there in the sidebar), you can see a pic of my new niece, Jayden Faith.

This little girl has been prayed for and desired for many years. God saw fit to bless them with her at this point of their lives - and she even arrived on her due date, despite the early labor scares a month ago.

Mom and baby are doing fine according to Grandpa Paul. He was holding his newest granddaughter while I talked with him. I asked him how it felt to have #6? He said it "felt terrific."

So congratulations to grandparents: Nancy, Gma E, Gpa Paul, Great Gma Vel and J's dad (whose name I don't know). And all the Sisters, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins and countless friends who have been so supportive of them during this time. God answers prayers in many ways. I know I'm just the aunt but I am so thankful that this baby is here! Thank You Lord!

I am working on some questions that a family friend sent via email. Our computer is dying a quick death so my computer time has been limited - and thus pic's are hard to provide as well. Maybe Bart can bring one (a computer) back with him in a couple weeks!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Any Questions?

It is May. And 2 years ago we made our first trip over here to see whether we thought we could live in Zurich. I've been thinking about our house in Urbandale, our friends and neighbors, church and schools. Sometimes I think about my little daily drives and routines there and compare them to here. I enjoy(ed) them both.

I(we) still really miss friends - family as well.

So what I'd like to know is - Does anyone have a question for us that I can answer via the Blog?

You can email or leave comment.

I try to write about the travels (of course) and funny observations about living abroad but sometimes wonder it there's anything I leave out. We are starting to forget what some of the differences are here. We really notice the changes at home (USA). For instance - a CA gas station asked for my zip code in order to use the credit card at the pump. Problem was, the credit card I had used a European zip. Fortunately I had a $20 on me.

Speaking of gas - there are 3.78 liters to 1 gallon (WorldMetricCalculator). We are paying 1.89 chf/ltr which is about $7.14 per gallon. What are you paying?

Makes the train cheaper every day!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Amsterdam - a Lifestyle

What you will see here is the locals of Amsterdam enjoying their beautiful weather.

We had great weather while we were there and it was interesting to see how the locals enjoyed it even when they had to be at home. The Netherlands is the 3rd most densely populated country and Amsterdam has a severe housing shortage. As the agent who rented us the apartment said "There are no lifts and only narrow staircases because they must maximize space.

We got a kick out of seeing people with feet hanging out their windows, reading or working in their windows and enjoying each other's company on the small terraces or sidewalks. You have to be careful - if you see a table set out on the sidewalk and people eating, it's not necessarily a restaurant. Or if the front door is open, it is not necessarily a store. Many of the people use the sidewalk or their front step as additional "living space" during nice weather. So the people enjoying their dinner as you pass by are not necessarily going to take your order should you sit down at an open spot. Make sure you look for a restaurant sign!

And it was a good thing they all took advantage of it - it started raining the day after we left. Raining here too as a matter of fact!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

American Idol/Switchfoot

OK - We are on 'Continent' delay with American Idol and I just saw the final 3's performances (it's Thurs. night). Even though I already know who got booted thanks to the Yahoo homepage blurbs. Which are not 'Continent' delayed. I watch anyway as half the fun is the barbs between the judges and Ryan S. And I am a Simon C. fan. My husband is OK with this.

Anyway.....watching David Cook sing Switchfoot's "Dare you to Move" reminded me of a little incident on our Amsterdam trip. I have already shared this with my friend J.D. but I will share with all (and apologies to David Cook but he couldn't top the real thing).

We were in the Hard Rock Cafe in Amsterdam this last weekend (eating real, live, imported American food products and adding to Bart's HRC tshirt collection), when Switchfoot came on the video screen. Rachel and Kendra went into high gear with the air guitar and lip syncing at our table. Bart was so proud and at the same time wondering if he should be proud?

Yep, apparently I can get rid of the Veggie Tales CD's now.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Happy 'Belated' Mother's Day!

As the girls and I sat eating our last pancakes in Amsterdam, Tues. - "early lunch", I suddenly realized "Sunday was Mother's Day." I said this aloud and the girls looked at me in shock. "I forgot to call Gma E and wish her Happy Mother's Day! I can't believe I forgot!"

The girls though, start in with "Mommy, we still have time to make you something, right?" "We love you Mommy!"

This was the first time since having kids that I never thought about what this Mother's Day might be like. I'll admit, I've wrangled some flowers, homemade gifts, a spa package and a dinner out of them (Bart included) in the past. And it seems that over time with traveling, my Mom traveling, making Bart responsible for his Mom - I have let things slide on my end a bit.

And Mother's Day is not a commercial holiday here. We don't get many reminders nor does anyone talk about what they are going to do/what they are going to get.

Do I really care that I get something special on that day? No. Is it a nice treat to be recognized? Absolutely. My girls are old enough now to tell me what they think. And at this age - they're still saying some very nice things. So does my husband. On days that aren't Mother's Day. I count myself lucky and Thank God for our many blessings. He gave me my best gifts with Bart and the girls.

And Bart would say that a weekend in Amsterdam with him and the girls should be present enough. Yeah. OK. Sure. Thanks Honey! hee hee

So here are some of the Motherly things I did this past week:

Ate pancakes with my girls on our last day. Due to work 'stuff,' Bart ended up flying out early and we trailed behind. May we just say for the record that Kendra is the "Panacake Queen." No I did not misspell 'pancake.' She actually pronounces it 'panacake' and we think it's cute so we don't correct it.

The dutch pancakes are as big/bigger than your plate and come with all sorts of things either topping them or cooked in with them. We found that a combo of a plain pancake sprinkled with powdered sugar and then a pancake with bacon and cheese suited our needs just fine.

And I walked behind my girls as we climbed the stairs to the apartment we rented. OMGosh! Steep Stairs! Not as steep as those to the secret annexe in the Anne Frank "Huis" (house) but pretty darn close. So we always followed or tried to lead - just in case someone stumbled.
And soaking our tired feet in the reflection pool in the Museum Square. Ah, that felt good. We enjoyed ourselves and I'll have to tell you all about it. HOWEVER, I am still trying to tackle the Mt. Everest of laundry. Will it ever stop? It has never been this bad before! Why am I blogging when I could be folding laundry?

My point - Happy Mother's Day to all of you mom's who are reading this. Remember to enjoy the foot soaking and pancake eating moments with your kids. These times are precious and God given.

We've had almost 10 yrs with Rachel and we realize we are at the half-way point should she change her mind about living with us forever. (Excuse me, do we get a vote?)

And the first thing I did when the girls and I dropped our bags at home was call my Mom!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

I deceive myself & Zermatt

Well, I didn't actually deceive Zermatt, just myself. But I am splitting hairs and you will understand the title in a moment.

I thought I'd have more time for Blogging this week. I didn't. We returned from Zermatt Sunday afternoon and the computer started making the weird clanking noises again. So I spent most of my Monday trying to backup all the files since Febr. and get laundry done. This was after all the laundry and packing so Rachel could go from Zermatt to the week-long school trip to Anzere (in mountains of the French speaking portion of Switz.).

I am still looking at 4 loads of unfolded laundry - if you need a towel, grab it out of the pile. 50% of Bart's dress shirts are hanging on the drying rack waiting for the iron - if you know anything about his wardrobe, that's a lot of shirts. And I don't like ironing but that's a whole different story and could take up an entire blog by itself. Also managed the process of switching/sorting the girls wardrobes (winter to summer) and figuring out what needs to be ditched or given away. Did I mention the weeds? So hours of weeding being done.

Because we leave for Amsterdam tomorrow. And somewhere I cook and repack AND get my hair done. Because I thought this would be a "dead" week. HA HA HA

Enough of why I have no time for blogging.

Here is the Matterhorn. It is one of the coolest and impacting sites I have seen in nature. Not that there aren't other mountains I may love more, it's just such a striking visual. Sitting there by itself saying "look at me." So we looked and I took just a few pictures.

Here is the bull that would have prefered to stomp on us rather than get into that truck (he was NASTY!!!):
I have to add a correction here: the animal above is not a bull. I was revisiting my pictures and realized the biological mistake. But you have to understand - this animal came out of the barn breathing fire and saw 8 of us standing on the path to watch the process and wanted to burn us up. I was actually torn between taking a picture or keeping a close eye on the girls (whose heads you see) as I was afraid we were being mistaken for Rodeo clowns. We were a bit worried as Bart was wearing a red backpack! When they finally got this beast into the trailer, it took awhile before it would even move "into position" with the others - the man inside was using a tazer gun of some sort on it to keep it from pushing him into the wall. It was NOT happy.

Most Swiss cows are happy cows. Like the cows in California. And they are "genteel" looking. I might have to do a post of the Swiss cows. We are generally out there hiking with a bunch of them loose in the fields. BUT - I do not EVER want to come across this gal because she has a whole lot of PMS goin' on. She acted like a bull - just didn't have the right stuff. And here's hoping they keep her behind the electric fence!

Back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Once again, the Matterhorn:
Another school family was in Zermatt at the same time - K and I walk and "do stuff" together and their girls are virtually the same age as K & R so we had a great time with them.
And the Matterhorn - with hut thrown in for variety:
Who are these children and why are they on our train?

And the Matterhorn:
The traveling icicle:

This icicle was being used in all manner of ways (for funny photos - keep it clean folks) by all the tourists up at the top of the Gornergrat station so the girls had to get in on the action.

And the Matterhorn:
Kendra practising her product endorsement skills.

Sidenote: It cracks me up whenever I see the Coca Cola glasses. On American Idol in the US, I'm sure that the Coca Cola slogan on the cups of Randy, Paula and Simon are not "blurred." But we are getting the feed from the UK so the logo's are blurred - I'm sure because Sky/Europe is not paying some licensing fee of some sort. But it is SO OBVIOUSLY Coca Cola that it cracks us up. Why bother?
So, Yeah, we saw the Matterhorn. And as I told my friend K, I must have taken 150 pic's of it alone. That 2G camera card is a blessing AND a curse - I can fill that thing up in 4 days (using a Canon Dig. Rebel) no problemo. Which is why it takes so long for me to backup all the files when the computer is in rebellion. Speaking of which, it's time to give it a break before it goes up into flames at my feet (not to mention, I am working on not compulsively sitting in front of the computer - I am a compulsive word person: books, mags, computers - AHHHH).

God spoke through a burning bush, why not a burning computer?