Sunday, August 31, 2008

You can take the American's out of America....

But, you can't take the America out of the Americans!

We are, most likely, the only family in Waedenswil to use the outdoor fireplace almost exclusively for marshmallow roasting. My Swiss neighbor has laughed - "this is a very American thing you do" - about this and it reminds me that we need to invite them over for this simple treat.

Most Swiss would be roasting some kind of Wurst over the fire or simply having a fire as ambiance to accompany a glass of Prosecco or Wine after dinner.

Of course, ingredients are not easy to come by. We buy imported American marshmallows from a candy shop in Zurich - ONLY 5 chf per bag. While chocolate bars abound in Switzerland, graham crackers do not. So we use these Petit Buerre cookies - a solid piece of milk chocolate attached to a plain cookie. I pop the chocolate wafers off half the cookies and Voila! - add the toasted marshmallow and you have a very tasty S'more. The chocolate tastes better than Hershey's.
I particularly love roasting marshmallows and go to great lengths to get them very soft, gooey and lightly toasted on the outside. And occasional scorched ones aren't bad either.

You see Kendra drooling over this one. Nope - It's mine baby! And I enjoyed every bit!
Onto the Veggies! I get teased a little about my gardening. This year we added a garden box upstairs when the landscapers came to clean things up. So I added corn, cucumbers and green beans to my usual tomatoes and zucchini - plus we have cilantro, oregano, basil and sage.

The corn below - 3 ears ? - worth about $7! Yep - just saw today's price at the store and it cost's more than $2 per ear - and it's in season. They don't eat a lot of corn on the cob here. Again, it's a very American thing to do. I didn't have to buy any corn this summer though - I grew it - and it was good. Granted, we probably only got 5 meals with corn on the cob, but considering the seeds cost me all of $2 - I saved a lot of money.

The tomatoes - looked good but since we had a cool summer, all but the cherry tomatoes turned out a little mushy tasting. The zucchini and green beans and cucumbers were awesome. Haven't bought any veggies since June (exc. carrots, garlic, onions, lettuce). Granted, the girls are wondering if they can eat anything besides zucchini. Think how good broccoli will taste when they get it again. Hey, cool weather crop! Naw, I'm done for the year.
Birthday Girl above with corn and zucchini.. Can't believe she's 10 years old - as of yesterday. Can't believe I'm old enough to have a 10 yr old. The years have flown by.

Spent Saturday in Ravensburg, Germany. Pretty town - several old historic towers - and home to the Ravensburger Game/Puzzle founder. We were sad to see the Game/Puzzle Museum was closed for renovation - part of why we wanted to go. But, that happens when you travel around Europe. A good picture day is a day without scaffolding covering every historic building you traveled hundreds/thousands of miles to see.

Fun day was had by all. Including the girls who did their part in the Search and Rescue Dog Demonstration by laying on the benches and letting the dogs walk over them. Always a good start to a day when Mom & Dad drag them to yet "another little foreign town claiming it'll be fun and we can climb the towers." Current response "We don't want to climb anymore towers. We've climbed too many towers." Hmmm.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Not "the Real World?"

Everything is starting to fall back into routine. School has started, Rachel is up early, I'm dragging Kendra out of bed, I will start German lessons again and we had our first morning of Bible Study yesterday.

It is so nice to see this group of women I've missed over the summer. This begins year 3 for me in this group and we learn so much from each other. This year we will be studying "A Heart Like His" by Beth Moore - a study of the life of David. I'm really looking forward to this one. A man who God considered " a man after His (God's) own heart" and yet had a lot of trouble during his lifetime. So I look at it as an example for all - none of us are perfect, we're all sinners and we all carry some baggage BUT God love's us in spite of that.

So - of course, first morning is full of where've you been, how's your summer, kids, family, etc... Then we got on the subject of standards. The house rules. How everyone's family has different ones. It started with one of our ladies from China - she's very outspoken, funny and has interesting observations as someone who grew up Buddhist with a gazillion gods and then found herself believing in One. She discussed how she had to explain why their family set "limits/budgets" on things like gifts (her daughters little girlfriend can purchase whatever gift for a friend with no limit).

Here in Switzerland, we really live in a community of Expats. Our school represents approx. 40 - 45 different countries currently. There are now over 500 students at the girls school location alone (K - 5th). And we all represent different standards/cultures. KD said "it's really hard to deal with the boundaries here, it's so different than if we were at home - it's not the real world." She's from OH.

We discussed issues like the school parking lot looks like a European Motors dealership with a few Bentley's and Asian imports thrown in (remember the K-gartener picked up by the red Ferrari? they moved). How some Jr High students have personal debit cards with 500chf/monthly limits. Parents who allow their child to invite a couple friends to Paris for a weekend Bday trip (why didn't I ever get invites like that?). It is more common than not to hear parents of Seniors talking about Univ. in Geneva, Florence, Cambridge, Oxford or Ivy League. And I can't even talk about the who's traveled where bit because we certainly do our share.

Initially, I agreed with the statement that "we aren't living in the Real World." But I'm not so sure.

Yes, I won't deny there aren't perks when you make a corporate move overseas. There is a definite increase in overall lifestyle living in Switzerland - great/clean public transport, good food, clean streets, low crime, beautiful scenery, CLEAN bathrooms (can you tell that's an issue for me), and fun, fun, fun things to do outdoors.

However, in every environment you place yourself in, people will compare their situation to anothers. The grass is always greener. There will always be someone who has more, different toys, different options for schooling, etc.... There is a "keeping up with the Jones's" aspect to every part of life - where ever you live. I think I struggled with it most in CA. Less in IA. Here - I know I won't be wearing head-to-toe Chanel like one mom (who looks like Angela Bassett - beautiful!) or driving the Bentley so I'm pretty practical as to where I stand in the universe.

We discussed how important it is to set standards/boundaries for our kids. It's never too early to start. In our house, we often discuss why we will or won't pay for things. Very often we are honest with the cost of certain things so the girls can start grasping the concept of how we budget for items/trips. They have to get beyond the concept of "go to the bank and get money." They are learning that you have to earn and put the money in before you can take anything out.

Our kids have a very different upbringing than we had but we don't want them to take what they have for granted. They each "have" a girl they sponsor through Compassion Int'l (see the little link - it's a great organization) and by learning how people live in a different country/circumstance, they can glimpse that their way of life isn't the only way.

They are given limits on souvenirs when we travel - and must supplement with their own $$ if an item costs more. They earn $$ by doing extra work in the house - bathroom sinks, mirrors, vaccuming, mop, etc... What's funny is they now ask for it in different currencies. "Mom, can you pay me in Euro's this time?" or francs, or "US money."

We (OK - I) also set dress standards - I know I may be old school but... There are things they wear around the house that aren't necessarily appropriate for school (they have a bit of a dress code), church or eating out. Bart was the victim of my standards the year I divided up his T-shirts "OK hon, this is the pile of T-shirts I am willing to be seen out in public with you in and this pile is what you are only allowed to wear in the house/mowing the yard." Not that he isn't the sharped-dressed man (looks great on his way to work) but he does like his T-shirts and doesn't like it when they get tossed by me.

Different Standards - different rules - different cultures - our kids just live in a world full of differences.

I wouldn't normally write so much about this but after that discussion, I've really been evaluating how we treat this part of our life. What is normal anyway?

Right now - my main battle is getting the kids (the 5th graders - 10/11yrs) who ride with us to understand that if I have available seats in the back of the car, that's where they sit. Not in the front seat - even if their parents let them (scare them with the air bag issue). I am very clear with my kids/visiting kids, what our house standards are.

Even if it pertains to where they sit in the car.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Culture Schock!

Yes - you can see I have mis-spelled my title.

Sometimes by accident. But today, it came out naturally and I left it alone as it really goes with today's little blurb.

At this moment, I should be finishing up my German lesson with Michaela. I called to cancel it at 8am this morning. Don't feel well, blah, blah. I am actually fighting off something and could probably have made it but...

I told Bart last night "I am really having trouble assimilating back into stuff after this summer and I don't feel like going to German class." "Stuff" meaning things like: practising/speaking in German, parking at the school so I can gab with other moms who've been gone all summer, speaking German, making appointments, getting out of the house.

He says " Yeah, the german is getting hard." A statement, not a question. It is hard.

At first, it's not so bad once you overcome the pronunciation issues (a German in Italy told me I spoke German with a Swiss accent - HuH?). I'm beyond that (I think) and trying to learn all the personal pronouns which are different depending on whether the object/subject is nominativ, akusativ or dativ - Have I lost you yet? A Swiss person would naturally spell 'shock', 'schock', if doing so phonetically. My neighbor sent me a email and her spelling for "whole day" was "howl day." That's how she hears it. And after taking a foreign language where there are little variations in how things are spelled/pronounced, the English language is so full of exceptions it's no wonder it takes so long to grasp spelling and language arts - even for a native.

Apparently, I'm in a funky mood with kids going back to school, trying to figure out which household project I should tackle next (make lists in my head while pulling weeds then promptly forget said lists when I get in the house - and thus why it's hard to leave the house) and knowing the schedule is filling up quickly again - school activities, music lessons, etc...

So at 2+ years, I'm still experiencing some culture shock. It hasn't gone away. Just re-surfaces from time to time.

But we had a fun weekend - with a beautiful sunny day sandwiched in between the cloudy, rainy ones. Attended the Waedenswil Chilbi on Sat. night to get our yearly dose of cotton candy and carnival meats, had Sunday School promotions + picnic at church and the girls got to help lead in a song with a classmate (no nepotism involved - really! :)) and rounded out our Sunday afternoon with a family workout of badminton. I wouldn't say we were playing any games/matches of badminton as the girls haven't really played before and we spent a lot of time on serving the birdie. And watching out for Kendra's backhand - which is actually quite good - better than mine.

Hope everyone's well. Maybe I'll try to start working off some of the pasta I seemed to have brought back from Italy!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mmmm - Food

I like to eat. And I LOVE Italian food. Especially in Italy.

But eating in Italy, similar to other parts of Europe, is not a rushed affair. You may get to a restaurant at 7:30 (most restaurants in Italy don't seat guests until 7/7:30) and not receive your first course until 8:30 which means you'll be there 'til 10. I may have said this before - when you make a dinner reservation, the table is yours for the night. There will be no one else but you eating there - we see entire restaurants empty in Switzerland, go in at 6:30, ask for a table - "so sorry, but we are all reserved" - even if someone isn't showing up 'til 9pm, they won't seat anyone else there. It's nice when you're running late since they won't give away your table after 10 minutes. The evening in the restaurant is the entertainment. No one is rushing home to watch TV - they are there to eat, enjoy and socialize.

Another thing. When eating in Italy, it is customary that you will order several courses (normal is 3). The menu typically has an Antipasti course (nice little appetizers - meats, cheeses, fish, bruscetta), 1st course (soups, pasta's), 2nd course (meat/fisch specialties), a selection of sides for your 2nd course (veggies and salad if you wish - salad being eaten after the main meal) and then the dessert course. Your typical 3 courses will be a combination of any of the above.

We loved the Antipasti courses and through ordering various sample plates found out that Kendra really likes pates (chicken/duck/tuna). Only she and I ate them - Bart and Rachel refused. And I didn't tell her what was in them. :)

I have eaten about everything that walks on 4 legs (that is served in Europe) or flies since we moved here. And no, that would never include anything we consider a housepet - they don't eat that kind of meat. Bart sticks with the mainstream animals although has had some venison lately. Some of you may be vegetarians - sorry, we like our veggies but we are a household of meat-eaters. And while my kids didn't mind that I had the wild hare with black truffle, they wouldn't taste it. Even though it tastes like chicken. It really does.

Except for the truffle part. That is my weakness. If I walk into a restaurant and smell truffles, I have to order something from the menu with truffles. It's an addictive food item for me. My guess is, people are truffle people or not. I am a truffle person. But not about to go rooting around in the dirt for them myself. Or hire a pig to do it - found out they use 'truffle dogs' in Italy. So - I only order it in restaurants.

But we didn't always eat at restaurants since we had a lovely view from the terrasse. Chez Susan whipped up some fresh green beans, buttered noodles and pesto noodles for the family. The pesto was so good I had to use restraint and not eat it straight out of the container. Bart's meatloaf. Have you ever seen meatloaf like this? He said it was the best he's ever had. Fortunately, I've NEVER made meatloaf for him so he's not comparing it to home. He had 4 presentations of his loaf - you can see the zucchini salsa and roasted tomatoes. I don't know what else topped it as I thought to take pictures halfway through this lunch.
And my ricotta cheese and pear ravioli with butter sauce. It was absolutely delightful.
After such a lunch, this is what greeted the family back at Le Miccine. Look at their faces. Don't they look thrilled. "Gee Mom, melon, bread, salami, prosciutto and cheese. Is that all."

"You vill eat it and you vill like it!" And they did.
So - the food adventures were great. And Rachel survived several restaurants that didn't serve Pizza - oh, the horror!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Le Miccine - Gaiole in Chianti

OK - Location.

We took the opportunity of our last week before school started to stay in the Chianti region of Italy. How did we pick this? Well, I found this place online through one of the homes for rent sites ( I think) and just kept coming back to it. And it was available. And looked really cool.

It is a farm/wine property in Gaiole in Chianti (midway between Florence and Siena) owned by an American couple. They have renovated the 300 yr old farmhouse into 2 apartments, there was a pool (a must for going in August - hot!) and it is a working wine estate. We really had such a great time. I can only share in bits and pieces as it is overload even for me to describe everything.

Here was our welcome gift upon arriving - on the long, old wood table. Plus loads of water in the kitchen - sparkling. Which was great for me but the rest of the family prefers still water so we headed to the store for that. The girls in their bedroom.
Front view of the farmhouse before leaving Sat. morning. Not my best picture but most complete of the whole building. Very typical of most homes in the area - stone with tile or stone roof, wood shutters - usually green - and the walls are thick! At least a foot to 18" - keeps the temperature more stable indoors. Note the small windows - with no air conditioning and temp's that are around 90F in summer, large windows are not popular.
Another view - heading up to the pool and the Cantina - where they store and process the grapes/wine.
The pool. It was really nice to have this available everyday. There was no one else staying there last week so we had the place to ourselves. It was great - although there are mosquitoes in Italy - especially during the hot months. We got bit up quite alot before we were able to get some spray on Mon. morning at the Pharmacy. It helped but we were all pretty itchy.
So - that is where we stayed. Loved it. And next post, will have to share a little food with you.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Italian Driver's are Crazy

It's true. We've now joined the club of those who have survived the Italian Highways and Byways. It's not that bad but sort of.

So you can imagine the small bit of relief we felt at these road signs shortly after returning across the Italian/Swiss border after 7 days in Italy (relief from driving, sadness due to the cuisine options we were leaving behind). Driving is just, well, a bit more orderly and predictable on the Swiss side. Here is a cute little car I just had to snap. Unlike the SmartCar, this one has 4 seats - but isn't much bigger.
On the 'Autostrada' (freeway) going to Montepulchiano. That little car ahead of us is filled with 5 adults - all the luggage is on top. This is norm. No big giant cars. Ours is as big as I would drive in Europe - a mid-sized SUV-ish thing. Considering that the white lines on the roads appear to be guides vs a standard, anything bigger would be driven at your own risk.
An example of roadsigns - similar to Portugal. It is extremely helpful to have a driver and navigator. When coming on a group of signs like this, you really need 2 pairs of eyes watching, and seeing which way the arrow is pointing (see how they're all going in opposite directions!) - most importantly - you really need to know where you're going. For instance, depending on where you're located, Gaiole may be in the direction of Siena or Florence.

Then you find yourself on a narrow road thinking "2 cars can't pass each other on this one" when you see a "narrow road" sign and think "How can this road get any narrow?"

Because it does this:

This is an example of a normal road going through the Chianti region of Italy.

Additional points to high-light our driving experiences in Italy:
  • As I mentioned, the white dividing lines on roads appear to be guidelines. More often than not, you will find yourself sharing YOUR lane with the vehicle coming around the corner at you. "Stay on your side of the road" loses its effectiveness after the 40th or so exclamation. This includes the Autostrada at 130km/hr.
  • There are many numbers on roadsigns. It takes a while to determine what your actual legal limit may be - or when it returns to the normal posted limit.
  • There are auto-speed boxes everywhere. We are waiting with breathless anticipation for a slew of tickets in the mail.
  • Considering all the individuals who flew by me at 130km/hr in the 90 km zone, I may be holding my breath for the tickets - I was only going 110.
  • A strong stomach and hands are needed for the Autostrada between Florence and Bologna - fast, curvy and lots of tunnels. And sharing your lane.
  • The Chianti region (where we spent most of our time) is a consistent pattern of winding roads - not all of which are paved. It is hilly, curvy, wild with beautiful patterns of vineyards and orchards. And you must share your lane.
  • I didn't hit a single biker. For the brave of heart, biking would be beautiful - most bikers don't like to share their lane. Leaving you to pass them on the far left! Wondering who is coming around the corner because you know they are NOT in their own lane.
  • As I drove the Italian portion of our way home, I understood why Bart was so tired after 7 hrs of driving on our way down. They estimated 8 million Italians were on the road (holiday season) the day we drove down - we probably saw 7 million of them on the road.

We had a great time. Glad we never had need for the Polizia numbers posted on ALL the roads.

If you have a chance to vacation in Italy outside of seeing the major cities (Roma, Florence, etc..), renting a car and really seeing the country is the way to do it. The countryside is beautiful. And much of it feels a lot like California. But with Italians. Which is close enough in language to Spanish. Feels a lot like California!

Can't decide what to do with the next post - food or location?

Friday, August 08, 2008

My Mom Rocks!

We enjoyed another summer visit with my Mom & John. I had the fun of downloading the SD cards from all of our camera's and it was great to have John's photo's which capture pic's we might not ever see otherwise.

This is from my camera - thanks Bart - and reflects our mutual love of the long short while hiking. It's cold enough on the glacier but not so cold - about 45-48 degr. F - and we were doing most of our hiking at a lower elevation which was around 75 F. So the shorts on the CA natives made sense. We aren't trying to make a fashion statement. Here's where we get to the Rocky part. I got my Mom's OK to post some pic's of her. Most of you have heard how she has rock/mountained climbed for the past 20+ years now. With the help of John's pictures, you can now see her in action.

These pic's are from a Via Ferrata (VF) route in Muerren. VF's are a route comprised of ladder rungs, cabled walkways, etc... that allow climbers to scale route's without the use of belay partners. They must clip into the route via use of short ropes and carabiners and it can tire out the hands clipping in & out so often. But it is necessary for safety - these routes still require the use of common sense, skill and safety precautions.

Lauterbrunnen is a long way down!
Tightrope walking! She has clipped onto both cables at shoulder height and is crossing the ravine on the single foot cable. Requires a lot of balance - both she and John said it would be a very uncomfortable slip and recovery if you lose your balance.
The Schwartzhorn VF - lot of loose rock plus hiking - an 8 hr day.
These are a couple pic's from John's camera on his Eiger trip. The 'normal' approach to the Eiger summit is from the Mittelegge hut, not the North Face. The North Face approach is from the bottom front of the mountain of which I've posted pic's of before. So the climbers exit the Jungfraubahn at the Eismeer station and then must hike, via crampons & ice axe's to the Mittelegge Hut.

Not a sight your average tourist to Switzerland will ever see - and I'm happy to look at the pic's. I don't know whose this profile is. Note the ice axe's in the rack - they aren't allowed in the Hut. Hmm - a little altitude and the climber's go crazy?

And the Eiger - up close and personal. Pretty cool.
Hope you enjoyed the pic's.

We are off to Italy tomorrow for a last trip before school starts on Aug. 20. You may say, "But you've been on vacation all summer" - it's all been with other people. So we are going, alone, just the 4 of us.

To stay for a week on a wine estate between Florence & Siena - Tuscan/Chianti region.

I AM SO EXCITED. B keeps asking "Is there air-conditioning?" I keep saying "probably not." They don't do a lot of air conditioning in Europe. But the owners, who are American, said they were just there last week and it really cools down in the evening and confirmed no, no air conditioning. They have room fans. AND I AM SO EXCITED.

Don't know that we'll take the computer so it may be a week...Ciao!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Patience/Kindness - A public service?

Just a quickie - I think.

Galatians 5:22-23 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."

Many days, I feel I'm exhibiting at least some of the above fruits - not that I can really be the true judge of that. I've had people say that maybe I have too much patience sometimes. I also have to admit that over the past few years, these traits have certainly been lacking during specific periods of the year. Ladies, you understand, right?

What triggered this Blog post? I was helping a friend (delayed in the US for family medical reasons) and thus was at a Salon trying to explain a situation/change and appointment for her. The Salon employee was frustrated by my attempts to explain things in German. She spoke very fast, in Swiss German, and didn't really listen to what I was trying to say.

The customer with her soon started translating and helping. She was watching and listening. She asked questions and I answered them, in German. Soon -mission accomplished. But I admit to feeling a little frustrated myself. I have been taking lessons for almost 2 years and while I am nowhere near fluent, I can express what I need in most situations. I find few people who can't understand me when I/they try.

As our world continues to get a little smaller and as we encounter more that is unfamiliar to us on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, I encourage you to draw on a little extra kindness and patience.

The person you run into, that you can't seem to understand, may be really trying hard. It just takes a little longer to slow down - and it's OK to ask someone to slow down, I do it frequently enough. They may be really capable and intelligent in their own environment and are struggling with feelings of incompetency in their new environment.

Just something to think about. I know I really appreciate it when others are patient with me.

Summit Fever

This trip - we finally made it up to the Jungfraujoch. A little explanation - this observation point sits on the 'yoke' of the mountain ridge at the base of the Jungfrau summit approach, next to the Moench (Monch -with little dots over the 'o'). The Eiger, the Moench and Jungfrau peaks are the 'Big 3' of the Berner Oberland peaks over 4,000 meters - over 12,000 ft. The Eiger is actually just a wee bit under 4k M but over the 12k ft - and is so well known/recognized/difficult that it gets included for being famous. Kind of like a celebrity mountain.

The weather here changes so rapidly - we've seen snow, wind, lightening, thunder, rain and complete sunny blue skies all in the span of a 12 hr period. We have planned several times to go up but always reconsidered due to poor weather/visibility on the summit.

The trip to the Jungfraujoch is via the Jungfraubahn railway on which construction started just before the turn of the 20th century. This railway is 100 yrs old! A cog-train that crawls through the middle of the Eiger, the Moench and then to the observation center at Jungfraujoch. Not that being in a tunnel deep in a mountain on a cog-train system started 100 yrs ago bothered me. Just keep watching the little promo movie, you'll be fine........

We have always felt a little sorry for the tour groups that come through - this part of their trip is already scheduled and paid for. They go up regardless of weather - and the tickets are not cheap.

Regular price for round-trip is 145chf/person. Fortunately for us, as tourism from the West is down with our poor, sick dollar, our 1/2 fare cards (we pay for a card which lets us buy 1/2 fare transport anywhere in Switzerland) and the kids Jr. cards were fully active on the Jungfraubahn this year. In the prior 2 yrs, there was only a 20% discount and kids were 1/2 fare. This time, the whole family was able to go up for only 145chf! 2 adults + 2 kids free (with their Jr. cards (cost of 20chf for 1 year), they are free anywhere in Switzerland with a paying parent).

Enough of the travelling in Switzerland lesson for today, here we go:

Below - Bart and girls on the train going up. We were early enough the tour groups from Interlachen weren't on the higher trains yet - we had a lot of room. The conductor didn't look too impressed. Felt like he needed a little 'Mr. Roarke' from Fantasy Island boost - "Smiles, everyone, Smiles..." The "Eismeer" or Sea of Ice that runs between the mountain peaks up at the top. You can only get this view from either the Jungfraujoch or via air - it was incredible to see this glacier up close.
One of our wishes when we came up - you can see the observation deck at the top of that rocky ridge in the pic below - was to hike across the glacier (via the Cat trail) to the Moench Hut. My mom and her husband John said this was do-able for us if we had on good boots and took the hiking sticks/ski poles with us. It is a 45 min to 1 hr hike there. 30 minutes for an acclimatized mountaineer. We went prepared and knew it might take a bit longer with the girls.

Here is our crew hiking up. The tunnel out onto the glacier is at the base of that rocky ridge. You can see that there aren't many people hiking out with us. And no other children.

We also knew we had to consider our girls feelings/condition on this hike. There is a medical advisement when people go to the Jungfraujoch as most of them travel from the Valley floor up to the Joch within 1 1/2 hrs - all of a sudden, they are at approx. 11,700 ft. And that can be hard on a body.

It is harder on little bodies and we made sure to let the girls pick the pace. About 3/4th's of the way into the hike, Kendra declared "everybody keeps spinning around" and starts dancing on the trail. Hhmmmm?

Then Rachel (who had been gung-ho to reach the Hut) began to say "everyone is walking so fast" it's just getting too hard to breath." Well, 'everyone' was pretty much us and we were shuffling our feet uphill - it's amazing how slow you go but how fast it feels when your body is working hard to breath. And we had been hiking at 6k to 8k elevation for several days.

Rachel had also not felt well about 3 days prior and I really wanted to watch her. We let her make the call on whether to go on or not. "Do what you need to do, not what you think will make Mommy and Daddy happy." So we stopped. Here she is doing her best to smile:

Bart and I had a little momentary conference: "we're so close" "see the little flag right there - its just around the corner" "we're so close" "but, but, we're so close"

And then we went back to the girls and said "Let's take a family pic and then we'll go back." So here we are on the glacier - almost to the Moench Hut (which you can't actually get into without crampons for the final approach but that's beside the point - it could have been in our picture!).

Very proud of the girls. And quite honestly, I've had altitude sickness as a child and it really doesn't feel good. Fortunately, we turned back at a good time and there were no incidents and no one danced into a crevasse.

We had a great time. We won't forget this cool (literally) experience.

Side notes:

Congratulations to John who summited the Eiger this trip and thus has 'conquered' the Big 3. I spent the day with my mom while they were up there so she didn't have to worry alone. Boy, that's a long day.

Check out Kris & Jason's blog to see how God has opened doors unexpectedly. He answers prayer in the most unexpected ways. Love my sister and bro-in-law.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Mountains, Mountains, Mountains

We headed off to our favorite place in Switzerland again - the Lauterbrunnen Valley. This time we stayed in Wengen. We love Muerren as well but it's a little smaller, little sleepier and we find Wengen has a little to offer everyone in the group - besides a few more restaurant choices. Especially if you are staying for more than a weekend.

Again, these are "car-free" towns at about 1700 M elevation. Grindelwald (on the other side) allows cars and is quite a bit busier. Grindelwald would be the 'Valley' of Yosemite while Wengen/Muerren would be more like the Tuolumne Meadows of Yosemite. If that helps at all in describing the atmosphere of these places.

We rented an apartment this time vs hotel since Mom & John would be staying long-term and we planned 4-5 days with them. It worked out great and we really like the flexibility of food preparation - especially in a country where every evening meal is going to guarantee about $25 + /person which really adds up long-term. Highly recommend it.

So - here you have, again, the Lauterbrunnen Valley below. Front ridge of the Jungfrau is to the left, Stechelhorn (waterfall) ahead and Muerren on the lower ridge to the right. Our first night in Wengen was a "Folk-night." They started off the evening with the bell ringers. These are the same bells the cows wear during the "Alpfahrt" time in the Fall. Big and heavy. And very loud. Poor Kendra's ears were suffering - she doesn't handle loud, clanging noises well. But it's fun to watch.
Local wildlife. We love the sound of the cow bells clanging in the mist while we hike. Some of us do anyway.
One of my favorite "wild-flowers" to photograph. Not sure it is a flower exactly. If it were in my garden, I might yank it as a weed. Not sure. But they are really cool looking up in the mountains. With all the other beautiful weeds and flowers.North Face of the Eiger with wildflowers. The flowers were spectacular this year. We went this same time last year but in a lot of Switzerland, things seem to be about 2 weeks later in blooming (ripening) than last year. Amazing for us as far as the mountains go. Not so good as most of my veggies will be ripening while we are gone in Italy next week (corn & tomatoes).
And we finally made it up the Jungfraujoch - Top of Europe - this trip. Weather cooperated - yeah. So those pic's for next post.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

What goes up, Must come Down!

That would be the theme of this year's party for August 1st - Swiss National Day. Not that we are Swiss, but we all enjoyed having the day off and it's a good excuse for a party, Right?

And fireworks - Right?! Certainly not the kind of fireworks you find in California.

To start this little tale, I should mention that we had some fellow American Expat's over for last year's Aug. 1st. We have a view of Lake Zurich in it's entirety and therefore, the fireworks from all around the lake can be seen. A great vantage point.

And last year, I bought a few small fountains and sparklers for fun as they had firework stands outside the grocery stores, etc... But I didn't buy anything big as I figured it wasn't "our" holiday and some of the items looked a little crazy to me.

Well, we found out last year that what I bought were meager offerings to the firework gods and I was instructed to "do better" this year. Because the neighbors let some mortars fly and the kids from the farm behind us were letting loose commercial grade rockets.

So, I bought some 'rockety' looking things this year, some larger fountains and these tubey things that turned out to be 5 shot Roman candles - not to mention the 'Fun Box' and 'ThunderKings' the friends brought.

As you can see below, the rockets came with PVC pipe and unbeknownst to me (I can't read German THAT good), the rockets don't leave the ground without the wooden stake - the wooden stake goes up with the rocket!

Thus - what goes up, must come down. And I about had a HEART ATTACK! We had about 4 smouldering sticks land in various places and as my mom's saying "maybe we should go under the patio", one lands about 2 1/2 ft from Kendra.

I'm thinking "what if one lands on a neighbor", "what if..."?????? AAAhhhhh!

So the guys finally move the PVC pipe to the other side of the yard aimed slightly at the fields uphill. (because if it hit's a sheep or cow - can we say B'bque?)

My nerves may have been shot BUT the guys had a Blast! They loved the rockets and all the big exploding stuff. The bigger the better.

And short of injuring themselves, it didn't stop raining until 7:30pm and we were able to set everything off on top of the roof in standing water! Except for the rockets which left 2 scorched spots in the yard.

So - here you have crazy Americans setting off fireworks in Switzerland!
Bart with one of the 'early' rockets.
This year's fountains were much larger than last year's which only went about 6 feet high.
Playing with the sparklers. And yes, my kids have on the Red, White AND Blue!
The mid-air display from one of our rockets.

So the American neighbor's set off the obnoxious fireworks this year. Still didn't beat the farm kids though - Hmmm wonder where they found their rockets?