Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Oh Man - we're leaving for Oman

Let the packing begin:
I can't tell you how long we spent packing for this trip. A long time. We typically spend not much more than 1 hour or so combined for the family - we've had a lot of practise now. I write a list and the girls pack themselves from it.
But - this time, Bart and I consulted each other as to which items and how many. We will be at a Western Resort on the coast for part of the trip. However, the first half of our trip will be in the City of Muscat, local villages and the desert - the Dunes! I tried things on so he could help me decide which items "covered" me - nothing above the knee, baring too much arm, no cleavage and nothing too fitted. Not that I dress risque but - western styles of dress differ greatly from those of Arabic countries. Days will be more casual, nights not so casual and we read that people dress "smartly." So we will try to look smart. It took a little sorting.

No - in Oman they don't require women to cover their heads. Only if one is Muslim. I'll only be required a head scarf when we take the Grand Mosque tour.
We want to be respectful of their customs and not be offensive or draw unwanted attention to ourselves. Bart isn't even packing a pair of jeans! On vacation!
We'd encourage you to google Oman if you're interested and read up on it. The first questions we get regarding this trip is "Where is Oman?" and "Why are you going there?" It is bordered by Saudi Arabia, Yemen (no, we won't be near that border), the United Arab Emirates and the Arabian Sea. It is still a monarchy ruled by the current Sultan. They have an interesting history and while embracing tourism as a new source of national revenue, they are trying to maintain their culture differently than their neighbor, the UAE (think Dubai).

So that's where we'll be ringing in the New Year.
Wishing you all a Happy New Year and God Bess!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

More Christmas....

Just thought I'd share Kendra's present from Aunt Sissy: Kendra promply declared: "Hey, I need to take this to school and wear it. I want people to leave me alone!" Yep - she's a piece of work.

Below - note the organized piles of presents? This was done before "Mom" got into the living room to take the picture she (I) takes EVERY Christmas - the one with all the presents "around" the tree.

Basically, this was the year that Christmas was our of our (Bart's & my) control. They had been cooking up a "surprise" for us for months in regards to Christmas morning. It was a sweet and wonderful surprise but I think most of you can get a kick out of the following timeline:
  • 6:45am - Rachel wakes up and proceeds to "see" if Kendra is awake yet. Amazing how Kendra happens to be awake when sister says "hey, are you awake yet?"
  • 7:10am - Rachel says "Hey mom, are you awake yet?" I was not. And gave instructions that we not be disturbed until 7:30/40. Aren't we mean? But it had been a busy Christmas Eve and we were tired!
  • 7:35am - Rachel checks again only this time she's carrying a tray. "Merry Christmas" they both yell as they patiently wait for Bart and I to manage sitting up in bed. And serve us breakfast in bed! I typically don't eat until about 30min - 1hr after waking up - and ALWAYS after a coffee. So the croissant and grapes I was staring at were not too appetizing but I figured I could get them down after the coffee which was also on the tray.
  • "Um - girls, could you nuke my coffee, it's kinda cold?" They leave to nuke coffee.
  • Look over at Bart who is valiantly putting down a mouthful of Special K and declares it to be "a bit soggy - I think it's been sitting for a while."
  • The girls return with my piping hot coffee and we gush about how wonderful this is and thoughtful and all that stuff. We then ask "So - when did you make breakfast?"
  • "Weeeeell, we got your breakfast done by 7:00 but you weren't up yet. So we woke you up but you wanted to sleep longer. So we waited. Do you like it?"

We absolutely loved it - and we ate it all including soggy cereal. And I didn't even freak out at the fact that while our breakfast was "cooling" and they were waiting for their lazy parents to wake up on CHRISTMAS MORNING!!!!, they completely sorted ALL of the presents into nice little piles. Like a couple of little accountants. No idea where that comes from.

Sometimes it's just hard to keep up with them!

I mentioned we spent Christmas with friends in the mountains. Kendra declared D to be her sledding buddy and off they went. We had a bit of fun on the sledding hill until Rachel and N got into a bit of an accident and there were tears, etc... Everyone ended up fine and Rachel has a beautifully colored goose-egg adorning her left shin.

I think I've mentioned that Swiss refridgerators are a bit small - and most freezers are smaller (usually deli-drawer sized at the bottom of a fridge). So this is what you do when the temps are down and you are having Christmas at your house. Old fashioned refrigerator!Our fireplace decorated with cards!
While one would not typically hang cards over a working fireplace, we have candles in ours instead of fires (and the place is cement so the fire danger is LOW). We call it our funky fireplace and yes, the flat was built in the early 70's.
I show you this as a Thank You for all the cards we receive. Holidays can feel a bit off when you don't live near family. They feel even more off when you don't live in your own country - try getting your tongue around "Frohe Weihnachten." So thank you all for sharing the Season's Greetings with us!

Friday, December 26, 2008

The week of Christmas

Well - it has been such a busy season. I have, obviously, been doing things other than sitting at my computer. Thus - the Blog has been boring and silent for many days.

As I mentioned previously this month - we've been spending time with people. Making the most of time with friends who will not be returning to Switzerland as they left for their homes in the US this past week. Those who are visiting for the holidays. And - those who feel like family in the absence of our own.

I also realized another reason why I have neglected the computer. Please observe the following picture of our living space. It's a very large room and I am taking the pic from the dining area portion. So - dining room, TV/stereo/family room and corner office all in one. I like to work on the computer in silence.

There's not been much silence since last week's visit with Lind's in Engelberg - the girls got out of school the next day. Therefore, quiet will return to the house Jan. 12th. But we're having fun!

Just thought I'd share the following funny observation as I passed our Christmas tree:

Annika! Watch out!!! Padmae is ready to lazer Barbie. Perhaps she's taking out any competition for Anikan's affections? Just thought this was funny and I doubt the girls did this on purpose as they decorated the tree.

This is what happens to our living space when the girls are home with any length of time on their hands. They each have their own rooms. Apparently the neutral territory of the living room works better for them.
Christmas Eve (and Christmas) dawned grey and gloomy along Lake Zurich. So, I took the girls up to a little place nearby to get their ski legs worked out (I had mine the week before - YAHOO). Alpthal Brunni is a small family place and only has t-bars, no chair lifts. As you can see - it also had sunshine and no fog.
In honor of Christmas Eve, they gave the lift operators the day off apparently. The T-bar was self-service.
Um. Self-service T-bar. For a mom with two kids who don't like the T-bar in the first place. FYI - I had not been on a T-bar for about 30 years until we moved to Switzerland. They still have a lot of them as they are cheaper/less liability than chairlifts and easier to install through the cow pastures we ski through. But they are more tiring than sitting oneself on a chair!
Here you can see them with the bar properly placed under their backsides. I think this was our 3rd try. 1st try landed them in a pile about 15ft from where we started. I cleared them out and we tried again. 2nd try had the bar under Rachel but at Kendra's lower back - they still made it all the way to the top. 3rd time was a charm and I finally got the hang of grabbing the bar, getting it under them and catching the next one. It's harder than it sounds - they come in on the left (I am right-handed), it's a moving target and you have to pull that bar down pretty hard and fit it under them. But we had fun and it was a nice Christmas Eve morning.
Bart wasn't working. He was hanging out at home with his bum back. He threw something out in his lower back last week and can't do too many active things this week. Bummer. We missed him.
We headed to Germany last Sunday to visit Bart's sister and her family. Had a nice train ride and enjoyed some cheaper shopping than we would find in Switzerland. The Christmas markets are fun but tend to be full of the same stuff. But we always enjoy the food.
Thought I'd share my sister-in-law's beautiful table - and this was after we did the dinner damage.
She has a knack for decorating and playing hostess. Everything was black & white and beautifully presented. It is fun to be treated!
And the day before we went to Germany (I'm going backwards as you can see), I (susan) was in France to tour a couple Christmas markets/Towns with some friends who have done this annually for about 6 years. I was so glad to join them.
I love this area of France - the Alsace Region. Home of light, sweet wines and beautiful, cottage- filled villages and yummy foods. We finished out our Christmas shopping, ate pastries and had a wonderful lunch in a cellar restaurant - complete with accordian playing by local musicians.
Our last stop was Colmar (a couple of you reading know where I'm talking about). D & I headed to the shops while M & L went to the grocery store - we had only an hour. D & I had time to do a little damage (very little but fun) and decided we need to go back and make a Spring trip.
We had a wonderful Christmas and spent time with a group of friends in the mountains nearby. We are fortunate to have a family of friends here and our health.
Above all we are grateful for the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, through whom we are saved by grace.
We wish you a Happy Holiday!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's all BooMama's fault

It's all BooMama's fault that I met Linds via blogging and just had to go visit with her in Engelberg yesterday. Linds is from the UK (originally South Africa) and staying with her sister (who lives in Switz.) for Christmas.

To explain a bit to the family and friends scratching their heads right now thinking I've gone off my rocker: When you visit and read a Blog, you can leave comments in the comments section. Most of you don't. You are known as "lurkers." I say that in the nicest possible way - I love my lurkers. I'll occasionally leave a comment on someone else's Blog and because our Blog is not restricted (by email subscription), a person can click on the webname that pop's up (swissfamilyolson or susan) and read our Blog. That is how Linds found our Blog (via BooMama) and how we've come to know one another. Via the Internet. A modern day PenPal.

Of course, Rachel's first response when I told her what I did with my day was: "Mom, the internet can be a dangerous place and you shouldn't be meeting strangers from places off the computer." Yeah!! The warnings and education the school IT program gives the kids is working. I then had to justify why Mom "broke the rules" yesterday.

One of the best parts of living overseas has been the International group of people I've met along the way. Learning about different cultural traditions, different lifestyles, history which was not covered in World or American history classes, different vocabulary - this is what I find enjoyable about our experience here.

And as Linds would be in Engleberg - just over an hour away - it seemed like a perfect opportunity.

So off to Engelberg I went. As you can see, we've got a bit of white stuff to satisfy any White Christmas cravings. We weren't quite sure the visit would happen due to unexpected heavy snowfall on Wed. and roads were an absolute mess. Please note the turnout - I was not driving and taking a pic at the same time. That picture comes in another post. :)
We met at Linds' sister's house. From which you have a clear view of the ski jump ramp - Engelberg will be hosting the International Ski Jump competition this weekend. For myself - I had a great time and we looked in shock when the clock read 12:50. I had to get back to school for Kendra's class party (made it back with a few minutes to spare and did not exceed the legal limit).
We drank coffee and talked politics/economy, Switzerland, a bit of S. African history, kids and travel - I felt like we could have talked all day. She is even more intelligent and humorous in person than she comes across in her Blog. With a great smile. I'll be able to imagine her voice (a soft South African accent) and expressions now when I read her Blog. Her sister visiting with us was just as entertaining and served us coffee and apple cake - Thank You M.
We had a great setting to visit in as well. Her sister's house is over-the-top in Christmas decorations (which you can see more of on Linds blog) and make a very warm environment to be in.
I'll leave it to the reader to get to know Linds more via: http://www.lindslangdon.blogspot.com/ . Although I feel I want to say more, it was thoroughly fun and at some point I loose the words to express the delight of meeting someone who lives countries away but shares many of the same values, hobbies, aches (knees!) and interests.
What a fun day and lovely experience. Thank You Linds! Hope to do it again in warmer weather as well.
Another full day scheduled. Made a to-do list for myself and hope to get it all done!
And if you find yourself in Engelberg, visit Duke's (www.dukes-restaurant.ch) for some International cuisine - little plug for Linds bro-in-law's new restaurant.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Miscellaneous Offerings

Winter Wonderland. It's been quite beautiful here with the snow. Temperatures have stayed between 28 - 38F for the last month now and any snow that falls takes a LONG time to disappear.

I can hear the IA and MN crowd scoffing now - "that's warm!"

Quite honestly, it's not been that cold for an extended period of time (and this early) since we've lived here. Which makes for a booming Ski Season in Switzerland this year (they've had some poor years) but makes me wonder if I need to stock up on more CuddleDuds (longjohns).

The difference between this cold and let's say, an IA cold, is that there's more moisture in the air here - we are on a giant lake. Damp and 32F is colder than IA when dry and 20F. We also didn't spend so much time outside in the winter in IA like we do here. But our view is better (sorry guys) so I'm not complaining. Just need to wear that long underwear.

View outside the Kichen window. Sweet birdie feet - before I swept them away.
I had to take a picture of the contents of our wonderful box from Julie. Bart got Reeses and I got Tums - he's auditing a Bank and I'm a stay-at-home-mom. I find this very funny and wonder about the state of our well-being! btw - THANK YOU JULIE!!!!! Thought I would share a Swiss meal with you all. We had our Christmas lunch for Bible study and ate Raclette.
Raclette is both a cheese and a style of meal (based on the cheese). The Raclette machines at the top of the pic have burners on the top to cook meat. Underneath the burners are individual hot trays that you put your slice of raclette cheese on. There are also little potatoes, pickles, a dill dressing and usually pearl onions to round out the ensemble.
Once the meat is cooked and cheese is melted on it's little tray, you scrape the melted cheese on top of the meat and potatoes. For the holidays, there are Raclette stands along with the Brats, Roasted chestnuts, Gluhwein and Waffle stands throughout the City. The melting cheese can get pretty smelly but it tastes good.
Factoid: Raclette is what the Grandfather made for Heidi (melted cheese on bread) in the Heidi books by Johanna Spyri. Spyri was born in a village next to ours.
This week the children made their Grittibaenz. Grittibaenz is a Christmas holiday baking tradition they've lost the actual origin/meaning of over time. It is meant to signify an old man - possibly walking. Made with a sweet dough, brushed with egg white, sprinkled with large sugar grain and raisins for eyes. In every bakery throughout German Switzerland.
Kendra's looks more like an octupus. Rachel's didn't make it home from school - she wolfed it so there is no evidence. Apparently she went so far as to make a teddy bear for hers and it was quite cute but - she was really hungry.
You just never know what you might find when you step out of the house. This balloon floated right over me and I had to run and get the camera. Good time to run a promo for Mallorca though - everyone would like a little warmer weather.
This is my first free day in about a month or so. I am enjoying it. I'm getting a lot done! I was getting VERY tired and never seemed to fully get rid of that cold. A day of rest is good.
Enjoy your day where ever you are.

Monday, December 08, 2008

the Berner Sennenhund

aka Bernese Mountain Dog (auf Englisch).

We have only a day left with Bosco as his owners return from Morocco (popular warm destination this time of year for Europeans). After 5 days with him, I am ready for ski season!

There is no "sideways" walking the dog here. He needs to be taken out at least 3 times a day. And we live on the side of a large hill - the landscape that starts at the Lake and goes nowhere but up. I'll admit - I thought I was in OK shape. I do our stairs (6 flights or 119 steps depending on how you like to count them) quite often now as the possibility of skiing is only a day of free time away.

Then, we dogsat. I have a whole new appreciation for those who are out walking their dogs all the time here. Many people live in apartment/shared housing and not all yards are fully fenced in. Bart and I agree we'd both loose some weight if we had a dog at home here. Up the hill, down the hill - knees don't like the downhill part.

I have even jogged for this creature. He wants to run - so I did it. I don't jog. Or run. When I tore my ACL 13 years ago, running/jogging was on the list of activities that weren't recommended. Whoo Hoo! Just the excuse I needed - running hurts. I am a good walker, love to bike, hike, etc... but jogging? I'm saving the knees for the skiing.

But who can resist this face? Yes, he loves to sit on the snow with temps at 28 - 35F. He'll sit outside at freezing temp's for 1 -2 hrs at a time, happy as can be. The Bernese originates from the Berner Oberland - home of the Eiger, Jungfrau & Monch peaks. They were a farm dog and not bred so much for herding as for "carting" or "drafting." They were trained to pull loads - and many children loved to be carted behind them. They can be quite large (range of 80 - 140lbs), gentle (when they don't have puppy mouths!), loyal, great with people/other animals and smart. The 'smart' comes with a catch - they do need time. You know, to think about what you've said and whether they want to listen.

We are enjoying Bosco but miss the quick intelligence of our Max.
Everyone who passes us immediately says "ah, Junge" - meaning "puppy" or "young one." One wouldn't necessarily assume that a dog this large - and only 6 1/2 months old! - would be young BUT, he has huge paws he obviously hasn't fully grown into (we like to call them snowshoes) and still has the baby fur all over his head. His hair is still changing and he will look different in another year. He looks like a bear right now.. Probably relates to the origin of the name too. Bern, the capital city of Switzerland, has had a bear in it's coat of arms since the 1400's.
For scale, this is the size of a 6 1/2 month old Bernese.
So - that's what we've been up to.
It's also the time of year to fit in all sorts of parties and visiting. We are saying goodbye this month to friends moving back to the States. That's the hard part of this lifestyle. So I hosted a ladies goodbye lunch today (Bosco was well behaved!) and we are hosting a kids goodbye this next weekend. Along with all the other events at school/church - we are staying busy.
Enjoy the day where ever you are!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

It's the Christmas Season...

Let's count our blessings.

My daughter made some comment today about getting something that just about set my hair on fire. Not that she realized it and I didn't snap at her but, I had to remind her that Christmas is not about the presents and the size of the gift. I'm glad I didn't snap. She knew as soon as I started that what she blurted out sounded selfish.

It's been a hard Fall. Work has been hard for the hubby so I worry (just for him working so hard). Things are unstable right now. Knowing people who typically stay at "the Hotel" in India. We wonder whether we are moving back in the summer or staying here. All out of our control.

Two families (unrelated to one another) here are sharing their last Christmas together due to aggressive cancers - neither is old enough: upper 40's and 53. Both leaving behind small children unless God provides mercy and extraordinary power through the treatments left to them and extends their lives supernaturally.

I don't know the woman but we (a group of ladies) are going to decorate her house tomorrow for Christmas. I know the man and how his family has come to love my enchiladas. I will make enchiladas for them anytime they want. We've loved his teaching at church for 2 years. I choose "In Christ Alone" for worship the other Sunday and we sang it twice - he loves that song and that is what is keeping them all together right now. What should be keeping all of us together.

I know. I said "It's the Christmas Season....Let's count our blessings." And maybe I sound a bit sad in this blog. Sometimes I feel sad. But we also have so many reasons to be rejoicing. For my family it is a place to live, food, a chance to live in an extraordinarily beautiful piece of Creation, family we love and who are all healthy for the most part at this moment. We are laughing with our kids and they are getting presents for Christmas. We have so much.

That's where my head is at - besides that nasty cold. And why I've been less blog active lately. There are many things to do right now. Time to spend with people.

I pray you all have many things to celebrate this Christmas. And spend lots of time with people.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I've traded one distraction for another

Well - Dad was safely delivered to Zurich Int'l Flughafen this morning and should land in Dulles about 4 hours from now (its 5:20pm for me right now) and then he'll arrive in Sacto. about 4pm. Of course, after 2 weeks here of snow, clouds and a bit of rain, the skies were clear and blue for his departure. We hope he got a good view of the Alps as he left.

So that is one distraction (a good one) that was dropped off this morning and look what I picked up this afternoon! Well, not the kids - we've had them for a while. We are getting our "Hund" fix by watching Bosco for a coworker/friend for 4-5 days. Bosco is Swiss. And bilingual. He is only 6 1/2 months old. He's a living rug.

So I will have company while the girls are in school. Isn't he cute?

I will post a bit more now that I'm feeling better.