Friday, February 27, 2009

A brief interruption to comment on proposed Budget...

I don't normally share my political views here on the Blog. I don't really want to get any undesirable comments that I'll have to delete.

But I have to admit - I was hoping that things would be looking better there on Capitol Hill than they are. I'm disappointed. By what I read re: the proposed Budget.

As a former CPA/Tax preparer, the elimination of certain itemized deductions for individuals with AGI over $250k is a sad testament to the understanding of certain leaders in government. Unless the objective is to bring our country into a Welfare State where needs are met by your government (when they have the money) vs your local charity.

I don't disagree that a tax hike is needed - that's been clear for a long time - I do think they should spend the money properly. If they know how - and that's currently looking doubtful. And I don't disagree with certain elimination of deductions for the wealthy EXCEPT FOR: real estate/state tax and charitable contributions.

Double/triple taxation is just wrong - morally, legally, however you want to put it. It's already in place, already limited on the wealthy's returns, it's just hasn't been completely eliminated as a deduction, yet. But once the real estate/state tax deductions are eliminated. That's it. It's done.

Charitable contributions: All kinds of planning goes into charitable contributions by the wealthy at year end. Strategies to lower their tax bill. And they feel good about helping others. I did this for clients - clients who made a lot, paid a lot and contributed a lot. The less than 5% of the population that makes AGI of $250k are the people that contribute heavily to charitable organizations. Not to mention the cost of living disparities in our country - $250k goes much farther in the middle of the country than on either Coast. What will happen when Uncle Sam takes away that deduction, they are having to pay significantly more in tax and they feel the need to keep a little more in their bank account (but not UBS hahaha) ?

The donations to Charitable organizations will dwindle.

I don't support ALL Charities. There are those which I disagree with, but many others that make me glad to contribute.

We (Olson's) contribute regardless of tax implications because the Bible tells us to and we want to. We don't use a prescribed amount - we pray about it/give as we are able/led.

Whether a person is Christian or not - People find it important to give to charitable organizations - and they do. It supports programs/research/opportunities for others that might not otherwise be made available.

But it worries me that the giving will be less. And if the government has to step in and cover those areas, there will be less options for those needing assistance. They will have to wait their turn, many won't 'qualify', there will be less available, there will be less......

So I dearly hope and pray that portions of the Budget will be revised in the interest of the Nation as a whole.

And don't get me started on Health Care! I want choices re: my treatments and in certain "universal health care systems" in place through the world - you're choices are limited and/or determined by your government who's paying for it.

I'm rambling.... I've been getting too worked up over this stuff. That's all I'm going to say... Except I hear Nancy Pelosi was seen in a Snuggie and I might have to leave a carbon footprint in order to Google that Pic!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Davos - 2009, Part 1

OK - so I'm finally posting on Friday! Busy week. Not to bore you with the annual Ski Trip, but, it was full of a few more adventures this year. More importantly, I was not sick. Not that it's all about me, but...

All of the schools in Switzerland typically have 2 weeks off in February known as Ski Ferien or Ski Holiday. As we are at an International School and have longer breaks at other times, we only get 1 week off. A dream for someone who wishes they grew up with such a holiday. Not to be left out, we've chosen the past 2 years to join those who move up to the mountains during this time.

It's great if you like to ski or snowboard. Nice and quiet in the cities if you don't.

Why Davos (again)? It's less than 2 hrs driving from the house, Bart can get back easily by train, we are familiar with it and - they have chair lifts at their 2 major mountains. The Davos/Klosters Ski Pass covers 5 ski-able mountains: Parsenn, Rinerhorn, Jakobshorn, Pischa and Madrisa (Klosters). Parsenn and Jakobshorn are almost entirely chairlift/gondola mountains. The others are primarily T-bar with some gondola's thrown in. And in Swiss speak, a "ski lift" is not a chair lift - it's a T-bar. And they have a lot of them. They are hard on the knees!

No trip to the mountains, or anywhere else, is complete without local fare. A favorite of ours (mine) in the Graubunden area is the Bundner Suppe which is a Barley Vegetable soup and Roesti which you see below (available everywhere in Switz. :). Shredded, pan fried potatoes (like a giant hash brown) accompanied by over-easy eggs and usually some melted cheese, bacon or veggies. MMmmmmm! Bart was able to join us for one day before he had to get back to work. It's the only weekend since mid-January he hasn't had to work so we were glad to get the time together. My mom was with us for the week so we had a family photographer! We're at the top of Jakobshorn below. Come Monday, Bart was already back in Zurich and we girls got a late start but were anxious to go up Parsenn and do some skiing there. The skies were clear and as yet, I had never skiied Parsenn when I could actually see where I was skiing (whiteout conditions previously).

BUT, we stopped for a toilet break before starting down the runs. Not good. Rachel's feet slipped out from under her (ski boots are not known for their comfort or safety) on the tile floor wet with melted snow and she smacked down hard on her shoulder and elbow.

I sent Kendra and Mom for a run while I went to First Aid (SOS station) to see what they thought. The first man said he thought it might be broken and better if they took her down to the hospital. The second man said that she had some movement in the arm and as it would cost us 250chf for them to transport her, I'd save quite a bit taking her down myself. So we waited for Mom and Kendra to get back and headed back down the mountain on the ParsennBahn (mountain train you take up from the valley to get to the ski runs).

We got Kendra checked into her ski lesson, Mom took off skiing and Rach and I headed for the Spital. Not exactly the address I expected to have in the Nav System history:

Good News - After X-rays and a review by the Chief Ortho. (kids bones are different - too many little pieces still floating around), it was determined that nothing was broken. Probably bruised and a little swelling that was (and still) affecting the nerves. They gave her a little sling to wear for comfort and recommended she lay off the skiing, obviously, until the arm was better.

I won't keep you in suspense as I'll only cover through Wednesday with this post: She skied without poles on Friday. I watched her throwing snowballs at Kendra and digging in the snow with the "bad arm" on Thursday and decided she was healed. At least enough to keep her out of the restaurants and eating yet another ice cream or margherita pizza. And she had such a terrific attitude the whole week. Never a complaint or asking to go home. I'm a lucky mom.

Tues. morning we woke to a very white, winter wonderland. We brushed off the snow from the car (about 8 in.) and headed to a small run near the Parsenn. Kendra had a lesson again that afternoon and we didn't want to go all the way up and come all the way back down to get her checked in.
Here's Mom around 11am - we are already up to our knees in powder. I must say I had a fabulous time. We were able to ski completely ungroomed powder - in safe conditions - which I had never fully experienced before. Most of the skiing I've done has always been post-storms, already fully groomed or - hard as a rock. And I don't care for off-piste/through the woods skiing. It had been about 22 years since I had skiied powder like this. It was awesome - like you're floating - you can't see your skiis and you have to really concentrate on your balance. FUN!!!!!
After a little lunch - Thank You Rachel for holding down a table for us! - we headed to Parsenn to check Kendra in with her teacher Matthias. He greets us warmly, shakes Kendra's hand and asks "so are you also going to ski?" We say "yes, we'll ride up with you and put Rachel in the mid-station restaurant." He then says "OK, of course you know that only one run is open today due to avalanche danger. Stay on the run next to the tracks." UM! OK!
I then HAD to ask, as any mom would/should/could "so, it's OK for you to do the lesson with Kendra up here? Not Bunda (the smaller hill across the way) instead?" He assured me that, no, Kendra is doing well, We will take the lesson on Parsenn, but it will be slow as the snow is heavy and we don't see that well. UM, OK.
So off we went. Mom and I skied a couple runs - fun in spite of low visibility. I got the opportunity to ski all the way back down to Davos behind Kendra and Matthias at the end of the day. She did so good for a tiny thing! It's a black (expert) run. Some days it's not too bad, other days it's solid moguls all the way down. She just took her time and stayed in control - Yeah!
Here's the car mid-day when we moved it across the parking lot (too long explain - it made sense). So another 8 - 10 inches to clear off. And we did it again when we were done for the day. We watched the snowboarders at 4pm and realized they had an advantage over the skiiers. See, you can use a snowboard like a shovel to dig out your car! The collapsible shovel we've carried in the back of our vehicles for almost 6 years now, was finally put to use on this trip. A LOT!
The days adventures are not over. Are you bored yet?
We start heading up the hill toward the flat. And we knew it might be a little tricky but the car had been doing good - love those snow tires. But we ran into a little traffic problem on our street which is now reduced to a narrow, one-way strasse. There were about 6 cars backed up. Most cannot make it up the hill and under the Bahn bridge. So they were trying to sort out places to park for the night and then finish the journey on foot.
We were finally able to get by the other cars and I was told I probably couldn't make it up. I told them I would try as the driveway I needed was just past the bridge. Put the car in 4 wheel and off I went.
And I was doing great. No problem. Until I turned the corner and coming straight for me (and just in front of our driveway) was the snow plow. Had to stop. On a slope. And I was toast.
After I got us unwedged from the snowbank I slid into when the wheels stopped moving, I was able to back up down to the stone bridge. But backing through the bridge is another story. It's narrow, STONE, and incorporates the bend in the road. As I tried to get the right angle, the car started slipping again.
I was wondering how I was going to explain this to Bart and the car dealer. My mom was so nice and quiet beside me. Thank you again Mom!
Fortunately, I was able to stop but I was stuck and did not have a tow cable for the snow plow to use as help. Another Swiss gentleman came up (they were all over the place trying to sort out cars/shovel snow/watch all the foreigners figure out what to do) and lifted the wheel well as I backed up just enough so I could get the angle right and slide out under the bridge - unscathed. Thank you Lord! And kind Swiss man.
So this is where the car spent the night. In Herr Boessi's driveway - a builder/renovator. His colleague the next morning said it was "No problem. We do not use it now in winter. In summer we work, in winter we ski." He then slapped on his skiis and headed down the street.
So we trudged uphill on the snowy street. And here you can see the stone bridge my car was almost, intimately acquainted with. That little curve in the street is nasty when your wheels are sliding. OK - enough of that.

The next morning was still cloudy but by late afternoon began to clear up. We had fun skiing the powder and watching people fall into it - soft landings. We also watched an avalanche go clear down the valley on the backside of Jakobshorn (set on purpose). All morning you could hear charges as they cleared areas around the ski mountains of the heavy snow. It is a significant problem this year and very dangerous for back-country skiiers. I like the marked runs myself.
Grandma E and Kendra as they head down to Davos. I escorted Rachel down the ParsennBahn. She does declare the Margherita Pizza at Parsenn's mid-station restaurant to be "the Best!"
Have I mentioned how cool it was to have my Mom with us on this trip? It was. Totally great! Thank you again Mom for spending a week with us. Sheer torture for you, I know! ha ha ha haaaaa!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Before I can write about our Ski Week,

There is another family at the school who is not celebrating the end of Ski Week and will instead be burying their 3rd grader as a result of a ski accident.

I don't know them but my heart goes out to them.

The chef in the Cafeteria (a very kind young Swiss man) also had a non-ski related accident this past week and passed as a result.

The kids will have a lot to deal with this week.

There are so many joys in life but many sorrows.

"The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stonghold and my refuge, " 2 Samuel 22:2-3.

So - I will get posting about our adventures tomorrow. Not to make this a sad post, just sharing what we are discussing at home and being thankful for the blessing that we have today. We don't know what tomorrow will bring.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


"I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From whence shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth." Psalm 121:1-2

We are back from Davos and I am sorting/doing laundry, relaxing, resting and enjoying time with my husband (even though he is having to work through a 440 page audit report this fine Sunday afternoon) and kids.
We had many adventures: great skiing, about 4 feet of fresh snow, semi-stranded vehicle, watched an avalanche, took one trip to the "Spital - Davos" (hospital - for Rachel who fell on her shoulder/elbow in bathroom but x-rays showed no break and she was able to ski our last day), fondue, plenty of roesti and time with Grandma E (aka Mom).

More pic's and stories when I have a "wee bit" more time.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Rules, Rules and more Rules

OK - found out another rule yesterday. There are so many, sometimes I can't keep up.

I was teasing one of the ladies in our Bible Study yesterday "Must you clear every inch of snow off your car?!" To which she replied "Well, yes, it's the law."

OK. It snowed quite a bit yesterday morning so the Autobahn was a mess as were most roads and we all had about 3 inches of snow on our cars when we were done with Study for the morning. I am content to take the "snow brush/scraper" and clean off my windows and I'm good to go. No extra thought or effort - plus I'm too short to do the top without a step stool.

C informed me that, in Switzerland, should you be driving on the A-bahn with snow on your vehicle, insurance will not cover you if you get into an accident. Nor if your snow causes an accident for someone else. Now, I suppose, that argument is difficult when there is 4 inches of snow on the A-bahn in the first place. Not to mention the guy who HAD to get to Zurich at 100km/hour in spite of just passing a 3 car pile-up on the opposite side.

This rule was confirmed by someone at school who said the polizei can pull you over on the A-bahn for having snow on your vehicle - 200 franc fine. HELLO! For snow. Yup!

Now, that's not the reason I took the Seestrasse home instead of the A-bahn but... I had plenty of snow on my car. Quite honestly, the pile-up I passed in the morning included a flipped vehicle and I just didn't feel up to trying my luck while the snow was still coming down so heavy. There was only about 3 inches at Lake level compared to the 6 -8in. at the A-bahn (similar to where our house sits) elevation.

Speaking of Rules: I am getting a little "Swissy" as the English say. I've been here too long perhaps. No, maybe I am just considerate and happen to have a sometimes not considerate neighbor. Yeah, I'm going to complain here just a little.

See - my neighbors below us don't always "do" things by Swiss standard. Even though the husband is Swiss. The picture below is of the 1st of 3 stair landings we go down to our garage/car - somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 steps. Yes, our biggest nightmare is breaking/injuring any lower limbs. There is a funicular/lift but there would still be 20 odd steps to manage and it's slooowwww.

We are at the top and therefore have to pass the other 5 neighbors on the way down. We are all responsible for clearing our steps - for ours and others safety. See the cleared steps. I did all that. My neighbor actually cleared their entryway just up to the point where it meets the 'sidewalk' - stopped at those bushes to the right. Why???? I think they've figured out that they don't have to shovel their steps off because the American lady upstairs will do it. Because I don't want my family to slide down them perhaps????? I even shovel off our joint garage entry because it looks bad when everyone's space is cleared except for their right next to ours. I'm a weenie/softy/sucker. Strong words but - Bart would tell me to leave it. :)

Oh wait - the neighbor did shovel the inch that fell last night. And left the small pile at the bottom of our steps. Yeah - right where we have to step through to hit the landing. ????? I just don't think they care or pay attention. We had a few weeks where it was just so cold, it didn't snow but the moisture in the air from the Lake would create enormous amounts of frost - Mom call it Hoarfrost. It's beautiful and the girls said it looked like we live in Narnia. Without the centaurs, fauns and talking animals.
This is a ski piste/run. Look closely at the sign - yes, beware of cars crossing.
I love this. A little Kaffee Huette in the middle of the ski run. One thing they know how to do here is Apres ski. Often the restaurant on top/middle of the mountains are better than the ones at the bottom. It is normal to ski a while, take a coffee break, ski, have a nice lunch - no greasy hamburger/hot dogs - ski and then sit for coffee/apero for a while before heading home. It is a social culture, not just a "get as many runs in" and go atmosphere. I like it.
Why the switch to skiing theme? That's where we're headed - just in between those mountains now completely white with snow down to the Lake.
My mom flies in tomorrow morning and we are headed off for Ski Week. So I will be silent and without computer for a whole week. We'll ski, play games, read and are praying no one gets the flu that seems to be rampant right now. Not fun when you're on vacation.
God Bless!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Update - Freedom of Speech

In case you were dying to know: the extension of the EU alliance (including agreements with Bulgaria and Romania) did pass by 60% from the voting population. A defeat for the conservative right whose spokesman is a man often compared to a certain, deceased German Chancellor (he who must not be named....).

Meaning: those within the EU countries will continue to have access to employment (and unemployment, health and pension) opportunities in Switzerland with far less red-tape than those who are not from EU countries.

Funny - it occurred to me that this would make a great Jay-walking (Tonight Show) question: "When did the US join the EU?" Because some people would try to give an answer!!!
If you watch the show, you are astounded, as I am, at the lack of brain-power on the sidewalks. I'm sure none of you reading this would answer incorrectly (answer is NOT, US is not part of the European Union) BUT my guess is, a lot of people would take a stab at it.

And, the voters of Canton Zurich decided that the 137 ueber-rich foreigners who are currently paying a negotiated "flat-tax" as a benefit of keeping their residence there, should pay taxes like the rest of the ueber-rich Swiss. Wonder if that means Tina Turner will move back to the US?

Speaking of red-tape and continuing along the international news front: The new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) system is now in place for VISA-free visitors to the United States. I am blogging about this as I have visitors coming from the US in March (YAY!!!) and they were "alerted" to this requirement. As this was news to me, I thought I'd share:

  • This requirement is for those who are traveling FROM VISA-free countries to the USA. Countries such as England, France, Germany and Switzerland are considered VISA-free - you don't need a visitor's VISA for stays under a certain time frame (generally 6 months).
  • It is not yet clear to me (I got my info. off the Homeland Security website) whether US passport holders (like me) have to also obtain ESTA before a trip home (living in another country and buying round trips). Stay tuned...
  • They will be requiring the ESTA before the purchase of a plane ticket and according to the website, authorization should be granted within 72hrs - and authorization will be good for up to one year. (not convenient for emergency trips!)
  • It asks for information that is currently given via a green information card filled out on Int'l flights prior to landing and supposed to "ease" the customs process.

I find it very interesting that as we scrutinize our border more, much of Europe has loosened theirs. To explain, Switzerland recently joined the Schengen Alliance which provides for "free movement" within alliance countries - much like our movement between States. I wondered why there were relatively few passport checks at the borders lately and then came upon the Schengen story in the Swiss News.

Don't get me wrong - if you are not from a Schengen alliance country, they WILL check your passport. Only certain borders are "free." They are still trying to move away from the cold war era impression of restricted travel. We drive like Germans in a car with Swiss plates so tend not to get stopped....heeheehee

Now - there ARE Swiss who feel this is just one more scrutiny the US is placing on visitors that they are not reciprocating. Typically, they just look at our passport as we come in and wave us through.

Visitors to the US, even from VISA-free countries must also provide fingerprint data before entry. Did you know that? I didn't 'til I moved here and listened to a table of other moms discussing whether they'd travel to the US or not - because they didn't feel it was right for another country to have their fingerprints on file - a violation of their privacy.

That all said, the head of Swiss security has said recently, and supported the findings of former President G.W. Bush, that certain terrorist groups are stronger than they were a year ago and they know these people travel around Europe before heading to the US. The Swiss are also trying to encourage the US to step up it's involvement in Interpol I'm getting off track.

You don't really come here for political news.

I'll end the politics with feeling of conflict - how much privacy do we give away in order to have Freedom. Do we really have as much as we think? Many don't feel the US is any "Freer" than their own country anymore. There are rules, regulations and oversight wherever you go. Our world has changed and technology, while allowing me to communicate so easily from so far away, allows for some really nasty stuff out there.

I'll end on a Fun Fact note:

The Swiss Chocolate Market was "up" for the 5th year in a row. In spite of other Market declines, the world is still consuming chocolate - for solace perhaps? The Swiss alone consume chocolate at the average rate of 12.4 kilo per person (approx. 27lbs) annually.

I've seen them check out at the grocery - It's true!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Scattegories - For Fun


1. What is your name: Susan
2. A 4 Letter Word: hmm.... - shut
3. A Boys Name: Sean
4. A Girls Name: Sharon
5. An Occupation: showgirl
6. A Color: slate
7. Something you wear: shoes
8. A Beverage: Slurpee
9. A Food: spaghetti
10. Something found in the bathroom: shower
11. A place: Slovenia
12. A Reason for being late: Slowwwwww
13. Something you shout: shoot!

I've received this via email and various other media. I'm not tagging anyone. I'm not good at group games on the computer. I would tag you however if we were live and in person. I've been having fun with a few of these because I enjoy reading what's going on in friends minds. They've got 'stuff' up there.

Schoenes Wochenende und Guten Tag!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

Below - a very fuzzy wedding pic - a photo of a photo :( - taken 14 years ago today. I repeatedly tell Bart "I thank God every day that I married you." I really do.

He makes me laugh, he's intelligent, I think he's cute, he puts up with all my little idiosyncrasies, is a great dad, works hard providing for our family, takes time out of his crazy schedule to attend as many kid/school meetings/events, makes family time a priority (ie..takes vacation days), thinks I'm smart (whether it's true or not, I appreciate the thought) and he makes me laugh - oh, I'm repeating myself aren't I.

I should say he makes me laugh and then I hit him - sometimes. :)

Thank You Honey for marrying me 14 years ago!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


WHY????? Will Blogger not let me put spaces between my paragraphs half the time. No matter what I do or how I try. UGGGHHH! Drives me batty. OK. Done with temper tantrum.

Freedom of Speech

I just have to share the latest, controversial poster adorning the Swiss highways and byways. And the occasional side of a barn. To explain the purpose/reasoning for this political poster I offer the following from 30.December 2008:

"The rightwing Swiss People's Party says the labour treaty with the European Union will undermine the country's independence and lead to more unemployment.
In February voters will have the final say on a parliamentary decision to prolong an accord aimed at easing access to the labour market and extend it to Romania and Bulgaria.
The government, business community, trade unions and most political parties argue the labour accord - also known as the free movement of people agreement – is crucial for the economy and relations between Switzerland and its most important trading partner.
However, People's Party President Toni Brunner warned of dire consequences if the labour treaty were to win a majority at the ballot box on February 8.
"Salaries will drop, joblessness will increase, more people will take advantage of and plunder our welfare system and the level of protection against foreign criminals will be dangerously reduced," he said on Tuesday."
Well - let me say that Romania and Bulgaria are not happy to be portrayed as nasty, black crows by the largest, conservative political party in Switzerland.
Bart and I were saying I really should have been taking a picture of all the posters aimed at foreigners and immigration legislation in the last 2 1/2 years. What a pity you missed them. You don't see posters such as these in the US of A. For some reason, I think the ACLU would have them blocked. Even though we have freedom of speech. We just aren't supposed to "see" the freedom?
Let's see.... There was the poster with all the white sheep kicking out the black sheep. This was aimed at passing legislation that allowed the Swiss government to send "home" entire immigrant families who had a minor child convicted of a federal crime. The "black sheep" of the family scenario. But many took offense to the "color" of the sheep which created a racial outcry.
And then, the multi-colored hands reaching into the pot for a Swiss Passport. Wishing to further restrict those who might try to obtain such passport. Good grief, it's hard enough as it is. Among the things you must do in order to obtain a Swiss Passport - live at least 10 years in the country (the last 5 of which must be in one place/city), speak passable German during the application process, history, interviews, background checks, etc.... I have a friend who's been in the process for almost 2 years now. Ah, but she didn't marry a Swiss (even then it can take over 5 years). I'm getting tacky now - moving on......
Many of the people we come across have been born and raised in Switzerland but don't have Swiss Passports. Their parents were Italian, German, French, etc... and therefore, they hold the passport of their parents home country. Some find it troublesome by nature of the bureaucracy to obtain a Swiss Passport - so they don't. When their children are born, they too will have a non-Swiss passport. Nor can these people vote in Switzerland - in spite of birth, work and paying taxes. Because they don't have the passport.
Switzerland is a democracy and they will vote on this issue Sunday. And in Canton Zurich they will also vote on whether to make the "rich" ($1. million/year and up in tax. income) should start paying 'regular' taxes. Yes, read that statement a couple times and let it sink in. However, I could never begin to explain it other than to say there is a reason why the "SuperRich" try to reside in certain Canton's in Switzerland - they get to "negotiate" the taxes they pay.
So - there's my bit of political Show 'n Tell from Switzerland. Enjoy your day!!!!!!