Sunday, March 29, 2009

Easter Bunnies!

I was talking with my Swiss neighbor the other day. Their family is going to spend another 5 weeks in Georgia this year. She said people sound different in Georgia than I do. :)

Anyway, they leave on Good Friday and I mentioned it should be fun for the kids to get to do an Easter Egg Hunt in the States. She said that last year they didn't find there to be any 'Hunts.'

I was surprised. Then - she said she didn't find any eggs in the store. "Really" I said. Then it occurred to me - in Switzerland, your eggs are all ready for you unless you REALLY want to color them yourself. See: Here's a little assortment I picked out to show y'all (GA for my Swiss neighbor):
These will find their way into the girl's lunches this week.
I explained to her that in the US, we have to boil and decorate our own eggs. They don't come pre-done for us. What's more - you can buy colored, hard-boiled eggs in the stores year round in Switzerland. They are somehow sealed - like a lacquer coating - when colored and are good, on the shelf (not even refrigerated!!!!!) for up to 3 weeks. I know - the Americans are gasping and contracting Salmonella poisoning as they read this. Dare I admit, all the eggs I buy have not seen a refrigerator until they arrive in our kitchen - some even have feathers stuck to them!
We love these eggs for hiking and I throw them in the girls lunch when I'm out of lunch meat or just need a change. So there you go. If you don't like boiling a couple dozen eggs and waiting patiently for your child decide whether they want 5 colors or 10 on their egg - buy them in Switzerland.
Now for serious Spring matters: Lindt.
The Lindt & Sprungli Chocolate factory is just a ways from us. In fact, not far from George Clooney's new digs. I keep wondering if I should ask him over for coffee - Nespresso, of course. Then he & Bart could go shoot some hoops. Just sayin'.... OK, got distracted...
The golden bunnies above are found in abundance in every COOP grocery store and other markets - not to mention Lindt and Sprungli stores. I highly recommend the Lindt eggs in the AlpenMilch or Milk Chocolat fondant - I'm not a big chocolate consumer. But I'll succumb to an occasional egg. Nespresso coffee however....
The tree outside the factory is also decorated in European tradition with the easter eggs. There is a store in Salzburg, Austria famous for it's decorated eggs. Believe it or not, I didn't buy any - how does one store hand-painted eggs for longevity? But I took lots of pictures. I think I'll have to dig them up.

As we were driving away, I asked Bart "Is Lindt publicly traded?" He said he thought so. I then reminded him that the Swiss Chocolate market saw a 5% increase in the last year in spite of the market. So for those looking to invest in something they crave...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

One last thing and then I'll be quiet (maybe)

Just curious: They (US politicos) like to use Sweden as an ideal comparison for a country in healthcare and taxes that work. A country of approx. 9,045,000 people compared to the US at approx. 303,825,000 people (these are 2008 population estimates). So they have a population that is 2.98% the size of the United States. They are considered a high-tax welfare state. Universal health care works for them as they have a "manageable" population. Oh yes, and once you are 'older', you may not be considered for certain medical procedures because, well, you're just too old.

How does it make sense to hold this as an ideal? Not picking on Sweden, I just don't think the US should use it as an example. Even the Swiss I talk to say that their programs wouldn't work in the US - it's just too big.

And may I just point out that the AIG bone (bonuses) is only .09% (.ooo904) of the total TARP funds AIG received - the accountant in me compels me to share this stat that is never reflected in the media. I know the $$$ sound like a lot to us but makes me wonder what is not being talked about. I'm sure there's some pork out there that's being missed....

OK - got that off my chest - Bart's hoping I won't watch the news anymore. He's tired of listening to me yell at the TV.

A Bloggy Visitor!

IT"S ME!!!!

Where have I been? What have I/we been doing? Why have I not been posting lately?

All questions I ask myself. " Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'.....into the future....."

Well, we've been busy with all manner of activities and Bart with work. We see the light at the end of the tunnel - he HAS to depart with us on a train April 4 and he might not even work this weekend (holding my breath on that one honey, but it's a nice thought).

We have wonderful friends from CA arriving this Sunday for two weeks - a week in Switzerland and then we will travel together in Italy and France. When they fly back to the States from France, we will journey on to London. In booking flights, the Nice>Zurich flight was mucho expensivo and for close to the same money, we could route through London and spend two nights.

So with all that looming in front of me - I have been doing a lot of Spring Cleaning and attempting to control the jungle aka our backyard before everything leaves out. Once Sunday comes - I won't be able to get to any of those tasks and the thought of coming back to it all - Yikes!

I'm happy to say much of the to-do list is complete.

And we still have snow....... Skiing last Sat. was as near perfect Spring Skiing as you could hope for - hard base with nice Spring powder on top - and cold - it never went to slush. That said - it's near the end of March and still freezing here. Winter started in Sept. and I don't know that it's ever going to leave. I'm glad I like my coats and boots. I wore something v-necked the other day without a scarf around my neck and felt exposed! Bare skin touching the air! But my face is tan - I look weird.

Our friends are NOT going to like this weather. I hope it warms up in the next couple days.

So - between school, work, cleaning, church, and skiing - the Olson's are staying busy.

Not many other interesting items of note.

I am frustrated with the news and our politicians - so I can't really blog about that - trust me, you don't want me to. But I will just say this - Bernake and the Spin Dr.'s are throwing out that AIG bone as often as possible to keep the media/general public distracted from other things. Some things that already passed but aren't 'worth' prime time attention. Read between the lines and stay informed people.

There's also a lot of heaviness we are dealing with - medical and legal situations - of people we are close to or acquainted with. It seems that each day/week brings something new and probably adds to my reluctance to write about cheery things on the Blog. I just find it hard to write, right now.

That said, our skiing has been more a matter of service on Saturdays. We go with some other families from our church - one of which has their dad at home with terminal liver cancer right now - it's now a matter of days unless God in His plan intervenes. We make sure we all go out with them as it's important for the 7 yr old and 2 1/2 yrs old to be out doing something outside - and for their Mom as well. We try to give them 1 normal day out of 7. We are all so sad about this - and yet creating important memories about this time for this family. So hard.

So I am thankful - for my family and friends, for our health, for my husbands job and for a great God who loves me even though I don't understand everything.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Culture Differences - Funny stories for today

It's an interesting thing about people who don't travel a lot OR just don't read a lot about other places OR just don't consider that things might just be different in other places. And understand that the differences, they aren't different for the people living there - they're used to it. It's part of their culture and environment.

We've (me and other fun people who like to share these differences/stories) been talking about our different experiences with the culture here. We - coming from the USA - and here - Switzerland.

My specific stories include the "Walnut in the Apfelstruedel" incident and "Naked Zone" spa visit which I posted about in September.

  • In a nutshell - asking about ingredients in a food (I'm allergic), informed that it does not include the allergy inducing ingredient, eating some of the food and then realizing - Uh, Oh! this is making me feel funny: does not automatically get a person out of paying for the food in Switzerland. In the US: they would be bending over backward at their mistake and "How can we help?" "Can we bring you something else?" "ARE YOU OK?" In Switzerland: "My Chef (boss) says you should pay for the food because you ate some of it." If you can imagine me glaring - I was. And replied that the food made me sick. Plus we were a table of 7 American women - 2 from NY (they had my back!) - and the waitress wasn't up to fighting over the struedel.
  • The "Naked Zone". That is what you find in most Swiss spas. You are NOT supposed to wear a bathing suit in the Steam room, indoor jacuzzi, Sauna, etc... This is a culture difference I can't overcome. There was the cutest old couple at the Spa - but I didn't want to be "ohne Klieder" with them in the Sauna. Sorry. Not my culture.
  • Speaking of no clothes. Friend X shared this about her daughter who plays ice hockey. Well, not many girls play ice hockey and when they moved to Switz., there was only one other girl on her team (9 - 10 yr old league). Part of the program is that they must shower after practice/games - together. X feigned her ignorance of this requirement and wisked little X away each time. Finally, it all came to a head when the Coach confronted her about it. X said "little x will shower at home, not with the boys. She's 9 and is too old for that." Their response was "There is nothing wrong with that and the other little girl has been doing this since she was 6." X says "She may have but my daughter hasn't and in our culture this is not done." Coach insisted it is OK, they are just children. X said "Well, at 9 years old, I think it is wrong for 2 girls to have to shower with 15 boys. Think about it." X said "I could see the lightbulb go on in their heads." And a small room with a shower behind the Zamboni was found for the 2 girls.
  • Discrimination in Job Searching - it's Allowed: In Switzerland, you can be asked how old you are, if you are married, when you plan to have children, how many children do you have, are you pregnant, what does your husband do, what is your transportation, etc... Friend Y say's "He (prospective employer) asked me "Well, if you have to be at work so early in the morning, who will cook your husband his breakfast? I told him "If he wants breakfast, he can get it himself." " Needless to say, Y did NOT get the job.
  • Women's rights. They kinda have them. Sort of. In January 1988, wives were given equal rights with their husbands. My German teacher M, feels she can relate to those who were emotional about the election of Obama as President - from an ethnicity/minority position. She said it was very special and emotional for her to vote for the first time at 19 yrs old - her mother (40's) and grandmother (60's) went with her to vote for the first time also. It was 1971 - the year women received the right to vote in Switzerland.
  • My kids went out to play with the neighbor kids yesterday afternoon. Yeah! Big deal, you think. It is a big deal. The neighbor kids are Swiss, go to local school and speak Swiss German. Mine are American, attend International school and learn High German (HG). Swiss kids learn to read and write in HG started in 1st grade - no reading or writing of words begins until then. They only do letters and numbers in Kindergarten (6 yrs). HG is considered a foreign language for the Swiss. They speak a language from birth that is not written. I love spelling Swiss German words because, honestly, who's going to correct it. It's spelled phonetically and differs based on the regional dialect! So when the neighbor kids come over with smiles to ask my kids to play - I rejoice. It's taken 2 years as they first started playing this past Fall. It's easier as they're getting older and the HG can be common ground.
  • Swiss schools - I can't fully describe this system in this post. Suffice it to say, if you don't show any intellectual potential by time you're in 5th grade, you may be pumping gas. That sounds sarcastic and harsh and I'm not trying to be cruel to those pumping gas - but there's an element of truth to it in this country. Acquaintance S (she's Swiss) was regaling me with the wonders of the Swiss school system and how good it is. How her daughter is so smart and doing well in Hochschule and will go to the Universitat (only approx. 15% of people actually attend the University - many professions here (teaching, finance, etc... )don't require a Univ. degree but are certified through programs more like an AA degree/vocational college). Anyway.... then she said how her son is doing well but they will send him to the USA for University someday as he will only go to the 2nd level in school as a teen. He is dyslexic and therefore will never be eligible for Hochschule in Switzerland. Can you imagine being told your child can't go to a certain school, even if smart enough, due to dyslexia? I told her that many influential and highly intelligent people have this and it shouldn't hold one back. She did admit it was a failing of their system.

I find all these things interesting. Some things can be frustrating, some challenging but we are always learning something new. We also find out whether we adapt well to change or we don't. There are many who don't. And many who do. Interesting.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Expect the Unexpected

OK - many of you know by now that I (Susan) lead worship part-time at our church in Zurich. So this post will have nothing to do with skiing. Although I went Fri. & Sat. and had a fine time, thank you very much.

Yesterday (Sunday), it was a good thing that God showed up for church because if it hadn't been for Him, it would have been a train-wreck.

I don't possess the necessary qualifications to be a Worship leader. I'm inadequate. I don't play an instrument, I don't conduct, I am not TRAINED for this. But, I can sing on-key (usually :) ) and I'm willing.

Due to the crazy schedules involved with people at the church, we don't practice during the week. We practice before church and thus don't have much room for the unexpected. I prepare during the week so we can utilize this time to the best of our ability.

Sunday - showed up early as we are going to introduce a new song. But - no one has the key. Various people are traveling for work, some sick and well, there just aren't that many people with keys to the church. By time we got in, we had 40 min. to practice instead of 1 hr 10 min. And, I learn our pianist woke up with a fever and wouldn't be coming. And the other guitarist never made it.

We had to scrap one song as it really needed the piano (or drum) for percussion/timing.

I was a little stressed. One guitar - and he didn't plan on playing solo and felt stressed too.

Our quick practice went OK. And opening song went OK. But after announcements, etc... we were ready to start the Worship songs with a new song. Of which our guitarist only gave me the opening chord. In the key of G - per the written music but too high to feel natural. So even though I heard the G, what came out was a more natural (for me) D. My cohorts missed it too. Yikes!

So I stopped everything. Our service leader had already pointed out the verse "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7

I repeated that verse and let our congregation know - it was a difficult morning. I appreciated their patience. They know we all volunteer. I did not have to hide the struggle and pretend to be a flawless professional. We started again and found our notes by the second word. HELLO!

I will not be leading that song again without a piano. :) Preferably in a lower key. They haven't fired me yet.

"Be anxious for nothing.." If I let making mistakes in front of people get to me, there are many things I wouldn't do. I wouldn't be leading music in church, I wouldn't speak German with my neighbors, I wouldn't have the courage to move to another country or try new things.

When we are willing, God gives us Grace in spite of our mistakes. He wants to do this. He wants us to have peace in spite of the craziness of our world today. For us to rely on Him, not on ourselves or in other people.

We are still waiting to find out whether we are returning to the States this summer or not. I'll be honest - it's getting stressful. But we are willing to accept whatever decision is made. They just need to make it. It is hard waiting - for months, and months and.... There are many decisions we have to put off until we know. We hope we make the right decisions in the process.

"Be anxious for nothing, but in EVERYTHING..." So that is my mantra for the week. My meditation verses.

Enjoy your day. Don't let the unexpected discourage you. Rejoice in the sunshine, health, family - whatever good thing you find today!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A little taste of life right now...

OK - done with Brisingr - all 748 pages. I need to read something else now to get images of Riders, Dragons, Elves and Dwarves out of my head. Probably something involving forensic science & murder or a spy novel. Healthy stuff, right? - no romance. I'm hopeless.

Talk about Fantasy coming to life: Fasnacht officially ended in Switzerland last Wednesday. The start of Lent. Now - some of you may be thinking to yourself "Lent started earlier, on Ash Wednesday." Or maybe you don't know anything about Lent at all?

As Kendra would say "To explain: " Fasnacht is to Switzerland what Carnival is to Venice, Mardi Gras to New Orleans or Carnival to Brazil - but without beads and exposed body parts. Depending on which Canton you live in (a governing area similar to a County/State), you observe either Protestant or Catholic holidays. For instance, Canton Zurich is Protestant while Canton Schwyz is Catholic.

The Catholic Canton's celebrate Fasnacht earlier and finish by the early hours (around 4am) on Ash Wednesday. The Protestant Canton's at some point in history decided they did not wish to start Lent on Ash Wednesday and thus end their celebrations one week later.

Fasnacht is a time for dressing up (like Halloween), parades, GuggeMusik (loud marching band music), drinking and food. We haven't really had the opportunity to experience much of this 'holiday' or celebrations as we tend to be otherwise occupied this time of year. BUT - this year we had guests (from IA :) ) and in showing them around Lucern and Zurich, got to enjoy a little of the festivities.

The costumes often involve old European folklore and fantasy lore so can be very different than costumes we might consider in the States. Here are a couple of costume examples from store front displays:
We took our guests to the Zeughauskeller for dinner that Saturday night. Oh fun! Several Gugge Bands were there - all dressed up and ready to go. The atmosphere was fun and after one large band was done with dinner, they got up and played for the restaurant. Costumes are coordinated and elaborate and the music is LOUD!

Kendra doesn't like LOUD! She has very sensitive ears and we're pretty sure she won't be playing in a Marching Band - or enjoy a good, loud rock concert.

We have to explain to people that it is physically painful for Kendra. Even too many kids making loud noises. She's starting to speak up for herself so that's been really helpful.

All my other pic's were horribly blurry - they would just NOT stay still for me. And I didn't take the right camera.

Maybe next year. If we're here. We still don't know. Waiting.......

We also took our guests up to Pilatus - the mountain that overlooks Lucerne and the Vierwaldstadtersee (I challenge you to say that 3x fast :). The girls made themselves at home.

This morning, Rachel and I woke early to get her to school by 6:45am. Her last 3 day ski trip with the Lower School. She will be going to the Middle School in Kilchberg next year if we're still here. They grow up so fast. By now, very few kids are upset about spending a couple nights away from home. They are looking forward to their ski class groups, staying at the Bolgen Gasthaus, their roommates and the independence of taking care of themselves.
They always return more independent, more capable and full of fun stories. I never like her being so far away - I won't truly relax until that bus rolls in Friday evening and I have her in our car and home in her own bed. BUT, this is part of our transition as a family. Giving our children independence and trusting them based on all that we've had a chance to teach them. Pulling them back when they don't make good decisions and letting them take the consequences of their actions.
Being a parent is sure a lot of work. But so far - best job I've ever had!
Maybe I'll be able to share a good story from her when she gets back. :)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

I must get inspired!

I've been remarkabley uninspired to write lately. It could have something to do with guests, skiing, laundry, Spring cleaning and the tomb of a book, Brisingr, that I seem to be occupied with.

All of which are a good thing. Means I've been doing things other than sitting and staring at my computer. When I get computer time that is.

When Bart and the girls are home, I feel like we need to have a sign-up sheet for the laptop. Aside from Bart's two, work related computers - we are a one computer family. And it's becoming a bit cramped.

We are also a one TV family. Bart and I are well-versed in every episode of Suite Life of Zack & Cody, Hannah Montana, That's So Raven and Corey in the House. We are bemused by Phinius & Ferb and Fairly Odd Parents. Occasionally we watch something of the adult mindset such as 24 and, well, Orange County Choppers. The Closing Bell is a given but has been quite depressing over the last 6 months. I can judge the stock market now by the dark circles under Maria B.'s eyes (she needs to talk to her makeup person because Shep still looks tan and undisturbed).

I don't know how much longer I can stand American Idol. Although, I would miss Simon and Ryan. Paula needs to be quiet. But the UK commercials we get along with it are entertaining. We greatly miss Cat Dealy's commentary of AI - she was cute and funny and as she wasn't trying to be US of A PC (politically correct). She had the most hilarious commentary.

So - that's where I'm at but we start a new week tomorrow! Bart is watching Storm Chaser's and I have German homework. But Brisingr is calling..... What do I do?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Davos - 2009, Part 2

Well, it seems as though Davos was already ages ago. It's been less than 2 weeks but we've had school and visitors in-between and that seems to hasten the time. So I will finish it up while I eat something that says it resembles Mac n' Cheese. I've never had it but it was sent in one of our boxes from home. It's Easy Mac in a microwavable cup and I'm sure it's going to kill me.

I would love to return here. To this moment. Minus the -16 C temperature. My hands were quite frozen while I took pic's - and then the camera froze. Mom sent me up to Parsenn on Thurs. morning by myself so I could see for myself what it was like. Up 'til this time, I had only skiied these runs in white-out conditions or fairly heavy snowfall. It was incredibly beautiful! I had my best runs of the season up there.
Because this is what parents do:
This is THE ride in the mountains in Switzerland. So many grandparents and parents pulling their little ones around in their little bundle outfits. There are even "sled strollers." Way cool and almost made me wish I had a little one. But I'll settle for taking pic's of stranger's children instead. Easier on my back and no diapers to deal with.
How she thinks that's comfortable, I just don't know. Pre-accident of course.
Our last day:
It was so nice to share this time with my Mom. This is a sport I've shared with her for 36yrs now - I first went up when I was almost 6. I had to take breaks while working (tax seasons are not ski-friendly) and having kids (and probably, living in IA). But it is always an activity that makes me feel alive, exhilirated and honestly, joyful.
It's something that makes me yell out with happiness and laugh. What do you readers do that make you feel this way?
The scenery takes my breathe away - even while I take deep breathes.
I get to share it with Bart (even for a short time) and the girls. Thank you for the legacy Mom, and thanks again for spending so much time with us.
God made the snow. So we could ski on it!
PS - the Easy Mac tastes a little weird but I'm still eating it. :)