Monday, August 31, 2009

Happy Birthday Rachel!

Today is her Birthday - 11 years old! As I told her, sometimes it seems like just yesterday and other times it seems as though she's just always been with us.

Eleven years ago, on another Monday, we were still wondering who this little person was going to be. A boy or girl? And why didn't he/she want to come out to meet us? Why?! Besides, at two weeks overdue, there were only so many more McDonald cini-mini's I could eat while walking Max around the park each morning.

So the little girl born with a mop of black hair is now cruising down the street: On her birthday present. See Gma - she is wearing a helmet and some pads. Its a slalom board, not a street skateboard. She doesn't want to do tricks, she wants to ride and cruise down the street. Fine with me.

My 'nephew' B is a competitive skater and I'm just glad it's my girlfriend (the mom) who has to watch him all the time - how she does it, I do not know. But he's doing awesome and hope to get to CA and watch him compete someday.

I'm OK with Rachel not following in his footsteps.

She's having fun and getting some exercise.
She finds it to be a comfortable, portable chair too.
Happy Birthday Rachel! Mom & Dad love you mucho!!!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Chamonix: Partie Trois

Warning: This post contains many graphic photos of/at high elevations. For those sensitive to altitude and unable to view life a little over the edge, I suggest you quit reading this post.


OK then. I'm going to take you on a little trip. Up the Aiguille du Midi (Needle of Midday), over the glacier of the Mont Blanc Massif to Helbronner, Italy and back. There are a lot of pictures as many of you may never travel to Chamonix, France and I thought I would share the incredible experience that it is. After viewing, it may become one of those places you just have to go to. Or - you may just be happy with the pictures.

The journey starts in Chamonix at 1,035 m. Two aerial cable cars (there is a mid-station) will take you up 2 vertical miles within 20 minutes to reach your final destination on the Midi at 3,842 m (12,600 ft over sea level). It is the highest vertical ascent cable system in the world and holds the world record in ascent speed of an aerial cable.

Note: Young children/babies and elderly with health issues should NOT be taking the second stage of this ascent.

Here is the cable car getting ready to enter the dock at the top of the Midi:
This is the destination: The station, restaurant and observatory at the top of the Aiguille du Midi.
This is what you see from inside the cable car looking down on Chamonix and the Brevant (mountain) across the valley. The Brevant looks small even though it is approx. 8,000ft (2500m) high.
I will admit this. As the years have gone by, my stomach is not made of the iron it once was. Especially when I'm traveling with my family in these crazy contraptions. The girls like a spot right on the front window so they can see down and Bart is right with them. I stand to the side of them and look out of the sides - I don't miss the view - but I don't often look down.
Of course, Bart and my mom find it amusing to make little comments about the height, the drop, etc... and watch me roll my eyes and take deep breaths. They are soooooo immature.
HiHo, HiHo, it's off to work we go.....:
But no. These teams aren't off to work, they are off to make the ascent up Mont Blanc. Or take a day hike on the glacier. Mom & J refer to the Mont Blanc ascent as a "slog." Mont Blanc is not necessarily a 'technical' ascent. Yes, one needs crampons, ice axe, etc... but it is a 'smooth' mountain. It's big but doesn't require technical climbing skills as the Matterhorn does. It requires strength, endurance and altitude acclimation. Theoretically, with some physical training, Bart & I could do it. Theoretically.
It's not on the to-do list yet. First I need to go back to Florence and find myself a nice, leather purse.
Once on the Midi, you can take yet another aerial cable car across the glacier to Italy and so off we went. The gondolas you see below are in groups of three - and not very frequently spaced. I'm not sure what the length of this cable system is but it takes one half hour to cross the glacier in these little things. There are several stops along the way. They leave you hanging so you can get some still pictures. I had my camera speed set so I got most of my pic's while moving (and ignoring the "don't hang outside the window" signs - they were in French & Italian but I guess I can't claim ignorance of the little pictures). I'm more comfortable in one of these little gondola's over the glacier than in a large one going up the side of the mountain - crazy.
It was absolutely stunning.
Little picture explanation of the mountains in our gondola. On the way to Helbronner, Bart & girls were in one separate from my mom & I. Oh, did we have some fun. Thanks mom for all the funnies and laughter.
Mom and the girls at Helbronner - we crossed the border over the glacier. The difference between countries is immediately obvious once you depart from your gondola. The employees (Italian) have a sense of humor and greet you and smile at the children. The French & Swiss are much alike (don't tell them I said that) and oh, so serious and we tourists are tedious but yes, we pay the bills. I don't know why it's so different but we notice it - alot. (I know I often generalize these groups - I have lovely Swiss neighbors and friends - they will say the same - and then add that the Italians are loud - to which I add "so are the Americans" - they nod politely )
Hey - anyone up for crevasse-jumping:
It was like a crowded freeway down there. All these teams on their march. HiHo, HiHo....

Bart & Kendra enjoying the ride:
The pic below is taken from the Midi station. See the little circle in the snow at the lower right, it's tent city. For the guides and those who wish to camp out there instead of the Hut or down in the village. No bear boxes needed up here.
We met J up at the Midi station. He and Bart are looking at the route that he & his guide had climbed that morning - a circle around the Midi. His pack weighs about 45 lbs. Some of the climbers packs weigh close to 80lbs depending on their purpose. Fun!

Here is the platform and starting point for the teams beginning their trek across the glacier/up Mont Blanc. It is only about 2 ft wide along that snowy ridge - thus the ropes.
Here is the 'end' of the climb depending on direction from Mont Blanc or , as J and his guide did, the technical climbing route around the Midi. After all that exertion, one has to climb up this ladder to the platform. See the ice on it - still having fun?
So - Down we went again to the Valley. What an incredible experience.
I hope you enjoyed this little journey. We certainly did.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hi, I'm back.

Well, I still have Chamonix Part 3 & 4 to finish. It was such a cool trip and adventure, I still want to share - even though that trip's been over for almost a month. And we've been to Wengen and Milan since.

I am sitting here alone. For the first time since the last day of school. It occured to me this morning, as I walked out the door with Kendra, that I never took pictures of the girls their first day of school this year. We are now in our second week. It probably doesn't help that they started on different days this year.

It has been such a distracting and busy season - for months I've just been trying to keep up. Hoping to get a little organized and focused within this next week or so.

I put Bart's sister on the train for Germany this morning - to visit the other sister. And I have a few quiet days before my Aunt & Uncle come in from CA (yeah!) to visit. They will be in Italy most of the time and with us for a couple weekends. We also start our ladies Bible study Thurs. which will be great - I haven't seen most of those friends since our last lunch in June.

A new atmosphere of change at the beginning of this Fall season as well. Most of the moms I was acquainted with/friends with at the school have now moved away as have a good portion of our Bible study group. Just as Rachel is going through changes with schedules and friends at the Middle School, so is her mom.

It was raining this morning but starting to clear up nicely. I could sit at the computer a while longer but - the sun is beckoning and I could read the In Style magazine I picked up at the train station yesterday. Outside. Chamonix can wait.... :)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Chamonix Part 2: 3 Generations of Climbers

I would only classify one of the 3 generations you'll see here as a 'climber' - yet. That would be the lady below a.k.a. "Grandma on Belay." She takes care of everything. All we have to do is scramble up. My mom has been climbing for about 25 solid years now. I did a little bit with her way "back in the day." Work and distance from one another didn't strengthen my climbing interest as she is the only one I knew who did/does any rock climbing. And then kids came along.

But now, the kids are bigger and Gma E and J had some fun with them this trip. Here's Kendra going up in mom's capable hands. She goes up OK but doesn't like to come down. The psychology of trusting both the rope and the belay are a little beyond her reasoning yet. She was still willing to sign up for a climbing class after school for this Fall.

Rachel seems to take right to it. She's had some experience through the Spring camp trips with school and she's strong - both upper & lower body. She did it all in hiking boots too. We need to get the girl some proper climbing shoes. Gma E and J both coached her at various times and she responded really well - so proud of her.
It has been about 12/13 yrs since I was harnessed up - probably in Joshua Tree. But I made it. Almost to the top. The bit of sloping/overhang rock at the top did me in - I don't have the upper body strength for it. Right now. Maybe I'll start working on it? I had a great time and hope to do it again. Great family activity.

No - mom didn't belay me. As Rachel said "Gma would need a sack of potatoes to belay mom." J was my belay :). A "sack of potatoes" would be an extra anchor provided to the person on belay in the event the climber weighs more or similar to the belay(er) and the experience of the belay(er).
We had a lot of fun that week. I will eventually post the rest of the trip. We had a great time crossing the glacier from France to Italy via gondolas and I need to post those pics.
Since that time, we got cleaned up and welcomed Bart's sister to our household for a couple weeks, adding a trip in to Wengen for 5 days, a visit from a former work colleague and friend of mine from CA, the first day of Middle school for Rachel, a day-trip to Colmar, France, first day of 3rd grade for Kendra, a day trip to Luzern and to top it off, a raging sinus cold that fortunately only lasted about 4 days. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been able to take sis-in-law to Luzern today.
At times, I have twinges about the Blog. I haven't been able to "get over here" much lately. Worst track record since I started 3 years ago outside of long trips incommunicado (Rachel's taking Spanish as an elective so I'm going to brush up! - hah). But - as I read other favorite Blogs of mine, I realize that we all seem to be going through a busy season. And it seems the weather really impacts the regularity of posting. When it's snowin' outside, what else do I have to do?
I am also preoccupied with the fact Rachel is taking public transit to school. Bart has taken the bus/train as far as he can in the mornings just to get her comfy with it. She's done really well. I still can't picture my little 10, almost 11 year old , riding the train and then city bus to school. But she is. And we are fortunate to live in a place to allow her this degree of learning and independence. My sisters and I did it. We lived to tell about it (Mom, did you know Deb & Kris would run up the 'down' stairs of the escalator in front of the big entry of Weinstocks on J St. while waiting for the bus? Just thought you should know...) and it (independence) seems to have served us well.
There are other stories. But if I relive them, I might not let her take the bus anymore!!!! Ha Ha
So goes our life and perhaps, I may get a chance to post again before the weekend. Maybe.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Chamonix - Part 1

Welcome to Chamonix and the "home" of Mont Blanc. From the French perspective. Known by the Italians as 'Monte Bianco.' The time it's taken me to get this trip up on the blog could be compared to the drive to Chamonix itself - a little long, a bit overcast and a lot of uphill - but incredibly beautiful. Life is beautiful is it not? Even with those little detours along the way?

We did not take the "fast" route from Zurich - autobahn nearly the whole way - although I did on the way home. We took the mountain route which always brings a little adventure.

We went via the Furka Pass which tops at 2431m (approx. 8,000ft) incorporating an 11% grade on the way up and a 10% grade going down (from our direction at least). This particular journey is the same as that of the Glacier Express, skipping St. Moritz and Zermatt. Lovely and a little wild.

The wild involves actually driving on the road which heads pretty much straight uphill where you depart from those headed to the Gotthard Tunnel - it almost appears that you are headed up a driveway of sort. No, you are actually on the Furkastrasse. And, NO, it really isn't wide enough for your and the Tour Bus coming from the opposite direction. It's wide enough for two Fiats to fit comfortabley side by side. Throw in the buses, motorcycles, hikers and families on bicycle vacations and oh, boy, we've got two hands on the wheel. "Look, there goes 10 yr old Johann up an 11% grade mountain rode with saddlebags on his bike." No EuroDisney for that little boy this summer.

I'm thinking I really impressed my mom & J with my driving skills. Especially after the one encounter with the bus "J, you didn't get scratched by the rock wall did you (passenger side)?" "Mom, did you lick that bus as it squeaked by(driver side)?" It was that close. Bart (who joined us later in the week) isn't quite sure it beats the bus that squeaked by us in Italy. Trust me honey - this one was worse!

Crazy road stories, hot car and hot brakes aside - it was a beautiful ride and I'm glad we have the 'leisure' to take those roads. The roads less traveled.

Girls hopping a puddle on top of the Brevant (2525m) - opposite side of valley, facing Mont Blanc (4,810m) straight ahead and the Aiguille du Midi peak (3842) just to the left. Kendra and the Goat: they scared each other to death. I just happened to take the pic as she reached the top and yelped when the goat popped his head up. They both ran from each other - oh, we laughed.
We took the crazy, Mont Blanc cog train up to the glacier and point where the Mont Blanc trekkers start out. The seracks were incredible and I was amazed at how noisy the glaciers are. There is a constant sound of either running water or rocks falling. I asked J how he does it (cross the glaciers when climbing) and he responded "Well, it keeps you moving."
Found a nice Englishman to take our photo:
Took another cog train, the Montenvers, up where you get a glimpse of the Mer de Glace (Sea/River of Ice coming down off Mont Blanc behind the Aiguilles).
We really enjoyed these mountains. Although Mont Blanc is the highest and massive, it is the mildest looking compared to some of the surrounding mountains. They are all impressive and we really enjoyed some high elevation hiking, climbing and lunching.
Next post will be either 3 generations rock climbing or the glacier trip. See what I'm in the mood for. :)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

It's looming...

Departure for Middle School is August 17th. Rachel will be in the 6th grade.

Big Deal! Everyone goes to 6th grade, blah, blah, blah.

But not everyone gets to go buy a cell phone for their 10 yr old (she is 10 for a few more weeks, let's keep it that way) because they are going to be riding the train and bus to school. That is, in fact, the only reason she has a cell phone - public transit.

It was one thing to send her off for week-long school trips but now we are talking everyday transportation out in the big world without Mom at her side. Now, my sisters and I rode the city bus quite a ways out to school but we were together. I was in 8th grade and Kris was in 4th - we survived just fine.

My worry is more the train. She has heard me over and over: don't stand too close to the edge before the train comes to a stop, don't mess around on the platform - remember those 2 boys???? :( a couple years ago, don't lose your train pass, make sure you carry your train pass, don't use that cell phone for just anything, minutes on that cell phone are not cheap, put that cell phone away or I'm keeping it until school starts, pay attention while your on the train, don't miss your stops and so forth.

Rachel is hearing: Wah, wah, wah, blah, blah, blah......

But she is God's child and in His capable hands. So I am trusting again and know that she is an organized person and she will be just fine.

AAAaaackkkk! Am I being a little too dramatic? Dare I take pictures of her at the station like we did when she first rode a school bus?

Probably not. As much as I tell her my job now is to be the "Best Embarrassing" parent I can be, I know when to stop.

So she now has an official SBB 3 Zone card for public transit and a cell phone. She even had to present her passport and sign the contract for the cell phone - Swisscom takes it seriously. They want to know who's using it. I then asked Rachel for the francs to pay for the phone and she gave me a very confused look. Hahahahaha - I even got the very serious salesman to laugh with me.

Still trying to figure out how to split costs for the phone as it's a prepay phone and if she starts using it too often for non-essentials.....Hmmmm.

We are still basking in the glow of our Stateside visit although we have dropped the poundage we put on from all the delicious food we ate at every family/friend gathering. Bart didn't bask as long as he's had his nose to the grindstone since our return. I still need to get Chamonix up here. It was great - had a great time with Mom & John.

But right now must clean up for Bart's sister who arrives Sat. - the fun never ends.

Monday, August 03, 2009

MidWest Night's Dream (which sort of occurred MidSummer?)

Obviously my ideas about posting later in the day last, Thursday was it?, were far over-reaching. Here I sit on the 4th of August ready to finally post about the 4th of July. This has been the busiest season of activity I think we've ever had and it's not over yet.

NewsFlash: August 1st - Swiss National Day. There were reports of a small brush fire caused by Americans shooting off 'rockets' and 20ft 'fountains' in their backyard during Swiss National Day Festivities. Witnesses say the flames were put out quickly by the culprit with a garden hose.

Exciting Times! We had a good laugh. Bart is a Pyro and we didn't know it until we moved to Switzerland.

Back to July 4th - After our wonderful CA visits - thank you Family/Friends in West Sac, Orangevale and Fresno - we flew to Minneapolis and drove down to Des Moines to visit the Hood and Valley Church friends.

July 4th saw us on Lake Panorama most of the day with the Neighborhood. Thank you M & H and C & H for sharing the lake house and those of you who also came to spend time. Actually - they would have all been together anyway - we just showed up!

There were about 11 kids and same number of adults. It was a pretty drizzley day but we had some great food and a great time visiting. We miss the neighborhood! Fortunately the evening cleared up and I am showing you this really, awful blurry pic just to give an impression of all the boats waiting on the water for the fireworks. And this way, I don't feel a need to ask M & C for permission to use their photo - I can 't even tell who else is on there with them it's so blurry. The fireworks were good and we haven't missed a 4th in the US yet since we moved! The girls really enjoy it - proud to be Americans.
That Sunday we went to our home church, Valley and spend time that day/evening with friends from church/worship team. It was great to reconnect with friends I haven't 'seen' in a while but who I stay in touch with regularly. Some of their families have grown since we left - there are still some little ones and another on the way. And the guys had MORE fun with left-over fireworks. Thanks to the L's for opening up their home and hosting us all - thank you, thank you.
And here is the funniest crew of little/big girls who played all day and then again the next and then hugged and hugged when it was time to go. I hope that even though long distance, their friendship will continue over time in some way, shape and form.
Monday we had a get together with the business crowd - KPMG Des Moines. Great to see so many of the co-workers and their growing families. When we first arrived, we were one of only a couple families in the office. Most of his 'team' were married but when we had 'team' dinners, ours were the only kids. Now - it's a nursery. I think there were 7 babies under 18 months at one point in the P's living room.
Thanks to the P's for hosting that get together. I did have a moment of house envy when N was showing me around. They have a 'hidden' pantry that is the size of my kitchen! No joke! I was in love. And I forgot to take a pic. Probably better that way. :)
We headed back to Minnesota on the 7th and what trip to Minneapolis is complete without a Mall of America stop? So while I once again ran around crossing items off my shopping list (nothing exciting just necessities - makeup counts, right?), Bart was in charge of the girls in the amusement park.
I did do something else fun in the Mall but will save that for next post.
We were able to spend some good time with Bart's family and went to Wisc. for a day visit at his Aunt & Uncle's place (his mom's sister). His Uncle is a retired dairy farmer who sold his operation/property some time ago but not the house property. So they still live right there next to the barn/dairy.
The girls wanted to say 'Hi' to the cows. "Hi Cows"
And then went to play on the swing set - that their Dad used to play on!
We spend more time in Minn. with Bart's parents and extended family. We also enjoyed meeting Bart's nephew (19 mo's) for the first time - the girls helped keep him occupied.
Our time in the US was jam-packed but we enjoyed each and every visit. We didn't let down until we got on the plane for home. We did everything we had set out to do in the US and had a safe and healthy journey all the way around.
We are truly thankful and very blessed to have our Family and Friends. Thanks again to each and every one of you! God Bless.
At this rate, I may catch up with posting by time school starts - Aug. 17th. It's almost here! Have to do some Back to School shopping today and get Rachel's cell phone and get her bus/train pass and ....... get our head's wrapped around Middle School!