Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Star

As we look forward our trip to be with family with such great anticipation, I also think about last year's Christmas. How much we enjoyed staying at home in our own house. The anticipation we felt at taking a journey to an unfamiliar environment and what we would experience there.

Oman was an incredible trip and the only part of the Middle East we've been to. In fact, we have the ability to venture into other Middle Eastern countries but we would need a new passport if we wished to visit Israel right now. We don't have immediate plans to althought Kendra's friends family says "Come!"

With an Arabic country stamp in our passport, we wouldn't be allowed enty - the history of the past 60 years is fascinating - read up on it. I've finally come to a basic understanding of the issues between the Middle East countries and one issue - many of them still don't Israel as a separate, sovereign State/Country. Thus our Omani stamp would deny us entry.

Anyway, start of the post and I've digressed already.

One of my most vivid memories of that trip was our overnight stay in the Wahiba Sands - Thousand Nights Desert Camp. The quiet, acacia trees, wool blanketed tents, food, camels waking up noisily, herd of goats on their way home for the night, incredible sunset, the cold that settled in as night fell and - the stars.

The one picture that I couldn't take was of the stars in the middle of the night. For one, it was so dark in our room I wouldn't be able to find the camera anyway - generators went off at 10pm. For another, it was cold was I was quickly using our open-ceiling bathroom facility. Mostly, because I knew that whatever picture I took, it would never do the experience justice.

We were 50 -60 km into the Desert and about 200km from the nearest large city and source of man-made light. The only nighttime experience I've had close to that night was over 20 yrs ago in the mountains of Oregon.

It seemed as if I could reach out and put my hand right through the stars - they were close and far all at once - the dimension effect was incredible - like looking in a double mirror where the reflection goes on endlessly. They were so bright and clear and endless. If it wasn't so cold, I could have sat for hours looking up at that incredible show.

I read this verse differently now: "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him." Matthew 2:2

I can now envision the sky the wise men studied so long ago. How it must have looked to them. And to see a Star that was different than any other. They must have known that sky so well. How did they pick it out? How bright and evident was it?

Most theologians/biblical historians say that Jesus would have most likely been born sometime in September - not around our modern day December 25. The Desert would still have been very warm during the day and cooling off at night. And the sky would be incredible. No artificial light sources to detract from the glowing of the stars. The moon providing a bright light.

So we dream of a white Christmas but in reality, it was a very different scene 2,ooo years ago.

In closing - this is my last post from Switzerland for 2009. Every electric socket in our living area is full - charging up all the electric equipment we require for modern day travel - camera batteries, DS's, iPods, etc... Neighbor has key and watchful eyes - have to love that! It's snowing and we've decided to take it easy and not squeeze in too much today.

By the way - Bart said he signed 'the papers', the Swiss office signed 'the papers' and they are in the US Global mobility office for finalization. So - looks like the Olson family will complete 5 years in Switzerland and then head home to the States - April '11 for Bart and June '11 for Susan & girls. More on that as time goes by. It's a solid decision for the current climate of business and change.

Not sure how many posts I will complete while we are busy being merry with family & friends in CA but I hope to get a few in.

I wish you all a very, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Final days before Christmas break

All the school recitals/programs are OFFICIALLY over! Whew!

It has been a busy time between 'Thanksgiving' (US point of reference) and Christmas break. We went to the last school performance last night, the Middle School's Winter Arts Festival, and all I have left in the way of 'mom' duties is to help with science experiments Friday morning in Kendra's class and then show up early before school is out to join in her class party. Tidy up the house, make sure the bags are packed and we are OFF!

We enjoyed both the girls Winter concert's and their recitals. I can only show the pic of Kendra at her piano recital:
The other pic's, including Rachel's, have too many other kids in it - not going to post them for all to see as the faces are too clear and I don't have signed releases. :) Don't want to get in any trouble in cyberland.

Kendra's concert was full of fun holiday songs. She loved doing her choir concert and smiled the whole way through. Rachel (violin) did a great job introducing the first number at their Strings concert last night and played with a smile on her face - especially on "Curse of the Resin-eating Zombies" which seemed to be an orchestra favorite. The pictures show smiles on all their faces as they played this 'horror' sounding string piece. Kind of takes away from the 'horror' aspect.

We have snow but it's the best kind - light, fluffy and DRY. I just sweep it away with my hard-bristle 'snow' broom. I don't know what the broom is really called but I have one and it's great for light snow. Much easier than a shovel.

I'm seeing a lot of pic's on other Blogs of christmas decorations, etc... so thought I'd share ours before we fly away and leave them for me to clean up after the New Year. We are very happy to be going to family for the holidays but we miss our own home at this time as well.

I hang these over a dining room window - half of the window, in fact. I keep the other half clear because the window's slant open from the top as well as side and I pop the one side open once in a while to air the room out - not convenient with balls hanging in front.
This was the first Christmas item on display this year. Kendra begged and begged for me to get the tree up the week of Thanksgiving. What she really wanted was access to her little snowman (Scholastic order - from a couple years ago) which is stored in the ornament boxes. Once I realized that, I let her sift through the boxes while we 'fluffed' the tree.
I bought a star at the store, the girls added sparkly, red berries and I attached some ribbons - Voila! - our door decoration.
I've showed pic's of our funky fireplace with all the hanging Christmas cards before. This year they're not hanging - I just didn't feel like it. So they're all sitting there and, no pressure, but there are fewer so I'm not too worried about running out of space.
Lovely ladies in front of the tree. We will miss our own tree for Christmas but we're looking forward to Kris & Jason's!
It has been 4 years since my immediate family has been all together - I think. If not 4 years, then longer. New Years - Tavanni was 5 months old - but I can't remember if K & J were there - my memory is going.....
So Ohana Tafisi, the Swiss Family Olson and Grandparents will descend on Southern CA to meet up at Kris and Jason's. We are soooo excited. There have been two babies added who are now toddlers and Rachel and Kendra can't wait to "babysit" their cousins. We will also have the opportunity to spend some time with other special friends, go to Disneyland with family, a Lakers game (it's been about 16 years since Bart & I have been to a Laker game - those were "date" nights before we moved to Northern CA), the American Girl Doll store in LA (girls have plans too) and enjoy foods we miss that can't be found in Switzerland.
What I will NOT be packing: wool socks, down jacket, gloves (well maybe a small pair), a 'heavy' scarf, hat, long-johns, heavy sweaters or snow/ice worthy boots. We will bring small umbrellas - just in case. The Hawaiian side will be complaining about the 'cold' while the Swiss side will be luxuriating in the 'warmth.' And we're all hoping for good weather because as my sister Debbie so graciously put it "I don't think any of us want to sit around staring at each other for 4 days in Mansion B with 6 kids running around." Too true, too true. So here's to good weather, good times to come and celebrating the birth of the Savior as a family.
Our biggest prayers are for traveling mercies and God's hand in our health. Kendra and I are getting over sinus colds, Rachel and Bart are well! And for all of our other family members traveling and being together - there are a lot of things going around and we pray they don't directly interfere with our ability to visit with one another.
Enjoy your Thursday. I am preparing a funny post - re: life in Switzerland. Stay tuned.....

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Fog

My head has been IN a fog with sinus trouble. I'm starting to think clearly again and not want to lie down every couple hours. Thank Goodness!

Good news - I heard back from the parent company of the restaurant that lost my credit card. They not only confirmed that my points were well justified but sent along a very generous gift card to use at any of their restaurants as well. It was worth the effort to write and know they do care about customer service after all - not just rely on their reputation as an establishment.

Bad News - last week when Bart returned from NY we had no internet/phone. By the next morning we realized we also had no heat/hot water! A main electric circuit controlling the heating and then affecting the electrical communications for our group of terrace flats had destroyed itself somehow. My poor neighbor - she had phoned that night to warn us of no heat/hot water but at the time did not know the problem had affected the phones- we never got the message. So my girls who took a bath/shower that night - used up any hot water remaining for our 3 connected units. We laughed (she and I). We could because the gentleman had just fixed the electrical for the heating. Poor Bart got no shower that morning - unwise to take cold shower in cold house and walk out into -2 C degrees.

Good news - things were fixed quickly and no one suffered aside from a missed shower opportunity. The internet/phone was out again Fri. night/Sat. but apparently due to Cablecom issues and not ours - maybe Cyber shopping in Switzerland?

So in the midst of our telecommunication issues and getting ready for the Christmas holidays, I thought I'd share some Foggy pic's from a couple weeks ago. We love living above the Lake and each season, each storm - every day is different.

I woke up one morning to this: There is a lake under that fog. The fog sat right over the water.
The sky was perfectly clear above. This is common in winter - the valleys/lake areas are entrenched in fog while the mountains sit in crisp, clear air.
Within the hour, the fog had risen off the Lake - you can see it lifting over Zurich at the left-middle of the pic. The high clouds there are coming from Germany.
Those clouds are moving in toward the Alps (what you see are not the 'big' mountains - only about 6 - 7 thous. feet - true Alps lie behind these ridges) and fog continues to lift over Rapperswil.
Today - the sky is gray and small flakes float around - wind is out of Germ/Austria (NE) and it's cold. It's not snowing, just cold enough that any moisture in the air is frozen and drifts around. I'm home with Kendra who's not really sick but not really well. Best that she get some rest before we travel for the Holidays - nurse at school suggested it so who am I to say no? Cancelled my final shopping plans for the day (supposed to go with Bart :( ) as well as a final coffee with Bible study group. BUT - I am getting other things done - Yippee! Including what may be a snoring post but hey, at least I'm here!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

December Weekend

Bart took off for NY last week to escape the snow.

Actually, this was the second of his two business trips in two weeks. He should be getting on the plane shortly at JFK and home with us sometime tomorrow morning - Yeah!!!

I remember the days when he was gone ALL the time. Since we moved to Switzerland and he has only one client, it has been great having him home almost every night. He may work late and there may be late, late nights. But - he's home. We like it.

Please meet Slushy. Kendra's friend. Slushy has suffered a fateful demise but I reminded her "he'll come back to life one day..." Oh My Gosh! Elves running around downtown Zurich! On the Bahnhofstrasse no less! I wouldn't be caught dead in one of those get-ups. Problem is, I was alive and yes, in one of those get-ups. The hats are itchy. I don't like them. All I can think of is the "lice letters" that come home from the nurses at the beginning of each school year and think that someone I don't know wore this hat before me and someone is going to wear it after me. Eeeeeewwwww!

Does wearing this ensemble count as sacrifice for the Lord? Doubtful.

OK, OK - our choir was performing at the Singing Christmas Tree in Zurich this past Sunday afternoon. We had a great time and I trashed my voice again. I was not meant to sing outside with threat of rain in 36 degree weather. Last time we did this it was pouring and freezing. I do it because it's fun and a great ministry. But each year I say " I can't do it anymore" and yet.... there I am again. Out there in my little Santa's elf costume provided for ALL Singing Christmas Tree performers.

Costume kidding aside - we really enjoy it and the girls had fun with friends from the church while we were up in the tree. There were familiar faces in the crowd and I was pleasantly suprised to see how many people were singing along with us - terrific. A very enjoyable way to pass a Sunday afternoon.

Santa's were out in full force on the Harley's. Several clubs rolled through making a great bit of noise and adding to the fun.
Samiclaus and Schmuezli showed up at the Singing Christmas tree.
I'll try to briefly explain Samiclaus & Schmuezli. Samiclaus tradition is similar to that of some Scandinavian Countries (St. Nicolas in most) where the man in the 'red suit' brings gifts for the children on Dec. 6th - in Holland they leave a shoe out the night before which he fills with goodies, in Switzerland it's usually in a burlap sack - looks like what I received in my Christmas stockings as a child: oranges, nuts, candies..... Schmeuzli is part of the Swiss tradition - he follows Samiclaus and has a record of the children's deeds for the year. If the child has not been good, Schmuezli reportedly puts the child in the big burlap sack he has and hauls him off into the woods for a year. Doesn't that sound precious?
Santa or St. Nicolas doesn't show up at all around the Dec. 25th date here. The 'Christ Kind' or Christchild arrives on Dec. 24th with gifts for the family. Dec. 25th is a relaxing day for visiting, food and church. So, they can track Santa all they want from NORAD but, he actually skips much of Europe on Christmas Eve/Day.

Back to the weekend: They have a mini-donut stand outside the Franz Karl Webber Toy Store downtown. They are fresh - fried right there in front of your eyes and you can have them with cinnamon/sugar, vanilla, chocolate and ...I forget. They are bite-sized - pop a whole one in your mouth. Yummy!
Sunday was one of the two shopping Sundays of the year in downtown Zurich. Both are right before Christmas - unless they added a third. 4pm on a Sunday afternoon would usually see a deserted street but as you can tell, the streets were packed:
Think about how your life would change if there were no stores opened on Sunday. All you had was a Casey's or Stop'n'Go available for emergency items. That is life here. If I forgot something on Fri. or Sat. at the grocery store, I'm off to the gas station or wait until Monday morning. And don't expect much out of Monday morning apart from grocery stores as many shops are closed until Monday afternoon.
So = a shopping Sunday is a BIG deal for the local population.
I love this part of Zurich - heading down to Old Town and St. Peter's.
During the holidays, several of the old trams are put into service - complete with doormen/bellmen. This gentleman below (sorry for the blurry pic) was just delightful and cheery, encouraging everyone to take a ride on their regular route.
We needed a different tram and the one we caught was a brand new one. The girls like to sit in the back which is fitted with window box seats.
And look what I found on the camera when I downloaded: A pic of Bart's hotel bathroom in Singapore:
And the view outside his hotel room. I see what he meant now by the haze - and it was around 90 degrees. Ugh!
So we had a great weekend and are well into our busy week. Hope you are all enjoying a very Merry Christmas season! See you in a few days.....:)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Have to get this off my chest.....

A restaurant I've enjoyed several dinners at lost my credit card the other night. I was treating my mom and her friend to dinner at an established Zurich location. They operate several restaurants in Zurich. As well as Italy. And have their own vineyard/winery.

So if you're familiar with Zurich, you may be able to discern which restaurant 'group' I'm talking about.

Anyhooooooooo - they lost my card. And didn't look very hard, note=never asked a customer to check under table for dropped card. They quickly asked me to pay with another card and they would try to cancel the other card for me (which of course doesn't work without the card #).

Understand - service here is VERY different from the States. I would not expect them to "comp" me anything - this is Switzerland. I ate the food, I should pay for it - anyone who's read the October, 2008 incident of the Apfel Struedel knows what I'm talking about. (sorry - it won't link ???)

However, I would have expected certain respects which even Bart admits, he would have received differently than I. I think that's what makes me most irritated. Some of their assumptions, the need to hurry us (ladies) out of the way (I felt) - it just didn't sit well. In fact, they apologized at the end but did not wish me back to their establishment. Maybe an oversight?

I'll admit, it was tops on my list for my Birthday dinner. I'm giving you notice Bart - it's not on the list anymore! But you already knew that, didn't you?

So I wrote my letter of suggestions to the parent company re: improvements to their customer service and my dissatisfaction with the handling of the incident. I don't know that they'll take the suggestions. Perhaps? I hope. If I had been a tourist, I would have been extremely upset. As it was, me being me, I left feeling a bit embarrassed - I shouldn't have been. I'm not the one who lost my credit card.

I will say: I'm happiest where I'm treated well- it doesn't matter what the food is or how much it costs. It's the treatment of the person. Which is probably why one of my favorite places to eat is on a hiking trail in the mountains..... Funny - they don't take credit cards there.

Firenze - Florence

There was a four-day weekend in November for a school holiday. School holiday for kids, not teachers who were in training. So we went off to Florence. We had wonderful Fall weather and really enjoyed our time. This was our 2nd visit as we had visited for a day while on our Rome trip 2 years ago. We always thought we should go back and it was well worth it.

The pictures are a bit out of sequence but if I move them around now you won't be able to click them on full view so they'll stay put and let's see how I do.

Now what I don't have a picture of is the start of our journey. We rose at 4:45 so we could make it to the airport for a 7:30am flight direct to Florence. Due to weather in Florence (fog and low ceilings), we didn't leave Zurich until 8:30am. During the loading procedures, the captain explained that Florence was still not able to accept in-coming traffic but they hoped it would be clear by time we were on approach. AND, they had taken on enough extra fuel to stay in a holding pattern for up to 2 hours. FUN!

We take off out of the fog covering Zurich into clear blue skies - everything over about 1,000ft was sparkling clear and flying over the Alps was breathtaking. I can say that even after 3 1/2 yrs of it. Get's me every time. As this is only a 50 minute flight, the airport was still not able to handle the delayed traffic and after circling Florence airspace once, the captain came on to tell us that we were being diverted to Pisa and would be transported to the Florence airport via Coach.

The girls were delighted. They like riding the big buses. Bart and I were less thrilled but what can you do? No - in spite of landing in Pisa, we have yet to see the leaning Tower. Side note: everyone I know that has gone simply says "we went, took a few pictures, and left." So that will probably be our only sojourn to Pisa, Italy. We arrived safely in Florence after an hour bus ride and then took our life in our hands with the taxi ride to the hotel. I told Bart I was glad he was in the front seat and not I. He said "I wore a hole in the floor hitting the imaginary brake!" Ah - Italy! Love it!

So here we go -

The picture below contains at least 3 turrets/towers. The hillsides and landscapes around this whole region are littered with these. The prosperous families showed off their wealth and status via their towers. Whatever the history, it makes for a romantic landscape. City of Florence from the edge of the Boboli Gardens, behind the Pitti Palace. This city has so much history - art and power.
Here we are - enjoying a beautiful day in the Boboli Gardens. The gardens are huge and hundreds of years old - 16th century. Great place to relax, enjoy the view and let the kids run around.
Couldn't decide which sunset picture over the River Arno was my favorite. I chose this one to share: Dare I explain this next picture? Will we appear shallow and disrespectful? Many of the Cathedrals/Chapels/Churches have 'in-floor' tombs and Kendra doesn't like to walk on them. This was the 'romantics gallery' adjacent to the Santa Croce (houses the tombs of Michelangelo & Galileo) and is a mausoleum of sorts. They started acting a bit silly about getting her into the gallery - such are our travels with young people.
The Duomo Group - Chapel, Cathedral and Bell Tower. One of my personal favorite. I love the symmetry of the stone and colors.
Our apartment rocked!!! It was down the street from the Duomo and around the block from the Academia which houses Michelangelo's David. In a residential building and as quiet as one can get in an Italian city - garbage trucks come rumbling at 5am. In fact, it seems all the Italian cities are loud: Rome, Milan, Florence...... Except for Sunday mornings, then they are very, very quiet.
Back to the apartment. Stayed in an apartment vs a hotel for this trip. It had the sitting area below with eating quarters, a small, very well appointed kitchen and upstairs a master loft bedroom with attached study/second bedroom. AND, they had stocked it with a variety of fresh fruit, a bottle of Chianti, Orange Juice, a liter of still water and the necessities for a pasta dinner + breakfast included each day at the cafe across the street AND it was all included in our - 160 Euro/night price. Probably one of the best deals we have ever gotten in Europe for a family of 4.
160 Euro!!! with 2 bathrooms. Showers that were big enough to move in. With hot water. Comfy beds. Complimentary food. Now - this was November. Not the height of tourist season. Still, Thank You "First of Florence." I would highly recommend it and would stay there again.
Kendra popped out of the Duomo whistling away and the nice Italian charicature artist started in with the "Bella - I must draw you - bella, bella." Well, we had no place urgent to go, it was less expensive to do both girls and so down they sat. They really like their pictures and parts of their personalities were definitely captured. They also insisted Bart & I sit. So we did. Hilarious. It will not be posted on the blog but you can see it if you visit the Olson's. :)
Love these girls:
We had fun shopping - prices were definitely cheaper than in Switzerland. I've done some comparisons on the purses I saw and many of them were 20- 25% less. Except the really big designers - then it's pretty much even.
This is their motto:
They take great pride in making their goods and they really try to crack down on the knock-off street sellers.
So - another successful trip. We continue to enjoy exploring different cities and historical places. And eating Italian food!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tap, tap, tap....


Tap, Tap, Tap

Is this thing on?

Test, 1, 2, 3 Testing 1, 2, 3

Test, test, test

No - not a sound check for Sunday Morning worship. Just checking out whether I'm still capable of writing a Blog post. Actually, I will have to save this and come back later......

OK. It's later. Tuesday in fact. I started this post yesterday. If I had tried to write a post in the last 2 weeks it would have been a series of starts and stops. Life has been busy and I guess we can conclude that I have successfully stayed away from the computer to take care of other priorities.

We traveled to Florence and arrived home to greet Gma Elaine and her friend C whose flight arrived a few hours earlier. Bart unpacked and repacked so he could catch a flight to Singapore. Then last week started: girls got their flu shots, we went to Luzern, Rachel had small reaction to flu shot so put Mom & C on train to Bern, we walked Zurich, Kendra's piano recital, Rachel's violin recital, Rachel's quartet recital, small Thanksgiving dinner, Bart returns home, Einsiedeln - Kloster & lunch, Dinner in Zurich - credit card lost by waiter, busyness of Saturday, Holiday party, put Mom & Carol on train for airport, go to church to run choir through Singing Christmas tree music (and I am NOT a choir director - it was painful!!! for me!!!) and then have official Thanksgiving dinner with friends (in which the turkey decided to take it's sweet time to be done).

So - In the spirit of Thanksgiving (late but heartfelt), I am so very Thankful for:

  • My husband. Without whom I would not successfully throw birthday or dinner party's. Who cleans up everything but the china - and I'm good with that. Who hugs me and tells me to sit down for a breather before guests arrive and then realizes he has to wake me up because I've laid on the couch and fallen asleep.
  • My children. Who diligently practice their music and do their homework and make me laugh every, single day. Who pack their own lunch when they realize I need help and still need a cuddle in the middle of the night.
  • My Mom and C. We enjoyed their visit - even with our crazy schedule. They helped with dishes and our nice little Thanksgiving dinner and babysat the girls so we could attend the ---- Holiday party. I really enjoyed spending time with them.
  • Beautiful weather. Up until yesterday, we've had very nice weather for November. It was great during Mom & C's visit and they were able to do so much more that anticipated. The heavy, white stuff started falling yesterday.
  • Winter. I like the white stuff. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.....
  • Health. We have been very healthy and glad that illness did not come visiting while we had guests.
  • Friends. Love my friends - both in Switzerland and in the States. Looking forward to seeing some of you in Dec.!!!
  • Family. Love my sisters, their families, Dad and In-Laws - and all the rest!
  • Freedom of religion. In spite of what is seen in the media right now, Switzerland does respect one's right to freedom of religion. They just don't want minaret's in the skyline with their traditional church steeples - this does not prevent mosques from being built. This country is steeped in long-standing tradition and they do not find that this particular element fits. In fact, our Bible study group would be classified under "cult" in Switzerland because it belongs to no specifically recognized church - but they don't stop us because we have that freedom. I'm thankful for freedom in Christ which does not require a building or symbol in order to worship.
  • Christmas. The birth of our Saviour and how at this season we focus on the humanity of our Lord. We brought some Frankincense back from Oman with us - will have to take some to Kris and J's fro Christmas. Cool addition to the remembrance.

So many things to be thankful for. I can't even list them all. Will have Florence up next. I actually uploaded the pic's for the post last week but.......couldn't get back to actually put words to it. :)

Wow! I'm done! I finished a post! Publish - NOW