Monday, March 29, 2010

Night at the Movies

I'm slightly embarrassed to even write this post. Because I don't want you all to think we just throw money away. When you look at it closely, it certainly looks that way. It's also the reason we don't go to the movies very often and try to get the girls to understand.

I know movie prices in the US have just gone up again which is what triggered this post.

We wanted something to do on a rainy Saturday for our weekend fun. We picked going to see Alice in Wonderland (3D) in Zurich. At the theatre showing it in English of course. Although it is fun to listen to dub-overs, how can one listen to a dubbed over Johnny Depp?

So, gulp, I will share what it cost for our family of 4 to see a 3D movie in Zurich. Prices will be in dollars which just happen to be the same as the CHF once taxes/exchange rate are calculated.

$42 2 adult tickets
$30 2 Kinder tickets (6 - 12 price at this theatre, some theatres don't discount children)
$20 4 bottled drinks
$31 2 large popcorns and 4 pairs 3D glasses

$123 Total - Yikes!!!!!!! We did bring our own sweets in my purse but had forgotten to "smuggle" any drinks in. I will say that transporting drinks in one's purse is not ideal and wears on the shoulder.

These theatres are tricky with the 3D movies. Some automatically include the glasses in the price, others don't. This one didn't but it wasn't clear online so we had to buy them when we got there. Next time - we'll just bring our own along just in case.

What do I LIKE about going to the movie theatre in Zurich? I like going online, picking out my seats (yes - reserved seating!!!!! Lovely), printing them myself and whisking in the door without standing in line or trying to reserve seats for the group. LOVE the reservation system. Love it!

We see, on average, 2 movies a year in Switzerland as a family. Bart & I are very choosey about what we choose to see - have to feel the movie is worth it. Some aren't. Cheaper to buy the DVD.

We did enjoy Alice though. What have you seen that you enjoyed?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Think of all the new jobs....

Although they're still slogging thru changes to the Healthcare Bill, think of all the new jobs it's going to create. This occurred to me today as we got a love letter from Kanton Zurich's Gesundheitsdirektion - in English, the government insurance watchdog.

Switzerland is a 'mandatory insurance' country. There is a slew of Insurance companies competing for your insurance business. Unless you happen to fall under the exception treaties (which we do) and are allowed to have approved external (non-Swiss) health insurance (which we do).

Due to the work permit fiasco of 2009, we received requests from the Gemeinde (City) last summer for proof of insurance, employer outside of Switzerland, etc... and eventually everything got straightened out so they let us stay. :) But, as I told Bart, they (clerical) put a date of April 15, 2010 on our insurance coverage which is when he would have left had our contract not be extended again. Not considering the fact the remaining family still needs to prove coverage. Sorry - don't mean to rant (sort of).

So, today the letter came. The Kanton wishes to know if we are pursuing Swiss Insurance as of April 15 or are we submitted proof of continued employment and extended insurance or are we leaving the country?

This will of course be all ironed out but, I thought, how many people in Switzerland have jobs just to take care of making sure that everyone has insurance? And the insurance is valid/acceptable for Switzerland? Switzerland is smaller than Iowa. Good or bad - I will not make any pro/con statements on this Blog re: the whole SITUATION. But think about it - a whole new government bureacracy is born.

Speaking of laws and bureacracy, Rachel will not be happy to hear that she has to sit in a car booster seat again - until end of August. Just found out that Switzerland did pass a new law effective April 1 pertaining to children car restraints. Children under the age of 12 or under 150 cm must be in a car seat or booster. Whew! Good thing I'm over 12 years - oh, and I'm actually 155 cm tall so I just make the height requirement!

AND - effective May 1st, Switzerland will finally join the rest of Europe in banning smoking in restaurants. Finally! But, they've backed out on it before and until May 1st comes and the smokers are puffing away outside, I'm still holding my breath............Of course this is only inside restaurants, outdoors is still free game.

Great News! Kendra had a terrific time on her school ski trip this week. She returned safe and sound with the rest of her 80+ class and there was nary an injury in the group. Yeah! She said she was a little homesick but she did great and we are so proud of her. Rachel enjoyed having us to herself but she missed Kendra - and Kendra missed her.

We are so lucky to have girls who enjoy each other so much. Here Rachel is getting Kendra zipped up to get out the door at 6:30am Monday morning: And last night when Kendra came home, sharing some time together while Rachel did homework:
We've enjoyed some sun this week but the weather is starting to turn - not quite done with winter yet.
Note: Europe Springs forward this Saturday night/Sunday early am.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A favorite thing....

I'm not a big collector of trinkets. An annual question on a Bible study questionaire we have ask's "What do you collect?" My answer is usually "nothing." But I do collect things. Things I really like. When we travel and buy souvenirs, they tend to be useful - things I can use in the house. Sometimes they're kitschy but I try to stick to useful. Things that don't collect too much dust. So I thought I'd share these things occasionally.

My first item is not a souvenir. It was a gift. And if you look at the little Blogger ID photo in the left corner, the following might look familiar: My sweet, dear friend - S - made this for me. She is a delightful 15 year old who is artistic and super smart. God has blessed her so richly with these talents and also given her the tremendous courage to live with JRA (juvenile rheumatic arthritis). I admire her immensely and have enjoyed watching her grow from an infant into a fine young lady. I love her mom dearly and it's so fun to love the children as well! Not to make light of it but - that doesn't always happen with friends you grow up with - so we feel very blessed.

Hand-painted ceramic and the layers look almost 3 dimensional when it's lit by candlelight at night. It sits right where we can enjoy it - next to the TV (how sad is that!). Actually, we don't have much space for displaying things so it works out well.

And speaking of favorite things...........

I just put one on a bus this morning. Kendra went with approx. 70 other 3rd graders on their first school ski trip this morning to Davos. They should be just past Klosters by now. Praying for their safety, health and lots of fun. She is a fine skiier so I'm confident from that aspect. It's just - she's my baby and even though I've done this for 3+ years with Rachel already, it still get's to you. Especially when it's their first trip.

And even after 3+ years of letting go for 3 - 5 days at a time, I still don't fully breathe until they're back home. But I have a lot of Trust.

Wishing you a great time Kendra!!!!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Crane is Back!

The Crane is Back!

And not the flying variety although, the operator may think so at times.

What happens when you live in terrace housing with little but a funicular lift or stairs to access your abode and yet, you need a complete re-haul of your terrasse, roof or windows?

These workers are diligently clearing off all the bricks, bagging all the dirt and plants..... Removing windows and debris.........Where does it all go?
Behold - the Crane! It has taken up residence in the parking lot again.
The bags they use are heavy-duty and used for rocks, dirt and plants. They get the bags loaded on the terrasse, it's transported down to the parking area to a disposal trailer which, when full, gets loaded behind the semi/cab and hauled away -coming back for more.
There are cranes used in construction all over Switzerland. Condensed space, multiple family housing (most buildings are about 4 stories high and primarily made of cement/brick), narrow streets and narrow access make cranes the most efficient for builders.
There go the windows:
Thanks to my neighbor, Herr W., I found out this is a special crane - thus calling it the Crane. It was manufactured in Holland at the cost of approx. 1.5 to 2 million chf. It's reach is 60 metres - just over 200 feet and there are only a couple of them in Switzerland. It's the tallest/biggest mobile crane available in the Country. He tell's me all this and I know that his former home (I call him neighbor but it is his son & family that live in the nearby flat - he now lives in town) is one of those being renovated. He admit's wryly "Yes, my son lives in the home but I am paying for it."
Hmmmm - I'll admit I'm curious to know how much the largest crane in Switzerland costs to rent but I'm not about to ask (3 neighbors are cost-sharing - doing terrasse and windows at the same time). Which is funny because the Swiss are very direct - especially when it comes to financial items - and would probably ask without hesitation. Most of them know exactly how much we pay in rent and yet it's not something we would ever discuss. Culture, culture, culture......
Did you notice the beautiful, blue sky in the photo's above? What a wonderful day it was. And warm - about 65 F. Almost all the snow is gone and we need some sunshine as much of our winter looked like this:
With more snow. It was almost worse to have the snow melt and still have foggy, grey stuff. The snow adds an element of brightness.
Enjoy your day! I plan to enjoy mine.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kids in Switzerland

I was reminded yesterday, as I waited for a class of 1st year Kindergarteners (Switz. has 2 years of K-garten) to cross the street, how different life is for local kids here.

Take for instance the Kindergarten class: They are out with their 2 teachers walking from school to the Hallenbad (community pool) in the snow. They will spend the morning there in swim lessons. Something else in the K-garten class here: a tool corner. Real, live, little tools - hammers, saws, etc.... - for them to learn 'hand work' with. By 2nd grade, they'll be taking long walks to a green-space area complete with fire-pits, build themselves a fire and cook some Brats. Teachers oversee this process, of course. By 5th grade, you might find them running around the village in specific groups on a quest for information of some sort - there is usually one with a clipboard and I find them busily writing things down as they wander.

You also find the class groups on the train/bus with their packs on - headed out to the mountains.

They also head home for lunch around 11:45 and return to school around 1:15. And they have Wednesday afternoons off.

Have I ever mentioned the 5 year old, 1st year Kindergarteners walk by themselves to school. Parental escorts are highly discouraged - the school will call and ask the parent to quit walking the child to school. At least in Waedenswil. And this goes for the local Swiss schools.

The locals think the International school kids are spoiled as many are driven but - most students must travel distances to get to school and do you really want your Kindergartener on the train/bus alone? It's fine for the Middle Schoolers - Rachel's a pro now. We live too far for Kendra to walk to school (about 30-40 min. walk) and it's too close to the Autobahn - but otherwise, I'd consider it. She has classmates that are taking the bus off and on.

Speaking of independence: Kendra leaves for her 1st overnight trip next Monday! I'm used to it with Rachel but now it's my baby! I'll survive. Pray alot. It's only 3 days/2 nights - they ease us in before the 5 day trip in May. And they'll be skiing for 3 days so they're always in a group, with an instructor and then wiped out and ready for bed.

So -what do our girls like about living here. They do get to take walks alone - just not toward the Autobahn side. They go out to play and I may not see them for 2 hours, or 3. I send them into the store now by themselves to pick up quick things while I wait outside or am otherwise occupied. They play in their hideout and make pulleys for baskets, and tents, and whatever!

And they break up rocks! Rachel's science teacher sent her home with the "rock" she had been studying. Each student had their own rock which they had been freezing, thawing, soaking, weighing, etc.... to see how their rock responded - Erosion unit. Now it was time to "crush the rock" and see what was inside.

Rachel couldn't wait and even let Kendra have a go. We found that swim goggles make a good 'safety goggle' substitute. Being a kid is fun!
Yes - I am searching for things to Blog about - life has been extraordinarily ordinary lately. Not such a bad thing.
But I have family for whom life has not been so ordinary. Praying for various health issues for both sisters, my mom (knee) and cousin and my Bro-in-Law whose Uncle just passed. Specifically for Bro-in-Law flying out to DC in order to escort sister/little niece back home to CA.
Just a lot going on. But - God has been answering prayers all throughout - very cool.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What a shame?! Here's a Family vacation in Venice

So, it's still really cold but has warmed up to -3 although the wind is still roaring through cracks in the window casings (if this was our house, these windows would have been long gone!). And since I've done quite a bit this morning, I gave in to some web-browsing. Important stuff like what gowns, I mean people, walked the Red Carpet at the Oscars and what silly things Miley Cyrus said in a recent interview in Paris - apparently she and her new beau "think deeper than normal people." So Miss Cyrus, how do "normal" people think and what constitutes a "normal" person? Normal people like me want to know. ;)

Oh - I really need to NOT click on those horrid links. Because I felt myself drawn to view the pic's of the Pitt/Jolie Family Venetian vacation. I thought to myself, "oh, I wonder where they went in Venice?"

Poor Venice. Not much of a promo for the City. All one gets are pictures of some of the family in doorways - they could be in LA, NY, London or Paris and no one would know the difference.

A year ago, we went to Venice with dear friends from CA. This is what Venice really looks like:

I hope you enjoyed - I know we did.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

It's Cold.....

I don't mean to whine but it's cold. -7 C (19 F) with winds from the E & NE. The wind has been blowing constantly and pretty much everyone says right into the houses. Any crack and, brrrr, you can feel it. Bart wondered why the candles kept flickering last night = 30+ year old giant sliding door would be the culprit.

Weather has also been foiling ski attempts. Maybe that's why I'm whining? Tried to go last Friday but decided that skiing in a white-out would be no fun. Was supposed to go today for the morning but checked the weather and they predicted -21 to -25 C ( -6 to -13 F) on the mountain. It's really no fun skiing when you're likely to turn into a 'people popsicle.' And it saves the knee for the Dr. appointment I have finally made. To go along with my 'golf' elbow - for the lady who doesn't golf.

Good news - my mom seems to be doing well after her ACL reconstruction last week. I'll call today and find out how my sister and little Jayden did on the flight from CA to VA - Kris was a little concerned about how her 20 mo old would fare during the trip. Very active little Miss. Out to VA for the first time to help Gma (Maki).

We've returned to the normal schedule finally after the Ski Break and already Spring Break is looming. It starts the end of March and we will be ready for a warm weather break. We're trying a new place - warm but not too far away. Spanish but not in Spain. Get the Atlas out - take a guess. All about the education. I still explain to people that, "yes, I'm sure Sweden is very nice but we live in Switzerland." Same problem we had in Iowa "yes, the potatoes from Idaho are very good but we live in Iowa." I make geographical mistakes too - trying to get better. Always flip Norway and Finland around.......

There's not much else exciting happening in the Olson family. We're still in the middle of Bart's busy season although it has eased a bit :). He'll been fairly busy, with exception of the week he'll take for Spring Break (girls get 2!!!! :) ), until the end of April. Girls are busy with school and music lessons and trying to fit in as much playtime as possible. Or bugging Bart to load songs/vids on their iPods. Seeing as I do not own one myself, how could I possibly do it? Good daddy/daughter time. And good controls over their content.

With Rachel at Middle School and going to dances, friends iPods, etc.... her music repetoire has expanded beyond that which I/we control. She sings in the shower all the time and the other night Bart looks over and wonders what she's singing. I let him know with a sigh "Lady GaGa." "But" I continue "it's the one without objectional words/theme - we've discussed the music thing." Then she switches over to Zoe Girl and all is right in the world again. It's hard being the parent of young people. She's making some good choices and for now - shows a lot of respect for the boundaries we have as a family. Very thankful for that. And Bart thought we corrupted her because she sings along with Bon Jovi as we drive along.............

Speaking of Bon Jovi as we drive along: We're singing to Bon Jovi, driving along the little country road to go skiing last weekend when I had to slow waaaaayyyyy down. There was not only on-coming traffic but also a trotting horse coming at me. BIG trotting horse w/ rider coming in my lane - following the people rule of walk toward traffic for safety. But where am I to go with traffic passing me on the left and a horse moving toward me head-on? I was able to pull over to the left a bit and horse passed on by - it never slowed down. Huh?

And I mean BIG horse. These are not Mustangs or Arabian/Thoroughbred breeds. Most riding horses here are big boned and Tall - with exception of the riding ponies (most are size of a small horse). Fun to watch but not moving toward you head-on. :)

Honestly, I'll miss the horses on the road when we move back someday. And the horses waiting their turn at the round-abouts and the wander wegs (walking paths) and the sidewalks.....Guess what part of horses on the sidewalks I won't miss! :)

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Driving in the Alps

I have blogged several times about the challenges I've faced driving in Switzerland/Italy. I hope this vid link works. I'm not sure which Pass this is, I do hear a little Swiss German in the background - this could have been us going over the Furka Pass last summer.

No Joke! There are times that there are but inches between you, the wall and the Bus/Truck. Always an adventure!

You've been living in Switzerland too long when....

OK - Here's a little funny for today. I copied it from a friend and changed only a bit to make it applicable to Zurich area as I think it originated in the French region. My comments or explanations are italicized.

When you first move to a new place, everything is fresh and you notice ALL the differences. Many of those differences are dulled now after 3.5 years. You become accustomed to your surroundings and it's quirks. I know I have.

So - these are observations from a non-native Switzerland resident, author unknown, and probably more humorous for Expat's but figured I'd share.

Note for reference: 1 chf is about $.95 - add State sales tax and US $ 1 = Swiss 1 chf

You have been living in Switzerland for too long when...

1. You crowd to the front of the bakery counter with everyone else. Line, what's a line?;

2. You don't think 15 chf for a glass of coke in a bar is outrageous;

3. You read the 20 Minuten (a daily free paper avail. at the train stations) for news instead of finding a flat, job, or what's on at the movies;

4. You believe the newspaper stand might actually be under surveillance and pay the full 2 francs instead of surreptitiously putting in 20 cents;

5. You think radar cameras painted to look like lumps of cheese make them less oppressive;

6. Beggars annoy you;

7. You buy the most expensive model or variant of everything from razors to cars (discount markets have difficulty surviving here);

8. You notice how dirty French cars are;

9. You live alone in a studio and have a cleaning lady;

10. You don't think it unusual that you have never met a Swiss who does hard manual labour like road-digging;

11. You don't question why it takes 12-18 months and costs more than a million francs to build a modest residential house;

12. You start to wonder what's wrong when a train is more than a minute late (it is funny to see everyone checking their watches and peering down the tracks);

13. You put on 300 chf worth of brightly coloured lycra to go for a bicycle ride;

14. You think Swiss advertising is dynamic, clever and subtle.

15. You think it's economically wasteful to have more than one brand of a product in a store;

16. You think getting up early is good;

17. You actually get interested in the local elections;

18. You try to defend cartel based economics to a visitor;

19. You think that plaid jackets with flowery ties don't look that bad (or pastel socks to go with tie);

20. You think it's fair that you can only wash clothes once a month (many buildings have a laundry schedule and you may only launder on your schedule day/time);

21. You wonder why anyone would want to shop outside of working hours (most shops are closed by 6pm and grocery stores between 6 - 8 pm);

22. You think it's OK to drive slow on Sundays;

23. You feel like you're broke if you have less than SFr 300 in your pocket (not unusual to have 100 or 200 chf notes in your wallet);

24. You dress up to go grocery shopping (I pretty much never wear 'sweats' out - occasionally to drop kids off at school if I'm headed straight home);

25. You understand why Chinese food should cost more than normal food (for our family of four - about 100 - 120 chf for chinese dinner including beverages);

26. You prefer Swiss wine (don't think I'll live in Switzerland that long, and Italy is right next door);

27. You wish that your town had expensive garbage bags too (good news: price per bag has gone from 2.30 to 1.60 since we moved here - the ONLY thing that has gotten cheaper);

28. You think it's OK for a Chinese restaurant to be run by a Swiss and staffed by Spaniards and Portuguese;

29. You think Thursday night shopping is really convenient;

30. You think that large American cars are 'cool'

31. You think it's cool to drink expensive imported beers;

32. You prefer fizzy mineral water to tap/still water;

33. You throw a party and expect everyone to leave by 11:30pm;

34. You clean up "during" parties;

35. You expect dinner guests to help with the washing up (will never get there);

36. You begin to understand the subtlety of the Swiss cuisine;

37. You appreciate the differences between the Cantons;

38. You feel really hungry if you don't start eating lunch by 12:00;

39. You have breakfast cereal for dinner (muesli - a yogurt/granola dish);

40. You don't mind paying 25 francs for a paperback book (I now order all my books from - free shipping and no additional VAT for books only);

41. You think that Swisscom approved telephones are better;

42. You buy a new one instead of getting it repaired;

43. You think that 3% unemployment is high;

44. You think it was through its own efforts that Switzerland stayed out of World War II;

45. You consider getting goats and sheep to graze in your backyard (I have, I certainly have);

46. You only eat fondue in winter (it makes sense - and alpermaccrone also - only in winter);

47. You complain to your neighbour about the noise when he flushes his toilet after 10pm (some apartment buildings still abide by these guidelines due to noisy plumbing systems);

48. You become interested in the myriad of insurance offerings (mandatory insurance and many options);

49. You become concerned about the color of your neighbour's curtains;

50. You put Aromat (a seasoning in Switzerland for potatoes & veggies primarily) on all your food;

51. You worry about getting a cold when there's a draught;

52. You become offended when reading this.