Thursday, June 17, 2010

Snapshots of May #4 - Last one!

OK - Finally finished with all the May things I wanted to share. And it's only June 17th! Time has flown and we've been so busy with school year-end activities, saying good-bye again to those returning to home countries or headed to new adventures and so on and so forth.

As of yesterday, I have a 7th grader and at the end of today, I'll have a 4th grader. Not sure I know where the year went but it's been a good one. We are ready to have some relaxing fun with friends and family - see you very soon!

I'll leave you with Malta (May trip): City gates of Valletta:
Typical Maltese style buildings with window boxes. The look is definitely a mix of Italian/Arabic styles.

Streets of Valletta: the first city specifically designed on a grid pattern (so they claim) but narrow! and all roads eventually lead to the sea.... :)
Harbor in Valletta which overlooks and protects the "Three Cities" on the other side. Basically, the whole island is a fortress. Malta was bombed more than any other place during WWII and it's really evident that it's taken a long time to recover from it all.
St. John's Co-Cathedral: home to the Order of St. John which bears the insignia of the Maltese Cross.

Cross painted by Caravaggio - it's beautiful. He took refuge here after some troubles in Italy, had trouble in Malta too - tempermental artist who was enormously gifted - absolutely beautiful paintings here.
Main aisle of the Cathedral:
Malta can trace occupation on it's islands clear back to 4,000 BC and has been occuppied by numerous dynasty's (Arabic & European) due to it's strategic location in the Mediterranean. Country built on a rock:
Looking out of the Harbor toward open Sea:
We really enjoyed this trip. It was supposed to be a 'relaxing' weekend so we didn't run around a great deal. Bart & I would love to go back and explore the island a bit more.
We did agree on one thing: Good thing we didn't rent a car!
We didn't realize that Malta had been heavily occupied by the British during the Turn of the Century. They follow British road rules. And as most rentals in Europe are standard transmission, theirs are too. But for driving on the right side of vehicle, with the left hand for shifting. No can do!
Nor would we want to. I spent a good part of our taxi ride from the airport to the hotel with my eye's shut and reminding myself to breath. Oh, and not get sick in the car. "Please Lord, keep us safe and may we arrive to our destination safely." The girls comment "Whew, that was a crazy ride!" Never, never have I been so glad to get out of a car. And I would NOT want to be responsible for driving there. No,no,no,no...........
Great fun! Soon to be in the land of Root Beer, Lucky Charms and USDA choice steak!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Snapshots of May #3

OK - for the May Snapshots we've had Friends, Food - #3 is Flowers!

Because I like them. I'd like them even more if I could be outside and enjoy them but sadly, this has not been a very pleasant Spring going into Summer. We've had a handful of nice days since the beginning of May but, today I sit, June 17th, staring out the window at the rain, using my heater in the car, pulling an extra blanket on the bed last night and still wearing a sweater/sweatshirt. We've had the pool filled since the beginning of May and we've used it one day so far this season.

At least the cool weather prolongs the flowers - they're not dying off as fast. But there are no pic's of the veggie garden - it's pitiful. Not sure we'll get much out of it at all - nothings growing without the sun :(.

I do have some nice pic's from a couple of really nice days: Love the Tulips:


Love the blueberry hyacinths - and they spread, getting prettier each year:

Bleeding Hearts:
The ferns which spread like weeds (I have to transplant some every year as they crowd out other plants):
Planted a variety of Parrot-head tulips this year:
Helleborous (Lenten Rose - violet):
(Lenten Rose - white)
Wild carpets of flowers that show up every Spring in the Woodsy part of the property:
Going up the steps to the house - my neighbors side yard - always so pretty:
Hope you enjoyed. The wind is picking up so I'd better make sure the pool cover is secure. Maybe, just maybe, we'll have sunshine in July?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Hills are Alive

With the Sound of Music.....

No - we are not in Austria, it is NOT the 1940's and unfortunately, I cannot sing like Julie Andrews although I spent a good part of my early adulthood wishing I could and trying!

Yesterday afternoon had us at the Geigenbau Atelier (Violin maker/restoration studio) once again. Kendra will be in 4th grade next year and had to choose a band or orchestra instrument. She will stick with the piano as well but LOOK: Cutest little cellist you've ever seen, Right? Right? OK - I'm looking thru a mother's eyes. She's very excited and the teacher we've been put in touch with seems very energetic and will expect some serious work. Kendra is eager to begin. The teacher even went along to help choose the instrument - she had definite opinions and personally, I was glad as I know nothing, nothing about the cello. Other than I like it's sound and I'm really glad she selected it.

On Sunday night, there was another cello in the house. Along with a Double bass and two violins.
We had a final farewell concert and dinner at our place for the Quartet that Rachel's been playing in since October. We only wish the rain had stopped for the planned barbeque/concert/swim party for 20 people.

The Quartet was self-formed - the original 4 (Rachel's friend moved so R took her spot) thought it would be great to play together and convinced the school Music teacher to coach them. He approached this group with the idea of sight-reading as a group each week - something different than his approach with the regular school orchestra and their private lessons. They played a lot of fun music - predominantly movie scores - and we were treated to a piece the had only recieved music for last Wednesday and we were all impressed with their improvement and ability as compared to the first of the year.

This particular clip focuses more on Rachel as this was for family. Not the whole song as my card filled up and camera stopped before the ending :(. Sorry, can't remember the title of the song/composer and Rachel's music is ?...... Hope you enjoy:

Snapshots of May #2

Are you hungry? You might be after this post. But maybe not - vegetarians and those on a diet should look away!

Freiburg, Germany: Nice afternoon spent with Bart's sister and her family. We really enjoyed our dessert. I should say "I" as Bart had all of one bite of this: A Swiss dish favorite of Kendra's (and yes, I cook too): Roesti with cheese, ham and an egg on top
This is not food. This was supposed to be my Mother's Day present but somehow it was delivered by mistake to the driveway next door and someone drove off with it. Fine! I wanted the 2 door Quattro Sport version (Maserati) anyway. Maybe next Mother's Day.......
This is how the terrasse was supposed to look when we had all the Company - including the 20 guests this past Sunday night. See, it doesn't rain ALL the time:
Science assignments out of foodstuffs. Rachel created a plant cell with jello, marshmellows, orange, strawberries, cashews and apple.
I guess I forgot to show off my dinner when I showed off my Mom's: veal tenderloin topped with cheese and grapes (may sound different but was delicioso), roasted potatoes and sauteed veggies
Kendra with her piggy from the bakery:
My sister's clever "packing peanuts" idea: Reeses Cups!
We had a big lunch in Luzern on Ascension day and so I had planned an Apero (Antipasti meal) for that evening. It was a big success! The kids opted for bean and cheese burrito's and our friend's son J was going for a 2nd helping until he saw.....
All of this. J decided against the 2nd burrito and enjoyed the cheeses, meats, stuffed olives and peppers instead. Yum!!!
We spent a beautiful evening in Zurich with our friends - it didn't rain 'til we got home!
We had made reservations at the Zeughauskeller which is a Zurich institution - restaurant in the old Armory building and if you want to try Sausages/Swiss entrees, this is the place. Always packed with tourists AND locals. There are other restaurants that do some of the Entrees better but don't have the atmosphere OR the sausages that the Zeughaus does. A treat for visitors.
Bart, F and J with the 1 meter (3 foot +) sausage:
They were so pleased with themselves - they ate the whole thing!
It's OK. Feel free to say "gross." The rest of the table did. In reality, I did have a taste and it was excellent - and non-greasy. Still.
Thus ends Show and Tell for the table. We're looking forward to Root Beer and stuff very, very soon. But probably won't be taking pictures of it. :)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

American Traveler - the Bone I would like to pick

Why do we say "I have a bone to pick with you" anyway?

It's the gauntlet to throw down in modern day - at least where I grew up. Considering we don't wear gloves anymore which require removal before physical altercations. Hmmm, maybe not such an educated way of saying "I feel very strongly there's something we need to discuss and you may not like it but tough." I'll think about that one.

Before I proceed: Yes, I am going to target my fellow countrymen/women. Yes, I realized that if I were of another nationality, I'm sure I could be writing this same post about that nationality's countrymen too. But it's my turn to address the "ugly American" issue which I haven't really done in the 4 years I've been posting on this Blog as an American living in Switzerland.

Prompted by the very LOUD, obnoxious, young, American, vacationing girls who were riding the Tram in Zurich the other day. Which could be one of my own daughters someday but I'm hoping and praying not.

The overheard conversation went something like this:

"Yeah, like I'm ever going to see those people again anyway."
"Who cares what they think. I so don't care."
"Yeah, but Switzerland is so totally like a small Country you actually might run into them again."
"OMG, did you see that one guy."
"He was so rude and could hardly speak English."

And so on and so forth. I was never soooooo tempted to get up and walk over and let them know that 1. based on the tram they were on, virtually everyone could understand their very loud, rude conversation and 2. they represent Americans where ever they go but at least they have youth on their side - there is grace given to youth where ever they go in most cases.

I decided not to as I didn't feel like getting told to take a flying leap that day and they got off one stop prior to mine.

Over the years, we've accumulated a multitude of stories of unpleasant tourists. We know this comes in part by the discomfort people have in finding themselves in a country where the language is hard to understand/read. On one hand, it's exciting and romantic but on the other, there can be struggle to communicate or get around in an unfamiliar environment. Some people adapt more easily than others. We just stay quiet and don't advertise we are 'english' speaking when near such 'uncomfortable' tourists. Unless they need directions/help - then I open my big mouth.

My two biggest requests/pieces of advice for those who haven't traveled outside of the country (USA or other):

1. Don't expect or demand that things should be the way they are at home - or make fun of it. You are in a foreign country - they are living, eating and talking they way they are comfortable; it's their home, not yours. You will have more fun in the end trying new things and experiencing their customs/foods/drinks.

2. English has become such a common bonding language that most people speak/understand a good bit - even if you never hear it. For example, most people in Switzerland speak 3 languages but are not going to switch out of their mother tongue to English just because English people are around them. When in Europe, assume people CAN understand you until it's proven they can't.

And I always tell the girls, "Remember, as soon as you open your mouth, they know you're American." People are interested. So they watch. And listen. And form opinions. Just like we do when there are German, Swedish, Dutch, UK, Australian, etc..... visitors in our country (USA).

I know. It takes all kinds and there are going to be those people, yada, yada, yada......... It just really bugged me the other day.

Funny thing was - everyone else was very quiet on the Tram - we were getting such an earful. The other passengers picked up their conversations after the girls departed the Tram.

Bone is clean. I've dusted off the gloves. More pic's later.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Snapshots of May #1

As I am still sorting the house, putting everything back and dealing with year end school events - I will offer various snapshots of our May with visitors and travels. I do have a bone to pick with some American travelers too. Since I didn't get the chance to tell it to their face, I will do so via next Blog post.

So I've gone out to pick up Kendra from school and Rachel from the train station with R & B (female half of the family visiting) on their first day in from the States. We had a lovely day and then the sky started to turn. Pic's are courtesy of Bart. It was 4:30 in the afternoon and at this time of year, it isn't dark until 9:30pm.

Mid-Westerners, What would you be doing if the sky looked like this?: And this:
And this:
I can't say I've ever seen such a Black cloud - tinged with green. Lights on the Lake were flashing - storekeepers were pulling everything inside - if we were still in Iowa, the black box would have been calling out a storm warning and I'd be down in the basement. With the storm room door open and ready just in case. It was not pretty.
We picked Rachel up at the train station and were almost home before the hail hit. But not quite - 2nd hail storm in 2 days for me. The lightning was flashing and I told the girls there was "NO WAY" they were taking a metal funicular lift that runs on metal railroad ties up to the house. They would have to run up the 6 flights of stairs in the wind/rain/lightning (after we waited for the hail to pass) and "don't touch those metal hand rails."
I wonder why my girls kind of freak out during lightning storms?
The girls were fine - R & I? Took a while to recover from our run up 6 flights of stairs.
But earlier in Rapperswil, the day looked like this: We also visited the Kloster in Einsiedeln, a Benedictine Monastery whose original Chapel dates back to approx. 800 AD. The Benedictine choir there sounds so beautiful - the place has wonderful acoustics. You aren't allowed any pictures inside so - nothing to share of this beautiful church.
But they have a great sense of humor:" When the High C is sung, the glass breaks"
Outside in front of the Kloster. It's located in the smallest little town but is a huge draw because of the significance of this Monastery to the Benedictines and Catholic history.
The road to Einsiedeln (and skiing!!!!!!) viewed from Schindeleggi:
The Lake that night, after the storm:
Took a day drive to Lake Constance/Bodensee which is bordered by Switzerland, Germany and Austria. We went to Lindau - German side - and our young guests were thrilled that day to drive in 4 different countries: Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Leichtenstein. A little amazed that there are no border stops either nowadays - other than customs coming back into Switzerland.
I just accidentally deleted the pic I was going to show. Oh well - Blogger doesn't have a 'back' button for such mistakes and I can do it later.
But a big Zeppelin floated past as we were at the Bodensee - so quiet, you don't know it's there until it's right on top of you. The museum is not far from Lindau - maybe we'll go sometime.
And the castle on the hill in Leichtenstein:
We went to Paris with our friends - I think I already shared the crooked, Eiffel Tower pic with you all. I couldn't resist taking these to share:
Practical day clothes for children, oui? Or these:
How many ways can one make the ankle or knee scream at you?
Had a good time and I still haven't looked through all the pictures!