Monday, August 23, 2010

Little Brudda's

Oh, St. Petersburg can wait!

I am really enjoying time with my sister and her family. While there is a bit to do, there's also just a lot of sitting around holding the babies (and feeding and changing the babies). Since they're still so young and small (born at 33 weeks and now one week short of their original due date), they still eat & sleep most of the time. When they're not sleeping, they're happy to be held or laid down on their backs or tummies without a fuss. But - they like clean diapers and are quick to let you know!

T gives his brother some love.

I had Deb take advantage of my being here and sent her out with the 3 big kids for some fun this weekend. They really aren't hard to handle alone and as you can see, I managed a 'same time' feeding. They are on a good schedule and basically eat at the same time. In the NICU (hospital), they were only given so much time to eat and Deb has stayed consistent with that. They are good eaters, growing quickly and there's no guess-work as to whether they're really hungry or had enough.

Sweet little boys.

Bart warned me that I'd better not go home with a tan. Don't worry Hon - I won't. Not a beach trip to HI but the weather is warm, humid and breezy. The sun shines and I stay out of it 'cause it's too hot for me otherwise. Unless I was at the beach, then I'd suffer through it or float in the surf!

Miss my girlies! They're doing good in Zurich with Dad and we've Skype'd and called and things are going smooth. Thanks to all who have helped with that.

OK - 'big' boys due home from school any moment and I'd better clean up - so we can clean up again later........

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Aloha! Took a wrong turn and

we aren't in St. Petersburg quite yet.

Last weekend, Bart said I'd need to post everyday in order to "finish" the cruise before I left for Hawaii.

Well, I got busy making lists, calling friends to help with the girls schedule, clean the house, make sure the schedule was sorted, finish laundry, write out laundry instructions (machine is diff. than your regular model in the US and all buttons are in German of course) and spend time with my family.

So, I have St. Petersburg, Latvia and Poland pictures loaded - just need to write a bit about it and post. From Makakilo!

I miss my family and it was hard preparing for the trip. We've become used to the girls being away for their 3-5 day school trips and of course, we're used to Bart being gone off and on but I never really go away anywhere. Especially since we moved to Switzerland. I've been away on a couple of one night trips with Mom and some friends and I did make a 4 day trip to NY 3.5 years ago but this is a 10/11 day trip (depends on which time zone you count it from).

However, they (girls) are in the very capable hands of Bart and they are glad that I am here to help. So am I. I am enjoying visiting with my sister, loving on her little twins and playing with the 'big' kids (3, 5 and 6). I've changed my share of diapers and help with feedings and doing various housework with my sister so we can 'relax' this weekend. I've been left alone with them already! and will do so again so she can take the big kids out this weekend to do something fun.
They don't have a vehicle yet to handle 5 car seats so it'll be good for her to get out with the kids. Yes, a van is in their near future.

Although I haven't been outside much yet, I've enjoyed seeing the sun through the windows and feeling the tropical breezes through the open windows. Zurich has been having it's cool, dreary August weather so the change of climate is nice, I'll admit.

Hopefully, I will download a few pic's for your viewing pleasure of these sweet little boys while I'm here. They are progressing well and I know my sis & bro-in-law are so happy they're thriving after the rough beginning.

I'm pretty happy to have had 2 nights of 6 hrs sleep as I try to adjust as quick as possible - the 12 hr time change is a bit of a killer but I think I'm doing pretty good. Went to bed at the same time as the kids last night!

AND, will get some of those other posts up and going. More later. Aloha!

Friday, August 13, 2010


We woke in the morning and enjoyed beautiful, clear blue skies as we approached the port in Helsinki. Was interesting to watch as they shoot a small cable from the ship that allows the dock workers to 'grab' the big ropes they use to tie off with. At each port, there were only 3 men/women needed to secure the 85,000 ton ship.
This port wasn't nearly as busy as Stockholm but there were a lot of boats "working":
This would be the beginning of our day for the next 5 ports - tour buses. A necessary evil. We were glad of the English speaking guides - really made each place more interesting and let's just say; the commentary in the various countries, about various countries, was educational and a bit amusing. By the end of the trip though, we were done with people and buses and schedules.
Landscape in Finland is well, a lot like Minnesota! As was Sweden (although Minnesota doesn't have as much of the granite these countries do). Rolling forests, fields, cows and lakes. Finland isn't the land of 10,000 lakes though - they have over 100,000! So they say.
We visited a medieval church on our way to Porvoo. The girls are sitting in the seat of shame. Can you imagine?
There are serious moments on many trips and a trip to this region (Baltic - former Nazi occupations/Communist governments) had it's share.
Their wheat crops were still a bit green. We also noticed how much thinner and shorter the wheat was than in Switzerland. Finland is a fairly dry country in spite of the cold and snow - and being surrounded with so much water. Fire danger is a big threat as almost all homes are made of wood (their biggest natural resource) and the lack of regular rain in summer.
We stopped for a while in Porvoo, the 2nd oldest city in Finland - established 1340 on the banks of a river which leads out to the Baltic.
Many of the old towns in the Baltic cities we visited had these rock cobblestones - different from those in Central/Southern Europe and thus a bit more challenging on the feet. The red, wooden houses along the river in Porvoo. These are all rebuilt exactly like the originals - most original buildings by this time have been rebuilt due to fires over the centuries.

From Porvoo, we headed back to Helsinki with a stop at an old estate for lunch. Lunch was held in an old, underground distillery. Great atmosphere and I for one, like my food. I tend to be the most adventurous eater but as I will disclose momentarily, I'm rubbing off on the rest of them.
A Lutheran church built into a granite hill - ceiling is of coiled copper - very interesting.
Ice-breakers sitting at the docks on summer vacation:
An imposing church build high on a hill dedicated to Tsar Alexander II. Steps were steep!
It was time to depart Finland and head to St. Petersburg. We enjoyed our visit and Bart and Rachel came to the same conclusion during our tour - voiced within 2 minutes of each other and sitting in separate seats. Each said "hmm, Mom (Susan) must be part Finnish." Our tour guide was trying to give us a picture of not only the country of Finland but also of the people. She described them as people who read alot, aren't interested in TV so much and don't find it necessary to make small talk. They say what they need to say in as few words as possible.
Now, while I can certainly be chatty, I tend to be so with people I know. I avoid occasions where I have to make small talk with people I don't know where I can. And in my immediate family, I tend to be the quiet one. Often to be heard telling them to "quit talking all at the same time, you sound like chickens!" This trait doesn't appear to affect my writing. I can ramble away with the best of them......
It was a beautiful night and "Formal" was the suggested dress for dinner. We weren't strictly "Formal" but cleaned up pretty nicely. :)
Beach on an island off Helsinki:
Waiter was kind enough to take our pic after dinner. I was very proud of my family! I ordered the escargot appetizer and they were pretty much aghast! But our waiter had brought two of the order and I said they couldn't go to waste and should be tasted at least. They were also buried under melted butter and garlic so what's not to like? I assured them that they were tender, not at all rubbery/slimey and not a trace of grit (I don't like mussels because they can be gritty). Rachel had to be bribed with $$ and thought they were OK but didn't want another. Bart said "I can't believe I just ate that" but he ate 3. Kendra decided she loved them and she and I ate the rest. The menu all week had a good variety to it and Bart was especially pleased with the quality of each piece of red meat he ate. :)
It was almost like Date Night. With kids. :) We always have a great time with them and this trip was no exception. Rachel is getting pretty good at taking our picture so we have a lot more of us this trip - Fun.
End of a beautiful night.
Next stop: St. Petersburg.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cruising out of Stockholm

Our ship was scheduled to depart at 5pm and with a big blast of the horn (that is LOUD!), it started to pull away. We found the departure/arrival at the docks one of the most interesting things about the cruise - we only missed the process if we were actually sleeping. During our final dinner on board we discussed the 3 questions "What was your favorite port?" "What was your favorite activity?" and "What was your favorite food?"

Rachel: Helsinki, hanging out, everything
Kendra: Gydinia, Poland, Arcade/ping pong, everything - esp. cheesecake
Bart: St. Petersburg, ping pong/relaxing, red meat
Susan: St. Petersburg/Riga, watching the ship/port activity, french toast (and everything)

Yes, I'm a geek. I liked watching all the different activity at the various ports and guess what? I took a lot of pictures so you'll get to see all these ports too! Piles of coal, cranes, newly built cruise-oriented customs/passport control buildings, etc... Everyone was outside and at the rails to experience our departure out of Stockholm into the shipping channel that would lead us to the Baltic. They explained they had a Harbor Pilot onboard separate from the regular crew. This Harbor Pilot helps navigate the ship through the shipping channel which is complex and based on size of some of these ships, narrow to appearancees. The Pilot is then picked up and returned to port via a small "pilot" boat once the ship reaches the open Sea.
There were many boats in the Channel:
Some are little:
Some are BIG (This is a Ferry - carries auto's and passengers between Nordic/Scandinavian countries. It is equipped with restaurants and cabins as most trips have an overnight itinerary):
There were about 4 other cruise ships/ferries that departed at the same time as our ship. You can see the bouy markers for the Channel on either side of the following ship:
It took 4 hours to reach the open Baltic Sea - the scenery was spectacular.
There was also dancing:
AND shuffleboard (turns out I outscored my family. Not sure that's a record I'll post outside of this Blog.... :)
All along the way were beautiful cottages and houses. Beautifully painted and kept:
Look at those buildings - the classic American red barn came from somewhere, Yes? Based on the large number of red/white painted barns (some were houses) we saw in Sweden, those classic "American" barns were built by immigrant Swedish farmers a long, long time ago.
Little islands with their little cottages: Some not so little but oh, so tempting - I'm ready to book a place for a week:
Almost to the Baltic and we see this little piece of lovely, undeveloped land sticking out. Sandy beach, shallow approach, woods - hmmm wonder if??? Nope, we have to move back next year. No vacation home in our future right now in Sweden. A lovely thought though.....
After dinner. About 9:30 and the sun has gone down but the sky is still full of light. It was at 11:30pm when we finally convinced ourselves to go to bed.
Sunrise comes early - just after 5am - and the night was never completely dark. I couldn't sleep and so sat with a coffee and book at about 6:30am. Should be seeing Finland soon.....

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I can't say I had any preconcieved notions as to what Stockholm would be like. Ja, it's north and the family I married into are direct decendants of Swedish/Norwegian/German immigrants. So at least I knew they could get the spelling right (you have no idea how much of our mail is to the Olsen's).

We flew in on a Friday night and by time we arrived to our hotel, we were just hungry.
Kendra, who loves potatoes in any form, opted for the "Swedish" meatballs with mashed potatoes. She loved the potatoes AND the meatballs - we all had a meatball! I tried the salmon sampler - Excellent start to vacation.
What I hadn't realized or thought about in regards to Stockholm was it's landscape. I knew it was on the water but honestly, did not realize that it consists of many islands/peninsulas connected by the waterways (St. Petersburg is the same). So your best option in many cases is to catch the water taxi's.
Gamla Stan - the Old Town:
Headed to the Vasa Museum:
The museum is build around a wooden warship that had sunk in the main Channel in Stockholm about 400 years ago - on it's maiden voyage no less. Conditions in the Baltic are prime for actually preserving such wreckage instead of it experiencing great decay. The wreckage was found in the 1950's at which point they worked at salvaging this remarkable ship. 95% of the ship as it is in the museum is original - some pieces have been replaced as needed and they are evident as was the purpose of the restorers - to keep the integrity of the preservation. Definitely a must-see if you are visiting Stockholm. We also visited the Swedish museum (use to highlight more of life re: Nordic countries but now focuses primarily on Sweden). We enjoyed it as it wasn't crowded and we could go at our own pace. Then have some ice cream!
The Vasa Museum itself is an incredible building - to the right:
Stockholm had it's crowded squares:
And it's quiet streets:
Taking a break to consult the map:
Note: This is after dinner, about 9:30 (loved the light so late at night)
Enjoyed our day and are headed back to the hotel:
Gracious yet energetic City:
That we leave for THIS:
Our first cruise! Home for 8 days and 7 nights. Next pictorial will be the departure from Stockholm - takes 4 hours to cruise from the port of Stockholm into the Baltic Sea itself. It was beautiful!!! I'll take you there............