Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My family cracks me up!

They are all lined up watching "Deal or No Deal." Not the Howie Mandel version from the US but the British version complete with Noel of the feathered hair and colorful shirts.

They have been howling, cheering and laughing. I love it.

We can understand most of the "English." Great way to spend our evening.

Best part is the lingo that they all yell out at the TV now - everything in p's (pence) and pounds.

Glad that Jim the Fireman took the deal - we have to get to our little "girls Bible Study."

We have the Proverbs bible study for young girls by Vicki Courtney that we are committed to doing on Wednesday and Sunday nights. Girls are enjoying it - great format for pre-teens - and I'm enjoying the enthusiastic conversations. I probably need it tonight as much as they need it for life.


Finally! I've sort of figured it out

Adobe Photoshop Elements that it.

Having the internet/phone cable issues we've had really had me "off" the computer in one sense but "on" it in another. I've had Photoshop for about 1.5 years. I bought it 1) because the photo editing program on the 'new' computer which is now 2 years old was less than satisfactory and 2) I had visions of doing all sorts of wonderful things with the bazillion photo's I take.

In reality, I did use it. But the basic elements of it: cropping, minor level or contrast adjustments - and most of them with the Auto feature. Additionally - it's hard to manage a bazillion pictures and I'm woefully behind. Don't even ask about photobooks or scrapbooks. DON'T! I will ignore you.

So, considering I had just taken about 300+ pic's in Hawaii of my niece & nephews as well as some of my own girlies recently, I thought I'd drag out my Elements book again and see what I could see. Well, while answering basic questions, I find the accompanying tutorial 1) woefully inadequate as was the prior photo program I had and 2) it's in black & white. "Hello Adobe Photoshop People?" I need to see the changes, not imagine them in a black & white world.

Using a program like this requires new vocabulary as well: gradient map, render, burn, dodge, etc... I also use a PC so there's a little bit 'o work in trying to get to everything you want to get to. I've seen my bro-in-law in action with Photoshop on his Mac - much more intuitive (could be his artsy brain too? Considering I'm an accountant trying to be creative?)

So I had a lot of time to experiment and go to other websites (considering the tutorial was not as helpful as say, Pioneer Woman's helpful hints on Photography) and play, play, play. I also thoroughly cleaned the house. Except for the guest room.

I can now take this thoroughly nice pic of my nephew T:

And turn it into, what I think anyway, is an even nicer, more vibrant pic for his mom to cherish forever:

And sweet baby X looks fine here:

But doesn't this just put a bigger smile on your face?

I have oodles of pic's and even "painted" a few lightly and can't wait to hear how Deb thinks they turned out.

So that's what I've been doing - besides watching the triplets next door. Those baby lambs are so precious.

Speaking of baby lambs, my heart is heavy for a friend who is hurting over her own two lambs (children) right now for various reasons (health and safety). It's not my place to go into specifics here. Two passages come to mind today:
"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9 I think of this when trying to understand "Why?"

"The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. "
Psalm 23
God is so many things - may He be their Protector and Healer this week.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

OK - Just kinda back on-line

Well - we were too quick thinking all our communications issues would be solved with the new modem. Friday morning began with a computer and phone that, once again, did not work.

So I was on the cell phone with the cable company and made an appointment to have the 'cable guy' come on Monday morning. But the good Lord saw fit that the cable guy had some extra time today and he called to see if it would be OK to come after lunch. Yeah!

This involves good and bad news. Bad news first: The diagnosis is that the cable wiring is all old, outdated and has to be re-wired. It will be at least a month before it can be done. And hopefully the temporary fix will keep us connected most of the time but no guarantees. Not easy when all our communications are tied up in those 2 devices (all the school comm's are via internet - Yikes).

Good news: This all happened today (Saturday)!

To explain: Our heating and water controls are located in the neighbors flat 2 floors below us - in their cellar - inside their house. Our cable and electric controls are located in an underground room below their house accessed by a grate behind a hydrangea bush. Not convenient for any of us. Not easy to explain to the cable guy when his little electronic plan claims something different.

Fortunately, our nice neighbors were home and able to explain all the necessary info. to cable guy and vice versa, translate for me what I couldn't understand. Did I mention cable guy didn't speak English? But I was able to handle about 80% of the conversations necessary in German! What a sense of accomplishment.

OK - to finish up what is good new in an otherwise bleak technical period; in the course of our conversations, I found out my neighbors were going to be on holiday for 2 weeks - starting tomorrow! If the cable guy had not come until Monday, it would have been much more frustrating for he and I. Can you imagine me telling him that yes, he must go into the tunnel under the ground for the cable control panel - under a house that isn't ours? I don't see it going so well. Oh, and he had to do this all in the pouring rain?

So things are working as well as can be under the circumstances. Still some glitches but we'll just go with the flow. Will probably still be slow at posting since I can't always get the computer to cooperate but maybe the temporary fix with be reliable. Time will tell.

Before I leave you for the evening, I'll share this week's entertainment:

The triplets were born Thursday morning and we had the joy of watching them while having our dinner on the terrasse that evening.

Here they are Friday afternoon: Lively babies for Momma Sheep:
We don't think we'll ever have another place quite like this and we are cherishing every moment:

Wouldn't you agree?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Back Online!!!

HI!!! So glad to be here and hope to post something fun soon. Right now I'm catching up.

I know I've mentioned how "real life" has been the priority over blogging in recent months. Some of the time we were physically away (and I don't take a computer with me), part of the time I was just busy being wife, mom and Susan and the rest of the time - it took so long to get a post done that it felt like work. Instead of fun and it's supposed to be fun.

Email took forever, blogging took forever (if it would save my posts or download pic's at all) and I couldn't seem to get anything done efficiently. After weeks of frustration with the computer, checking updates and dumping unneccessary files from the hard drive, updating security - whatever I could do to see if I could 'fix' the problem, the phone was going consistently offline. We realized the problem was not our computer but the modem. We've had issues before but the cable company has let it drag on.

We've been almost completely off-line since last Saturday - occasional bursts of connectivity but - pretty much out of touch. The cable company told us Monday that they would send a new modem - Yeah!!! Because by Tues. - only two lights were blinking on our little box when there should have been 5. I'm wondering why I left it plugged in?

So now - I'm catching up on emails and all the things I should be doing with the computer, like sending out the song line-up for Sunday instead of Blogging. But it's working so quickly now, I can do both and still get some housework done. Oh happy day!

It's the little things you know. See you later!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The business of the Ports...

OK - almost done with the cruise saga. We haven't been on a cruise for a month and a half. It's just taking me that long to share the pic's and bits as I muddle on with the daily life as well.

Speaking of daily life real quick. Went to the Assembly at the Lower School today (elementary). Kendra received her ABRSM certificate for piano and wanted me there. In part because she wanted me there and in part because she's been a bit under the weather. So I went. And the following hit me as I sat talking to a friend. The father of the girls friends whose family is moving back to the States in December.

  • I have very few friends left after living here for 4 yrs. Most people I met at school were 2 -3 yr contract people. As the girls are more independent now (Kendra's even taking the public bus most mornings now!), I'm not at school as much and therefore not meeting as many 'new' people.
  • They said a goodbye to one of the girls today - the whole school sings a "Farewell" song. I got teary and realized I'm going to have to go to an assembly in June and it will be my child standing on the stage. I'll take my box of tissues.
  • They had a presentation re: the sister school in Ghana. Most of the fundraising done at the school goes to assist this school (near the village where our resident soccer (or football) star aka PE teacher is from - he just passed the highest level coaching certification level in Europe so we're hoping he doesn't leave us for FC Zurich or otherwise). The kids get such delight in seeing the progress of things such as the fresh water well, the cafeteria building, the playground, the fence to keep out animals, etc... going up at the school over the years.
  • It will be hard to leave. That is all I can say at this point.

Back to our regularly scheduled cruising program: Beautiful Sunset!!!!! It's about 10pm. Love the long days! OK - a little about me and what I inherited from my father, the electrician. I like to see how things work and the activity that goes on around a process. And from my mom who taught me to sew - how do things work/go together.

I enjoyed the bits of our cruise which related to real-life port activity. Not just cruise ships. How things get from point A to point B and everything that has to happen to make it work.

Cranes are a necessary part of that process (hmmm, think I've posted about cranes before. Hope your not too sick of them yet.). :)

Gydinia, Poland - busy, busy place!
Poland's Military fleet in the Harbor. Interesting quote from our Polish guide on describing life as it was around WWII : "We weren't sure what was worse, being occupied by the Nazi's or rescued by the Russians." I didn't know until I had traveled here and gone through the German History Museum in Berlin (Deutschische Historisch Museum) how the Polish people were treated during the war - from all sides. History classes focused mainly on the war strategy between the countries and specific events. Very powerful lessons but disheartening when you realize that parts of the world are still abusing whole populations of people. Anyway......
Piles of coal awaiting transport:
Into the port of Riga:
There was a huge, wood processing facility in Riga: wood chips, planks, pallets - you name it, it was sitting there.
"No Smoking" is pretty understandable in any language - especially if your ship is transporting natural gas/propane.
Coal freighter:
For some reason, I just like these cranes on rails - they look like giraffes to me:
This may be the dullest post re: our cruise that you've read but - I didn't post all the pic's I took! I have more cranes, more boats, more wood products/coal pictures than I could possibly need. It was all part of the fun. To see what life is like in the Baltic Sea. Which is more than just a pleasure cruise.
Enjoy your weekend!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Riga, Latvia - next Port of Call

You should have seen some of the children on our tour bus - unruly, loud and making weird faces at other passengers. I felt embarrassed for the parents, I really did. Really and truly. We opted for a short city walking tour in Riga. Thinking it was small, not much there. We were wrong. It is small. However, it is a beautiful city and it would have been very easy to walk around - on our own - from the dock, and enjoy a full day. But we promised the girls some swimming and not too much touring on a couple days. A tour every port of call is not exactly the dream vacation of 9 & 11 year olds so parents have to be willing to compromise.

And the weather was iffy, so..............

The main square in the Old Town. The city really takes it's tourism appeal seriously and you find a real mix of modern, old, hi-tech and quaint all together but in a way that doesn't feel disjointed. I'd love to go back and explore further.
Remember the "Bremen Town Musicians" folktale? Here are the heroes from that tale.
The city is known for it's beautiful Art Nouveau buildings. An example below of the animal themed decor from this period/style.
Large square with lawns, restaurants and the cutest little bakery/coffee shop from which we bought delicious treats mid-morning.
My picture taking was subdued on this day by the rain unfortunately:
We also found a sense of humor in the variety of 'outdoor decor' throughout the city. It was fun and didn't detract from the atmostphere.
The 'black cat' of Riga. We saw several of the live version running around too.
What I noticed missing from St. Petersburg but in abundance here:

Just the kind of pictures I like to take while strolling around:
Our gracious Latvian tour guide. Interesting fact: she's a professional tour guide but also - translates Avon catalogue information into Latvian for the Avon ladies. Interesting note re: life in Latvia (and similar to Gydinia/Gdansk, Poland our next stop). The average person in Latvia lives on 500 - 600 US $$ per month after taxes. This goes to cover food, housing, medical, clothing, etc... The cities are nice yet they don't have much of the extra's. And imports are expensive. How to take a country from a Communist government in which all things belong to the community (and they had much less under that standard) to one of democracy and free trade is not an easy process. Food for thought.
Note: The formatting got wacky again.
The US Embassy in Riga:
Monument to the children who were sent to Siberia to work camps and never returned home - really touched the girls hearts:

Bridge between the Old and New of Riga.
Heading out of Riga - back to the Baltic and on to Poland.

Friday, September 10, 2010

St. Petersburg Experience

I've had these pic's sitting in my draft basket for 3 weeks now? Funny how real life must come before the Blog :). I may finish this today, Friday, or I may have to cut short so I can finish packing and go to a 4th/5th grade Assembly. We'll see.

St. Petersburg. We're back on the cruise. One thing I haven't mentioned about this cruise experience was that for the first 3 days, we were changing our clocks - forward 1 hour each night. Made for early mornings.

This was an early morning, our first look at St. Petersburg. Have to admit, Bart and I were standing on our balcony watching the docking process and thinking "Wow, we're in Russia. Just never thought we'd be here." I have to admit, I'm a fan of the "spy" novel (a little LeCarre, DeMille, Silva makes for a good morning, afternoon or evening read) so my views of some places are still foggy with remnants of cold war intrigue.

Speaking of foggy: as I viewed my pictures later, I was surprised to see how hazy our St. Petersburg pic's were because we had beautiful weather that day. Then we remembered the fires. We were in the area during the high point of the fires outside of Moscow and they had reported that the air quality in the St. Petersburg region was being affected. Funny how the naked eye doesn't necessarily see it but the camera sure did.

There is so much to be learned by going on these tours - with local tour guides. As I mentioned several weeks ago, it was interesting to hear the commentary from the guides especially when it concerned other countries. Memories are long in this part of the world. Our guide says that many people in the older generation still refer to St. Petersburg by it's former name of Leningrad (note: originally St. Petersburg, changed to Leningrad during Lenin's rule and then back to St. Petersburg about 10-12 yrs ago ? forget ex. timing). She said those who fought to keep Leningrad from falling to the German's in WWII would never call it anything else.

Also of note for those wishing to travel to Russia: you must obtain a travel Visa. Only if you are on a specific tour arranged by the ship can you go into the City without one. So, no running around on our own with this tour - stay with the group or you are in violation of Immigration laws. :)

We hopped on one of the MANY tour buses and headed out of the city to Catherine's Palace. This Palace was taken over by the Nazi's during the attempted Siege of Leningrad and burned as they retreated. We saw photos of the devestation outside of the city and of the Palace. Pretty disheartening. The Palace was rebuilt based on memory of survivors and photo's.
In the mirrored Ballroom - note the paper booties on Kendra's feet. We all had to wear them to protect the rugs and parquet wooden floors. Back of the Palace. Like with many 'palaces' in Europe, the biggest ones are the 'summer' residences outside of the cities themselves. Huge:

Every Summer palace must have it's reflective 'water feature' with little tea house:
We were then driven to a restaurant for lunch (simple but tasty - complete with Vodka shot at each place setting of which we removed from the girls :) ) and were entertained by a Russian Folk group.
One of the "Prospekt's" in the city (street). We were actually surprised by the variety of automobiles in St. Petersburg. The variety was definitely more than what we typically see driving through Zurich/Switzerland. There was about every different model of car you could think of: European, American, Japanese and of course some Russian models we didn't recognize. These are the kind of thing you notice driving around the city in a big bus.
The next couple pic's are of Apartment 'houses' or Apartment blocks. I can't say I'd want to live here. As our tour guide explained, there are very few single family homes in the City. Everyone lives in an apartment. In the "old" days, they were given these apartments free based on waiting lists/jobs, etc... by the government. When communism fell, they were allowed to 'buy' their apartments for a 'reasonable at that time' price. Most families of 4-6 people live in a 2 room apartment - that's 2 rooms, not 2 bedrooms.
Apartment blocks (2nd pic) are built with residences encircling a 'block' with open space in the middle so the children can play 'within the block' and there are markets available, etc... We noticed a lack of cafe's, restaurant, flower shops, etc... that you would normally find in a large city. The guide said that most people don't eat out - most meals are eaten in the home with family/friends. Some of the apartments were temporaries (built during Glasnost) but are still being lived in 30 yrs later with no plans to replace.
Definitely a different place. Having a hard time describing it all.
Along with every car make you can think of - there was also McD's!

Below is the dome from one of the Orthodox churches in the area. The churches were used for State purposes during Communist/Stalinist reign. After the fall of communism, the churches were turned over for religious services again.

St. Petersburg is a huge city - the buildings are huge, the streets are huge - everything's big and intimidating but beautiful in it's way.
After lunch and the City tour by bus, we headed for our Neva river cruise. St. Petersburg is similar to Stockholm in that it is made up of various islands/peninsulas that stretch into the Baltic and through the City winds the Neva river.
As I look at the pic above I'm reminded how hot it was. It was hot! Along the way we found a warship:
The Hermitage Museum (largest collection of Art in Europe/Asia continents):
There are many bridges along the river and they are all draw bridges. It was explained that from approx. 1am to 5am, the bridges are all drawn up so that the ships/larger vessels can move along the river to their next destinations. The guide explained that during "White Nights" (The summer evenings when the sun goes down for only 3-4 hrs - but it stays light out. Here I thought it was just an '80's movie! :}) it is beautiful to sit by the river and watch the bridges go up and the boats go by.

I know there must be aspects of this visit that I'm missing. If you are a 'thinker' (which I am based on my Meyers Briggs personality eval. -haha), you spend all day wondering "what would it be like, how did they ......, what do they.....?????" So many questions. Many differences that other parts of Europe we've been to.
For instance, I wouldn't buy a Father Frost because that was the Government replacement for Santa Claus. When the Communists outlawed religion in the Soviet Union, they realized they couldn't just take Santa away from the kids but Santa was christian, St. Nicolas. Atheism was taught in the schools. They settled upon Father Frost who would come to the school on January 1, the New Year, and bring a gift to the children. Father Frost looks much like Santa but carries a staff and wears a blue robe. I'm tempted to ask my neighbor about all this but that would venture into the really personal and our relationship isn't that deep - these things can be tricky.
It was a beautiful day and I won't forget the experience.
But there were other Ports awaiting and we sailed off into the night (note - at 3am in August, it still looks like twilight, the light never quite goes away):

Monday, September 06, 2010

Pic's and stuff

OK. Please bear with this post as my settings for picture alignment are apparently in need of a reset. So I will try to match dialogue with photo's but don't get you're hopes up.
It's been a semi-busy week. I'm about 90% back from the sinus/ear infection - thank you Dr. N for the antibiotic's that you reluctantly and apologetically gave me. Rachel returned safe and sound from her week long trip to Leysin - Yeah! Bart and I attended a very nice KPMG event in Luzern (apero, rehearsal concert at the KKL Luzerne Music Festival and Steamboat Dinner Cruise on Lake Luzern (aka Vierwaldstadtersee)) for the celebration of KPMG Switzerland's 100th Anniversary. Had a good morning at church in which I was still able to lead Music in spite of sinus/ear issues :)!
And yesterday, Sunday, I was able to take some beautiful pictures of our Monkey's at Halbinsel Au:

The eldest Monkey is now 12! She spent her Birthday with her class. As she put it "Yeah, it was the best birthday of my life. I loooovvvve to spend my birthday on a 7.5 hour hike."
Um - use your best "12 year old" tone of voice with that statement.
We're happy to have her back home.

I ordered myself a new toy when I was in HI (and paid the VAT on it when I when through customs - voluntarily! did not want to risk getting 'selected' with my payload). A 10-22mm wide angle lens. So you'll have to put up with my learning curve.
I can get a lot more of the Lake in my shots now.

And another shot while in HI. Thunderclouds and pouring rain off the beach. Beautiful thing was - I got back to Deb's place before it rained on land - but it was still 85F so "rain" doesn't really count.
And again while on the beach. The reviews weren't joking when they claimed the lens will pick up the whole shot including your toes! Have to work out pic's when I don't want the slight distortion at the edges which seems to be common depending on the subject, distance, angle, etc....
Me and Deb = JT took this pic. Not bad for a 6 yr old.

Me and my buddies. Miss them bunches!

SO - as you can see. My formatting is all screwed up and I'm lacking the time and patience to make it perfect OR go back and reload all these pic's. I know my regular readers can figure it out. Right???? Make it a game - matching comments to pics! Yikes.

Here's to next Post!