Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

We were well prepared on Christmas Eve. We went to a lovely carol service at church and then headed home for a nice, quiet dinner. We were supposed to have dinner with friends in the mountains but the snow had been coming down all day and we didn't relish the drive in and out in the dark. The girls didn't want to spend the night up there - they wanted to be in their own house with their own tree for Christmas morning.

Christmas Trivia: Most of Switzerland celebrates on the evening of Christmas Eve - the Christkind (Christ child) comes with gifts. Sammiclaus (St. Nicholas) came on Dec. 6th (with Schmuetzli the scary counterpart and a donkey) bringing nuts, chocolates and fruit.

We still had our Christmas Eve dinner. I split the mashed potatoes of which I was responsible for and took a portion to church. The swap was made in the parking lot for the Swedish meatballs that were L's responsibility (a Minneapolis Swede) and we were all happy to take home our fare. We swooned over the meatballs. I'm not partial to ground beef dinners even though that is about the only red meat we eat here - USDA steak is about $25-30/lb and Swiss beef is too tough and expensive to bother with. Sidetracked - oh, the meatballs were delicious! Perfect with the mashed potatoes and steamed carrots. Funny thing was - BR decided when they got up to the mountains that carrots sounded best = we all ended up with the same dinner just different locations.

We watched Frosty and Rudolph, checked the NORAD Santa tracker (Kendra was slightly obsessed) and then prepared to go to bed. Girls were ready for Santa and the reindeer:

And Santa was faithful in arriving:

We had a great morning and then headed on up to D & B's to join in the snowy fun. It was a very slow trip - bit slick but worth it (you can say that as long as you're not the one off the road or facing the wrong way in the middle of it).
The girls down with L and her son N. The 3 entry snow fort and snowman are to the left - they did it before we came - it was awesome.

Much fun was had in the snow before coming in for a great dinner prepared by BR (have to distinguish him from Bart!) who is a fantastic cook. All I had to bring was the apple pie! We've been so blessed to have such wonderful friends here. It's a time of change for most of us and we are really treasuring the time we have left together.

So as Christmas comes to a close and we look ahead to the New Year, the verse that sticks out to me for the year 2010 is:
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths." Proverbs 3: 5-6
God has been faithful to provide direction and open doors and relieve anxieties this year. We can't always be certain of our future but we can look at the past and see His hand. We look forward to what lies ahead in 2011 and I have a feeling that verse is going to stick!
So from our house to yours:
Whether we are entertaining poor, beggar children from the streets of Paris (Les Miserables brought forth new, imaginative creations):
Or Sweat Peas from Zurich:

We wish you a Blessed and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Photo Shoot? No....

So perhaps I'm taking up Home Design Photography? A little Shabby Chic perhaps? It's all about the details. And how they blend and compliment one another:
Aimed at capturing the eye and pleasing the palette of sight and taste: The use of the unexpected in an extraordinary way in an ordinary place:
Stylish and comfortable. Enticing and pleasing. You can't wait to sit and be part of it:
Everything carefully placed before the guests even arrive:

And we were the guests. Not fancily dressed but with hearts warm and full of laughter. Such is a visit to Bart's sister's in Germany. We are always visually stimulated by a visit to her place. She mixes eclectic pieces and colors together which I don't seem to have the creativity to do and it works so fantastically. Her husband says she should go into design but as she says "if I had to do it as a job, it wouldn't be fun anymore."
Bart's niece has also taken up baking as a hobby. So we were well stuffed and felt well treated when we left Monday.
Can we talk about a trip without mentioning weather right now? No? All I'll say is that we rode the train with "refugees" of air flight cancellations who were headed to London via Paris and our train was 1.5 hrs late in arriving to our destination - not Paris or London. That was Saturday. On Monday, due to snow in Northern/Central Germany, most trains in our region were already 1 hr. delayed and eventually our scheduled train disappeared from the board. But by that time, we had already made the executive decision to hop on the first train to Basel (Switzerland) and there would be numerous train options to Zurich from there.
Weird thing was - it was snowing like crazy in Germany when we left but Switzerland was experiencing a little "heat" wave and was about 45F. CRAZY!!! Needless to say, in spite of delays - I'm glad we didn't drive!
Hope you enjoyed my sister-in-law's place. Mine is a bit more, well, boring. But it's home. :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Gotta love these days!

Hmmmm. Love a wintery walk in a Winter Wonderland.

This is what I thought (hah!) as I walked from the house down to the Bahnhof (train station) today at 4pm. Of course, this had followed a day of appointments, calls to get kids early from school due to weather, call from school nurse re: Rachel having a small fall at school and can she take the bus/train or do I need to pick her up (her posterior is in pain)?

I was not the "oh yes, I'll be right there" Mom today. I was the "OK Rachel - can you walk? OK, good! cause the streets are _______ (words that I thought but cannot write for my genteel readers nor speak in front of my children)."

Our thanks to the school nurse who drove her to the train station near school so she could get to Waedenswil and I could pick her up.

On a normal day, I would pick her up in the car. But today the roads were ______ and once I got the car up the un-snowplowed hill that is normally our street, I decided the car needed to stay in the garage. I wonder how many times I could work un-snowplowed into this post. I wouldn't have to if I were still in Iowa. If I were still in Iowa, I'd be complaining about the snow plow waking me up at 4 in the morning to start clearing the streets. They excel at that! Count your blessings!

It works differently here.

But I enjoyed a BEAUTIFUL walk down - no sarcasm - it was delightful and quiet and I didn't worry about other cars sliding into me. Even in the midst of all the chaos of today, I 'stopped to smell the roses.'

Now - before all h--- broke loose today, I had a hair appointment. And you know that you do not cancel such appointments prior to the holidays unless you or your child is deathly ill. Well, I don't anyway. It wasn't even for a cut - just the hi-lights so that it looked, in Bart's words "I can't see many grey hairs". Yes, my roots were showing.
And it looked great when N was finished. Ten minutes later, I put my hood on and ran around town a little - and had lunch with Bart. Walked some more and then:

And post driveway/walk/steps shoveling:
I paid $$$ to have my hair highlighted and blown out so that I could sit here on a Friday evening with it up in a half pony/bun. The look that is cute on teens/20 somethings but makes me look like a middle-aged mom who didn't have time to do her hair. LOVE IT!!!
Husband is shaking off his boots at the door. Gotta go!
His report: The wanderwegs are plowed but the street is still un-snowplowed. Still! Un-snowplowed since this morning and it's 11pm! Oy Vey! Good thing we're taking a train to Germany........................Pray that all of you trying to get out of town for the holidays are safe and healthy - it's a mess out there. Everyone will have a "story" when we're all together again.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Next Adventure - Departing June 2011

Hmmmm? Where shall we go? It's been an interesting period of time and God threw us a little curveball in the direction of our life as Bart's contract begins to come to a close here in Switzerland. Many of you know the journey of "are we staying in Switzerland or moving back?" over the last couple years due to various elements outside of our control. Additionally, the economy and financial services climate changed to such a degree since we left for Switzerland that we didn't anticipate very many options on our return. It's just how things have been over the past couple years and I'm sure everyone can certainly appreciate that.

We had known for some time there was room for Bart in the Minneapolis office and there didn't seem to be another logical place for him opening up based on everything we knew. So we have grown accustomed to the thought over time. Bart has family there, we have some relocated friends/acquaintances and Des Moines isn't too far away so we felt that we could get comfortable there. Even though it's COLD there (ooo you betcha, Uff da).

And I had, I'm serious!, told Bart when we were engaged to "Please don't ever make me move to Minnesota." (post trip to MN at Thanksgiving to meet parents and the lakes in the Big Woods were frozen - they were already ice fishing)

And I've been eating those words for a while as we started considering our move next year.

But a suggestion was made a few months ago. And we thought about it. Then the suggestion became a reality. And we had to make a choice. All I can say is that it's easier to be 'told' where to go than to be given a choice in some circumstances. Because it wasn't an easy choice based on the locations. We did all our "research" and put a lot of prayer and thought into this and ultimately, as that door stayed open and was not closing, it just felt more and more right. We were thankful and grateful to have a choice - it was not expected - thank you Firm.

This is what our girlies looked like when we left CA: This is pretty close to what they'll look like returning to CA:

Bart will be returning to the San Francisco office and we will be looking to move back to the East Bay - somewhere. Full Circle.
We are excited on many levels (How many of you are a little surprised I'm willingly moving back to CA? I am! God really softened my heart). One of the factors is giving the girls a family base with their cousins while they're still 'at home.' As the "Bianco girls" have been late bloomers in the baby department, there are 5 little cousins in HI and 1 (soon to be 2) in So Cal, and my sisters and I are so very, very excited to be closer in proximity. At one time we were spread out between Switzerland, Australia and Hawaii!
So although we are a bit sad now that the prospect of re-connecting with some MidWest friends/family has changed, we know we are committed visitors to MN. Bart's Mom & Dad will still be expecting us of course and we'll probably have more time with them as we won't have to squeeze in the combined CA/MN summer trip.

We also look forward to reconnecting with CA friends that we don't get the chance to visit on those squeezed in summer trips.

So - that's the latest and if the METRODOME ceiling collapse doesn't just have "sign from God" all over it, I don't know what else we could use as positive confirmation! :)

Hope all of you in MN/IA are staying warm and safe right now! Love to all.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Night in Zurich

I'll take you along on a tour of Zurich at night. At the start of the Christmas season.

Here's the thing. We didn't know there'd be soooooooo many people. On a Sunday night. Most likely because I don't check schedules and that sort of thing. The tram took a detour as we were figuring out that, no, the tram wasn't going to Paradeplatz/Bahnhofstrasse as we thought. It was closed for the parade: For the Santa/Samiclaus parade which kicks off the full season downtown:
See - there's Santa riding down the Bahnhofstrasse in his little wooden hut - no flashy sleigh and giant cartoon balloons for this guy in Switzerland:
Although I tend to avoid large crowds of people, this was fun. Perhaps the large masses of people in one place helped keep us warm as well?
Paradeplatz was beautiful and the new lights definitely an improvement. See, when we first came to Zurich, there were "new" lights on the Bahnhofstr. They were tubes that hung down and pulsated with different light. Funky, modern and well, not very magical. The people wanted the magic back!
But the city of Zurich had sold the old lights and the customer would not sell them back! So the people of Zurich have endured the strange tube lighting until it was depreciated enough that the city could write it off and buy new ones.
According to the long timers, these "new" lights aren't quite as magical as the old but considering they are definitely more energy efficient, they'll do: I think they're pretty.

And the front of the CS building which always looks so festive:
The Frau Munster with the towers of the Gross Munster behind:
And heading off side streets through Old Town - No, girls! You will find none of those beautiful, sparkly shoes in your stockings. They'd blow the Christmas budget right out of the water! But they're pretty.
I think you have to be raised in the culture to fully appreciate the Hexenhaus. The Hexen (witch) is supposed to bring good luck of some sort but all I can think of is Hansel & Gretel and this just doesn't put me in the Holiday spirit.
And Rover sitting so patiently on the concrete barricade stand. He was NOT so patient once his owner let him down. Lesson: don't force dogs to wear light up collars and sit still while staring at giant Christmas trees - they'll never be the same again.
And the handsome man I was able to catch:
I've never seen these narrow streets so crowded. Added to the sparkle.
Heading to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station):

Where one can find a large Christmas Market complete with the annual Swarovski Christmas tree:
Tired kids always feel a little better with a goodie from Spruengli in their hands:
Yum - Truffes du jour (she likes dark chocolate!):
We wish you a Merry Christmas season amidst all the busyness that seems to come along. Lunches, potlucks, recitals, concerts, plays, Oh My!
Merry Christmas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Giving Thanks, Markets and Stuff Dreams are made of...

Bart doesn't typically like his pic featured prominently on the Blog but: He was sooooooo happy to have a Thanksgiving dinner. I'll admit, I was tempted to bail on cooking one this year. It was a very busy week, Mom arrived that day and yet, I couldn't fail the family. Our little group of five were very Thankful and ARE very thankful for all that we have: a Saviour, our health, our Family and Friends.

We were thankful for the good food we had and the Turkey pot pie which followed the next evening:
I was also thankful to have my Mom with us for almost a full week. She loves coming over at Thanksgiving - this was her 4th Thanksgiving with us! The only one she missed was when Dad had already booked his stay during that time.
She watched the girls overnight so we could stay in the City after the company Christmas party. She and the girls decorated the tree and watched a movie - enjoyed a girl's night. The girls did a great job on the tree. Rachel told Mom that "my mom's going to get home and tweak the ornaments around - she always does." But I got home and they did such a great job - no tweaking! My only complaint is they have so many of their own ornaments now (an ornament per year plus gifts) that I only have about 15 of my own ornaments on the tree this year.
Thank you Mom!
She and I hit the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) in front of the Kloster in Einsiedeln. Had a great time sampling goodies such as local fruit wines (good for flavoring things or sipping with dessert) and chocolates, opfelchuechli (apple rings battered and deep fried with vanilla sauce - my favorite!) and, as we must this time of year, Gluehwein (hot, spiced wine). There is good Gluehwein and bad Gluehwein. Fortunately, we hit the good.
My girlies looking too old at their first concert. A quick funny that makes us wonder how they'll fit in next year: They're playing Taboo and Rachel's describing the word and Kendra/Bart are guessing.
R "this is something we need in order to live here" (Switzerland)
1st guess K "Visa"
Correct! but Bart and I recognize the context is a little odd for their age group. They play Taboo using context instead of key words and it's hilarious.
Mom and I were out and about in Zurich and I got silly with the camera again:
Takes a lot of inner steel to have hair that shade and wear a green fur jacket, Ja? But the gentleman to the right. That scowl walked right by me and growled. He was not happy that I was out with my camera. He needs a bit of Christmas cheer. Gluehwein, perhaps? I just smiled at him.
We did go to the Dr. for Bart and it appears to be all muscle related which is a relief. He's still pretty much sedentary and taking it very easy. We did not get to Germany to visit with his sister's family which was a bummer - we were all disappointed but will look for a free weekend in the new year.
Final funny: You know how strange dreams can be? So I had one early this morning that is still quite vivid and cracks me up because I can pinpoint where most of it comes from but none of it is related.
I'm at a party, in a place that looks like a condo I stayed at in Sun Valley, ID 23 yrs ago, I'm in a dress that's too short and therefore extremely self-concious, Kate Middleton is there (and although Prince William arrived with her, he's no where to be seen the rest of the evening), and JD and KD from IA are there (worship leader & wife/friend). I excuse myself from Kate M. to have a heart to heart with JD (miss you friend!) and then suddenly we're at a table where KD is explaining that he now picks up pastries for lunch instead of sandwiches because it's more cost effective.
I can explain everything except KD and the pastries. Unless the pastries for lunch is 'my' subconcious and not KD at all...........because that would certainly make sense.
Oh - and just to clarify, no, it doesn't make sense that I'd be at a party with Kate M. and Prince William - comes from reading magazine articles. ;)

Friday, December 03, 2010

David Garrett Concert

Well. Time flies when you're having fun. As per the previous post, things have been moving along in the Olson house at full speed. My mom is safely back in VA and I've been enjoying meeting with a friend who had moved back to the US and now we are looking at the weekend.

However, Bart hurt his back shoveling snow and is now a bit "crooked." Waiting to see if massage, rest and anti-inflammatories will do it. If not, we'll have to take him in to the Dr. So I canceled my activities for today in order to be close by and am getting some necessities out of the way. Including a Blog post!

Last May, we bought tickets for the David Garrett concert in Basel. The concert we went to last week. Sold Out. We were introduced to David Garrett's music via Rachel's violin teacher. He's a wonderful violinist (American/German by birth) and has a following for his interpretations of rock music. And we like it. He played everything from Michael Jackson to Pirates of the Carribean to Vivaldi and Spanish ensembles. The girls really enjoyed the experience in spite of the late school night out.

Now - if you look him up online, you will see the glossy image - something like you would see on the cover of a Romance novel set in the Black Forest. The rebellious, sultry German ready to whisk the maiden off to his hunting lodge deep in the forest.

Fortunately - what we were treated to was a young man who smiles while playing and obviously loves what he's doing. No hint of the German 'Fabio' during the concert.

I was a tad naughty and took a bit of video - it's not great - but will give you a taste. If there were requests to not video, I didn't see it or hear it - my German is not that good.

First up is Smooth Criminal (Michael Jackson) acoustic version - just violin and guitar (remember this is concert quality - bad):

and a Spanish number of which I cannot recall the name - please enlighten me if you know it:

I hope you enjoyed this little bit - we certainly did.

More later and yes, Bart's off to the Dr. tomorrow - the upper body is NOT supposed to sit an an angle from the lower body! Poor guy. He's not lovin' the snow right now.