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October 30, 2008

Snow in October - Lots of it

KWatchesSnowFall Yesterday, October 29th, at 12:40pm, it started snowing hard here in Zurich. It snowed for several hours, but didn't stick too much. Nothing on the roads, but a fair amount on the lawn. I used the dining room table as my desk so I could look out at the snow falling in the garden (my office is in the basement).

SnowyLangnauOctober302008 But overnight...a LOT more snow. This morning, we woke up to a winter wonderland and assumed there would be school nonetheless, since this is Switzerland and surely they don't get caught by surprise here. In the end, however, Emily's school was cancelled - not because of snow on the roads (the ploughs were very efficient), but because the wet, wet, snow was so heavy that a number of roads were blocked by fallen trees and large branches - including the only road into the school. The authorities deemed it unsafe and would not allow anyone through until they could take care of the trees and make sure no more were about to fall.

Emily went out in the snow with David to wait for her school bus to come, and it never did. After phone calls to the school and other parents of kids on the same bus route, we figured out school was cancelled (they didn't cancel it until 5 minutes before it was supposed to start, in all the confusion).

Meanwhile, I was trying to drive Jason to the train station, because his school assured us they were not closing. What normally takes us 12 minutes took us 45 minutes (again due to road closures for fallen trees, and the ensuing traffic jams and flashing orange stoplights). So of course he missed his train and had to get the next one (which was also late, thankfully, or we would have missed that one too by a couple of minutes). Poor thing, he was not too keen to get aboard when the rest of the family would be at home (David was still home sick today). But my teenage boy persevered and did the right thing.

Snowygarden Snowonroof The snow was beautiful, and we felt less silly about having our snow tires on the cars already (a lot of other people were bemoaning the fact they hadn't quite done it yet).

What fun living here! I wonder how much snow we will have this winter. Hopefully enough for lots of good skiing.

October 30, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 28, 2008

Blog vs. Facebook

It seems to me that Facebook is taking over the world of email and blogging. That is, so many of my friends are on Facebook and do a type of micro-blogging with the "status updates," which are remarkably similar to Twitter's tweets, that one hardly needs a blog anymore. Everyone who's on Facebook already knows what you're doing, if they care to look. Plus people upload their photos, post notes or links to videos, etc. People message each other on Facebook rather than sending regular email. But then I suppose a weblog provides a much larger and more individual space for thoughts and stories, with fewer other distracting elements.

It's been 5 days since I last posted here, but I've been posting little status updates on Facebook, and keeping up with lots of folks on there. Since I last accessed Typepad, which is my blog hosting company, they have made a lot of changes. I am just taking in the different look of this post composing page and the options. My main issue so far is that the typing speed in this window is really slow! Annoying when I make typos and have to go back and it takes a long time, so I press delete too many times, etc. Ah, that's better - I discovered the new "light editor" which works like the old one. Much less frustrating. Apparently I have a "slow" computer. Hmmmph. I didn't think I did. Other problems are arising from the changes in the way it does links and the preview...

In any case, I highly recommend you join Facebook if you haven't already, and if I know you personally, we can keep up there as well :-) I'm not saying I'm stopping blogging after these 4.5 years, but it's making me think.

* * *

But on to actual words about us:

Friday night was really busy - Jason got home from his 3-night trip to Wengen (hiking, biking, high ropes course, bonfire, cooking...), Emily went off to a birthday sleepover, and David and I went to the opera in Zurich (Aida). It was intriguing watching an opera sung in Italian (operatic Italian, keep in mind), and supertitled in German (literary German, keep in mind). If it hadn't been for the excellent synposis we received ahead of time from a local British composer, I'd have been lost. As it was, we followed well enough. Three words I should have looked up ahead of time: Ehre, Schicksal, and Verräter (Honor, Fate, and Traitor) - these kept coming up on the supertitles, and I knew they were something of a central theme...I eventually figured out the last two by context, but the first I found out in my purse dictionary on the way home.

Jason is home with a sore throat today. He also seems to be the editor-in-chief of the high school newspaper, as a 9th grader. Fascinating. He is getting things more organized for the 2nd edition of the year, now that it is clearer that it will be his job to do so. I pray blessings over his cheerful efforts.

Emily's been doing much better adjusting to her headgear...in time for the next orthodontic visit on Friday...we'll just keep praying her through!

Sunday afternoon we met for the first time with our new "K-group" from church (in England they called it "small group" or "cell group," in Rhode Island "kinship," in California, "home group"  or "Growth Group" and in Illinois, "housegroup"). The K stands for Koinonia (= "fellowship" in Greek, I believe). We have members from Lebanon (who are Armenian and now have a Swiss passport too, and speak Turkish, Arabic, French, English, German, and Swiss-German), Malaysia (who speak Malay and Mandarin and English), Russia, and America. Quite the intriguing mix. We plan to study Max Lucado's book 3:16 - The Numbers of Hope every other week on Wednesday nights.

I baked pumpkin cookies and zucchini bread this morning, as it is my turn to bring the treats to our ladies' study tonight - and of course I'm leaving some for the family, too :-)

It's rainy and cold here in Zurich, and foggy, too. We might even get some snow on Thursday through Sunday, as the temps are meant to be hovering right around 0-3°C Thu & Fri (that's 32-37°F). We are excited. I picked up our skis yesterday, so we're all ready for the occasion to arise to use them.

I'm really proud of my mother and her husband, who just celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary - congratulations again, you two!

Well, I'm going to hit publish and see what happens, whether there's any change in format...blessings on your day.

October 28, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 23, 2008

Driving with Ski Rack Reminds me of a Violin

I thought the mechanics would take 15 minutes to put our new ski rack on the car, since they said it was easy and they could do it while I waited. It took an hour. During which I stood up in the garage watching them. I was so thankful that Emily now has a cell phone, so I could ask her forgiveness and ask her to wait in the school library until I got there late. I am so glad the library is open for an hour after school, warm and cozy with comfortable chairs and plenty of books. She didn't seem to mind much.

Now I am waiting to pick up our season rental skis tomorrow before I take the rack off the car (until we really need it to go skiing), because not only does it create extra wind resistance and thereby consume more fuel, but it plays undesired music. At 40 kph, it plays a low C. At 50kph, the tone rises to an F. At 60kph it goes higher to where it's not quite as annoying as the 50kph because it's a bit fainter as well (playing an A note). At 80kph it changes from a violin instrumental piece to a normal wind-sounding noise. I only know these actual notes because Emily and I agreed not to speak to each other upon arriving home but to rush to the piano while humming, and find out what the tones were :-)

I have a pumpkin pie with whole-grain crust in the oven, a nice comforting counterpoint to the gray, chilly day. Every day on the way home, Emily asks with hopeful voice, "Is there anything special for after-school snack today?" Today there is!

We sent in our absentee ballots for the presidential election this week, which got to us via England. Now I need to mail official change of address forms to Colorado (our official residence in the U.S. now), so they can send us ballots straight to Switzerland. Funny, the change of address forms label themselves as being for "in-county" since we are not changing polling places... Ah well, I think they will do the trick.

I found a great passage for serial/habitual ex-patriates like us, in Hebrews 11:13-16. It's talking about various people who lived by faith, including Abraham, who moved quite a long way from "home" himself, to make a new home:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

One more thing from my daily readings this past week. I noticed something about the Sabbath commandment in Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

"Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy...On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
Part of the reason we are commanded not to work one day a week is to help us remember that we don't HAVE to, because God has rescued us, set us free from ourselves, and we aren't slaves anymore. We can REST! We're FREE! God has set us free, and we are free indeed. It's a day to remember and celebrate that freedom from slavery to sin and self and death. Awesome.

October 23, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 21, 2008

Momentous Day: birthday & driver's licenses

Today is a day full of significant and unusual events:

- we've been parents for 14 years

- we got our Swiss driver's licenses in the mail and we now are holders of valid licenses from three different countries

- I met with my wonderful new prayer partner for the first time

- our son left on a field trip for his first time being away from us on his birthday

- the birthday packages sent by BOTH grandmothers arrived perfectly on time today for his birthday...but he's not here to find out :-( We forgot to let them know about his trip in time. At least they got to talk to him last night when we realized they would want to know he'd be gone. Kudos to you grandmothers, for remembering Jason and getting birthday packages to him right on the dot...

- I got my car back after driving a loaner white Toyota Prius for a day, and, although I thoroughly enjoyed the Prius, was soooo happy to be back in my own car, minus the dent in the fender (thank you, insurance company of the lady who hit me while I was parked a few weeks ago!). The Prius was automatic, and even though that's obviously easier, I actually really enjoy driving my manual car. It's more fun. Also I like my sun visors better (bigger), and my rear windshield (not split in two). And the dashboard (less weird, but that's just because I'm used to it, I know). So anyway, I'm extra thankful for my car (a light silverly blue Toyota Corolla Verso).

- I ordered my first ever ski rack for a car. We are getting ready to do some serious skiing this winter, now that we live near the Alps! They say it'll be ready to pick up tomorrow.

- We're taking a behind-the-scenes tour of the Zurich opera house with a big group from my husband's office, in preparation for an upcoming actual attendance of a performance. Off to do that!

October 21, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Blue Sky Yesterday

It was the clearest day ever yesterday. I took these photos from under the flowers, looking up at the sky:

October 21, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Swiss Christmas Chocolates in Abundance Already

Since Hallowe'en and Thanksgiving either don't exist or are not big here in Switzerland, they have skipped straight to Christmas at the grocery store already. These made me smile, because I think they are pretty and they remind me of my childhood around here. They make all these chocolate ornaments that can be hung on the tree, and colorful chocolate rounds that are perfect as stocking stuffers or in a bowl. Yummy thoughts:

October 21, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Swiss Starbucks

StarbucksthalwilYesterday for the first time I decided to do my Bible reading at a Starbucks, here in Zurich. I went to one that was on my way to the grocery store (actually I parked at the grocery store). I went out on the back terrace, which looks over the train tracks and Lake Zürich. This was my view.

While I was sitting there, in a town that speaks Swiss-German, I heard a man speaking on the phone in Spanish, with a few English words sprinkled in, like, "I know, I know..." and, "you don't seem convinced..."
Then the same man spoke to a boy who appeared to be his grandson, in English: "Read it yourself."

Nearby there was a clearly American mom with her preschooler, encouraging him to work in his workbook in English. Later a group sat down and starting speaking German - not Swiss-German, mind you. Starbucks is definitely a hang-out for ex-pats!

No one knew for sure what language I spoke, because I didn't say anything. Although I was quietly reading an English Bible...if somewhat distractedly! Then everyone left but me, and someone else came out and started smoking, so I went inside to the safe, smoke-free environment to finish up, and then left to do my shopping. Next post on something I saw at the store...

October 21, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 18, 2008

Germany: The Rhine River & Black Forest

RhineborderfrancegermanyHere you see we are crossing the Rhine River from France (on the right) to Germany (on the left). As when we passed from Switzerland into France, this border crossing again had no checks or controls whatsoever. We just drove across.

I hadn't previously known much about the Rhine River - I had had the impression it flowed through the middle of Germany, because David had biked along it when he lived in Bonn as a youth. In fact, it also forms part of the border between eastern France and western Germany, and continues to form (along with Lake Konstanz/Bodensee) the border between southern Germany and northern Switzerland. We crossed it as a country border twice in the same day. Actually, four times, because we did the crossing to Germany twice since we didn't really realize it the first time! We just stopped the car, turned around, went back to France, and then back into Germany with full realization this time. Then later in the day we crossed south from Germany into Switzerland, again over the Rhine.

In French: Le Rhin
In German: Der Rhein
In English: The Rhine

Talk about confusing spellings!

After crossing into Germany, we completed our brief study of tri-national road speed limits:

Country/Speed Limit SwitzerlandFrance Germany
KPH In-Town505050
KPH Out-of-Town 8090 100
KPH on Highway120130sometimes no limit

The cars on the highway kept zooming past us, even though we were going along at a good clip (130kph, or 80mph). Fascinating phenomenon.

BlackforestgermanytitiseeThen we got into the Black Forest - entering through a breathtaking gorge filled with the orange, red, yellow and gold of Autumn. It's a beautiful area - and we only drove through a small portion of the southern part of the forest. We passed ski jumps on the right, and golf course on the left just afterwards, and stopped off in the resort lake town of Titisee ("tee-tee-zeh") for lunch (check out the story at that link about why they measure the ice at 4 locations daily in the winter). I found the waitress' German refreshingly easy to understand compared to Swiss-German. I am so pleased that this indicates I have been learning something at least. We had a delicious and peaceful lunch overlooking the lake. It was quiet and relaxing - ah, the benefits of the off-season and mid-week! I enjoyed some "Pfifferlinge" in cream sauce (Chanterelle mushrooms), which in Switzerland I have found on menus as "Eierschwämmli" (I pulled out my trusty pocket dictionary which lives in my purse to discover what a lot of things on the menu were, such as "Ingwer" which is ginger).

Continuing on our way home to Zürich, we passed through the town of "Aha" (good for a laugh for our car's occupants) and along its lake "Schluchsee." I just can't make that word sound elegant...

Having crossed into Switzerland again (into the canton of Aargau, at the town of Koblenz, not to be confused with the German town by the same name), we started listening to Silly Songs with Larry on David's ipod (favorites being "I Love my Lips" and "Bellybutton"), which links in to our Toyota Corolla Verso's stereo system and comes out the speakers (our first experience with this neat technology). Then Enya got us the rest of the way home and we decided we'd had enough driving for the week - a day of errands and two more of lounging around in pajamas sounded perfect.

Thank You for a lovely trip and for letting us live here in the centre of Europe, God of the Universe! Thank You that so many much more amazing things await beyond this life, in Your presence! Can't wait to be with You in a closer way! Thank You for my boys in the other room jamming together on drums and bass with a track for "Famous One" - that's You!

October 18, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Alsace, France - Château de Frankenbourg

HikingtofrankenbourgcastleWe crossed over from francophone Switzerland back into German-speaking CH, and then over into northeastern France, to the region of Alsace. A little Bed & Breakfast, that also serves dinner by advance reservation only, stands at the edge of the tiny village of Rathsamhausen le Haut, outside the larger village of Baldenheim, which is near the town of Sélestat, near the bigger town of Colmar, near the city of Mulhouse. The place names don't sound very French in this part of the country - it's passed too many times back and forth between Germany and France.

Having reserved for dinner for the first night, we sat in four of the 13 chairs around one long wooden table (une "table d'hôte," as they call it). The rest were filled with a couple from the south of France (St. Tropez), a couple from northwestern France (Brittany), a Belgian couple, and a family from Germany. I was amazed to realize that not only did our family speak some of both of their languages, but David had also actually lived in all of their home countries. The French and Belgian couples didn't speak any German, and the German family didn't speak any French, so we were able to be a bridge, except that the host placed us at the opposite end of the table from the Germans. So all the conversation that first night was in French, except when the host would translate his culinary explanations into German. One very interesting social experience was when the conversation turned to World War II - with Germans, French, Belgians, and Americans at the table. People were disagreeing about how much bombing had been necessary in various parts of France. We Americans just listened, while the mid-aged French innkeeper and the elderly Belgian man had strong opinions. Since the conversation was all in French, I don't think the Germans understood much.

The next morning, people came down at different times for breakfast, so we got to converse with the friendly Germans, when it also became apparent that they spoke quite good English (except for the 11-yr-old daughter, who had only taken it for two years in school). The Breton couple did not care to try their very rusty and basic English, although they understood a bit, so we spoke in French with them. It was most intriguing experience, and really shouted loudly of the fantastic benefits of learning languages. Communication possibilities! Another funny note - the German family spoke to their dog with a few Spanish words, because, as they explained, she could distinguish them better than if they were shouting the same German words as everyone else at the park...so they were constantly saying, "Aqui!" instead of "Hier!" (Come here)

GodsstainedglassOn our one full day in Alsace, we wandered off into the hills to look for ruined castles (the kids argued there was no reason to pay to see a castle when there are plenty of free ones, never mind the disarray), and found the beautifully situated Château de Frankenbourg. Some historians think that perhaps Clovis, King of the Franks, might have built this castle in the 400s, upon his conquest of Alsace, but there is no official mention of this structure until 1123. There are also traces of the Romans round about.

We walked uphill through a golden forest landscape raining with leaves for 50 minutes to the summit. I had gotten fully into my cold at this point, so I brought my box of tissues, but had enough energy for the excursion. We picnicked inside the castle, under the open sky, and the kids engaged in plenty of swordplay with their newly found French walking staffs.

At another stop, the kids kicked together an Alsatian leaf pile and leaped with delight.

More of my Alsace photos.

October 18, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Gruyères: Cailler Chocolate Factory

Well, 5 minutes from Gruyères in Broc (pronounced BRO, as we learned).

Best parts of the Cailler Chocolate Factory: FREE ENTRY and ABUNDANT FREE SAMPLES. :-) There wasn't much to see (a mildly entertaining movie in French with clips from the 1950s of a family visit day at the factory), but then, this long, glass display counter, laden with little chocolates of every kind: light and dark, with almonds, hazelnuts, creamy, crunchy, praliné, mousse, in different shapes. Yum. We were the only people there at the time, so we asked the lady behind the counter to describe almost every one to us, and tasted one of everything that appealed the most - we shared with each other so as to conserve room for more different tastes. We considered going back again the next day for round two on our way out of the area...but didn't. We might have actually bought some chocolate from them (the ones with whole almonds on top were the top hit), but a busload of tourists were standing in line, so we didn't. It's not as if we can't buy it in a regular store around here anytime.

The purple chocolate mixer was sloshing around some good-looking chocolate, but I am sure it was only for display purposes.

October 18, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack