Saturday, May 21, 2011


Unser Haus von hinten

Haus mit neuem Gazebo

Baum gepflanzt fuer Oma, Opa und Lucy mit Herzblaettern



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ganzer Garten hinterm Haus

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Love and Chocolate

When my siblings and I got together to write my mother’s eulogy this summer, I found out a few things about my parents that I had not been aware of.
I am one of five children, the fourth actually. My three older siblings are ten and more years older than me. My younger sister and I are just a year apart. When the five of us were discussing what we should talk about at the funeral, we ended up telling each other anecdotes about our parents’ lives. Many of these stories I was familiar with, because my parents had told them to me, or I had been part of them. There was one tale my older siblings new about, that I had no idea of. It is a story of my parents’ courtship.

My mom and dad used to walk by each other on their way to work every day. They would “meet” in the same spot almost daily. They didn’t know each other, but certainly were aware of passing by one another. They developed a mutual liking and after several weeks, my dad found the courage to speak to my mom and ask her out. They started dating and soon got engaged. This was during World War II when life was pretty hard for everyone in Europe. Switzerland was not actively part of the war, but nonetheless, air raids and food rationing were a reality for every Swiss. My mom had a sweet tooth and especially loved chocolate. Chocolate, however, was an item that could only be obtained with a rationing coupon. My mother was saving money to put together her wedding trousseau for which she bought bed linen, tablecloths, and other essential household items she lovingly embroidered. My mom soon realized that she would not be able to afford all the things a bride normally brings into the marriage. Drastic measures were asked for. My mom started to save her chocolate rationing coupons, so she could exchange them for coupons that would allow her to get linens in time for the wedding. She must have really loved my dad!

I was smiling when I heard this story. I am glad my siblings and I spent time together exchanging stories and memories. It made this difficult time in our lives an experience that we all cherished. Grieving is not easy. Sharing stories about my mom and dad gave us pleasure and made us laugh and cry. The saying that people stay alive in their loved-ones' memories is true. As long as we share stories and remember each other through them, we live on after we leave this earth.

Monday, December 21, 2009

PC Woes

I was a bit frustrated with my computer this morning, complaining that it was taking so long to load a webpage. That’s when my husband reminded me that not too long ago, computer technology required a lot more patience than it does today.

COPY [/Y|-Y] [/A][/B] [d:][path]filename [/A][/B] [d:][path][filename] [/V]

MS DOS was the state of the art method of telling your computer what to do when PCs first hit the market. Back in the late 80s when I bought my first computer, I can remember saving information to floppy discs. The floppy discs came in different dimensions and had varying memory capacities. They required formatting before you could use them, and you had to be careful which type you had before trying to save files to the discs. Because the discs only held a small amount of data, home collections of floppy discs could become rather large. My first internet connection was through an external modem which used the one phone line into the apartment; no phone use while on the computer! That computer had one internal speaker which emitted rudimentary sounds at best. My internet service provider required me to sign on each time I wanted access to the internet. The mouse had no roller wheel in the center and came in one color only (off white). The monitor was heavy and cumbersome; it must have extended back two feet from the front screen. Memory sizes were in kilobytes or megabytes, no one had imagined gigabytes. The hard drive had such a limited capacity that programs had to be run from discs instead of being loaded in memory. Digital cameras, HD TV, and cell phones had yet to spring onto the scene.

Back in those days, everything took longer. Even though processing times were exponentially slower, I spent less time on the computer.

Today we take a lot for granted. Stereo sounds are played through external speakers from elaborate play lists stored right on the computer. We can store and view our own photographs on the hard drive or share them with others online. We can send instant messages to friends or total strangers as fast as we can type. Icons access programs with one click where we used to instruct the computer to “run” a desired program. Travel drives allow us to carry amazing quantities of information in something smaller than a pen. We can run several programs and websites simultaneously while talking on the same phone line. The sophistication of the internet now allows us access to information from all over the world. It enables us to pay bills, register for any number of activities, monitor our grades and those of our children, research any subject, and keep up to date with the latest news and weather.

I spend a great deal of time on the computer now, much of it time that could probably be better spent. Would I want to revert back to the Paleolithic days of the computer? No. When I watch my children’s socialization skills center around texting and Facebook however, sometimes I wonder!

I needed this little reminder of how spoiled we are today. We expect information at the speed of mere seconds and when it takes a little longer, we protest. It’s OK to slow down occasionally and be thankful that the dinosaur days of the PC are a thing of the past and technology is improving at lightning speed.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I am sitting at my computer trying to t y p e…
“Chase, stop it!” A big black nose is nudging my arm and effectively interrupting my attempts at writing a story.
“I want to play! Now!” that nose is trying to tell me. “Can’t you do that later? Let’s go out and play!” the eyes on the face of this big oaf of a black beast seem to beg adoringly.
I might as well; I won’t get much done until I throw the tennis ball for Chase to fetch in our backyard.

It’s been almost two years since we adopted Chase. He was only three months old, when we got him from his previous owners. A teacher at the middle school had owned him, but her daughter was afraid of the puppy, so they wanted to find a new home for him. We already had a dog – a 13 year old chocolate lab - and weren’t really in the market for another one. Since nobody else seemed to be interested in adopting a black lab puppy, I took pity on Chase and he became part of our family. Little did we know what we were getting into.

Chase was adorable as a baby, but we soon realized that he was in need of some discipline. We signed up for obedience training. I went to the first lesson with him while my husband observed. There were about eight other dogs and their owners in “class” with us. Getting to the outdoor location was quite an experience already, because Chase doesn’t like car rides. He howls and barks every minute he spends in the back of a car. Needless to say, I was a bit edgy by the time we arrived for doggie school. Chase seemed pretty good at first; he sat when he was told and stopped walking when prompted. It was very hot and after a while he didn’t feel like participating on command anymore. He sat down, stretched, lay on his back with all four limbs in the air, and wouldn’t listen to anything I demanded. The instructor told me I needed to relax, that the dog knew I was getting upset. Easier said then done! Everyone was looking at us. Chase was the only dog who was doing what he felt like. The instructor took the leash and Chase followed her, obeying like a good little boy. When it was my turn, he started pulling at the leash, trying to eat it, and having a good time dragging me around. This was all my fault; I wasn’t calm enough and the dog knew it. At least that’s what I was told.

I refused to take Chase to the next lesson. I told my husband he would have to take a turn. Well, he didn’t have much luck either. Chase had his own ideas about what he wanted to do. At times he would obey and follow instructions and then all of a sudden he just stopped and wanted to play. The obedience training was much harder on us than it was on him. He was officially the “bad boy” of the bunch. It was somewhat funny, but also testing our patience. We got a dog with a mind of his own! He is two years old now and still only listens when he is asked nicely. He simply doesn’t respond to orders. Only cheerful encouragement will get him to do our bidding. Stubborn would definitely best describe our Chase, if that’s a description one can assign a dog. Anyway, we love him dearly.

We were a bit surprised when he didn’t seem to stop growing though. We had never seen such a big lab before. He is a 110 pound baby who’s so full of energy and enthusiasm that he frequently can’t contain his eagerness and literally starts bouncing up into the air. He lifts off all four legs at the same time and jumps two feet off the ground, when he is excited. He reminds me a bit of Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.

This dog is also a very talented singer. Whenever the ice cream truck drives buy playing a song, when the local fire alarm goes off, or a police siren can be heard, Chase breaks out in song. He yowls along in high tones; it’s pretty funny. In the morning, when he hears us getting out of bed, he sits at the bottom of the stairs and cries heartbreakingly until we venture downstairs. Chase has his bed on the living room floor and a gate prevents him from coming upstairs to visit us during the night. He is fine with that, until he hears us move around. That’s when the cacophony starts each morning. I guess he loves us and wants to be with us. It’s a good thing we love him too! He has become a family member and we can’t imagine life without him.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Football Frenzy

A sea of people dressed in the same color can be an amazing sight. When they are all supporters of a sports team, the energy and enthusiasm among this mass of matching people is spectacular. Most in the U.S. believe they have seen it all with football and NASCAR fans. After all, many of these devout fans follow their team or driver around the entire country on any given weekend. Even at his/her face painted, jersey wearing, foam finger waving best, the American sports fan is a mere speck on the international sports scene. There is simply nothing present in the U.S. that can match the scale of adoration the rest of the world exhibits toward their football (soccer) teams.

I went to Switzerland to visit my mother, siblings, and friends during June of 2008. The entire country was in the midst of a month long frenzy as a co-host (with Austria) of the European Cup. As a host country, the Swiss football players were automatic participants. Swiss colors were everywhere, but not always the most visible. Supporters from neighboring countries gathered in the Swiss cities where their national teams would play like uniformed invading hoards. The streets of Bern turned orange as the Dutch matched the locals in numbers. The Swiss media watched 24/7 as similar scenes unfolded in Zurich and Geneva.

Tens of thousands came without tickets from allover Europe and watched the matches on huge open air movie screens around the country. For that month, all of Europe was either in or wholly focused on my country and Austria. There are no words that can adequately describe the pride and nationalism of an entire country feverishly supporting their football team. I felt it that summer, just as I felt it when visiting Italy when the Azzuri won the World Cup.

The Tuscan town I was staying in at the time of Italy’s victory vibrated like an earthquake had shaken it. People made noise from their windows, the streets and their cars. Screaming, honking, dancing, and flag waving along with tears of joy and hugs experienced simultaneously by millions of people throughout the country is an amazingly powerful event!

These large scale soccer championships are like carnivals that last an entire month. There is a camaraderie and brotherhood among the fans that transcends race and nationality. Experiencing the madness was a lot of fun as it is truly on a scale that dwarfs anything one can imagine.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas past

Christmas is but a few days away. Bells are jingling and reindeer mingling everywhere I go. The stores are filled with glittery, shiny goodies and people are rushing about with anxious looks or focused determination painted on their faces. Let’s spend some more and find that perfect gift!
It seems every year I have a harder time getting into the spirit of Christmas. I actually like giving gifts and making people happy; that’s not the reason I am so unenthusiastic. I just don’t really enjoy the rush and craziness surrounding this holiday. Everything is so out of proportion. We are celebrating Santa on the day Christ was born, for God’s sake! I am not even religious and this little incongruency bothers me. Shouldn’t we be in a reflective, joyful, and rejoicing mood, rather than feel stressed and unnerved?
Well, I have children that are looking forward to Christmas just as I did when I was a child. I will make sure they have a joyful holiday and memories that they will cherish. To accomplish that, I don’t need to spend horrendous sums of money. My fondest memories of Christmases past as a child are not of expensive gifts, but of family togetherness, candle light, Christmas songs, cookies and warm punch. I don’t even remember the gifts I received last year. That’s because what matters most at Christmas time is that we celebrate together as a family and enjoy each others company in a festive environment. It’s the customs and traditions we follow in the company of our loved ones at Christmas that make this day special.
I fondly remember my childhood Christmases in Switzerland among the many members of my family. I was always so anxious to see the tree on Christmas Eve (that’s when we celebrate in most European countries). Traditionally, the decorated tree is a surprise for the children and never fails to awe with its multitude of burning candles. Yes, we use real candles on our Christmas trees in Switzerland. It is a sight to behold!
I remember the Christmas masses we went to at midnight, when the lights were switched off in the church and everyone in the congregation held a small white candle in their hands that they had lit from the person adjacent to them. The organ would play and everyone raised their voices singing “Silent Night, Holy Night.”
That is what Christmas is all about, and that’s what I remember and cherish most about this holiday.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


This summer, my two teen daughters and I spent 5 weeks traveling in Asia. Unfortunately, my husband who had just started a new job was unable to come with us. The three of us visited Hong Kong, Cambodia, and Thailand on our own.
I would like to share an experience from our stay in Cambodia that touched all of us and left a deep impression on our minds.

We were staying at a guesthouse in Siem Reap, near the famous ruins of Angkor which we explored on rented bicycles for several days. Mobility in Cambodia is by no means comparable to the United States. Bicycles, tuk-tuks (motorcycles with a passenger cabin attached to the rear), motorbikes, and buses serve as main modes of transportation. The roads are often just dirt or gravel and hard to navigate. The small roads around the widespread historical sites of Angkor are paved however, and we had no problem at all biking the many miles of paths that connect the ancient Khmer temples. We biked right along with the locals and consequently got to experience our surroundings from a perspective that would have been less authentic had we rented a car and driver like so many other tourists. Cambodia is a poor country still recovering from the ravages of a civil war. Its people lead simple and hard lives – a fact we observed in all the places we visited. Still, the locals welcomed us with incredible warmth and friendliness. Children and adults alike waved and smiled at us wherever we went.

One day, we decided to visit the secluded village of Kompong Phluk. Bikes were not a safe option, so we took a tuk-tuk to Roluos - a village some 13 kilometers from Siem Reap. At the village, we switched to motorbikes: my daughters, Nadia and Celine, on one with a driver and me and a driver on a second motorcycle. Yes, three people on one motorbike! We saw families of five on a single motorbike! Cambodians transport seemingly impossible loads and all kinds of things from animals to furniture to kindling on their two-wheelers - motorized or not. We were quite shocked when we saw a motorbike with a wild, live hog strapped to it! The beast was at least 4 ft. long and rather wide. It was squealing off and on; we felt quite sorry for the unfortunate animal.

Anyway, we couldn't take the tuk-tuk to our destination, because the "road" was not accessible by car or tuk-tuk. It was really only a dirt path through rice fields with large holes and areas of sand too deep for driving. Needless to say, the ride was very bumpy. Luckily, our drivers were skilled and we arrived unharmed at a spot where we boarded a long tail boat that brought us to the village of Kompong Phluk on Tonle Sap (the largest freshwater lake in South-East Asia). We followed the waterways through the village that was built on stilts 6-7 meters high. At one point, we went on land and visited the village where we were instantly surrounded by a large crowd of children. They tried to talk to us with limited English and showed us around their small village. We ended up buying notebooks and pencils for the local school children who rewarded us with big smiles and invited us to their school – a rudimentary two-room building with three long wooden desks and benches the young students shared. We learned that not all children are able to attend school. Only the ones whose family can afford the cost of an education enjoy that privilege. The village people lead very simple lives. They catch fish and shrimp for income. Large families live in these one-room huts on stilts and make do with very little. I can't imagine living without the amenities (not luxuries!) of modern life, such as a bathroom, kitchen, computer, or private space. They seem happy and content, and they are certainly friendly and welcoming.

That makes you wonder, whether all we consider necessary is really essential in the pursuit of happiness? It was interesting to see how these Cambodians spend their lives on and near the water. Their school, church, temple, meeting hall, “restaurants”, and stores are all on stilts or afloat, and people bathe and wash clothes and dishes in the water of the lake. They lead a life close to nature, influenced by the water level of the lake. The Mekong, we were told, brings huge amounts of water during the rainy season in August, and the water level of the lake increases tremendously. That’s when the long, steep ladders are removed from the buildings, and the huts are directly accessed by boat. We were really amazed to see how limber the old folks among the villagers are. They effortlessly climb the ladders to the huts, or work crossed legged while sitting with straight, unsupported backs on dirt floors. I can’t imagine old people doing that in this country. I guess that’s one of the advantages of a simple hardworking life: a lean, flexible body.

For dinner that night, we felt adventurous and opted for a local appetizer of roasted crickets (salty, crunchy, buttery - actually surprisingly good!) from a street vendor and a tasty Khmer meal of local fish.

These experiences and encounters with people from different cultures and economic backgrounds always leave me with much food for thought and a sense of gratitude. The encounters lead me to question my own way of life and broaden my perspective and understanding of others. I am immensely thankful for being able to get a glimpse of other people’s lives that is so different from my own. It enriches my existence and certainly changes who I am in small ways. Through my travels, I have learned not to judge and look at another culture through the lens of my own cultural values.