30 November 2006

Let It Snow!!!

Yesterday's ice storm segued into a snowstorm that is expected to deliver 10-14 inches (25 - 35 centimeters) to the Kansas City area.

The neighbor-hood kids are thrilled to have today off. And likely will not go to school tomorrow either...

Meanwhile, I am cozy in front of the fireplace watching tv and eating popcorn. (GLH will join me as soon as he is done working in his home office.)
And since we've no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Thankfully it should all be cleared out by the time we fly Saturday morning. The snow is headed towards Chicago and we are flying through New York. Woo hoo!

Do You Skype?

We now have Skype Telephone Service. Using our PC, we will be able to make international telephone calls AT NO CHARGE! And we even have a United States telephone number our family and friends can direct dial, but it will ring in Switzerland.

How cool is that?

There are several companies to choose from. But we went with Skype because it seems to work well with both PC and Macs.

Check Skype out. Download the software and you too can make international PC to PC calls for free! You can also upgrade for an assigned telephone number for 30 Euros per year. And there are many add ons for those who are gadgety-inclined.

Could have used this when I was a student living in Ireland back in 1990. Standing in the drizzling rain waiting for my turn to use the payphone on the corner was no fun. And my parents would have been relieved not to pay the weekly international collect call charges...

29 November 2006

Ice Storm

Nobody moves to Kansas for the weather. And today proves the theory.

Yesterday it was 72 F (22.2 C) and we were roaming about in short-sleeved t-shirts.

Today it is 33 F (0.5 C) and there is a steady downpour of ice.

Please note the accumulation of ice on the walkway and mulch after only half an hour of sleet.

Ah well, at least it should all melt by the time we fly to Zurich on Saturday morning...

28 November 2006

Chocolate for Books?

My screen name is not just a name, it is also my profession. I am indeed a librarian, something I have been fated to be since I first picked up a book. And promptly chewed on it. Of course, I was only a baby.

But once I learned to read, I immediately became a voracious reader. And I rarely chew on books any more.

Books have always been a mainstay in my life. From childhood on, they have been my preferred gift for any gift-giving occasion. (Although most have learned to give me a gift card because I likely have already read whatever book they purchase.) And I spend more money on books than any other "luxury item." For me, they are not a luxury. They are a necessity.

I read a lot. No really. You have no idea. Most people think "a lot" is 5 or more books a month. Try 20-30 books a month. When I am in a real reading mode, I could go as high as 40-50 books a month. When I was a member of the national Best Books for Young Adults Committee, I read over 500 hundred books during the year.

And I read everything. Fiction, nonfiction, academic, a multitude of genres, magazines and so on. I read for all age groups from children through adults. And, in times of desperation, the back of a cereal box. But only when I don't have anything else.

My point is that I really, really, really love to read.

Therefore, you may see that perhaps moving to a country that doesn't speak English and therefore will have a limited supply of English-language books may pose a slight problem.

I am researching my various options which range from Swiss libraries to Orell Fuesli English Bookstore on Bahnhofstrasse to UK Amazon to the new Sony E-Reader where you download books to a small computer about the size of a paperback.

But given my voracious reading habits, I will likely need to supplement the combination of options listed above.

How about this -- Chocolate for Books! Y'all send me a box of books and I will send you a box of premium Swiss Chocolate.

Of course, I would need to send you a list of preferred titles...

Deal anyone?

We're Legal

Our visas have been approved. We can now officially move to Cantonal Zurich in Switzerland. Just have to get them stamped by the Swiss Consulate and we're good to go!

27 November 2006


No, not the annoying, unsolicited e-mail variety. The original SPAM invented in Austin, Minnesota in 1937. The much maligned can of congealed meat delight with a shelf life of a gazillion years.

Austin is merely a 20-minute drive from my hometown of Owatonna. On Friday afternoon, my brother and his daughter joined GLH and me for a trip to the SPAM Museum. This was our first trip, but my brother had been there before and enjoyed it enough for a second trip.

Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, a trip to the SPAM Museum is fun for the whole family! Those of you who know me, know that I never miss an opportunity to experience the roadside kitsch offered so abundantly on the highways and byways of United States! (Largest ball of twine, anyone?)

Here is my brother and his daughter, posed next to a statue I termed "SPAM Can Sam."

And my niece greatly enjoyed the interactive Hands-On SPAM game, which timed you while you canned the SPAM, cooked it and slapped a label on it. My brother's fastest time was 18 seconds. I clocked in 21 seconds. My niece, only 2 1/2, had a fastest time of 58 seconds with several rounds of practice and some help. Not too shabby!

Top Five Facts about SPAM (provided by Hormel Corporation Public Relations):
1. More than 122 million cans of SPAM are sold world-wide each year.
2. If all the cans of SPAM ever sold were put end to end, it would circle the Earth at least 10 times.
3. Hawaiians are the largest consumers of SPAM with an average annual consumption of 5.5 cans per capita. (Now that's a lot of SPAM!) It is even included as part of a Traditional Thanksgiving meal in many Hawaiian homes.
4. SPAM reached its height of popularity during World War II, when fresh meat became scarce and it supplemented the diet of millions of Americans.
5. Nikita Khrushchev once said that SPAM helped the Russian Army survive during World War II. "Without SPAM, we wouldn't have been able to feed our Army."

On the way back to my parents' house, we stopped by the side of Interstate 90 to capture this amazing sunset. Yes, it is both dangerous and illegal to stop by the side of the interstate for non-emergency purposes, but I think you will agree that the sunset was more than worth it!

26 November 2006

Where Ya From?

Born and bred in Minnesota, yet my results are...

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: Philadelphia

Your accent is as Philadelphian as a cheesesteak! If you're not from Philadelphia, then you're from someplace near there like south Jersey, Baltimore, or Wilmington. if you've ever journeyed to some far off place where people don't know that Philly has an accent, someone may have thought you talked a little weird even though they didn't have a clue what accent it was they heard.

The Inland North
The Midland
The Northeast
The South
North Central
The West
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

Of course, it could have something to do with having hearing damage as a preschooler. After the surgery to repair my hearing, I needed speech therapy for several years. As a result I have a wonky accent. Indeed, I've had people ask what my native language is because I don't sound like most other English speakers.

Post a comment about which accent you have (Americans and others!)

24 November 2006

Thanksgiving Experience

We are in Minnesota visiting my family for Thanksgiving. Yesterday we had the annual gorge upon the turkey at my sister's new house in Minneapolis.

Other plans for the weekend include hanging out at my parents' house, meeting a friend for lunch and going to the SPAM Museum. (I will be sure to post photos of THAT trip!)

And, if GLH can talk me into it, there may even be a trip to the Mall of America. But that just seems so exhausting during the First Official Weekend of the Christmas Season. Finding a parking spot alone is a nightmare. Unless we get there by 7 am, we'd likely end up in one of the parking lots so far away they run free buses to the Mall's entrance.

We'll keep ya posted!

22 November 2006

Laundry Day

In our household laundry is my responsibility. And today is laundry day.

Before my fellow feminists shake their heads, let me explain that it is by my choice. I actually rather like doing laundry. There is something very satisfying about starting with an enormous pile of work and then steadily reducing it until everything is clean and fresh. Many tasks in this world do not have that same feeling of completeness and accomplishment. There is no ambiguity about whether you have finished or not. The evidence is right there in the empty laundry baskets. I know it's weird. But I prefer to focus on enjoying the small, simple things.

And besides, if I left the laundry up to GLH my clothing would be destroyed after only a couple of washes. I've tried to explain the process of sorting and the importance of selecting the correct cycle and temperature, but he just doesn't care enough about it to learn it.

So the laundry is my responsibility.

We have only once fought over laundry. It was the last time we were in Zurich. On the Saturday before we left, we made a final run to the apartment with some kitchen items we had purchased as well as our extra suitcases full of clothes we wouldn't need before January and had brought to leave.

As we were unpacking them, I discovered that GLH had included all of our dirty laundry from the trip. "No point in taking it back with us," he cheerfully says.

This was a problem for two reasons:

1. I do not have as many clothes as GLH. I prefer to be a minimalist and include in my closet only those items that are actively used. Once it is outdated or worn, I either give it to charity or throw it away. And I only have a normal 2 week supply of underwear. Unlike GLH who seems to be preparing for a war that destroys all clothing stores.

2. I do not want to show up exhausted and jet-lagged in my new home only to be faced with a week's worth of laundry that must be done.

Unfortunately I lost this battle. And the day after we returned from Zurich I was at the store, grumbling while I purchased new underwear, socks and a few shirts.

I really hate shopping.

The only bright spot is that I happened across a beautiful wool coat in the perfect color of blue for only $35. It was the last one on the clearance rack at Macy's and it fit me perfectly.

So I guess it was worth it, but I am still grumbling...

20 November 2006

Marriage Salvation: Or, Never Have to Ask for Directions Again!

We have a new toy -- the TomTom GO910. It's a portable GPS navigation system.

We also call it a Marriage Salvation because without a navigation system, our marriage might not survive driving in Europe. (We learned that the hard way when we rented a car without navigation and then drove to Germany. I won't go into the ugly details, but it's really best that we have one.)

I've been playing with it and am very happy with our selection. With a new navigation system its always best to use it in areas you know. That way you learn how to use it before it becomes necessary. Nothing's worse than fumbling with a navigation system while driving on unknown roads.

The Garmin was also good, but we liked that the TomTom has a hard drive that connects directly to our computer to download additional software. Plus, it came preloaded with the maps for the US, Canada and Europe. Perfecto!

By the way, if you are also considering this purchase, we HATED the Magellan. We've used it a few times when we rented Hertz cars. They call it the "Never Lost System." I've dubbed it the "Never Found." Magellan's maps are confusing, the directions are unclear and the GPS system frequently loses your exact position, which makes it very difficult to navigate.

19 November 2006

Paradise Found

In our island hopping, we next went to St. John's in the US Virgin Islands. The smallest and least populated of the Virgin islands, it is the most laid back. And has been often awarded the Honor of Most Beautiful Beach for Trunk Bay, which also has an underwater nature trail for snorkeling and scuba.

Through the Westin Resort, we arranged for an island tour in a safari bus with Richie Penn, a long-time St. John's resident originally from Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. Mr. Penn is an Island Entrepreneur who owns the largest of the island's taxi service, a rental car company, a trucking company and several villas available for rental. He was also a great source for island history. Not to mention island gossip. (He immediately knew Kenny and Renee's marriage would never last just by looking at the "too skinny girl sitting on the bench.")

St. John's used to be dedicated to sugar cane plantations, such as the now abandoned Annaberg Plantation. But now the main source of income is tourism.

Right next to St. John's is the larger and much more commercial St. Thomas. Once again, endless beautiful beaches. But also many more houses built into the side of the hills.

And we saw iguanas everywhere on both islands. Including this young one who wasn't so certain he wanted me taking his picture...

Although the goat didn't seem to care one way or another.

A Word of Caution...

If you ever visit Puerto Rico, please be aware of one very important fact. The drivers are completely and totally insane.

I know. People say this about many places all around the world. But I speak as someone who has traveled extensively. I have never seen this level of insanity anywhere else I have ever been.

Example #1: The posted speed limit on the highway is a maximum of 65 mph with a minimum of 55 mph. Cars go anywhere from 20 mph to 90 mph with much swerving to avoid one another.

Example #2: Although there are very nicely painted lanes, they are for decoration only. There is no indication whatsoever that drivers actually care about the lanes and will drive anywhere on (or off) the road they please.

Example #3: I was stopped at a red stoplight. There were many cars crossing the road in front of me. And I had people behind me beeping their horns because I wasn't going. Red Light and Cars, People! I think I'll wait for my turn!!!

After driving about the island, I developed a theory as to the driving. I believe it is a result of two factors.

1st Factor: It is an extremely Catholic island. This has caused the people to believe that everything is in God's hands. Therefore, no precautions are necessary. If it is your time to die, God will take you. There is no consideration given for those around who may be inadvertently "taken" at the same time.

2nd Factor: It is inadequate to say that Puerto Ricans are an expressive people who talk with their hands. It goes far beyond that. Indeed, I saw many people talking with their entire bodies. Perhaps they talk while they are driving and this explains the erratic path they are taking?

Whatever the reason, it makes for very tense, white-knuckled driving. GLH and I took turns driving because it was exhausting. At one stage while I was driving, GLH tried to have a conversation. I said, "Please do not talk to me. I need to focus on the crazy people in the other cars."

There was one shining moment during our drive. A particularly aggressive and insane driver was swerving in and out of traffic, cutting other people off, tailgating and the works. He nearly ran us off the road. Ten minutes later, we saw him pulled over to the side of the road with a police officer writing him a ticket. Sometimes there is justice.

18 November 2006

Puerto Rico, My Heart's Desire

Puerto Rico is an amazing island. Not only does it have miles of gorgeous beaches...

And palm trees galore...

But the history is fascinating. San Juan is the oldest city in the Americas. An extremely important port, it required constant vigilance to protect it from invasion. This watch tower is attached to El Morro, the largest Spanish fort in the "New World."

Settled by the Catholic Spanish, the city also has many beautifully maintained churches, such as San Juan Cathedral.

After a day spent exploring Old San Juan, we were more than ready for a quick meal at this tapas bar. By the way, the fish fritters (a specialty of Puerto Rico) were fabulous!

The following day we rented a car and drove to the Northeast corner of the island to visit El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the United States.
And no visit to Puerto Rico would be complete without a visit to the Bacardi Rum Distillery, the largest rum distillery in the world!

The tour included free drinks and a show from the very cute and talented bartender!

Back to the Real World

Our luggage arrived. We have no idea where it went, but we hope it had a nice vacation.

We are adjusting back to real life and spent the day running errands.

Because we were in Zurich, then back here in Kansas City and then Puerto Rico & US Virgin Islands, our bodies are very confused and haven't a clue what time it is. As a result, we were extremely hungry in the middle of the afternoon, but had not yet done the grocery shopping.

There are limited places to have an early dinner at 4:30 pm. So we ended up at Bob Evans, a chain of diners with basic "All American" food. We've never eaten that early before and could not believe how busy the restaurant was. We were surrounded by other diners, all of them a minimum of 30 years older than us. Including a tour bus full of seniors enjoying the Early Bird Specials.

Who knew?

Hopefully we will be back on a regular schedule soon.

17 November 2006

We're Back!

But our luggage isn't...

I could rant about the ineptitude of Delta Airlines, but I am too tired. And I cannot see well because I accidentally packed my glasses in the checked luggage and my contacts are scratchy after too many hours of usage. (Yes, I know. Exceptionally stupid move. I may never see my glasses again.)

I will be writing a strongly worded letter to someone!

Fortunately the vacation was fabulous up until we went to the airport! I'll post pictures soon!

08 November 2006

First Wedding Anniversary

Our wedding anniversary will be Monday, November 13th.

I cannot believe it has already been a year. But with all that has happened in the last year, it is also hard to believe it has only been a year!

A year ago we were packing for a wedding cruise. Thirteen of our family and friends joined us for a week-long cruise through the Eastern Caribbean. Two additional friends joined us for the wedding ceremony on St. Thomas Island. It was a perfect wedding day with beautiful vistas, an island breeze and the most important ingredient -- our family and friends beside us.

GLH and I are leaving in the wee hours of the morning tomorrow for an anniversary trip to the Caribbean. We will spend a few days in San Juan, Puerto Rico. A beautiful island with amazing history, we knew last year that we wanted to spend more than a day exploring this gem. On Monday (Nov 13) we fly to St. Thomas. We were so busy getting married there that we saw nothing of the island! We will stay at a resort on St. John's, a 30-minute ferry from St. Thomas.

On this trip we will do the historical sites for me and the snorkeling for GLH. The romantic dinners and walks on the beach are for both! After all, marriage is all about compromise.

We will return Nov 16 with stories and photos.

GLH, I love you! Happy Anniversary!

07 November 2006

When Your Job Sucks

We saw these ads for a job searching website all over Zurich.

Seems to me that someone should be concerned with work conditions resulting in an apparent high rate of death. Perhaps the Swiss version of OSHA?

Literal Translation: "A job hardly becomes freely, is it with around in net."

My Translation: "Your job isn't free if you feel trapped." Or dead, if the case may be.

06 November 2006

Photo Journey

I wanted to share a few photos from our recent trip to Zurich...

First up -- another view of the Alps from our apartment. The day was astoundingly clear and the Alps looked so close, but are at least an hour's drive away.

And here is a Pedestrian Bridge crossing the Limmat River through the center of Zurich. I felt very "European" that day as I walked through the lovely Old City.

Next is the Landesmuseum. It is the largest museum dedicated to the history of Switzerland. I haven't actually been inside yet. Between shopping for furniture and enjoying the amazing weather, there just wasn't time. I decided when I arrive in January, there will be plenty of time, not to mention plenty of bad weather, to make a trip to the museum the perfect day's activity.

And finally, a twilight view of Zurich taken from our hotel room.

I need to run errands. More details from our trip later!

04 November 2006

What Did I Do???

On Thursday morning I went out to the apartment to do some organizing.

I first put our new dishes in the dishwasher, studied the panel and after a few minutes was able to start the machine. It happily went along, washing our dishes. Success!

Then I tackled the washing machine. Much more complicated than the dishwasher, I pulled out the manual helpfully provided in English by Frau M. I placed our new bedding in the drum, turned the dials to the recommended temperature, selected the correct spin cycle and pressed the start button. It also began to whirl happily.

"This is not so hard," I thought as I left the room.

About 10 minutes later I went into the kitchen and saw the dishwasher was still running smoothly. Then I went into the bathroom where the laundry machines are located. And immediately stepped into a pool of water and suds. There was water all over the floor and two very angry looking orange lights flashing at me!

"Oh! My! God! What did I do?"

There I was, in the apartment less than a day, and I already broke the washing machine? I was pretty sure this would be a problem!

I had only three small dish towels in the apartment. It took me a very long time to clean up the water. Then I read the instruction manual and walked my way through the trouble-shooting steps. But the orange lights refused to stop flashing.

In fear, I e-mailed the issue to Frau M. Fortunately, she replied that she didn't imagine it could have possibly been me. On Friday afternoon she stopped by to have a look. She couldn't fix the issue either. She brought in a repairman. He didn't know what the issue was and needed to call the manufacturer. Turns out it was likely something that happened when the apartment cleaners cleaned the machine after the previous tenants moved out. Finally it was fixed and happily washing as well.

Frau M was lovely about it all. And she definitely wasn't angry, because we were invited over to her house for Swiss Fondue last night, along with our new neighbors. The food was fabulous and the company exceptionally enjoyable!

02 November 2006

Bust on the Tram

Something very exciting has just happened and I must tell you all about it! I just witnessed someone getting busted for not having a ticket on the 11 Tram!

The public transportation in Switzerland is on the Honor System. (I know. As a former New Yorker, I shake my head in amazement as well.) You are trusted to purchase your ticket and carry it on you at all times. However, no one checks for your ticket before you board the train, tram or bus. Periodically they send Inspectors through the vehicles to do spot-checks. I had been warned of this, but had never before seen it.

This morning was one such day. At one of the stops, some men wearing bright blue uniforms boarded the tram and worked their way down the line of passengers. A few people spontaneously decided they needed that stop after all and quickly got off. (Hmm. I wonder if perhaps they did not have tickets?)

They checked my ticket and moved to the man in front of me. He was around 30 years old and dressed in a three-piece suit. Not exactly the picture of a fare dodger. He went into his wallet and came up empty. He went through every pocket of his suit coat. Still no ticket. Now becoming a bit desperate, he literally emptied the contents of his briefcase on the seat next to him.

Throughout the search he was constantly talking. With the bit of German I know, he seemed to be saying that he has an annual pass, but he seems to have left it somewhere else that day. The inspectors stood over him and said nothing. After he gave up searching, they asked for his identification. They escorted him off the tram at the next stop.

From the signs posted everywhere in four different languages, I know the penalty is 80 CHF (about $72). But I do not know if there are other repercussions as well. Given the exacting nature of the Swiss that I have noticed to date, I suspect this will go on his "permanent record."

And in other news -- we took possession of our apartment yesterday. In the morning we rented a small moving van and went first to Interio to pick up a beautiful bed frame, dining table and bench. Then on to IKEA to pick up the mattress, some bedding and a few essential kitchen items. IKEA was madhouse. We didn't realize that it was a religious holiday (All Saints' Day.) Our landlady later told us that while Canton Zurich is predominantly Protestant and doesn't observe All Saints' Day, the Catholics from Central Switzerland take the religious holidays as an opportunity to go shopping in Zurich. She warned us to avoid shopping on December 8 as well.

I promise more later. Right now I need to research where we can find Science Diet catfood in Zurich. Then I am leaving to stop by the store for laundry & dishwasher detergent before heading to the apartment to do more organizing.


CORRECTION: GLH has pointed out to me that CHF80 is actually closer US$64, not US$72. Math has never been my strong suit, but I can analyze poetry tell the cows come home. Too bad that is not as much of a marketable skill...