Friday, December 3, 2010

Sara's 1st Birthday

Today Sara turned one! It's so hard to believe that it's already been a year since God blessed us with her - our little angel. She's always smiling and just about everyone we meet comments immediately that she's so smiley. Even yesterday, an older woman greeted us on the street and said so (in Swiss-German :-).

She had all of her friends over for lunch and cupcakes. Then we celebrated again in the evening with Oma & Opa. As you can see, she likes cake as much as her mommy does :-)

She has become so active. Now she can climb up into Jonas' little chair and she takes the stairs all by herself. She has 3 teeth and a few more just below the surface. She loves riding the firetruck and can get off of it by herself. She's been trying to get onto it too and is really close. She'll probably be taking her first steps soon.

Really, we just love her so much. She wakes up every morning with a smile. She is so agreeable. Her personality is really starting to shine. She squeals when she really likes something (like seeing Grandma and Grandpa on Skype, her friend Jack, the little doll Auntie Wendy gave her for her birthday). We can't wait to see what she has in store for us this year.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

With Thanksgiving

It's hard to believe another month has passed. Here's a recap of November:

We visited Oma & Opa again and Sara got to meet some additional family members for the 1st time: Uncle Michael, Ur-Opa Adolf and Ur-Oma Margaret. Jonas kept Uncle Michael occupied playing trains and airplanes and loved all the attention.

We revisited the Jucker Farm, which is now all decked out for Christmas, and went to our first Weihnachtsmarkt of the season. Andy made his first candle ever. Jonas was content to watch.

We also celebrated Thanksgiving - twice! The first time was with a large group from Jonas' preschool. The food was excellent and plentiful. Here is Sara after her very 1st Thanksgiving meal. She's got the American tradition down, doesn't she?

In Germany, I found a new winter jacket (purple, of course) and some boots. Just in time because we've had snow on the ground since the day after Thanksgiving. It is exciting to wake up and see a winter wonderland. And to watch the kids enjoy it. Sara loves watching the beautiful big flakes falling. Jonas loves stomping around in it and trying to eat the snowflakes as they fall.

Sara has really been cruising around a lot. She seems to think I'm a human jungle gym, and tries climbing on the furniture now. Won't be long before she's taking her first steps. She is quite the wiggle-worm too. Changing her diaper is a real challenge now. She seems to have a stubborn side. Hmm.

This past Sunday, we had the Kelly family over to celebrate Thanksgiving again. More good food and good times! We are so thankful to have found such wonderful friends! You'll be seeing more of them, I'm sure.

In the absence of American football, the guys enjoyed watching Ireland beat Argentina in Rugby.

Sara seems to have the same love for guitar as Andy & Jonas. She enjoys playing her own, and sneaks a few strums on daddy's guitar whenever she can.

Uster has it's own festival at the end of every November. Lots of local vendors, traditional Swiss food and rides. Jonas and Jack enjoyed the motorcycles. Our friend Lenora babysat the kids one night so Andy and I could go. It was so fun to be out at night, by ourselves. We were almost giddy!

It's hard to believe that the Christmas Season is upon us. As you can imagine, Jonas is especially excited. Every day he asks when St. Nick, Christkind and Santa will be coming. And, that he just can't wait, of course :-). We look forward to experiencing all of the European traditions, and to sharing them with you!

This month's tidbits from Jonas:

1) Why didn't you just ship our house from home?
2) After hearing "Away in A Manger" for the first time this season: No. Jesus can't sleep on the hay. It's too hard. It will poke him.
3) M: You're so big. You can peel your own orange and you're only 3. What will you do by the time you're 30? Solve all the world's problems?
J: "Yes." And with a smirk on his face, a twinkle in his eye and pointing his finger at me, "And then, I'll be the boss."
4) After intently watching several minutes of a ballet performance clip, he suddenly exclaimed, "How do they do that dance? That's hard. They're dancing on one foot!"
5) J: Is dinner ready? M: Yes. J: Ok. I just have to watch one more play. (I was speechless).
6) Jonas woke up one morning, climbed into my lap and said, "Mommy, You're the sweetest big girl in my heart."
And a few random thoughts from me:

Things I love about Switzerland:

Chocolate, cheese & bread!! Yum! (you know I had to start with food!)
Bakeries on every corner - another Yum!
Nature - Farm close to our house, pasture lands and hiking trails nearby, beautiful views of the mountains
The "honor system" to buy eggs, flowers, veggies, cider from random spots along the way
Being able to weigh my own produce - much faster than having the cashier look everything up
(As a side note, sometimes I wonder why in America, a country that prides itself on high standards and moral values, we can't trust each other/ourselves to utilize the "honor system"?)
Public Transportation - safe, punctual, convenient (but not cheap - in Switzerland anyway:-)
Advent exhibits and Christmas Markets and everything that goes with it - lights, fires, greenery, candles, gluewein, cookies
Better coverage of world news
Less coverage of American politics
High quality washers
The floorplan of our rowhouse
The price of cable: Internet, phone, cable (125 channels, dvr, HD, 15+ English channels) - 85 francs

Things I miss from home:

All of you, of course! And Molly too!
Large grocery stores with huge selection and free parking
Affordable prices. Random example: I looked for some salt here just in case we need it to keep the ice at bay this winter. A small bag was 65 Francs! The Swiss franc is roughly equivalent to the dollar. Isn't that a crazy price?!
Being able to buy our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving
My mixer and our coffee machine :-)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Today we went to a Swiss-German church with some friends we met in our apartment complex. While I didn't understand much of the message, since it was in Swiss rather than regular German and b/c he spoke so fast, I was still really moved by the worship. I guess it always amazes me that no matter where I am or what language is being spoken, God can be felt. Sometimes, I feel so far from home here, but today I was reminded that all of us are far from home. Yet God can touch us and unite us across cultures and help us feel Him right where we are. It was really cool to sing "Blessed be Your Name" in Swiss-German :-).

We had another great weekend. Friday night, we participated in a lantern parade. Earlier in the week, Jonas and his friend Jack made lanterns together. After the parade, we all enjoyed some tea, cake, sausages and bread by the fire. A great time!

Saturday, Andy went biking with John. Andy loved it, but noted that biking in Switzerland is a little different than biking in Charlotte. Many hills! A good, fun workout though. That afternoon, our friends Silke and Tobias visited with their 21 month-old son, Felix. We met Silke while working in Munich back in 2002, and have seen them a few times over the years. It was great to catch up and enjoy a nice walk, on what might have been the last nice day before The Great Unpleasant sets in. Today, the weather turned rainy and cold. They also have an extra car we can borrow! We are currently still "illegals" in Switzerland as we haven't been issued our residence numbers. The Canton of Zurich has yet to accept our US marriage licence. Hopefully, the issue will be resolved soon and we can buy/insure a car of our own.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

We spent the afternoon at a Halloween Party at Jonas' preschool. We all had a great time, and Jonas (the fancy, fancy elephant :-) was especially excited about trick-or-treating. He wanted to know why we can't have Halloween tomorrow too? A big thanks to Grandma for finding us these great costumes, and embellishing Jonas' so that it met the "fancy" requirement.

October was a busy month for us. We began to get settled into our new "townhouse" in Uster. Our container arrived on October 4th, the same day Jonas started preschool! It was so nice to finally have our stuff. When Jonas got home that day, I heard a lot of "Wows" as he saw his toys for the first time in 2 months. Next came the huge task of making a house a home - an especially difficult task when starting from scratch in the furnishing area. One weekend, we spent 8 hours at Ikea. The kids behaved wonderfully through it all. One Saturday, Opa & Uncle Toby helped Andy & Jonas assemble the furniture, while Oma, Sara and I hit Ikea again. A huge thanks to them for all of their help.

Jonas loves preschool. He goes 3x/week and Sara & I enjoy a little girl-time, and some quiet around the house :-). This week, he's moving up to the older class. His teacher really enjoyed having him, and loves that he's such a chatter-box.

At the women's brunch for new members of the preschool, I met a great friend, Connie. She's Austrian and her husband, John, is Irish. They live in our apartment complex and their son, Jack, is a few months older than Jonas. They are expecting their second child in December. John likes to bike, so I am sure he and Andy will be riding together soon. We also met another couple in our complex that have 2 boys. Lenora is Scottish and Marcus is Swiss. They had us over for lunch the first weekend we were here. God has truly blessed us with a great house and great friends.

Our month was also filled with visitors. Auntie Wendy came for 8 days and Grandma & Grandpa were here for 2 weeks. It was so wonderful to have all of them here together! Jonas wanted them all to himself. He often told me to "go away" (and to take Sara with me) so that he could play with them. Sara loved having enough people around to actually get some attention herself. She became very proficient at riding the firetruck around all by herself, and loves to ride bikes with Jonas outside too. Sara remains the most pleasant, agreeable baby ever. Really, she's a little angel. Jonas, the angel's brother, is often a little stinker these days. He's definitely trying to exert control, and often tells me that he's the boss. I'm sure many of you can relate :-)

We showed them the farm nearby that has donkeys, horses, pigs, cows, goats and chickens. An Alpine parade was taking place in the mountains the first weekend they were here, so we ventured out to get a dose of local culture/heritage. Despite the rainy weather, the parade was a huge hit with us.

We ventured into Zurich a couple of times, riding the boat that we enjoyed so much at the end of the summer and showing them the parks we had frequented. One night, dad stayed with the kids while the rest of us went for fondue. (btw, always keep a camera handy when riding public transportation. You never know what you might see :0). It was so nice to finally see Zurich at night. In our old apartment, we were never outside after dark since the kids had to go to bed. Dad made a bakery run just about every morning. He always came back with such delicious treats! I know the women at the bakery must miss him. Mom and Wendy ironed just about all of Andy's shirts, so I'll be free of that chore for a few weeks.

Wendy introduced us to a new game, Bananagrams, and we spent many nights playing it. Thanks for leaving it here, Wendy! Thanks also for the sweaters and movie donations :-). Jonas (and the rest of us) were quite devastated when Auntie Wendy had to leave.

The weather was actually very nice the 2nd week mom and dad were here. Sunny and relatively warm. We visited a local farm that displayed dinosaurs made out of pumpkins. We hiked a mountain to get there. Mom and Dad were such troopers! But, it was worth it. The view was incredible and so was the fresh apple cider.
Mom and Dad returned to Charlotte last Thursday. We miss all of them so much. Andy even told them they could stay with us for the next 2 years if they liked! Jonas doesn't understand why they can't. But, it really was such a great visit. And I know we sent them home exhausted. They might recover by the time we all get together again in the Spring :-) A big thanks to the Lomax family and Kristen, who took care of Molly. We miss her, and know she would love it here. But, it's just not practical to ship her back and forth across the Atlantic.

Last weekend, we took a little hike around the area near our house. There are a lot of "wanderwegs" nearby. The pasture above our house often has horses, cows or sheep in it. On a clear day, the view of the mountains is amazing. Switzerland is a beautiful country. Surprisingly, the "warm" weather is still with us. I'll take all of the sunshine I can get!

A few tidbits from Jonas:

1) J: The cows here, do they moo in German or in English?
2) M: We have to share this cookie. Do you want the eyes or the mouth?
J: I want....both :-) After we finished sharing: J: That was fun to share. Can we do it again right now? (Well, I couldn't resist that request, since I'm a cookie monster too :-)
3) Jonas had to go to the bathroom when we were on the train. I took him and he stared down into the hole, which dumps out onto the track, for a few moments and said, "I don't have to go anymore." Later, while Andy was trying to convince him to go, Jonas looked at me and asked, "Do you like that bathroom?" He knew I wouldn't want to use it either!
4) J: When are we going to buy a pool here?

PS: I know a few of you have had problems posting comments. I'm not sure why it won't work. If I figure it out, I'll let you know.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Oktoberfest & More!!

What can I say? We just had the best time in Munich! Here's what happened:

Day 1: We went to the Munich Airport to pick up our friends, Russ & Corey. While waiting, we saw the Bayern Muenchen Fussball Team arrive from Basel, where they won the night before :-). How awesome to see half of Germany's World Cup Soccer Team walking right past us. Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Mueller - amazing luck to run into them!

We checked into our hotels and started hitting all of our favorite places in Munich. Lunch at Weisses' Brauhaus (can't beat their Kaiserschmarrn and other Bavarian cuisine), coffee at San Francisco Coffee Company, beer at Hofbrauhaus (ok, so this isn't one of our favorite places, but our friends wanted to see this over-rated tourist trap :-)... the beer was nonetheless very good there as well. Then a walk through Theresienwiese for a preview of Oktoberfest and past our old stomping grounds, KPMG. We had dinner at our favorite quaint little Italian Restaurant, La Fiera. The antipasti, Gnocchi and Tiramisu were incredible. (Can you tell that I probably gained 10 pounds within hours of being in Munich :-).

When Andy & I arrived back at the hotel, we were a little confused to see a "Do Not Disturb" sign on our door - and even more confused to open the door and find someone sleeping in our room! We booked it down to reception! Turns out the hotel made a big mistake, as their were 2 Koller parties that night and they somehow gave us both the same room. They had our luggage downstairs. The manager apologized and upgraded us to concierge level, with free breakfast, mini-bar, etc. It worked out great for us in the end, once we got past the initial shock. So strange though, b/c the hotel had so many chances to correct the problem before we arrived at midnight. If you arrived in your room to find luggage, a bathroom that had been used and such, wouldn't you have had them give you a different room? Not sure why the guy stayed.

In hindsight, it was very funny. Especially b/c it was a bit of deja vu for us. When I lived in Munich, we came back from a weekend trip and my key no longer fit into my apartment lock. I peeked in through the mail slot, and someone's stuff was there. Thanks goodness Andy hadn't just left me at the door that Sunday afternoon, b/c the apartment agent didn't speak a lick of English (and at that time I didn't speak any German). Turns out, there had been a miscommunication between KPMG and the rental company re: when I would vacate the apartment. They packed up all of my stuff and put it in a one-room apartment downstairs. I felt extremely violated at the time, but I got enough per diem b/c of it to finance a trip to Venice for me and Andy, so the displacement worked out well :-).

Day 2: After a wonderful German breakfast, we met the guys and toured Munich. Viewed some churches, saw the Glockenspiel at noon, walked the pedestrian zone and then on to the English Garden. For the first time, we saw the surfers there (wearing wetsuits, of course). Lunch at Unions Brauhaus and then on to Oktoberfest. A huge thanks to brother-in-law Toby, who got us tickets at a reserved table in the Lowenbrau tent. We were in the middle of the tent, with very clear visibility to the band. Great beer + Great Food + Great Friends = Amazing experience!

Andy took a break from the Oktoberfest tent experience to walk through the carnival area with me. We rode the swings and Ferris Wheel and he won me a little gray horse by shooting (gun, not basketball) 12/15. And, of course I had my fill of chocolate-covered strawberries too!

We headed to Mister B's after Oktoberfest shut down. Mister B's is a hole-in-the-wall jazz bar I discovered back in 2002. It's owned by Mr. Best, a man from Brooklyn. Our favorite saxophone player, Ernest Butler, is from Cleveland, but has lived in Munich for over 40 years. We weren't expecting to see Mr. Butler, as he wasn't listed on the schedule. When we walked in, there he was!

He recognized Andy, even though it had been 8 years since we last saw him. (We've been to Mister B's a few times since then, but he was never there). So, our perfect time in Munich just got even better! We spent the next 2 1/2 hours listening to some great jazz and reliving memories. We hope to see him a few more times over the next 2-3 years.

It was so wonderful to be back in the city where our relationship first began, and to share some of our favorite places with our friends. The kids had a great time with Oma & Opa.