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Showing posts from 2010

Hoping to de-stress Advent

Each year by mid-November, moods change. The switch is clear and noticeable. My children come home from school and tell me about fights and bullying. They have trouble focusing on homework. They are on edge. I feel it too. Some of my anxiety if self-imposed, i.e. I should order the Christmas cards; I shouldmake gifts with the children for relatives; I should buy all the presents now; I should wrap them all before December. If my super-mom friends can do this, so can I!

Mostly, the stress comes from the outside. Scheduling conflicts occur. People are moodier and lose their tempers more easily than before.

When I feel unhappy, I blame cold weather, a sedentary lifestyle, and creeping weight gain. I  conclude it must have something to do with Christmas, and I start to fantasize about leaving town for that forced holiday.

Boundaries are disappearing

My friends in the construction trade work crazy hours in order to get chalets ready in time for Christmas. They work over lunch, evenings and…

5 painless green changes

I had no idea that talking about "climate change" could make my friends become so... how can I say this... emotional.

A few days ago, I posted on Facebook that I had just watched Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" and that I was ashamed the USA wasn't doing more to curb its greenhouse gas emissions. Within one day, my post drew 13 reactions from both Switzerland and the USA. Opinions were mixed. Some got personal.
"Diana, don't believe everything you see in a movie! Climategate showed us something. And the claims of that movie are well… "

"If they [pro-oil lobbies and government officials] didn't have anything to hide, why would they have worked so hard to muddy the waters? Aren't their ridiculously vigorous denials and attacks proof perfect of their culpability?" 

"Sorry, that film has been widely discredited. Al should have quit after he invented the Internet... "
The Swiss alpine folk don't even think about climate…

Black ice and the Range Rover driver

Walking my son to the kindergarten bus stop this morning, the ground was so slippery that even my miniature Schnauzer was scrambling to stay upright. He reminded me of Willy the Coyote not being able to stop running after chasing Beep Beep the bird.
Then, I saw her, the fur-clad woman driving a silver Ranger Rover. She sped down the hill going at least 60 kilometers an hour, seemingly unaware of the dangerous conditions.
Our street is a one-lane country road with no sidewalks, and the speed limit is 40 kilometers an hour. Even though it's a private road, many non-residents use it because they see it as a shortcut. It is a road that is frequented by dozens of primary school children walking or on bicycles as well as contractors speeding by, apparently late for their appointments.

"She nearly crashed into me," said the van driver, whose face was still white from the incident. "If I hadn't backed up in time, she would have slid right into me."

The truth is th…

Paying the restaurant bill the Swiss way

I was thrilled at the close of our book club’s annual Christmas dinner last night. Not only did I have a blast and enjoy the food, I was impressed with the restaurant staff's ability to keep tabs on 29 individual champagne, red wine, white wine, sparkling water, coffee, and espresso orders.

In Switzerland, it is common for restaurant staff to bring diners all their own separate bills. I am not sure why, but one explanation for this could be that eating out in Switzerland is expensive. Whatever the reason, I think it's great. Being a teetotaler and a low-budget eater, I've often had problems with splitting the bill "per head" and having to subsidize others' heavy drinking habit. Trying to be altruistic, I tend to put in a small or normal order, hoping that everyone else will do the same. Unfortunately, others don't follow suit.

So, I like the Swiss way. There's no awkwardness, and it avoids "But I just had a salad" issues. Thank you staff at…

Too black and white

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Call me apathetic, but I'm not getting out of bed this morning to vote.

I just don't like the initiative.

Although, I agree that the Swiss should get tougher on crime, the SVP's black sheep campaign is too xenophobic and radical. I just can't put a child rapist/killer and a petty thief in the same category.

Furthermore, I have a problem with the idea of deporting second generation petty thieves. The counter initiative is too weak and won't accomplish anything. So what's the point of voting if I don't like either proposal?

I asked my 11-daughter this morning what she thinks. By the way, I find it strange that this issue has not been discussed in her school and not even in her "Media" class.

"If they do something bad once, give them a warning and make them pay," she said. "If they break the law again, make them leave."

"Even child rapist-killers?" I asked her.

"Oh, no! They have to leave right away!"

She make…

Staying positive is key

When I first moved to the Swiss Alps back in 2002, my city friends told me I was crazy. They said that I was not only limiting myself professionally, but also socially, intellectually, and culturally. I stubbornly told them that living in the mountains, close to nature, and with so many outdoor activities  was healthy for me and my family. I explained that I wanted my children to experience walking to a country farm school every day and growing up without the materialism of the cities. I also wanted my children to get to know their family roots and neighbors. Not to mention, I wanted them to become fluent in German and Swiss German.
I have to admit that there were times since our move, when I joined my city friends in questioning my decision to live in the boonies. Thankfully, those moments of self-doubt were few and far between and only became really apparent during bouts of loneliness.

You see my problem during my first few years in Switzerland was that I lacked friends. It has oft…

Mobbing also exists in Swiss schools

"Mobbing" has been on my mind lately. What's "mobbing" you may ask? I, too, was confused by the word when I first heard it after moving to Switzerland. Until that point, I had only associated "mob" with a hostile crowd or with the mafia. Since then, I've learned that the word "mobbing" is used in Europe to describe all forms of bullying, including that done by individuals.

The following behaviors fit under the "mobbing" category:

ignoring someone, not talking with that person and shutting that person out of activities (psychological mobbing)
 calling someone names, making fun of or threatening someone (verbal mobbing)to hurt someone, i.e. hitting, tripping, pinching, pressing against the wall (physical mobbing)to hold someone against their will, i.e. to lock them up, to hold them underwater, etc.to dirty, damage or destroy someone's propertyto send harassing emails, text messages (SMS) or to bully someone on the internet (E-…

Summer tires under 7.5 degrees

It's snowing! Not a lot. Just a dusting. And it's not really sticking at my elevation of 1,300 meters.

In light of the weather, my karate teacher Roland, who happens to be an automobile aficionado, reminded me that it is dangerous to drive with summer tires, even if the roads are clear of snow or ice. He said that summer tires are made to only be effective at or above 7.5 degrees Celcius (45.5 ºF) and summer tires will not grip the road properly at temperatures under this limit. Not only will tire performance be greatly diminished in curves but also when traveling in a straight line. They will not grip when one attempts to stop.

I double checked, and he's right.

So, that's why my car is at the garage.

Latest gardening mistake

Yesterday, I cut and laid landscape fabric on the paths of my vegetable garden to create a weed barrier, tucking the edges under stones.  Then, I spread a layer of wood mulch on top of the fabric. Today, to my consternation, I read on various gardening blogs that the fabric isn't any good, as it prevents water and organic matter (including broken-down mulch) from reaching the soil. Shoot! My dirty little secret is: I put the stuff down around my raspberry bushes and newly planted shrubs.
Has anyone had any luck with this fabric?

Comparing parking meters

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Parking meters were a constant topic during the time I lived in Rhode Island and wrote for Newport This Week. Going to city council meetings and reading local newspapers felt like Japanese water torture. It seemed like every week, people argued in letter form about paying for yet another forest of single space parking meters. Downtown merchants complained that parking meters contributed to lower sales; and 'nimby'' (not-in-my-back-yard) types went on-and-on about how ugly they were and compared them to casino slot machines.

They didn't know about multispace meters, or  ultra-modern, time- and space-saving inventions that appear in most European cities... and in our village.

It's a 'pay by space' meter. Here's how it works. You park in a space, memorize your space number, go to one of the two meters located at each exit of the garage, enter your number and pay. The meter prints out a receipt, which you can just keep on your person. The meter memorizes t…

The cows are back, winter is coming

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Yesterday morning, I awoke to the comforting sounds of cowbells and mooing. Looking out my bedroom window, I saw our bovine friends--their heads down--chewing their breakfast of dew-covered grass and dandelion leaves. It's nice to have our tenant farmer's cows back after their summer-long vacation at higher pastures.

Nevertheless, these particular cows appear sad.

I think the reason is that they lack horns. Removing horns from calves is becoming a trend, here in Switzerland, due to the advent of the less-expensive free stall dairy barns. Without horns, cows need less space, therefore stables cost less. Also, if cows are allowed to wander freely, they are less likely to hurt each other without horns.

Many believe that the quality of milk is compromised by the removal of horns. My neighbor, an old lady who has lived here for the past 80 years, no longer wants milk from our farmer because he has removed his cows' horns.

Regardless, I love this yearly cow arrival in my backya…

Mountain guide's daughter struggles with vertigo

I am happy to report that I survived yesterday's seven-hour hike that included a climb up the Giferhorn. At 10:45, we parked the car on a road past the Wasserngrat cable car base station and started our ascent through cow fields. For the next two hours, we walked at an easy pace, chatting, and stopping often to take pictures. As we passed the Giferhorn refuge hut, the path narrowed and grew noticeably steeper, and as it did so, the ground to my right disappeared. I stole a glance at the rock cliff below and felt my calves shake. So this is what tight-rope walking must feel like. I dared not look that way again, for fear that the abyss would pull me down. Then, I remembered the words of American writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer, as he described the vertigo he felt as he climbed the Devil's Thumb in Alaska. Although, there is no comparison between our two ascents, I find his account in "Into the Wild" to be fitting:

"Below was thirty-seven hundred feet of air;…

Hiking, witch hunts, and Halloween

Today, we hiked a steep wooded path to reach Cholisgrind, a round hill overlooking Saanen. Choli is Schwiezerdütsch for the sir name 'Kohli',  and Grind means 'face'. We planned to eat sandwiches on the top--by the edge of the cliff that strangely resembles a face--the site of century-old witch burnings and prisoner hangings.

My friend and local historian Beat tells me that Kohli might have been the name of a Saanen man, who--having been sentenced to death, (yes, the death penalty existed in Switzerland)--might have had his head chopped off on this hill. Our local historian explained that another form of death penalty was putting the prisoner in a barrel and pushing it over the cliff.

Predicting that the children might complain about the steepness of the climb, I tried to pique their interest by telling them about witches and how they were hunted and persecuted in Europe.

"Were there really witches, mommy?" asked my six-year old son.

"No, not really,&quo…

Going to Zurich Writer's Workshop

I haven't posted in a while because I have been working on a memoir and on homework for a writer's workshop in Zurich this weekend. There, I hope to meet other European-based writers, with whom I can exchange notes and receive some useful critiques. Plus I'm looking forward to learning something. Working on a memoir is not easy coming from a newspaper background. I'm used to writing about zoning laws and neighborhood squabbles, not about personal disasters.

As I write, I realize that I'm late with preparing that hot lunch. My two children, their two friends, and my boyfriend are expecting a hot meal in less than an hour. I better get to it.

Priorities in school

While rain drops splatter and thunder growls in the distance, I slug one cup of coffee after another trying to distract myself with writing. But I just can't concentrate. I think about my daughter and her class, as they bicycle in this horrible weather. I worry about her having a breathing problem due to her asthma. Like any worry-wart parent, I worry that she will fail to pay attention and crash into a moving car or truck.

I am also quite angry about this, as I believe school is for academics and not for riding bikes. Okay... they are going to a special training with the local police, who are going to teach the children the rules of the road and safety information.

On the one hand, I agree that they are learning valuable information. On the other, I think that this kind of learning should be done during sports, and not during math or German class.

It seems that my daughter's school is constantly distracting its students from studies. Last week after school, the kids were requ…

Coming home to a hot lunch

Last week's spontaneous lunch at my neighbor's house prompted this post. Here in the German part of Switzerland, it's as if time stood still. School children and husbands come home to a hot lunch. This tradition is a wonderful one, as it brings families together around a table, and parents can provide a balanced meal in the middle of the day.
There is something comforting about walking by an open window around 11 a.m. and detecting the evidence of a stew cooking. The downside is that someone has to stay home and cook that meal--every single day. And if that person has a job other than being a housewife, this duty can become a burden.
So lunch at at my neighbor's went something like this. We were seated around the table, the wife, her husband and their two foster children. My two children were there as well, as they eat there twice a week, allowing me extra time to write.
It all started out with a simple green salad with tomatoes and a yogurt dressing, followed by a mai…

Why isn't there a cat tax?

"Go to the Commune and pay SFr 90 annual dog tax" is one of the annoying items on my "to do" list. I find the tax unfair, considering cat owners get off scot-free. It reminds me of the US tax on wine but not beer. Americans don't tax beer as much as wine, because beer is, supposedly, a working man's drink. Isn't wine better for you and has anyone talked to a construction worker in Montpellier about this? Don't get me going on this subject...

I feel slightly better paying my dog tax knowing that the Commune actually uses the money to supply us, dog owners, with green "robidog" boxes or dispensers of little plastic bags for picking up after one's pet. So, at least the money isn't wasted on new highways.

This brings me to another topic: dog ownership laws.

Did you know that if you are a dog owner, you are required to have your dog implanted with a microchip and registered with the Animal Identity Service (ANIS) database in Bern?

Also…

Swiss table manners matter

The Swiss are very manners conscious. Even in schools, children are required to greet their teachers with a handshake and eye contact. When my children's friends come over, I am always pleasantly surprised by their good table manners and their use of please (bitte) and thank you (danke). Shortly before leaving, a Swiss child will come over to me, stick out a hand and thank me for the visit.

Here are some Swiss table manners:

Be on time.
Always wait for everybody to be served before beginning to eat.
All meals are usually started with the words "bon appetit" or "guten Appetit."
If wine is served, wait until the host begins the toast.
When toasting, chink your glass with everybody at the table and look each person in the eyes before drinking.
Keep your wrists on the table, but never your elbows. Do not place your hands in your lap.
Remember to always say please and thank you.
French bread is always torn rather than cut with a knife.
Lift your forearm from the table while…

Let's talk rubbish!

Having just returned to Switzerland from our summer vacation in the USA, I am relieved to be sorting my trash again. I know this sounds strange. It just feels good knowing that I am doing my part in a system that actually works.
Look at the numbers: The USA recycles 32.5% of total waste, compared to 60% in Austria (the highest score in the EU), and 10% in Greece. Switzerland comes out ahead with 76% of waste recycled (source: swissrecycling.ch).

One reason for the USA's bad score could be that it is a land of consumers, when one considers that the average American generates 4.6 pounds of trash per day! The primary reason for the USA's mediocre score isa lack of incentive to recycle, and a lack of trust in inconvenient recycling systems.

Incentive

Switzerland creates an incentive to recycle by taxing garbage bags. This is where I think the USA can learn from Switzerland. In Switzerland, trash bags cost A LOT. For example, a roll of ten gray 35-liter trash bags cost SFr. 19 or $…

Helping the honey bees

The other day, my neighbor's husband gave me two jars of his bees' honey. An electrician-by-day and a beekeeper-by-night, my neighbor's husband maintains a beehive. It's located on land behind my house. The jars were a thank you for allowing him to park on my land and to walk through my garden in order to more easily tend to his bees. Beekeeping is physically demanding and requires lifting items that may weigh over 20 kilograms.
Further steps I have taken to ensure healthy bees:
Keep certain parts of my garden un-mowed to provide wild flowers for the bees;
Never spray insecticide;
Plant lavender and other flowering trees, bushes, and plants. I care about bees. Without them, there would be no pollination. And without pollination, we would no longer have food. It is said that consuming honey from local bees improves hay fever.

Something very un-Swiss just happened

To be fair, I would like to mention an American quality I like: spontaneity. While typing this sentence, Murphy's Law hit, and something very un-Swiss just happened. Elsbeth, my neighbor across the street, called and invited me for lunch--and it's 12:08 (the Swiss sit down to eat at 12:00)! Crazy! I'm accepting, as this kind of invitation may never come again.

In shock! I will return later.

(2 hours later) 

As I sit down to write about the lunch, my friend Vreni stopped by without calling first. Then, her sister and mother came, and we shared a coffee together. I think I will stop generalizing!

On-the-dot punctuality

Holding both American and Swiss passports has become more of a hindrance than a priviledge. Besides having to file and pay taxes in two countries, I can only think of four possible advantages: You can breeze through airport immigration lines at both ends;
you can buy real estate in either country without too much trouble; and
you can work in both countries as well as throughout the EU. Another privilege of dual citizenship--and a more subtle one at that-- is getting to know and cherry pick lifestyle traditions and habits from each country. One personal favorite is punctuality. Although, I had to learn it the hard way.

When my daughter was in the first grade, she was expected to show up at a sports day competition at her school scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. I got her there at 8:30 a.m., only to realize that the other children had already been divided into groups and had already begun their warm-up exercises. For the next 10-15 minutes, my visibly upset daughter and I watched her classm…