Sunday, October 28, 2001

Diary: 10/28/2001

Dear friends and family:

It was a relatively quiet week, compared to tromping around Disney, but we still had plenty of little things going on that are worth mentioning.

Just as a reminder, Leon's car is bright (banana) yellow. It should also be pointed out that official post-office vehicles are yellow as well, but (usually) sport a red plus and the word "post" on the side, font, back, etc. However, the absence of the red markings didn't stop someone this week from flagging Leon to the side of the road and trying to hand him his mail. "Vous etez la post?" (You are the postman) he asked. It took a great deal of strength for Leon to contain the laughter until he had driven a little further down the road. Of course, Debbie is keeping the joke going. Every time we turn the corner to our apartment, she comments "Oh look, the mail is here!".

While it may sound trivial, another exciting event this week was the opening of the largest shopping mart in Switzerland. This has been a much-anticipated event for some time. In fact, the traffic was so bad, that they closed a major road and used it for parking. Debbie was there early in the day and made some amazing finds, like a box of baking powder. OK, so perhaps our perspective on life has become a little twisted, that a box of baking powder would cause euphoria.

On Wednesday we picked up some furniture for the new house. Not without risk and danger was this endeavor, however. First of all, there is no "U-Haul" around here. We ended up renting a moving truck from "Joes truck on the street" company. We are not making this up. There's this guy (OK, his name is Boudin, not Joe) and he has a truck. You call him on his cell phone, reserve a time, and meet him on this street. You give him cash, he gives you keys, and you drive away with a truck. He trusts you to bring back the truck and you trust him not to ambush you with 3 of his friends.

Did we mention that this is a stick-shift truck? Neither did he. He also forgot the part about "no power steering". So through the (narrow) streets of Swiss villages, up and down hills Leon went.

A couple of friends had graciously offered to help out, so the actual move only took 3 hours. Then Debbie fed everyone a great meal, and we called it a night around midnight.

Also on Wednesday, Heather and Isabelle had their "Vesting" ceremony. This was very nice, and the girls seem very exciting to be part of a troup again.

On Friday, Heather took a field trip to Bern (about an hour away). This is the capital of Switzerland (nope, it's not Geneva *or* Zurich) and has some wonderful buildings, museums, and markets. There are also , according to Heather, bears. Real live living-in-a-bear-pit bears that are fed solely by school field trips, who are told to bring carrots and apples by the bushel. If you ask Heather about the field trip, you will most likely hear a chew-by-chew description of what the bears ate. Oh, and you'll also hear about the taxi-dermist, and all the "real-life dead stuffed animails" you can find in the museum.

Aside from those items, we are getting ready for Halloween. Today we had a carnival at school, and this week there are various events hosted by women's clubs and private groups.

Today we also discovered that Joram is cutting a couple of molars, which means that his (and our) days are filled with joy and happiness. As long as we keep him medicated.

Next week we are just trying to get ready for this next move. Thursday and Friday are small holidays, and Leon is off from work, so we plan to take advantage of the time and pick up those items we still need for the house (TV, wardrobes, microwave, vacuum, etc).

Please keep the email coming. It is great to stay up with everyone's doings. We are also waiting for people to start making reservations at Chez Adato. If you have plans to come out here, let us know so we can start getting excited.

Saturday, October 20, 2001

Diary: 10/20/2001

Well, we are home, safe and sound, and ready to tell-all about our first European trip.

As we said in the last email, Disneyland Paris was wonderful. Everyone was very friendly, including the other guests, and there were lots of English-speaking staff (although this was not universal, which we thought was appropriate).

The Park was decked out for Halloween, and there were two parades every day - one for Halloween and the "regular" one with the Disney characters. The entire "Frontierland" part of the park (where the haunted mansion is found) was re-named "HalloweenTown" and completely redecorated and rethemed as an old-west ghost town.

On one of the days, we took 2 hours to get a detailed tour of the park, which gave us some insights we might have missed (the Sleeping Beauty castle in Paris is the only one painted pink; if you listen to the old fashioned phones on mainstreet you can hear people gossiping; etc.)

We had 7 full days to explore the park, and although the guide books say you can "do" the park in 2 or 3 days, this was much better. We had time to go through each of the areas, ride things 4 or 5 times if we wanted, spend time just hanging out and watching people, etc.

Oh, and Joram learned to walk.

There was a "Mulan Show" put on by a Chinese acrobatic troupe that was phenominal, and we ended up seeing it 5 times (it was also located in one of the less-expensive eating areas, which didn't hurt).

As mentioned in last week's note, "It's a small world" was closed. But we found out on our tour that this is due to the re-decorating for the Christmass holiday, not because of any special curse/blessing on Leon.

One of the new gimmicks the park has is trading pins. You can buy these little pins (disney characters, logos for each of the park areas, etc) and then go up to any employee and trade with them. Each employee gets a set of pins each morning, some with real collectors-item pins on them, and they go through their day trading with all the guests. It sounds hokey, but it was really great. From our perspective, it served 2 purposes:
1) It put the kids in contact with ALL the park employees (and vice-versa). The folks sweeping trash were just as important as the people working the desk at "City Hall" or doing guided tours.

2) During those odd moments when you had nothing to do (or nothing to do yet because you were waiting for a show to open up) the kids were still very occupied trying to find employees to trade with.

We stayed at the Cheyanne, which is the second-cheapest hotel in the park. It served our purpose, and the rooms automatically came with bunkbeds and a queen bed (and a crib on request), so we didn't need an extra room. However the staff was the least enthusiastic of anyone we had met, and the crowds of people staying there frequently acted like manners were unimportant if you weren't in the park. We are still debating whether we would go back there again or spend more on a higher-end room.

One thing we will do again is visit the actual Disney Hotel for dinner! We splurged on Thursday night and checked out their buffet. It was $40 an adult, but it was an all-you-can-eat extravaganza with food that was excellent and non-stop visits by the disney characters. We were afraid that the girls would end up missing dinner, but even that aspect was handled well. The characters visited each table, and "encouraged" the more excited kids to wait until they came around. In this way you got a personal chance for pictures and interaction, and you could eat your meal in relative peace.

There were some low-points to our trip, and we would be remiss in our narrative if we didn't cover it at least a little.

First of all, after Tuesday Leon avoided all trees. Apparently "Disney Magic" does not extend to the digestive tract of the park birds. While waiting to get on the Peter Pan ride (for the 4th time), a rude avian attack fell onto Leon's head. In addition to being disgusting, it made Leon the butt (pun intended) of Debbie's jokes for the rest of the day. Leon is considering writing a letter of complaint and demanding restitution. Although it is unclear what kind of restitution one would get from bird-poop. Even now, days later, reading this paragraph sends Debbie into fits of laughter. Life at home may never be the same. On the plus side, the kids never figured out what Mommy was laughing about. And we'll all keep it that way, right folks?

On a more serious note, after a hard day of pin-trading Friday, Isabelle lost her set of pins 15 minutes before the park closed. Of course, she had finally managed to trade herself into the perfect set of Pooh-themed pins. While we placed a "lost and found" report, Debbie and Leon ended up buying a new set.

The worst point in the trip came at the very end. This comes down to Leon's math skills and both of our inexperience with the military time that Europe seems to run on. One more time for Leon's benefit: "20:42" is NOT "10:42pm"!!! But we thought it was, so we showed up at the train station 2 hours late, and life became very tense.

In the end, everything worked out OK. It was just stressful. We returned to the hotel and got a room (we were lucky it was the "low" season and things weren't very busy) and tried to get some sleep. The girls were exhausted (we had kept them up until 11:00pm at this point!), but the adults had a hard time sleeping. It is one thing to know that, by hook or by crook, you can get yourself home. It is another to feel good enough to sleep when you have no idea when or how you will actually get there.

In the morning, Leon ran down to the train station at 6:30am, and got another train back to Geneva at 7:45am. That meant Leon had to race back to the hotel, wake everyone else up, franticly re-pack and then get to the train station. Which we did, with 5 minutes to spare. Ultimately, we breathed a collective sigh of relief at 2:00pm, when we arrived back at the apartment.

We've spent the rest of our weekend restocking the fridge, cleaning up a bit, doing mounds of laundry, and just de-compressing.

Joram also used his first repeatable, deliberate word with meaning today (Sunday). It was "more" and it was in sign language. And he was asking for more Macaroni and Cheese.

Many people have asked us how things are going here in regard being "Americans Abroad", in regard to the safety of travel, etc. So we thought we'd take a moment and give our perspective.

In a nutshell, things here in Switzerland are very calm and very quiet. While the news does talk about the war on terror, it is not the only story, and is not even the first story. As Americans, we do not feel like we are at risk here in any way (except trying to drive with the other crazy people on the roads here).

In France, the atmosphere was a little bit more tense. There had been rumors of an attack on "a US landmark" on October 18, which could have been Disney. In the park, security had been increased recently, but it was far from noticable to us. Only the park staff could point out the plain-cloths guards, or the changes that had been made.

We know that this is neither the mood or feeling in the US, and we regret every day that we can't be there in person to help out in some way.

Our plans for this week are relatively low-key. On Wednesday the girls have a "Vesting" ceremony for girlscouts, and Heather has a field trip to Berne (a couple of hours away). But otherwise things are quiet. We are slowly decorating for Halloween, mostly with home-made decorations courtesy of H & I Designs, Inc. We believe now that we'll get into the house in Morrens on November 12, which will be a huge thrill for us. So we are making lists of what we need to buy, and are slowly collecting ourselves for the next big push. In our mind's eye we are visualizing ourselves on our couches in front of the fireplace, sipping sweet wine, looking out the windows onto starlit farmlands. Right now this image keeps us going.

As always, we'll keep you all posted.
Debbie, Leon, Heather, Isabelle, and Joram

Sunday, October 14, 2001

Diary: 10/14/2001

Dear Friends and Family,

Sorry for the delay on this week's note. We're high atop Disneyland Paris right now, and had a hard time getting the computer stuff to work. Actually, most evenings we were just too tired to even thing about it.

Last week was actually week was pretty slow. We are still not sure whether we will move into the house in Morrens on the 12 or 19 (it depends on how fast the current tenants can get in a cleaning company), but we know that every day the temporary apartment seems smaller and smaller. As with last week, Debbie is making an effort to get out at least once a week and find something she has wanted to see - there is another US Mom who feels "terminally lost", and the two of them venture the wilds of Lausanne together.

Between that and school-based functions - each grade has a coffee morning for parents once a month, so that's two meetings a month right there - plus party planning, etc, and she is driving around quite a bit.

The girls are flourishing at school. Heather is conquering long division, has improved her penmanship (the teacher runs sessions on calligraphy, but only to the children with good writing), and is digesting French. Not much is coming out yet, but you can see it in there, processing. Isabelle is busy getting a jump on reading and writing, with a little math thrown in. She is also digesting French, but we are hearing more of it come out and our Swiss friends tell us that what she says, she says clearly and with a perfect accent. Both girls are maintaining the tradition (started by Heather) of nearly perfect scores on all spelling tests. They both also continue the tradition of NEVER using that skill when they actually write. Hmmmm.

Joram is also doing well. He's still not really walking, but we're getting steps in between crawls. And he is able to get up to a stand without pulling up. He is very proud of this accomplishment, and usually gets very excited, waves his hands, and falls flat on his tuchas again. This does not usually bother him though.

Leon's work has finally moved into the next phase of development, which is a relief. He had been stuck in the never-ending Quality Assurance test, but everything that was designed starting back in February has finally been approved, and now his group can start building a new team and designing the sequel.

So the week was slow, nothing much noteworthy. Then on Saturday morning we woke the kids at 6:00am, shuttled them off to the car, and drove an hour to Geneva. From there we parked the car at the airport (long term parking) and took a shuttle to the train station. From there we got onto a Thalys train. At this point, the kids were thoroughly confused about where we were going and what we were doing. Heather guessed we were flying to Florida to see Memah (who was herself visiting all the family down there). Isabelle guessed we were going to London (until we reminded her that was next month).

So we had to drop some hints. The first hint was that we packed their Pooh Ears. For those who haven't see them, these are the equivalent of Mickey Mouse ears but are much cuter and, well, Pooh!

The second hint were two large chocolate Mickeys. At this point the children were making the rest of the train car stare (they were screaming), so the chocolate was a good way to quiet them down. Except for Joram, who started screaming because he wanted the chocolate too.

No, we didn't.

Yes, we are evil. Anyone who would like to call 696-KIDS may do so, since we are safely out of the country.

We arrived at the Disneyland complex under sunny skies and 70 degree weather (good thing we brought our winter coats!). After checking into the hotel, we raced over to the park and got into the swing of things watching the parade down main street. For those who want to think that there is something wrong with this park, or that it somehow is deficient because it's in Europe, we want to tell you here and now that this is the real deal. And for those who would like to believe that this is somehow an island of the USA amid Parisian France, you are also wrong. The park is extremely international, with very little information strictly in English, and nearly everything translated into 5 languages. This is Disney, folks, with a capital "D". The buildings are all solid, everything has a pastel wash over it that makes it look hyper-real, all the employees are friendly, and you have to work very hard to find something out of place or sub-standard. You can say all you want about it as
a choice for a vacation - no it is not scuba diving in Australia, or walking through a village in northern China, or even eating Fondue in a chalet in Switzerland. But if you have 3 small kids, you are guaranteed to get more "parent points" for this trip than any of the others combined.

Now for those who want to complain that the entire thing is too close to Paris.... I can't help you. The only thing I can say is that Hitler couldn't tear down the city, chances are good that Disney won't either.

Our high points so far have been:
* Seeing the set of the Pooh show. The show closed on September 30, but the set is still up and the kids got to ran around the Hundred Acre Wood. Isabelle walked as if she was in a dream come true.
* Walking through the replica of the "Nautilus". Ditto Isabelle's reaction, but this time for Leon.
* Meeting Pooh. It had to happen sooner or later, and today we caught up with the big guy himself. Yes, pictures were taken. We will make many copies.
* Finding the dragon underneath the Enchanted castle. Very nice ambiance and a well done display. It didn't hurt that to get to it, you walked through the only shop selling replica swords. Which was another high point (no pun intended).

Since we still have a few more days to go, it's hard to describe all the experiences in summary. So I'm just going to run down a few other items that we've noticed so far:
* In the two times Leon has been to a Disney theme park, "It's a Small World" has been closed both times. We believe it is a sign from God. In Debbie's opinion, this is a bad sign and she really feels sorry for Leon. In Leon's opinion, it is a sign that, despite all his failings, God still has a blessing or two to send his way.
* It is possible to find affordable meals, and they are not charging $4.00 for a cup of Pepsi.
* After walking in the park all day, nobody cares what the hotel looks like, we all just collapse from exhaustion.

We'll check in next week and let you know how it all turned out. Our return is set for Friday night, and then we are just decompressing, doing laundry, shopping, and keeping quiet until the week after.

Take care, and we hope everyone is well.
Debbie, Leon, Heather, Isabelle, and Joram (and Mickey, Minnie, Pooh, and the rest of the Gang)

Sunday, October 07, 2001

Diary: 10/7/2001

Dear friends and family,

This was a slower week, a quieter week. There were less major events, but also less "extremes" - including the lows.

On Monday we went back to the house to take some measurements. We also used the time to capture the place with the video camera. We're pretty sure our stuff from the US will fit, but we also know that we'll need lots of closets. Unlike houses in the US, there are no built-in closets whatsoever! If you have a chance to buy stock in Ikea, now is the time because once we go shopping they can close their doors for the year!

We also had a chance to drive around the immediate area. We found a small playground within walking distance, which overlooks the surrounding countryside. As opposed to where we are now, which is very urban, Morrens is extremely pastoral. You can see (and hear, but hopefully not smell) cows grazing nearby. Morrens is also located relatively low - 718 meters above sea level. Just to give an idea, it hasn't snowed down any further than 2000 meters up the mountains yet. We're not sure when it will snow near us, or how much to expect. One couple from Chicago said "it's nothing", but the natives around here talk about winter tires, chains, and slipping and sliding. I guess we'll just have to see.

Another exciting even that registers on the "normalcy" scale happened this week - Isabelle lost a tooth. We are all happy to report that the International Corps of Tooth Fairys were able to locate us. They were apparently baffled with the exchange rates, however, and Isbelle walked away with a whopping 5 swiss francs and 1 US dollar.

Debbie spent a few of her days this week driving around with friends, trying (successfully) to find various shops or locations. On Friday a large group traveled past Geneva into France. This visit proved once and for all that things are waaaaaay cheaper over there - sometimes as much as a quarter of the cost.

Saturday is our wash day, so while Debbie and Joram shlepped 5 loads up and down steps, Leon and the girls went out and ran errands in the morning. Then we all spent the day making runs from school to the house, timing each route and trying to find the fastest/easiest/simplest one.

Sunday dawned wet and stormy and we worried that it would be another "blah" day. It took a long time to get moving but we finally decided to test another route from school to the new house. It turned out to be the fastest yet - just under 20 minutes. Granted, that's with Sunday traffic, but we'll find a few shortcuts along the way as we get more familiar with the surroundings.

We also took time to drive around the village of Morrens (not much. Don't blink or you'll miss it). And also find the closest shopping.

By the time we finished all that, the sun had broken through the clouds and things were warming up. We headed down to the lake again, to a park that had a min-train for the kids plus a nice play area. The kids burned off some energy until 4:00 when we met another family and headed up to the house of a couple who was moving back to the states, and selling all their good stuff. We were the vultures. It turns out that this couple is moving out and selling their house to the family that currently lives in our future house in Morrens! How weird is that?!? On top of it, the woman grew up in Shaker heights. In the end, we got a great deal on a bunch of stuff we needed like bookshelves, armoires, and more.

All in all, a nice way to wrap up the week.

This week should also be relatively quiet. We are getting ready for next week, when the girls are on vacation and we've decided to check out EuroDisney. If anyone calls, please don't say anything, as we haven't told them yet and probably won't until we're on the train! In any case, we'll have to spend a little time packing and preparing for that trip out.

It's been great hearing from everyone on the various goings-on back home. You are always in our hearts and never far from our thoughts.
Debbie, Leon, Heather, Isabelle, and Joram