Sunday, December 30, 2001

Diary: 12/30/2001

Dear friends and family:

This marks our finally note home for 2001. The week has been filled with

Monday and Tuesday were difficult to fill. If Switzerland "shuts down" on Sundays, then they roll up the sidewalks and move to another country for Christmas day. On Monday we stocked up on food and then walked around the old area of Vevey.

On Tuesday Leon, Michael and Heather abandoned everyone else for the cinema event of the year: The Lord of the Rings. Heather still insists that Harry Potter was a better movie. Leon, on the other hand, believes it was the best movie he has ever seen. Michael thought "it was a pretty good movie". Leon agreed to drive him back home anyway.

On Wednesday we visited the Castle of Chillon, right out of a fairy-tale. It was built onto Lake Geneva around 1000 ACE, and was restored around 1937. It is now a museum, party hall, historic site, and even apartment building (for the keepers). It is also in desperate need of central heating. It was bitter cold the day we visited, and the hot soup and fondue we had for lunch once we left was all the more welcome.

On Thursday we drove about an hour north to the village of Gruyere. Yes, that's where they make the cheese. Again we were struck by the relative normalcy of places like this. In America, many places like this would be sterilized into a historical village that is devoid of any modern life; or "disney-fied" into a character of the place it actually was. In this case, Gruyere is indeed a tourist location and sports a larger-than-usual number of restaurants. But each building has a set of apartments where real people actually live; a post office that is the same as any other village around here; and all the other amenities needed to support daily life. It just so happens that "life" in this case exists in a fortified castle structure with a 360 degree view of the Alps.

It had been snowing regularly all week, so on Friday Michael got to experience the Swiss Alps first hand. Luca, a co-worker of Leon's went up for a day of snowboarding and graciously offered to take Michael along. Without going into deep details, Michael quickly noted that there a few differences of scale between the ski slopes in Cleveland and those in Switzerland. We'll leave it to your imagination to fill in the blanks. However, Michael safely returned home with all his bones in the same shape as when he left.

Saturday dawned wet and stayed that way all day. We had planned to drive to Geneva and look around, but after 10 minutes there we realized it was much too wet for anything of the kind. We drove around the city for a little bit, and then crossed the border into France to go to a shopping area that Debbie knew about. Yes, we have done our fair share of Mall-hopping. You can take the American out of the US, but....

Sunday was bright and sunny, just the kind of day we needed to take another trip to France. This time, we went to a beautiful little village named Annecy. It's about 2 hours from the house, but was worth the drive. We timed our visit to coincide with the weekly market, and walked around the old buildings looking for bargains. It reminded us all of the town in Belgium named "Bruge" - canals and bridges separate different parts of the old part of the town, and the architecture in some cases is hundreds of years old.

In actuality, the whole week has seen a fair share of shopping - either for new foods we bring to the table in the evening or for interesting things to bring home. We are sure that Alison and Michael will leave with heavier bags than when they came!

This week we know that Monday and Tuesday will again be relatively quiet. On Wednesday we've planned a day trip to Milan (3 hours by train). Beyond that, we're just keeping our options open.

We hope that everyone reading this has a happy, healthy, and safe new year.

Debbie, Leon, Heather, Isabelle, and Joram
(and Alison and Michael)

Sunday, December 23, 2001

Diary: 12/23/2001

Dear Friends and Family:

It has been quite a week. We don't need to have any more "excitement" for some time.

The end of the story is that Joram is fine. (Don't you love stories that have to start at the end?).
Beginning of the story is that he was standing on a chair, the chair fell and his leg was caught between it and the floor. He couldn't stand up and was crying uncontrollably. Leon rushed ohm, we took him to the hospital (good thing we knew where it was!), and the doctors looked at him quickly.

In the end, he was back up and around (and climbing the kitchen chairs again) 2 days later. There was never any bruising, swelling, or visual indication of anything wrong. The doctors (who aren't as threatened by the thought of lawsuits as in the US) didn't take an x-ray. With experience now behind us we know it was the right choice. But it was very hard to feel good about the situation at the time. What if everyone was wrong? What if he needed a cast? What if what if what if what if.

As mentioned before, Nancy left Monday morning, and we had 2 days to straighten up before Alison and Michael arrived. Of course, Joram's impression of Evel Kinevel put a serious dent in our ability to focus on housework!

On Wednesday, Alison and Michael arrived without a hitch. The day was pretty quiet, as they were jet-lagged, so we didn't do much more than help them unpack and eat some dinner.

Leon was still working the rest of the week, but the girls were off for the winter break. So Thursday everyone (sans Leon) went down to a Christmas market in Montreaux to snoop around and see what kinds of neat things they could find. Nothing much was there, but they had a great time walking around.

On Friday they spent the day doing house-type stuff - shopping for the weekend, getting settled, etc. Leon finished the last of his work responsibilities early and came home. That night, Leon's boss Francisco came over with his wife and daughter and everyone had a very filling evening.

Saturday dawned white - it was snowing for only the second time this year. We decided to go down to one of the weekly markets - located in the heart of Lausanne in an area known as Place St. Francois. This market covers several sloping cobbled streets, and takes you past some wonderful architecture. Everyone managed to find something that was useful, interesting, or both.

After that, we went driving on the "Adato Historical Tour" - a drive-by of some of the places we have stayed or which was important in some way.

By the time we finished, everyone was pretty wiped out and it was time to get home and get ready for dinner. The rest of the day we spent by the fire, roasting marshmellows (Debbie managed to fling one across the room. "It was on fire" is her reasoning. We're sure the fire marshals will be impressed with that excuse) eating good food, and just catching up.

On Sunday, we were ready to do something more substantial. It was a fairly clear day, so we took a funicular from Montreaux up to Roches de Nayes - about an hour trip. The views were breathtaking as we ascended over the lake, right up until we got to the top. Then a cloud enveloped us, so that we had zero visibility. How the skiers managed to avoid falling off the edge of the mountain is a mystery to us all.

We had a quick snack and came back down, snapping pictures once we were out of the clouds again. Then we had a liesurly drive home and got ready for dinner (an appropriately Swiss meal of cheeses, bread, and fondue) and spent another night gabbing by the fire..

For the coming week, we are really playing each day as it comes. We know we want to get to Gruyere, Milan, Geneva, and a French village named Anisee. We also have some nearby things we want to check out. Michael also has definite plans to go snowboarding with Luca, one of Leon's workmates. (Debbie and Alison insist on adding "cute, Italian, drummer in a rock band" for those who need a better visual image). But we'll have to see how everything falls together by the end of the week.

We hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season, and that it is a chance to relax, recharge, and prepare for the coming year.
Debbie, Leon, Heather, Isabelle, and Joram (and Alison and Michael).

Sunday, December 16, 2001

Diary: 12/16/2001

Dear friends and family

Before we return to your regularly scheduled diary entry, we wanted you to know that Debbie and Joram are coming to Cleveland from January 23 through January 30 (yes, that's 2002). There is an ophthalmic seminar being given, and Debbie decided it was a good opportunity to combine continuing education with pleasure. The seminar is on Sunday, January 27. All other days are open. Please mark your calendars now and start making plans. As always, email should be sent to Leon ( for prompt service.

OK. Back to real life....
Appologies are due as I cut short my description of last week, leaving out some of Sunday's events. That was a grave error, as I missed some excellent moments.

In the late afternoon, we traveled to the house of some friends, about half an hour away. They are from Solon, too, and with their greater experience, they have been helping us out with our adjustments to Swiss life. There we were treated to two very Swiss dishes - fondue and "raclette". Fondue should be familiar to everyone, except that there are special mixes here that are used, and the taste is very different from the "beer and cheddar" that we are used to having in the US.

Raclette is hard to describe. It is made on a small grill, where you melt squares of cheese and then pour it over small boiled potatoes. You also grill different meats (sausage, chicken, etc) and vegetables to eat along with cheese-potatoe mix.

In all, it was a very filling evening, and between the food, the wine, and the company we had a hard time forcing ourselves to leave.

On Monday we made another round of acquisitions, courtesy of an expat family leaving for the US. Beneffiting from their departure, we picked up a freezer, raclette grill (yes, we are hooked), gas grill (for when warmer weather returns), and a few swiss-to-us power converters.

On Tuesday night Heather and Isabelle had their winter program at school. The performance was wonderful, and you could tell all the kids had worked extremely hard to put the show together. Of course, none of the teachers or parents did anything at all. (grin). But evening was a lot of fun, both for the folks on stage and the family in the audience.

Thursday came and Debbie and Nancy made a foray into the wilds of France again. There are limits on the amount of stuff you can bring back across the border (1 lb of fresh meat per person, 2 bottles of wine per adult, 2 liters of milk per person, etc) so it was important to use Nancy to our full advantage while she was here! This also gave us the chance to bring back stuff to fill up that new freezer!

We had our first snow on Thursday night - driving was an interesting adventure. It wasn't enough to make a Clevelander worry, but we didn't know how the city services would hold up. It turns out that there was a small delay in the salt trucks, but by morning everything was clear. It's just bitter cold right now (-13 celsius, or +9 farenheit).

Saturday we met up with some friends and went up a funicular - a kind of train that can handle 45+ degree angles. It was a foggy day, so the view was less than spectacular, but the company was great and the kids had an exciting time.

On Sunday evening we went down to the synagogue in Lausanne. Leon had met up with another gentleman at Nestle, and there is apparently a deep and thriving Jewish community in Lausanne that we weren't able to find up until now. We were introduced to families that more closely match our level of observance, and we also found out about programs like after-school Hebrew lessons, weekend programs, etc.

This week we also discovered another quaint little Swiss custom - speeding tickets by mail. Remember, the key here is efficiency. It is inefficient to have police tied up watching cars all day. Much better to have cameras placed everywhere - at each stoplight, on highway lamp posts, etc. All set with motion detection equipment and other technical paraphenalia. When you are going too fast, or moving through a red light - click! We received a ticket for 40 swiss francs (roughly $25.00). Our crime? Going 57 kilometers in a 50km zone. That's about 4 miles per hour over the limit. Needless to say, we are watching our speed VERY closely now.

We wanted to let everyone know that Debbie hasn't had a chance to check her personal email since we moved into the house - we are getting to bed around 11:00pm and getting up at 5:45am, with lots to do in-between. We are still waiting for the full internet connection, and then she will be able to fill her quieter moments checking stuff out online. For the moment, Leon is printing out emails and she is avidly reading them, she's just not finding a chance to reply like she had a month ago. Be patient and things will calm down, we are sure.

Some people have asked for more details on how the kids are doing, so here goes:

Heather has been improving her math skills by leaps and bounds. We have to work very hard on our math facts to keep those skills sharp. But when she is able to focus and think clearly, the new skills like division, fractions, and decimal math are all coming quickly. It's those moments when she can't focus or doesn't take the time to think clearly that still trip her up. With so much to do, Heather's French is coming slowly. There is also the fact that, in her grade, French class is divided between "beginners" (kids like Heather who have just arrived) and "advanced" (kids with one French-speaking parent, or those who have been here a while). So she is less exposed to her peers speaking French than we had hoped. Socially, Heather is in the thick of things as she always has been. Her circle of friends is as big as her class, and she runs out of days in the week before she runs out of people who want to come over or have her over their house.

Isabelle is has hit a growth spurt, and is now suffering a bit from the fact that you can't find "Winnie the Pooh" cloths in her size. Her solution is to keep wearing the old stuff, even if there are holes in the elbows and knees and seat and the legs stop 3 inches above her ankle. Debbie's solution was to buy some fabric and sew Pooh onto some new pants, which were presented to her this week for Chanukah. School for her has been a constant adventure. She is reading with a vigor that only comes from watching her big sister and wanting to be just like her. No concept seems to baffle her for very long. Being younger, French is coming easily and she is acquiring a nice accent as well as the words. Her grade is also taught together, regardless of level, so she has more role models to work from. Like Heather, she is also having a great time socially. There are birthday parties almost every week, and the tendency is for all the kids from the class to be invited. So she has a very
active social calendar.

Joram is no longer a baby, and is every inch a toddler on the move. Being in Switzerland, he understands that mountainclimbing is a way of life and so he attempts to scale any handy obstacle - the steps to the basement, the kitchen table, the highchair, the bookshelves, etc. He is a very animated speaker, using his hands and gesturing wildly. It's a pity nobody has a clue what he is saying. He is using sign language consistantly for the important things - more, finish, drink - but everything else is a guessing game. He has a great time shaking his head "no" when we guess wrong, and nodding vigorously when we finally figure out what it is he's trying to ask for. Knowing what happens when children begin to talk, we are happy to keep him doing his Harpo act for a little longer.

For the coming week, we will have some tear-filled farewells on Monday when Nancy returns to the US (she probably needs a vacation from this vacation after all the running around we did!). Then we have to clean up the house and get ready for our friends Alison and Michael, who arrive on Wednesday. The girls have only half a day of school that day also, so the rest of the week is going to be filled with sights, activities, and everything we can do to avoid the work in the house.

Debbie, Leon, Heather, Isabelle, and Joram

Sunday, December 09, 2001

Diary: 12/9/2001

Dear friends and family

Generally, this was a better week than we have seen in a while. Things are not what we would call 100% normal yet, but on the way up.

First, this past Monday shall henceforth be remembered as "Debbie is not crazy day". The owner of the house, plus a representative from the management company, plus about 300 contractors all descended on the house at 8:30am to go over the things we've found to be broken, inadequate, or just plain weird. Many of the things we thought were just quirky Swiss issues, but it turns out that they are more than that. Included in the list of items soon to be fixed are:

  • the range top that takes over an hour to boil a pot of water
  • the dryer that needs to run 2 or 3 times to dry the cloths
  • replacing the (butt-ugly) wallpaper in 3 rooms
  • fixing up a banister wobbly banister

Also on Monday, we "arrived" in the village. In parts of Europe, it is necessary to announce your arrival when you move from place to place. You go to the community center and answer a slew of incredibly personal questions, which are copied down by a vaguely disinterested clerk and then sent to Zurich for storage. At least, that's our perception of the process. Why do they need to know Debbie's Mother's maiden name? Beats the heck out of me, but we won't get proper garbage service until we tell them.

Last year, about 30 people from the Neslte-Switzerland research and development center were transferred to Solon. We can only imagine the confusion they encountered when they dutifully showed up at the community center, telling the receptionist "I'm here! I am a protestant. My father's name was Jean-Claud. " etc.

Some of you have asked how French lessons are coming along. The reality is that we haven't had a chance to start them up again since we've arrived here - just too much stress and work until now. However, we are going to begin lessons after the New Year and we hope our survival skills will improve along with that effort.

In the meanwhile, Leon's co-workers have been teaching him important French phrases. They include:
* Tu est vache avec moi ("you is cow with me", meaning you are giving me a hard time)
* C'est y pas beau ca ("It is not there beautiful that", meaning "way cool")
* @+ (used in email, an abbreviation for "a plus", which is in itself an abbreviation for "a plus tard". Meaning "later" or "see you later")

This being a high-stress work environment, they are teaching Leon other words and phrases as well, but they are not reprintable here.

But the high point of the week had to be Nancy's arrival. The anticipation nearly killed the girls, but somehow they made it to Thursday. She arrived around noon, and her bags (Santa would be proud of the amount she had packed into such a small space) were slightly delayed but made it eventually as well. After locking herself in the guest room to sort through the things she brought far from small prying eyes, she emerged with several valuable items: peanut butter, boxed brownie mix, and marshmallow fluff among them.

On Friday, Debbie and Nancy, along with a few school Mom's went over to the Montreaux Christmass Market, and spent way too much money but had a good time.

Saturday, Leon and Heather went out hunting for ski equipment. Here again they learned important French phrases: "moins chere" (less expensive) and "plus chere" (more expensive). 500 francs later they understood the difference. But Heather is now completely outfitted to be a ski-bunny in training.

Sunday morning dawned clear and bright and... oily. The grease was flying as several batches of latkes were made, and then as a round of french toast was made up for the now starving crowd. After wolfing down a fair share of both, everyone sat around expectantly waiting for the festivities to begin. To make a long story short, Chanukah arrived loudly and with great gusto. when the smoke (and the wrapping paper) cleared, many wishes had been fulfilled. We can't imagine what the rest of the week will hold in store. Probably just socks and pencils.

Speaking of the coming week, there is a variety of things in store for us. We found an American family returning home, so we are going on Monday night to pillage their house for useful stuff (freezer, grill, etc). On Tuesday night the school is putting on their winter program. And so on. But that's the subject of another email...

Sunday, December 02, 2001

Diary: 12/2/2001

Dear friends and family:

This note marks our 3rd month here, and so it is a good time to take stock of where we are, how far we have come, and even how far we have yet to go.

While we would like to report that we are thriving, that everything is wonderful, that would be a lie. It would also be a lie to say that we are miserable, and that we spend each and every moment weeping in despair.

The reality is somewhere in-between those two extremes. It has been a hard time, to be sure. Every task, no matter how small or mundane, requires enormous amounts of energy, thought, and time. Some of this is normal for any move. Some is normal for any move when you are going to a completely new location (without language or culture differences). And some of this is absolutely related to language and culture changes. The 3 together are what has made this move so much more complex than anything we've ever attempted before.

When the dryer breaks, how do you call the repairman when you cannot find a yellow pages; when the yellow pages is sorted by village rather than by profession; when the person answering the phone speaks a different language? At home, just calling the repairman and scheduling the time to come out was a chore. But these new elements make the task a world unto itself.

The answer often lies in friends and coworkers. We were never people who were able to easily ask for help. It was against our nature and (for the most part) rarely a need. But we are learning! What is the name of a good repair person? Will you call them for me? etc.

So where are we in the new house? Well, we have the bedrooms unpacked and organized, including building 6 new wardrobes since houses here don't come with closets. The bathrooms are all set up and the extra toiletries are in a cupboard in the basement. Ditto all the food and dishes in the kitchen. We've hung ceiling lights in all the rooms so we can remove the floor lamps (houses in Switzerland do not need to come with any lighting fixtures - not even a bare bulb on a wire!). The satellite dish is FINALLY set up!!! Deepest and most heartfelt thanks needs to be given to Paul Saunders, Rory Nazareth, and Chris Ayres, without whom we would be lost upon the uncharted seas of satellite minutia. With the satellite in place, we finally can get some English channels, catch up on the news, and even let the kids watch Disney, Discover, and "that cooking show" again.

What is left to do?
We have been extremely blessed with Tupperware, and it our organization of it needs to be... refined a little. We have room in the kitchen and room in the basement, but we need to optimize each. The guest room needs to be organized. The office area and all the computer equipment needs to be arranged so that the grownups have a workable space. We need to do the same for the girls' desks. Once the DSL line is in place, we need to get the home network running. After that, we are down to the normal "hanging pictures and re-arranging furniture" tasks that haunt every new move for months after it is technically finished.

Of course, the big excitement for the coming week is that Debbie's Mom arrives on Thursday. We are already making our plans for each day, visiting markets, seeing sites, and generally showing off the country. We're also getting ready for Chanukah - putting up decorations, making sure we can find all the important items, etc.

As always, we hope that this letter finds everyone in good health and better spirits. Take care and write soon.
Debbie, Leon, Heather, Isabelle, and Joram