Friday, December 12, 2008

I could gripe about anything - and usually do

I find myself complaining about Switzerland when I speak of living there. While I do have complaints, there is so much that is wonderful about Switzerland. One thing that is really good is their internet - at least compared to Cincinnati Bell's DSL.

I am a telecommunications baby. I worked for AT&T (I prefer to think of it as Southwestern Bell) for 24 years. The company gave me a lot - namely money. I would prefer to give back to the industry by using its technology for phone and internet access vs. using cable.

Switzerland's Swisscom internet has been great. It is reliable and fast. I consistently get 15,000 kbps DL and 1,000 kbps UL. That's pretty fast and I don't even get the full DL speed of 20,000.

Cincinnati Bell's speed is horrible by comparison and very unreliable. As I previously said we got internet access (from CinBell) for while we are in Cincy. Kathleen hooked it up easily enough and our DL speed was around 4,500 kbps and the UL was about 750 kbps. Great I thought. Much better than we had before when living in Cincinnati. The problem has been that it has been an unreliable connection. It's there and then it's not. It makes me want to pull my hair out and I need my hair. Who knows when it will stop growing? I finally called CinBell to complain. 'Let me adjust the frequency, perhaps it was setup incorrectly' they said.

FREQUENCY - Cincinnati Bell speak for speed. More precisely it means to slow things down.

The tech guy - nice enough fellow - adjusted my frequency. I'll just have to see how well it works. To early to tell, but I bet things improve. This is because I meant business, I sounded like someone not to be trifled with, I am a fellow telecommunications baby - NOT! He just slowed my connection. My DL is now about 1,500 with an UL of 450. Uuuughhhh!

15,000 vs. 1,500 - really I can't actually see the difference. At home in Switzerland web pages don't just POP! onto the screen. Here in Cincy they come on screen just fine. But I know there is a difference and that bugs me. Why is U.S. internet so slow when it seems the rest of the world's is so fast? I don't know and don't really want to bother caring. I just want my INTERNET, money for nothing and my chicks for free.

UPDATE 24 HOURS LATER - slowing down the connection seems to have solved the reliability. We haven't experienced any disconnections. We can now watch our SlingBox, use our Skype phone and browse the internet with no problem. Well not exactly... Why is it I can do all of this at 1,500 kbps DL and not the 4,500 I had at the start? This I have a problem with. I am not impressed with CinBell's internet service. It leaves a lot to be desired.

UPDATE SOME WEEKS LATER - ever since CinBell slowed our DL speed our connection was more reliable, but overall still crappy. It still cut out at times and it seemed always when you wanted it most. Often the connection seemed really slow. CinBell should be better than this.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Finally - in Cincy for the rest of the year

It's been a while since I have posted. It isn't any fun being without an internet connection. I think I am somewhat addicted. The internet has become something akin to a utility, no different than electricity, gas or water. I want it. I gotta' have it. We acquired a DSL connection for the time we will be home. With this we can watch TV via a SlingBox (thanks Andy and Janet). We also got SlingMedia's new SlingCatcher so we can actually watch TV on our TV instead of using our laptops. Man oh man our couch is so much more comfortable than an office chair.

Anyway, we have been in-country for a couple of weeks now. We arrived and two days later we drive down to Hilton Head Island to share Thanksgiving with the Dolan clan. Payton got to play with all of his cousins - all nine of them. Well he couldn't exactly play with Cassidy. She's only 3 weeks older than Parker, but she was cute to look at.

Since getting back home from Hilton Head I have made a quick trip to Kansas City. It is a 10+ hour drive from Cincy so I went by myself. I am back home from that now.

Now we can settle in our 'big house' and enjoy the Christmas holidays. Nope, not exactly. Our neighbors had some remodeling done on their house and we were particularly fond of the boxed ceiling trim work they had done in the family room. We have contracted to have the same ceiling installed in our house. We are also having some additional trim work done while we're at it. So instead of settling in, putting up Christmas decoration and other things like that we will be moving furniture around making room for carpenters and painters. The work is scheduled to begin tomorrow and be finished in two weeks. I'll have to be sure and take some before and after pictures.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Missed opportunity

We missed an opportunity today. It would have been great. Let me explain.

Today we flew from Switzerland back to the USA. It's a long flight for Kathleen and me, but it has to be forever for Payton and Parker. Payton did great. He played with his toys and watched shows on the in-flight video. Parker slept almost the entire trip.

We landed in Atlanta and processed ourselves through Customs. We needed to change terminals so we headed to the tram. Guess who was on our tram? None other than the Real Deal himself - Evander Holyfield. I turned to Kathleen and said "You know what, I should have Payton go over to him and offer him a shoulder. It would be quite a story for him to say that he traded punches with the Real Deal." Kathleen thought it was a good idea.

I thought it was a good idea too, but I chickened out. I suppose celebs like attention, but probably not on an airport tram. Anyhow, it was a good thought to remember. But hey, we arrived in the USA all safe and sound. Man it is good to be back.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

We're heading home

It's early in the morning and we are waiting for our ride to the airport, er, flughafen. We're exciting about going home. I'm not sure how much I'll post while on 'holiday', but I will try to keep up with things.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Picture of our day

Today we drove to France to do a little grocery shopping. The market in the nearest French town is open on Sunday until noon. The store was very busy. I guess a lot of other people had the same idea. (Hey Switzerland, open your doors on Sunday and people will come.)

Since we were over there we thought we would go see Le Saut du Doubs - a waterfall on the Doubs river. We didn't make it. We parked and then realized we didn't bring our shouldered baby carrier. We thought about just carrying Parker, but the walk was a little far and when hiking you need both hands free for balance. We'll just save this for another day. Here is a picture I pulled from the internet to show you what we didn't see. There are several waterfalls in our area. Next summer we will have to get serious about doing more hiking to see them. But for now we just headed home.

It was very foggy at the lower altitudes; like around our house and the waterfall. But up in the mountains it was very sunny. We noticed a lot of cars parked off the roads. We don't know why, but we assume the locals figure if it is foggy down low and no rain, then it will be sunny up high. The people seemed to be hiking - they had walking sticks, backpacks and the likes. We stopped at a lookout and took 'our picture of the day' above. Our house is down in the fog somewhere.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Toboggan Geant - La luge d'ete a la Vue-des-Alpes

Today we did a very fun thing. We went tobogganing. It was a ride much like a water slide. It's just a half metal tube and a sled you ride upon. It's 700 meters of fast fun and duh, no water.

The Marciondo kids joined us. All four kids had a blast and I have to say, all the adults did too! This is definitely something to do again.Wanna go for a ride? Watch the following video. I didn't edit it down and the first two-thirds is being pulled up the hill, but I like this part because I like hearing Payton talk. The ride itself goes by quickly. Listen at the end when Payton says ouch.

Here was the view looking back down to the lake. We were up above the fog and the Alps looked very nice.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A drive through the Swiss countryside

Today I put my camera on the tripod, set it to take a picture every second and anchored it inside my car. Then I took a 15 minute drive from our house through the town of Corcelles and out into the countryside for a bit. At Rochefort I hung a right and headed back to the house. I took about 1800 pictures to make this video. Check it out. I think it is kind of cool.

We had a big scare, but it passed

Bear Bear Bear. Though Bear belongs to Payton, he is loved equally, if not more, by Kathleen and I. I suppose we love Bear for different reasons than Payton. Bear was given to Payton by his Aunt Janet. He has had Bear just about his entire life - almost since his day 1. To Payton, Bear is a companion at best and sometimes just a possession. But to us, Bear is so much more. He is a placeholder of memories. Payton has grown up with Bear. Bear is part of our family. To us Payton and Bear are like peas and carrots.

The SCARE came Monday afternoon. We asked Payton where Bear was and he didn't know. We did a quick search and didn't find any sign of Bear. We have lost Bear before and thankfully got him back. We have also thought we have lost him but have found out otherwise. Whenever Bear goes missing Kathleen and I panic. We searched again and again - no Bear. We were in shock - is Bear lost? Yes he was. I'm not sure how I felt, certainly a little depressed. Kathleen had tears. Payton was just sorry he lost Bear. We assured Payton that it wasn't his fault. The best we could guess was that Bear fell out of the car in the school parking lot. Kathleen drove back there Monday night to search for Bear, but he wasn't there.

Payton went to bed without Bear that night. I made up 'lost' signs. We went to school early on Tuesday to post the signs at and around the school. We gave signs to the teachers in hopes that a schoolmate found him and would return him. We heard nothing about Bear. He was missing.

Bear is a Gund Bogie bear #G15000T. Gund made the Bogie in tan, brown and cream. We have a spare bear, a brown one, we call him Brown Bear. But he isn't Bear. We found a 'brown' Gund Bogie bear on eBay. The picture looked more tan than brown so we bought him hoping he is really tan. We'll get this bear when we return to the States next week.

Tonight Kathleen found Bear. He has been returned to us once again. Somehow he got put at the back of a kitchen drawer. I thought I searched all the drawers. I guess I didn't do a good enough search. Finding Bear brought tears of joy to Kathleen. Payton was happy to have Bear again. I was too. We are so happy to have Bear back with us. It is times like this you realize just how important some things can be to you - even a matted down, floppy, sometimes stinky dirty stuffed bear.

We're glad you're 'back home' Bear. Don't ever leave us.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


We had decided earlier in the week to take a road trip today. We thought driving down to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn would be a good trip. We woke this morning to a gray and raining sky. :(

"Should we wait until tomorrow? It would be a shame to drive 3 hours and not be able to see anything. No, let's go. The weather will clear and may be completely different down south."

Anybody want to hire me as a weatherman? It was beautiful in Zermatt. Very sunny, clear skies, no wind and in the upper 30's. We're sure glad we went today.

Zermatt is a skiing and mountaineering village in southern Switzerland. It's about 10 km from Italy. To prevent air pollution, which could disfigure the town's lovely view of the Matterhorn, the entire town is a combustion-engine car free zone. I think is it a great idea. You can drive towards Zermatt but go no farther than Täsch. From there you take a cog train up the valley.

We spent the afternoon taking pictures, looking at some shops and had lunch at McDonald's. Parker pretty much slept the whole time.

We drove down one way and came back another. Going down we went by Lausanne and over to Zermatt. Going back we headed pretty much north towards Bern. We got a surprise on the way back. We zigged-zagged up into the mountains and came to a toll - $25 CHF. It wasn't a toll road though. The next leg of the journey turned out to be by car train. We drove our car onto a train, put it in park and shut the motor off. We rode in our car on a train through a tunnel in the mountain with hardly any light for about 15 km (10 miles). It was so cool and such a surprise. How often do you do this sort of thing?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Kick scootering at the lake

A couple of days ago we bought Kathleen a kick scooter. She wanted to be able to ride with Payton - whether in the drive way, around town or at the park. Today we went down by the lake where the trails are wide and smooth so that they could ride together. Payton really enjoyed his mama riding with him. Each had fun going fast, carving left and right. I myself just walked pushing the stroller for a sleeping little Parker.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Oh yeah...

The new Westside Shopping Mall in Bern

Since Wednesday's are half school days, picking up Payton is kind of a social event. You see and meet other parents you usually don't see. Today we met the grandmother of 6 yr. old Vincent. During our conversation she told us of a new Starbucks in Bern which is in the newly opened Westside Shopping Mall. We were going to go to Starbucks in Bern this afternoon and were pleased to learn of a new location. So off we went to Westside Mall.

The mall has only been open one month and is of modern architecture. It is built over the motorway (Interstate). The tunnel isn't new. It existed before the mall. Parking is all underground. Things are built vertically here vs. horizontally in the USA. A small footprint is paramount. The exterior's wood cladding is meant to 'harmonize with the countryside'. I'm not so sure about that.

Inside is pretty much like an American mall. The interior could use, well, something. It is stark white. I didn't care for it. I would have liked to see some color. Two differences I noticed were 1) no 'teenager' shops, such as Spencer Gifts and the likes. Almost all shops were clothing, but not grungy stuff. All were nice stores. The place just didn't seem like a hang out for teenagers. And 2) the food court. There was a McDonald's, but no other fast food. The restaurants were nice sit down types.

There is an 11 screen cinema which will become our cinema of choice. The reason for this - Kinder Land. A 'for pay' kid play and learning center. It is a very nice, secure place in the mall to leave the little ones while you shop, or see a movie. The price is only $2.50/hour. We left Payton in there for 2 hours today and he wasn't ready to leave. When we did pull him out he was a sweaty mess. Kinder Land has many options for playing, sliding, climbing, building or painting. What a deal!

There is also a year-round pool and fitness spa. It is said to have 18 different outdoor and indoor pools and the longest covered water slides in Switzerland. Now how cool is that? There's the Roman-Irish bathing experience. - a combination of Roman steam baths and Irish dry hot-air baths, suana and spa too. I think Kathleen will enjoy checking these things out.

Oh, the Starbucks. Well it was a Starbucks, and one attached to a bookstore. Unlike Barnes and Noble, you can't bring books into it unless you have bought them. No free rides. The hours are more convenient. It's open everyday except Sunday from 9 am to 8 pm (later on Friday, a little earlier on Saturday) - same as the entire mall.

Lastly, and this isn't so unusual, they even put in a train stop at the mall. Yep, we could just hop on the train and go to the mall. I'm telling you that the train system here is pretty cool. You can go just about anywhere. No, it doesn't quite replace the a car. But then again because of it you don't really need to have a car.

We had a good day and will no doubt return again.

(I tried something new with this post. Click on the small thumbnail images to see larger more expansive pictures.)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A sleepy boy

Parker was crying and fussing in his chair. I went and picked him and started bouncing him on my knee. I guess he liked it - he fell asleep.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Payton is taking tennis lessons

We've been trying to get Payton in an after school activity and much to his mother's pleasure, we decided on tennis lessons for him. Today was his first class. His instructor conducts the class in both English and French. It's a small class of 4 with him being the youngest, but only by a year. His class will meet once a week.

We like this activity. It can be become a lifetime recreation for him. Plus, with many of the places we go as a family, there have always been tennis courts. Add to that his Mommy likes playing the game makes this activity a great choice. And from Payton's perspective he gets to carry a 'bat' and smack things. It's a good deal all around.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


It's not quite Halloween, but almost. Halloween isn't quite the holiday here (actually not at all) that it is in the U.S. Too bad, kids love Halloween. The Swiss kids would too, but so deprived they are. Oh well.

We're celebrating the holiday as best we can. Today Payton's school had their Halloween party. Payton went dressed as Spider-man. He has another event to attend this Sunday. The NIC (Neuchâtel International Club) is having a Halloween hunt for the little ones.

Just in case we get a few Trick or Treaters - our neighbor says we might - we bought some candy to pass out. While there is a ton of candy to choose from here, it isn't 'Halloween' candy. It is more like fancy schmancy wrapped gift box type candy.

I took these pictures of Parker today. He posed really well for me. I was talking the baby talk - goo goo da da - and he responded very well. He's in his Halloween costume. It's a hand-me-down from big brother Payton. Of course it is next to new - only worn a couple of times! It won't be his last hand-me-down.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Kathleen's new car - Renault Grand Espace

I had previously mentioned that Kathleen's new car finally arrived. We are thoroughly enjoying it too. The Espace is the Honda Odyssey of Europe. Is it as good as the Honda? It probably isn't, but saying this is like comparing apples to oranges. It's big, holds the four us (and up to max of seven) with limo style rear seating and we think it looks rather striking. Ours is actually dark gray in color with a charcoal leather interior.
The panoramic sliding sunroof is the biggest and best we've ever seen. The car feels (and pretty much is) very spacious. Inside and out it has a futuristic look to it. We're really liking diesel power and economy. The key is like a thick credit card. You never have to take it out of your pocket. Walk up to the car and grab the door handle - it unlocks. Start and stop the engine with a push of a button. Walk away from the car - it locks. Why don't all cars have this? So cool. So convenient.

Curious and want to see more? Click here to check out an Espace video and images.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Baby pictures of Parker

Mama mi caught Parker wide awake and in a pretty good mood to boot.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Family picture day

You eagle eyes out there have probably noticed that our blog picture (upper right of the blog) had not yet included Parker. Today we went to the park to snap a few pictures to remedy this. We met the Marciondo's in the park too for a nice afternoon.
Here Payton is riding with his friend Devin.

This one is for grandma. Seems like every time I pick up the camera to snap a picture of Parker he is asleep. This time was no exception.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

From a chocolate factory to a castle - all in a day

Today we sought a little sightseeing adventure. Kathleen had the idea of going to the Cailler Chocolate Factory. Cailler's is owned by Nestlé. They offer free self guided tours and rumor has it that at the end you can taste free chocolates! Payton and I needed little convincing. We packed up the family and headed out.
We found the factory with little problem. Thank goodness for GPS! Those little gadgets are indispensable in a foreign place. Sure enough they had tours. A tour of the factory? Hardly. At best it was a quick walk through a few museum types displays. We didn't care though because the rumor was true! Free chocolate awaited you at tour's end.
We don't know how much you can have (a candy cop was on duty), but we had plenty each. How good was it? It was free so of course it was just the best. Just like any museum you get hustled by the 'gift' shop before leaving. We had no problem buying a box of chocolates that we tried out.

Before heading to our next destination we hung out in our van. Parker needed a change and Payton had chocolate milk to finish. We finally got Kathleen's new car. It took forever - 6 months and should have only taken 3. We love it. The panoramic roof is so cool.
After Cailler's we headed to the town of Gruyère (Groo-Yair). Here they make a cheese named the same. It is said to be good, but I wouldn't know. I'm still looking for my Kraft American cheese slices, extra-sharp cheddar cheese and Velveeta. They are no where to be found. Above the town is Gruyère Castle dating back to the 13th century.
The walk up to the castle wasn't hard, but you knew your ticker worked by the time you reached the top.
Looking down the trial we just walked up.
Here is the plaza area just outside of the castle. As you can see it was foggy and just a little misty. No blue skies today. At the far end of the plaza is the castle.
Through the archway lies the outer grounds of the castle.
Just inside the archway and on the right was a museum with a weird exhibit. Note the banner on the wall. The exhibit was like all this 'Alien' stuff. To the right in this picture was the museum bar. It too was decked out. You sat in alien skeleton chairs and the walls and ceiling were done up like the ship the Alien was first found in.

Before heading into the castle, we first walked around it.
Nice ceiling work.
These gardens are no doubt really nice when in bloom.
A self propelled wheel chair. Each wheel is independently powered by turning on the handles. They're lashed together so that visitors can't mess with them. There wasn't any information provided to date the chair, but I'll bet who ever used it had a very strong upper body.Ahh, the rich always have the best views.

We ate an early dinner at a restaurant on the plaza. Kathleen had been wanting to try fondue. For me I have yet to find a Swiss dish that appeals to me. I am not looking to hard. Fortunately the restaurant Kathleen chose had fondue and spaghetti - which is what Payton and I had. And Parker? He had milk. Kathleen liked her fondue and is looking forward to having it again. The cheese tasted okay, but it stunk.

Well, that's about all the pictures. We were somewhat disappointed with the weather. The views are supposed to be great from the castle. Gruyère is said to be at the foothills of the Alps. South of the castle they frame the castle beautifully - at least that's what we saw in the postcards. Oh well, the place isn't far and we can always go for another chocolate tour. We'll just go again in the spring.