Monday, February 23, 2015

Project Purge

As many of you know, the tenants in our NJ house moved out in June. We left the house vacant as we pondered where we would be next and our options with the house. In order to avoid big tax penalties, the owners must live in the house two of the last five years of ownership. That means selling by September 2015 or living in it for at least two years after repatriation. We opted for renting now and living in Westfield again in the future. We will be able to take our time deciding where we want to be. 

One of the things I've always loved about this house is our chandelier. When the morning sun comes in the large front window, the crystals make rainbows appear on the walls. I think it's stunning and I appreciated seeing it again very much.

In order to prepare the house for rent, Tom and I took a recent trip to the US. I call our trip "Project Purge". Since our former tenants were folks we knew, we left the house partially furnished avoiding any storage costs. This time, we were emptying the house requiring plenty of sorting. We also were puging things that we'd have to pay to store but didn't have interest in anymore.  I was dreading the project thinking it would be overwhelming. Having a concrete deadline and flights booked to return to Switzerland, there could be no dillydallying. 

Shortly before the trip, I had read an article about the struggles inherent in downsizing. It suggested looking at the item in question and asking yourself "does it bring me joy?" If not, let it go. Another suggestion was to take photos of things that you want to remember, but not necessarily own before releasing them. I kept these suggestions in mind as we worked.

Every box in the attic and basement was opened and sorted.  In nearly every case, a gem or two was found which was our reward for the effort. One of the most special items was the program from the 1980 Christmas Eve church service in the Wayne, NJ Methodist church. It lists the different pieces I played during the service. It was a few days after this service that Tom and I spoke for the first time, him complementing my play. After my graduation in 1981, we began dating and we married in 1982. I didn't take a picture of the program, but it was saved.

I guarantee that some of my gems would not be important to you. For instance, this nearly full bottle of the best valve oil. The bottle I have here in Switzerland is much less full and I was wondering when I could fit in an errand to buy some and where to go. VoilĂ ! Now I won't need any more for quite a while.

Another prize were the packets of tablets to add to Christmas tree water to keep the tree fresh longer. I have never seen this for sale in Switzerland and quickly decided to bring them here.

Sarah and Alicia both came to NJ to help go through their things. The task wasn't so big for Sarah since she had sorted some of her things already over the years since she moved out. Alicia had a bigger job, but seemed to enjoy the trip down memory lane for the most part. Of course, getting them together always prompts me to ask whether we can take some pictures. We don't see each other all that often and I don't like missing an opportunity. Their hair color also changes often enough that new pictures are needed.

I got the pictures, but also some goofiness.  Sarah found some necklaces to keep and wearing them all was the easiest way to transport them.
beautiful teeth!

scarf made by Sarah!

Anthony does not particularly care for having his picture taken, but I was able to grab one in a lighthearted moment. Sarah and Anthony make a cute couple. I'm not biased. 

Tom and the girls

I'm really not that short - Alicia and Sarah are standing on the hearth.
Those of you following the weather in the northeast, or suffering through it, will realize that our trip coincided with severely cold temperatures and snow. As usual, I flew in and out of Boston. It was the first time I'd seen Westport with snow. Seemed very odd.

standing in our driveway looking towards our pier

harbor at Westport Point

Harbor Master isn't going anywhere!

What possessed me to think I would be able to park and walk the snowy beach? Of course, the parking lot was not cleared! 
dunes at Horseneck State Beach

Horseneck State Beach

causeway to Gooseberry was also closed

want to go kayaking?
Our pier is on the right. Snow completely covers part of our neighbor's pier! 

Tom and I worked hard and had little time for visiting friends. We accomplished the task - the process was actually a bit liberating. We left many boxes of books to be donated, an assortment of some of the better items for a garage sale, blankets for Agape, old towels for an animal shelter, and a large pile to be donated to a charity that will come collect it. (I usually donate to the Lupus Foundation.) It feels good to be on the other side. We still have stuff we don't need, but the next time we go through this project it won't be so daunting.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

St. Moritz - third annual trip

dinner with Jazmine
One of the things I enjoy about our location in Switzerland is the opportunity to watch the bobsled races in St. Moritz. We go because one of the USA pilots is related to me:  her grandfather was my first cousin. I'm not sure exactly what kind of cousin that makes us, but it's not important. Knowing her makes it so much fun. I followed her Olympic blog and the blog of another pilot. I feel like I know the team even if they don't know me. 

Since it is the only natural track in the world (no refrigeration system), the races here are always held in January. This year we decided to go to St. Moritz a day early. This area of Switzerland (Engadine) is known for its cross country ski trails - they hold a xc marathon here every year. We skied two years ago closer to Zurich and decided to give it another try before we forgot how or completely lost our nerve (that part probably only really applies to me). The blue skies and sunshine made for a gorgeous day.

nicely groomed trails make it easier for the novices like me

The trails went right by this little church. We heard voices as we approached. Eventually we could see that a large group of small children were sledding on the hill. Doesn't that look like a fun preschool field trip?

more beautiful scenery along the trails

Things we learned:
1. We can still ski although without as much grace as the folks that passed us!
2. More advance training on the Nordic track machine would probably help.
3. We will be stiff the following day.
4. We will be stiff two days later.
5. We may even be stiff on day three!
6. We're not as young as we used to be. (not exactly a new discovery)

Trying not to overdue with skiing left us some time to walk around St. Moritz. It really is a very pretty little town. I understand why the Russians like it so much - I do too. 

pretty chalet across from the bus stop

champagne anyone?

love the wooden bellhops

snow covered statue with dog - I originally thought he was a snowman

proprietor looks like Pavarotti
Recent acquaintances of ours suggested we visit Pavarotti and Friends Wine Bar, so we did. It was an interesting place. There were cases of wine on several of the tables which they gradually unpacked to make room for customers. Seems to me that should have been done before they opened. They also only had a menu for wine. Our waiter said he could put together an antipasti platter for us. We agreed to that not knowing exactly what it would include or how much it would cost.


Our waiter also said he could prepare some pasta - truffle or arrabiata. We opted for truffle.

truffle and blade to cut it

The finished product was simple, but tasted quite good. A topping of fresh parmesan cheese was also provided.

When we were almost ready to leave, things deteriorated rapidly. The person at the table to my right spilled his full glass of wine in my direction. We were both sitting on a bench along the wall and in between us was my ski jacket. Did you happen to notice that it is white? Not a great color for spilled red wine. I exclaimed instinctively and Mr. Pavarotti (for lack of a better name) came and took my jacket and wiped it off with a towel. Nice gesture, but didn't help much. I then asked the waiter for some sparkling water and napkins. I poured some of the water on the jacket. It's made to repel water - it didn't exactly soak in. Luckily, the larger spots were on the inside of the jacket. Of course, it was the only one I brought with me to St. Moritz - I was going to be wearing it regardless of how it looked. The guilty party was apologetic and his friend gave me his business card telling me to send him the cleaning bill. I have since cleaned it at home: sprayed it with my spot remover and put it in the machine with my fingers crossed. Every drop of wine is gone! I'm very pleased - I didn't want to shop for a replacement. We had a good time (except for the spillage), but I think Pavarotti's was overrated.

Having come here three times, we're familiar with our way around St. Moritz and knew where to find the bus to take us to the club where the bobsled races start. 

track start
The announcer lets each competitor know when it's their turn with "die Bahn ist frei"! (The track is clear.) Tom likes to stand where he has a good view of the sleds coming right at him. It's not a good spot for more than one of us to be so I stand on the other side and we get pictures from different angles.

advertising banners also shade the track

antique sled went down first

the sun was so warm we took off our hats later
Jazmine puts on her helmet at the start box

 ...and they're off! The start (first five seconds) is so important.

Once the sled is out of sight, we watch on the jumbo-tron. 
The whole ride down the track takes less than one minute. If you're slower than a minute, you are not at all competitive. The differences are measured in 100ths of a second. After the first run, there is a break for all the sleds to be brought back to the top for a second run. We walked along the track down to the bottom for the second run.

part of the track along the way

Jazmine finishing her second run
watching the other sleds finish

We stopped for coffee after the races and were surprised to run into one of my former German classmates - the one who made the restaurant recommendations in Istanbul. Walking around the town again later, we happened upon a band entertaining folks in a pedestrian area. You never know what you're going to run into here!


Tom and I choose to stay at the same hotel as the the USA team. It makes it convenient to connect with Jazmine. Good luck with the rest of the season. See you next year!

Before we left the hotel, we saw people dressed in traditional costume outside. (another surprise) I asked at the reception desk why the people were in costumes. I knew she was wrong when she told me they were going skiing! No one dresses like this to go skiing. She just had no idea what I was talking about since she was inside and hadn't seen them.

As we went lower and lower in altitude on our way back to Zurich, we lost the sun and went through patches where it was snowing, but it was a pretty ride anyway. 

our train just came out of that tunnel and curved around to give us this view - impressive engineering

We'll be back here next year or maybe we'll try one of the other race destinations.  Choices!

(obviously, some of the pictures are Tom's)