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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Black and White

Can you believe another month is over?

August's theme is Black and White, and it just so happened that my son Colin spent "project week" on this very subject when he was in Kindergarten. He still kept his Yin & Yang sign they crafted back then. His sweater that talks about right and wrong fits perfectly!

He also mentioned that I should take a picture of a hockey referee. Great idea! The earliest test game is on the first weekend of September, and this post is due 8/31, though. Too bad!

Of course there is only one right way to start my day... black coffee out of my white mug. 
It's my "year round mug" as opposed to the Christmas one ;-)

My husband and I have a lot of things in common, most importantly we are in great synch where raising our son is concerned, but we are also opposites as this pictures clearly shows. It was taken by Colin on our 12 years' anniversary. Not only am I talking about our choice of T-Shirts that day, I'm also talking about (not) smiling a lot, (not) worrying about what other people think or about (not) having some sparkling wine. Can you guess who is which?

Tuscany meets  Thailand for this black and white dinner!

More into sweets than rice? In Switzerland you can't go far without coming across of chocolate. The most popular product of the Lindt company are the milk chocolate Lindor balls in their pretty red package, so the dark and the white chocolates are their lesser known, but still super delicious (actually I prefer dark to milk chocolate) cousins:

When I hear black and white I thinki of a chalk board. As a matter of fact we have one as our weekly planner, and for organizational reasons we use different colors for every family member. Guess whose is the busiest social calendar..?

This one isn't a new one so I'll add it as a bonus picture. It was taken at Cape Town's Waterfront where Colin kicked his Daddy's butt playing chess. Cape Town as in South Africa, a nation that knows a lot about black and white...

I hope you are having as much fun with this post as I am! Please check out the other posts here! 

See you next month!

PS: I know, counting to five is hard. And because I've already failed, I have nothing to lose, so here you go, cheers, guys!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Top Ten Thursday - Rules

Welcome to Top Ten Thursday!

Today we're talking about rules, (are they great, reasonable, ridiculous, asking to be bent / broken,...)

A couple of thoughts about rules. Everybody kind of hates them because they limit our fun, play and adventurous plans - however, since we're not the only people on the planet, we need to find a way to do things and get places without getting in each other's hair.

Also I feel if there are rules, they apply to everyone. Sadly sometimes I seem to be the only one observing them. What's with all the passengers on the plane who can't remain seated and wait for the Captain to turn off the seat belt sign? Do they think the door is gonna open more quickly if they jump up as soon as they see fit?

In Switzerland "queueing" is usually not organised. (Except at the post office where you take a ticket and approach the counter when your number comes up at the display. Love it!)

Usually there are no ropes, or "wait here" signs, so folks will just randomly form a crowd around a counter or booth, and the more pushy ones will make themselves served before everyone else. 

One time in a busy freeway rest area, I observed how one of those patrons cut the invisible line and ordered Spaghetti Carbonara. The Chef took a plate, put one spaghetti on it and said "Here you go. If you want the full size portion, please wait your turn like everybody else." 

That was epic!!! Everybody was smiling and giving the Chef approving nods. Spaghetti Guy must have decided to eat something else because we didn't see him again at the pasta booth. 

So with "wait your turn" being too much of a non-brainer to even mention it, I'll dive right in:

1. Only promise what you can keep, sounds like a no-brainer, too, and still... 
If everybody thought about what they're getting themselves into before accepting an assignment or invitation, there would be less disappointment for everybody involved. I feel like these days the pleasure principle becomes rampant. Sure, I'll RVSP for the party, and I really intend to go - unless a better one comes along!

2. First work, then play. I enforce it at our house. Do your homework and you're free to go out and play. Sometimes (being a role model and all) I'm getting the short end of the stick, though, because my own work is never done.

3. I wish I could say I enforce "no food in bed" at our house. Well, I do for Colin and myself, but I can't seem to bring hubby to observe it as well. It's his guilty pleasure to have an after dinner snack in bed while watching his favourite show on the iPad. I wouldn't mind if there weren't chocolate stains, cookie crumbs and apple seeds in our bed all the time. 

4. No more caffeine intake after 4pm. In the very, very olden days I even had Coke Zero when I went out for dinner. No more. Also no after dinner snacks for me. I hear those are the  worst calories.

5. Deadlines: they are here for a reason. Other people wait for our input, product, post, whatever it is. We usually know about them in due time, and there will always be distractions, so come on, let's try and start early so we can keep 'em, shall we? Also, as a general rule, be on time. "But I called to say I was gonna be late" is such a lame attitude! Especially if it happens every single time. Just because you own a cellphone, it's OK to make the other party wait? I don't think so.

6. Shoes off at airport security: hate it. If I had a knife in my boots, the metal detector should be able to pick it up, no? Also, while I'm busy collecting my bags and putting my (and my kid's) shoes back on, who is watching my electronic devices that are approaching on the belt?
Shoes off at our house: please do! Not a fan of cleaning, and if everybody does their part, it really helps. 

7. Treat others the way you want to be treated - sometimes when I'm really angry the other person is a real moron, I don't manage to do just that. But I still think it's a good rule to go by. 

8. Disabled parking is not for those who are just too lazy to park all the way in the back! Be grateful for the fact that you're able to walk and please leave that spot for somebody who needs it! It's equally rude to use a family parking space if you are single. This is not about discriminating you, this is about making life easier for Moms with babies, toddlers, strollers and shopping bags!

9. He who uses the last toilet paper, kindly replace the roll. Notice how I said "he"? The ladies of this world seem to have a less tough time doing it on their own initiative. 

Oh, and while we're at the subject, there is only one way to do it right! 

10. Don't drink on an empty stomach, and don't drink before 5pm - however, keep in mind it's always 5pm somewhere ;-)

11. / Bonus Rule: Enjoy life! Even if there are a bunch of rules to obey, do things that make you happy! Follow your dreams, surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself, and if in doubt - have that cupcake! 

So how about you? Are you a rule follower? What are rules that you think make perfect sense (or not), and what kind have you broken in your life?

Would you like to join us for next week's Top Ten Challenge? The theme is gonna be Top Ten Things we miss about our hometown, or the top ten things we would miss about our current town if we were to move away. and it posts September 1st - I will be attending a convention, so I'll schedule my post for 7 in the morning (Western European time) and get to your posts late at night!

Please sign up here or send me a message!

For those who like to plan ahead, here's the prompt for September 8 as well: Top Ten Things (no people or pets) you would try and save if you house was on fire. (Sign up here)

But wait! Don't leave just yet - visit my fellow Top Ten Bloggers and see what they came up with! The linky-tool is up, please use it to link up your post!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Top Ten Thursday - Things to know about me

Welcome to Top Ten Thursday!

Today we're talking about things to know about me so we get along fine (in the morning, in traffic, at work, at the market,...)

1. I'm not a morning person. It's best to leave me alone and not talk to me until I've at least had my coffee. Also, please don't whistle, sing or do other cheerful things, it drives me crazy. Needless to say it's also not recommended to try and negotiate some screen time.
2. Pay attention to what happens on the street. Green means go, I don't have all day! Be aware that if I saw you cutting the line earlier, I'm sure as h*** not gonna let you squeeze in now!

3. Ever heard of a person's personal space? I value mine! Keep your shopping cart away from my butt; you'll get to put your purchases on the belt any second now!

4. I don't appreciate telephone marketers. I know you're just doing your job, but we have an entry in the phone directory that says "no advertising", and we mean it! I don't want to switch healthcare or phone providers, I don't want to subscribe to a magazine, and I don't want to participate in a survey. don't care what "internal database" you got our number from (actually I wonder who sold it to you, but I don't want to get into that discussion with you), just delete it and make sure not to call again. 

5. Doctors are busy people. So am I. If I have an appointment at 9am I expect to see the doc not later than at 9:15. If I want to sit around, reading magazines for an hour, I's rather go to Starbucks. 

6. Not only do I worry about time (as I am entitled to, being Swiss and all), I worry about service (this one must be the wanna-be American in me, according to Phil, a very wise Aussie mate) So if you're my cleaning lady, I expect you to do your job, and if a problem arises that is within your range of expertise, I expect you to solve it, or at the very least to call me. "Sorry, I couldn't finish" is not acceptable.

7. If you're a waiter and you take my order, please write it down and make sure to pass it on. It's the small things, you know? I'd like my ice cream without whipped cream, and I don't care that I don't have to pay for it, I didn't want it in the first place, and I don't want to scrape it off!

8. I love Facebook, and I spend quite some time going through people's posts. If I like it, I give it a thumbs up, if I have something to say, I comment. If people ask me a question on my post, I answer. It'd be nice if you did that, too, especially after some horrific status like "I can't believe this, I'm so screwed!" Of course people start asking what happened. No reaction from you? Not cool. 

9. If you specifically ask for my opinion or advice, have the courtesy to listen to what I have to say. Otherwise be fair and tell me that all you need is an outlet for your dumping crap need to talk.

10. I am an accommodating and helpful person, however if the only time you ever approach me is when you want something from me, it's not perceived well. I'm sure you can relate.

Phew, I feel like this did not come out the way it should have. I am usually a sunny person. Recently I have been irritated at work, though. 

If you expected to learn 10 random fact about me you'll find them here (actually those are 11, nicely wrapped around my life's soundtrack), there are 9 more here, and 7 - one for each day of the week - here ;-)

What are things we need to know about you so I won't drop the brick?

Would you like to join us for next week's Top Ten Challenge? The theme is gonna be "Top Ten Rules", (great, reasonable, ridiculous, asking to be bent/broken), and it posts August 25.

Please sign up here or send me a message!

But wait! Don't leave just yet - visit my fellow Top Ten Bloggers and see what they came up with! The linky-tool is up, please use it to link up your post!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Use Your Words - Back to School Business

Today’s post is a writing challenge. This is how it works: participating bloggers picked 4 – 6 words or short phrases for someone else to craft into a post. All words must be used at least once, and all the posts will be unique as each writer has received their own set of words. That’s the challenge, here’s a fun twist; no one who’s participating knows who got their words and in what direction the writer will take them. Until now.

My words are: 

Current ~ classic ~ bizarre ~ brave ~ outside the box ~ memory

They were submitted by Never Ever Give Up Hope - thanks, Carol!

Whenever I had a quiet moment (haha!), I tried to think of a cool story to use my words. There might be so many ways because those words are so versatile. The longer I kept thinking, the more time went by, and you know how it goes.... I had a super busy summer "break", well Colin was on summer break, I was at the office.

Let me tell you about a current project we have at work. 

Before diving in, I have to explain about our school system once you're done with high school: An estimated third of the young people attend college and / or university, and two thirds pursue some kind of vocational training, meaning they have to find an employer that is qualified and willing to train them. They get proficient at a profession like hairdresser, gardener or carpenter by learning on the job during 3-4 days a week, and by attending vocational school for general education (math, correspondence, basic bookkeeping, etc.) for 1-2 days. They graduate after 3-4 years depending on the profession.

One of those vocational schools for our region is located at our neighbor town, and this school happens to be a client of ours, hubby's IT company I work for, too. 

Late this spring the school board decided to quit the classic way of teaching and keep up with the times, meaning, as of the new school year, apprentices need to bring their own notebook to class. They sat down to define specifications (hard drive, memory, software, accessories) according to the specific trade and asked us to take care of the operational handling. 

Photo Credit

So far so good. My brave and talented hubby set up an online shop in no time, it went live June 20, and the school sent out a letter to the future apprentices telling them they were free to get their laptop wherever they wanted, as long as the criteria were met, but they recommended getting it from us, the competent, friendly, local business. 

We were sceptical. You can purchase a computer at every corner, and our prices can't keep up with large retailers like Media Markt (comparable to Best Buy) even though we negotiated an OK deal with Dell (I wish they'd sponsor this post...) But hey, other than the hours that hubby spent programming that online platform and the interface to our business system, we had nothing to lose. 

For a week or two nothing happened. Hubby checked his inbox all the time, and coworkers and I started to place fake orders just for the fun of it, using silly names like Dagobert Duck. 

Then a guy called, claimed the school sent him and asked all kinds of technical questions. I transferred him to my coworker who explained everything. When he hung up he said "OK, so I just provided him with half an hour of free consulting, what if he won't order but will buy a comparable notebook someplace cheaper?" 

But then, on July 11, the first "real" order popped up, then another, then another. Even the guy who called, placed his order, phew. 

In order to minimize our risk, we asked for advance-payment which is unusual in Switzerland: usually you order, get your stuff and an invoice, and you pay within 30 days. If you don't, you'll get a reminder, and another, and another. Depending on the amount of money, the seller will decide (not) to take debt enforcement measures. We didn't want to get into that position, so we clearly stated "money first".

Needless to say this caused some turmoil. People called and asked to pay in monthly instalments. "We're only just learning about this requirement of bringing our own computer to school, it's bad enough how much work clothes, tools, books and commuting are going to cost us, a new laptop is not in our budget, we just spent our money to go on vacation" they claimed. Of course they were right. The people who decided that every apprentice needs to buy their own notebook, have a nice salary and didn't even think of the financial implications.

I had the most bizarre phone calls, mostly from parents. Can't 15 year olds do phone calls these days? 

Like the Mom who called and told me about some person called Knowreplay, something or other, who sent her a message, however she wasn't going to be home today, what was she supposed to do? It took a while for me to find out what she was talking about: The automatic dispatching system of the warehouse was advising her of the upcoming delivery. The e-mail message was being sent by noreply@...

A student suggested he'd skip the online process, hit the ATM and drove to our office to "cash and carry" his laptop immediately. I loved that he took charge, though!

Oh, and don't get me started on the people who ordered but didn't pay. I didn't want to lose precious time and started calling them. "We are sorry, this user is currently not reachable" and no possibility to leave a message. Landline numbers that kept ringing, but nobody home to answer, the list goes on and on. I asked my coworkers who are IT guys after all. We looked at the email addresses of those students. Of course 90% have an account with a free service, and some of those providers are known to send messages titled "your order" or "invoice" or that contain pdf attachments to the spam folder. So I sent another message with a harmless title telling them to check their spam folder and to please settle their accounts so we could initiate the order.

One Dad accused us of ripping off the poor students. He found the same type of notebook someplace else, and it was cheaper, he said. I was so tired of those calls. What did they expect? A discount? Does anybody ever call Amazon to tell them they found an item for a better price? "You know I work in Quality Management, and I can smell bad deals" he said. "Also I consulted my firm's IT Manager, so I know what I'm talking about." Good for him. As polite as I could I told him he was free to purchase wherever he pleased. He didn't stop. Between the lines he admitted that he wasn't 100% sure it really was the exact same item. Dude, just make up your mind!!!

When I hung up I was exhausted and angry about people who strain my patience and waste my time. I was thinking I'd much rather have a day off and use it to take pictures for a photo blog challenge like the one themed outside the box - this month's theme is black and white. This guy on the phone certainly seemed a bit of a black and white kind of person. 

However with the orders pouring in, there was no thinking about taking time off. Just the opposite, I even went in on a Sunday to get everything done.

About a week later Quality Dad ordered. Not only did he order the rip-off notebook, he also went for the backpack, the backup hard drive, the wireless mouse, the pen, you name it. So I guess our deal wasn't too bad after all. Hahahaha!

(Speaking of backpacks, one Mom said she didn't like it and asked why there weren't any notebook cases, and could I please get one for her son? I might, but I am afraid she wouldn't like the zipper or the strap, so no...)

Photo Credit

Now these items come from different warehouses all over Europe, and Dell works with logistics partners, so this family got hit by a handful of deliveries over a couple of days, and Smart-Ass Dad called on my day off, so my coworker had to listen to his complaints about this logistical and ecological nightmare. 

Even though he was right, it is a nightmare (but for different reasons - don't get me started here) he should be happy he got everything he ordered, and he got everything in time. 

Delivery times for customized notebooks range from 7-14 days, which was stated in bold letters underneath every iteam on the webshop, and families who only just got back from vacation, called in a frenzy. Summer break is short around here, 

Colin went back to school this Monday, and the apprentices began their training as well. 

The ones who haven't received their goods yet, started to fire off nervous e-mails. 

A Mom called to tell me their notebook arrived. "Yay!" I said. "Nope" she went. "it's doa". She assured me that everything was plugged in properly. I asked hubby to deal with her. After the obvious (unplug, re-plug) he invited her to come to our office. She declined. "Too much traffic", she said. True. Friday late afternoon, not a good time. But then again, school started on Monday, and if we needed to initiate a warranty case,... Hubby suggested she dropped in tomorrow as he spends every Saturday at the office anyway. On Saturday he texted me "that notebook runs as smoothly as they come!?"

One Mom was totally taking the cake. She sent a rant message about late deliveries (geez, read, lady, read and do the math before you order! Ordering on 8/4 if school starts on 8/8 is not going to work out!), greedy big corporations that benefit from hard working people, and her poor son who was the only one who didn't bring a notebook on his first day of school. She wasn't happy with my answer explaining the process and giving her the conservative eta (8/18) so she called and told me she called Dell directly, and they said without an order number they couldn't help her, so she demanded the number from me... 

I felt bad for the boy. Not only was his start at the new school a bit rough, but he has to deal with his pushy Mom every day.

So I have roughly 7 more years to raise my sweet son to be able to look after himself once he graduates from high school. 

So far he's doing quite OK.

Remember his tooth incident and the LEGOs he wanted? It was a rare item that he wanted, and I told him I wasn't going to hunt for it at different stores on a Saturday, so he cold called toy stores in the area. "Hello, this is Colin Gerber speaking, I was wondering whether you carried the LEGO Speed Champion Ford Mustang?" 
"I wouldn''t know without an item number, sorry" the lame-a** sales assistant said. What is wrong with service providers??? 

He wasn't going to fold, though. "Hold on" he said. Ran to his room, got the LEGO catalog and told her the item number was 75871. Well done, and a well deserved gift, wouldn't you say?

Now go find out what my friends' words were, and what they did with them:                                                                                                  

Baking In A Tornado 

PS: This one just came in, I thought it was fitting...

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Top Ten Thursday - Italian Food

Welcome to Top Ten Thursday!

Today we're talking about our Top Ten Italian Foods!

There are different kinds of Italian cuisine, as I have learned the heard way. 

The one I knew growing up in my Swiss home is that there is a plate of pasta or a big slice of pizza or three, and I loved it. 

One day we were invited at Dad's Sicilian coworker's home. He was a bit older than my Dad but remained single for a very long time. Anyway, he liked to cook, and we were invited at his place. 

There was some soup and salad that I don't really remember. Then he served the most delicious home made lasagna. I asked for seconds. My Mom, just as naive, let me. 

Shortly after clearing the table, Franco disappeared in the kitchen again, only to return with a huge platter of saddle of venison, beautifully garnished with SpƤtzli (some sort of wheat gnocchi), Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, caramelized chestnuts and mushrooms. We sat there, with our wide eyes and full bellies, and we didn't know what to do! As we definitely didn't want to offend him but show our appreciation, we ate as much as we could. 

Needless to say we absolutely positively could not eat that piece of a gigantic Black Forest Cake that followed.

We had a similar experience, many years later, when we attended our Italian neighbour's daughter's wedding. On each table there was the menu so we knew what to expect. It said something like soup, salad, pasta, veal, chicken or beef, dessert. 

We were caught by surprise again when it turned out that of course it wasn't veal, chicken or beef, but veal, chicken and beef... Little word, big difference!!!

Anyway. The Italian kitchen has to offer so many great dishes, let me get to the ones I like best:

Of course every visit at an Italian restaurant or a great night with guests at our house has to start off with a glass of prosecco! I don't even have a favourite brand, as long as it's sweet and bubbly I'm completely happy!

Photo Credit
Insalata Caprese: tomato and mozzarella salad with fresh basil and balsamic vinegar. What is supposed to be just a starter, often is a much appreciated summer dinner at our house.

Tagliatelle Carrettiera: upon googling I discovered that there are different recipes out there. The one I like, that our favourite Italian restaurant serves, is a creamy tomato sauce with ground beef, funghi porcini and peas. Unfortunately Pasquale and his family and part of his staff moved to a new restaurant that is 40 instead of 10 minutes away from our home. We still eat there from time to time.

Risotto ai funghi porcini, a weekly fall dish at our house as soon as fresh funghi porcini pop up in the forest supermarket.

Lasagna, another weekly fall-winter-early spring meal at the Gerber house. Once upon a time BK (before kids) I made a home made lasagna for our Christmas dinner. I was slaving in the kitchen pretty much all afternoon for it. These days I am down to 1.5 hours, and my routine includes having a glass of wine while cooking. Why? I use some wine to deglaze the pan after browning the ground beef, so I'd better make sure it's a delicious one!

Meatball Spaghetti, I like them at Olive Garden or home made. It's really not that hard. Make a slurry, use the ice cream scoop to shape them, bake them for 12 minutes and let them simmer in tomato sauce for at least half an hour, longer is better. 

Linguine all' Astice (lobster): This one is a new favourite that I just discovered last weekend when we went out for dinner at "Sale & Pepe". Not sure how authentic this dish is. Is there any lobster in the Mediterranean? (Wikipedia says yes!)

Pizza! Who doesn't like wood fired brick oven pizza, right? Even frozen pizza is better than no pizza. Did you see the video in which a guy asks his not too bright girlfriend if she'd rather have her pizza cut into 8 or 12 slices and she says 8, because she couldn't possibly eat 12? 

The original Italian pizza dough is super thin and crusty, which is fine. My favourite one is American style, though: thick! However, I'm specifically not a fan of the Chicago-style pizza. I have tried twice and didn't like it. 

As far as toppings go, I don't need much, I'm fine with just Margarita, and I do like veggie pizza: roasted peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, sweet corn and (brace yourself) broccoli. I know! Five a day, right?

Saltimbocca alla Romana: veal with prosciutto and sage in a marsala-butter sauce

Full-bodied red wines like Brunello di Montalcino or Amarone della Valpolicella (I can't believe spell check wanted to change "Amarone" into "Amazon"!!)

Unfortunately I barely get to have dessert because I'm more than full from all the other yummy dishes. If I was to order one, though, it'd be Italian Cheesecake, made with ricotta or simply Gelato (ice cream)

Coming to an end I'd like to mention a couple of movie scenes happening at Italian Restaurants:

Rex II, Los Angeles, Julia Robert's character Vivian aka Pretty Woman, is having dinner with Edward and Mr. Morse senior and grandson. She's confused by the amount and variety of forks and knives, and she's having a hard time handling escargot - slippery little suckers!

Minetta Tavern, NYC, (in the movie it's called "The La Trattoria"), Hugh Grant is Mickey Blue Eyes, but let's fuggeddaboud id and get the h*** outta he'e, the really funny scene happens at a Chinese Restaurant where Mickey tries to sneak a marriage proposal into his girlfriend's fortune cookie. When she doesn't want to eat it, the waiter owner gets impatient and demands that she "eat the f***ing cookie!!!"

Parietti's, in "Analyze This", the restaurant where Robert De Niro's character Paul Vitti's father was shot to death. Paul still frequents the restaurant with his mafia buddies. As Paul's shrink Ben sits at the table, they speak in code about the first or the second thing. 

Unfortunately the best part of the scene was left out, probably for strong language reasons.

They see a member of their rival family walking in and bitch about him:

"Stevie Beef is over there"
"Fat piece of sh**!"
"Rat f***ing, c***s***ing scumbag"
"Garbage pail"

"Let's go say hi"

What are your favorite Italian dishes?

Would you like to join us for next week's Top Ten Challenge? The theme is gonna be "Top Ten Things to know about me", (so we get along fine, think in the morning, at work, in traffic), and it posts August 18.

Please sign up here or send me a message!

But wait! Don't leave just yet - visit my fellow Top Ten Bloggers and see what they came up with! The linky-tool is up, please use it to link up your post!