Just under the wire, but still an entry in September. So let's get caught up...
I said I would post a picture of Burkhard and Christa, the two guests we had staying here from Germany. They were more than happy to cooperate and agreed to have their photo posted here. So here's the pic I took of them on their last evening in Oberwil.
August 10th was René's birthday. There is a place in the middle of one of the forests next to Oberwil that's called the biotope. It's a little clearing with picnic tables and a fire pit. René had his birthday party there. Everyone ate fondue out of this large pot that hung over the fire...
It was a Wednesday evening and I wasn't able to go to the party until after dancing at 10:00. Herbert took the following photo earlier in the evening.
By the time I got there, it was dark and the fondue was pretty much gone, except for what was was burnt on the bottom of the pot. But, I didn't care. It was great to have a glass of wine with friend's and help René celebrate his birthday. And it was a special birthday because a large group of us had a big surprise for René and they had waited until I got there to give it to him.
You see, René had been making comments the whole summer about how he didn't think it was very impressive that Mädi, her daughter Tina and I had been swimming almost every day. He wasn't impressed that we went when it was so cold that the people working on the gardens around the pool were wearing coats, hats and gloves or that we went when it was raining. (But not when there was a chance of lightning.)
We knew that his opinion on all of this was just that - his opinion. But what got us was that he made jokes about how far we swam each day. We were swimming 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) each day in less than an hour. This was the least impressive point to him. He said that we did it with flippers and that made is as easy as could be. He said that 2 km's was nothing. He could do that in 20 minutes or so and keep on going. We tried to explain to him that, although you can surely swim faster with flippers, it's still a lot of work on your upper leg muscles. (Which is why we use the flippers in the first place.) We laughed with him for the first few times he said it. Then we asked him to join us one of the mornings. As you can probably guess, he always had an excuse.
One morning while Mädi, Tina and I were drinking a cup of coffee at the pool after swimming, we talked about René and his excuses. We came up with a plan to minimize his ability to get out of proving to us how easy 2 km's could be. We decided that for his birthday, we would give him everything he would need to join us at the pool.
The closer we got to his birthday, the more the word got around about what we had planned. In the end, there were about 15 people who participated in the cost of the gift. And they were all there at the party waiting to see him put his foot in his mouth. Here's a photo of René as he's starting to open his gift....
Inside the box there were many smaller wrapped gifts. We gave him a gift certificate for entrance to the swimming pool, a gift certificate for the concession stand, a bathing cap, a towel (actually a baby's bath towel with hood and all), swim goggles, a swim suit, a string with beads that he could use to count his laps (which I made because I also use one), swim wings (in case he actually did get tired and needed help floating) and of course... flippers.
After opening the first gift, he had a pretty good idea of what the gifts were all about. What he didn't know was that we were going to require him to put each item on as he unwrapped the gifts. He was a good sport about all of it. He even stripped down to his underwear to put the swimsuit on. (Okay, it was dark and this isn't modest middle America.) The whole thing was quite funny and René played it all up. Here he is posing after opening all of his gifts... (The T-shirt wasn't from us and he rolled it up for emphasis.)
That evening, René agreed to meet us at the pool on the following Sunday evening at 6:00. Everyone involved in the gift also agreed to be there to support and encourage René. (Laugh and be there when he failed.) He ended up having all the luck in the world because it rained that Sunday, with lightning and all, and the pool was closed. The rest of the summer, either we all had commitments to things like working at village festivals or the weather was so unseasonably rotten that the pool was closed. Mädi, Tina and I continued to swim as much as we could and we never heard another comment from René about how unimpressed he was.
The rest of August and all of September has been very busy for Herbert and I. The mixed choir always has the Sichlete festival at the end of August. It's a two day event held on the street behind our house. Fredu's distillery is cleared out every year and made into a coffee house. That's where Herbert and I always work. The rest of the festival is held in the street and the surrounding buildings. We took our camera, but we were so busy working that we forgot to take any photos. I'll try to do that next year.
We also worked a couple of weeks ago to help cook in a town about 15 minutes away for the Käserchörtreffen. This translates to 'cheese choir meeting', or as I call it the cheese singers. It was a meeting of yodeling groups from around Switzerland that are made up mostly of people who are cheese makers. There were 480 people who attended. I've mentioned before that there is a group of guys in Oberwil that cook for most of the festivals. One of them asked Herbert and I if we could help with this one and we agreed.
The main course was a Bernerteller, or Bern plate. This is a traditional meal in the canton of Bern that is an assortment of meats (beef roast, ham, different sausages, chunks of both smoked and un-smoked bacon and beef tongue), served with boiled potatoes, sauerkraut and re-constituted dried green beans. If you're an American reading this, it probably sounds pretty disgusting. It sure did to me the first time I heard of it. But, it really is delicious. It's a lot of work so I've never made it myself, but have enjoyed it when Herbert's mom has made it for us.
Anyway, the dinner was on Sunday and we met on Saturday to prepare all the meat. In order to serve so many people in as short of a time as possible, we made up 500 skewers, each with the full assortment of meat, that could be steamed and served on the plates by quickly running them off the skewer.
Early on Sunday
morning, we all were started to cook. Here's Bumsi, Felix, Herbert and
René, standing outside where all the
large pots were heating up...
The potatoes, sauerkraut and green beans were cooked in these cast iron pots. Here's Bumsi stirring the sauerkraut with a large wooden paddle...
We had trays and trays of the skewered meat that we had prepared on Saturday. Here are some of the skewers of meat in trays, ready to go into the steamer... (Beat is putting a tray in the steamer and that's Ruedi on the left. He's the cooking 'boss'.
We had an assembly line to put all the food on the plates. While we were setting up, I told someone that I could do the green beans and sauerkraut. She laughed. Apparently, I had no idea how stressful it would get. She was right. I only did the green beans and ended up with a blister on one of my fingers from the tongs. We served up almost 500 plates in about 50 minutes. That's one plate leaving the kitchen every 6 seconds.
We were so busy that I didn't have a chance to take a picture until it was time for the 'help' to eat. By then, the sauerkraut was gone. But here's a photo of the rest of it...
All the 'cheese singers' were in the large hall. The groups took turns getting up to sing. We didn't get much of a chance to watch or listen, but Herbert took this photo...
And here's a close up of one of the groups...
The day had started out with croissants and coffee, went on to an appetizer of züpfe and cheese, then the 'meat plate' and finally a dessert of ice cream with whipped cream and assorted fresh fruit. (Which we also made up with as much flurry as we had with the meat plates.)
The appetizer course was served in one of the front hall areas and outside. While they ate, these three guys played the alp horn. The guy in the front is Hausi, my friend Marianne's husband. The guy in the middle is also from Oberwil and the guy in the back is a cop from Büren, the next town from us.
Later in the day, as we were cleaning, René played his own version of the alp horn. A twelve to fifteen foot length of hose...
By the way, check out René's hat. I won it in a bet with him later in the evening. He had said that he would be home in bed by 9pm. I said "no way" and bet him. Around 10:30 that night, while we all sat around the stammtisch at the Bären restaurant back in Oberwil, I reminded him of the time. He put the hat on me and told me to keep it. I tried to give it back a few days later, telling him that it wasn't really a fair bet, given his reputation. He told me that he had already bought a new one and that I had won it fairly.
There was a group from the French speaking part of Switzerland. Their costumes were different from what I was used to and I took this photo of them with Ursi, the cooking bosses wife and Felix...
I liked their bags because each one was different and individualized. I tried to ask them about it but quickly learned that we had a communication barrier. They only spoke French. It didn't really matter though. They showed me their bags and their cute hats. One of the guys put his hat on me and told Herbert to take a photo. Here it is...
Here's a guy I know well. Alfred from our own cheese dairy in Oberwil who is a wonderful yodeler, as is his whole family. He's pulling an old-fashioned cart that was used to bring milk to the dairy.
And in the end, we were all exhausted. After most of the guests left, we all sat down together for a couple drinks. Here's Bumsi, Peter and Felix...
Staying on the topic of cooking, we had a family dinner last Sunday with Herbert's parents, Natacha, Patrick and Yves. Because of Frieda's health, Herbert's parents don't come to Oberwil on Wednesdays anymore. She had told me that she was 'home-sick' for Oberwil. I thought that we could try to have dinner together once a month on a Sunday which would be much easier on her.
For those of you who have asked how she's doing, here's a photo of her on the swing. She's weak and feels a bit depressed because she can no longer do any work to help out. I keep trying to tell her that, at 83, she's done her share. It's our turn.
We had some sad news at the dinner. After almost three years together, Natacha and Patrick are breaking up. She will move in with us tomorrow and stay until an apartment she's waiting for is ready. Patrick has become like a son to Herbert and I and we are hoping that he can continue to come see us. It's never easy when something like this happens, but it's life. We plan to do our best to support both of them.
On to a different topic.
It's Autumn in Oberwil, which at the Kläy-DiOrio homestead means a hell of a lot of work. We're definitely not farmers, but in the past month, I've certainly felt like it. Everything needs to be picked, prepared, canned or frozen and on an on. The corn turned out just fine. The only problem was that the white corn in the middle of the 'field' didn't really come out white. It must have cross-bred with the yellow or the mixed corn and came out mixed, but with more white than yellow. The Burpee seed company had said that there was no risk. Apparently, they were wrong. We blanched and froze 125 pieces. That ought to be enough to get us and Herbert's parents through the year.
We've also had zucchini and tons of tomatoes that needed to be canned. We have three very large pumpkins in the garage waiting until I have time to chop them up and freeze them.
Then there's the fruit. We have three raspberry bushes, five apple trees, a plum tree, a quince tree, a pear tree and a cherry tree. Okay, the cherries are harvested in early summer, but the tree belonged on the list. I've made pear butter, pear jelly, apple butter, apple jelly and have raspberries in the freezer that I need to make into jam. We didn't have many cherries, plums or quince this year, so no work there.
My only disappointment in the garden comes from the apples. One of the trees has apples that are tart and great for making pies. I made an apple pie (with homemade cinnamon ice cream) last week for the family dinner. It was great. I did some research on the net and found a recipe I wanted to use to can apple pie filling. Remember, we can't find everything here that you can in the States. No cans of apple pie filling at the grocery store.
Anyway, Herbert had told one of the local farmers that they could have all our left-over apples to make apple juice, but that they had to come and pick them themselves. They called this week and talked to Herbert. They said they'd come on Friday or Saturday and pick them all. Herbert took the day off today to pick 70-80 for me. He went out to the tree and came back in a minute or so telling me that they were all gone. The farmer had probably come yesterday and picked them all because of the weather prediction for Saturday. I told Herbert to call and explain that he had made a mistake and to get me some back. No way. They go directly from here to the place that makes the juice for them.
Herbert feels bad. And I kind of think he should. When he was on the phone with the farmer, I kept saying, "Tell him I want some apples first. Tell him!" Herbert didn't. And now I don't have any apples for pie this year. But, I love Herbert more than I love apple pie so, I'll live with it.
Luckily, I did get a last taste of those apples. On Wednesday afternoon, I made mini apple pies with the kids in our English class. Here's a photo of the kid's with the peeler, corer, slicer machine...
While we were working, the kids asked me questions. They wanted to know how old I am. I told them to guess. Fabienne guessed 35. I told her, "older". Christopher said 100. After giving him a look, I said, "lot's younger." "Fifty?" he guessed. It sounded so old that I almost gave him another look. Then I realized he wasn't that far off. "A little bit younger," I said.
A month or so ago, the cover story on our Time magazine here in Europe was about middle-aged women and how they deal with middle-age differently than men. I started to read with interest. I wanted to know what it'll be like when I'm that old. Then I got to the part where they define 'middle-age'. They have it starting at forty. Excuse me?!? Personally, I think they're off a bit. But, if they're right, then I've been middle-aged for over five years and didn't even have a clue. Why didn't anyone tell me? And... now that I know, should I feel differently? I guess I've never really felt old. And I still don't. But I sure don't like belonging to a group that I thought I was a long way away from. But, as I try to do with everything, I'm going to accept it as part of life. So, if you're a friend of mine, and you're telling someone about me, feel free to refer to me as your middle-aged friend. (Got that Mary Jo?)
Now that I'm a middle-aged woman, I'm much more aware that I need to take care of my health. I'm starting a new fitness program on Monday (we're making a fitness room out of our old guest room), I'm cutting down on the alcohol consumption (which is not so easy here in Switzerland), I'm fighting my night-owl tendencies and trying to get to sleep earlier, and doing my best to eat more fruits and vegetables (but apparently that won't include the apples from our tree).
Natacha and Patrick had lent us a copy of the DVD 'Super Size Me' and I finally watched it a couple of weeks ago. If you haven't seen it, it's all about a guy who is very healthy and does an experiment of eating only McDonald's food for one month. I wouldn't say the film is all that great, but what happens to his health was a bit shocking. There's a section of the film where they talk to 'experts' to find out how often it's recommended to eat fast food. After watching the whole movie, I was very happy that I am in the group that can say I rarely or almost never eat fast food. The last time I had fast food was when I was in the States last November - almost a year ago. In the six years since I first visited Switzerland, I have only eaten at McDonald's once. I never even think about it.
In general, I would say that the Swiss are very healthy eaters. (I wouldn't say healthy drinkers, but that's another topic.) There is very little processed food and almost no fast food. I've only seen McDonald's here and you have to drive a while to get to one. We cook most of our meals or go out for a nice meal. And when we cook, we make almost everything from scratch. We can even buy our ingredients locally, from the farmers themselves.
Being an American and having grown up in a land where everything has to be fast, I understand why most Americans eat so much fast food. It's a way of life and it's there. Not only do we not have it here, but most of us have the time to prepare things. Many women don't work outside of the home and if they do, they make time to cook. And many of the men here help with the cooking. I guess it's a priority. For Herbert and I, it's easy. We like to cook and so we make it part of our life. Maybe if we lived in the States we'd be busy with other things, but here, it's part of our entertainment.
Well, that's enough for now. Herbert has cooking club tonight and I need to go decide what to make myself for dinner. Something healthy, or at least good.
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