Tough Life of Holiday Planning

Kay and I have some extreme first world problems: it’s almost impossible to plan our five weeks holiday this year due to his school, army, and work schedule.

Yep. Just let that sink in and then feel free to smack me silly for complaining, but bear with me.

Since it is our last 5 months together, I really want to maximize our holiday and time together traveling. I also really wanted to cross something big off of our “must see” list before we are broke from school and later broke from kids.

All that in mind, once we finally found out about his school, we realized looking at our calendar that our Christmas holiday to Brazil will be cut a week short due to INSEAD’s pre-course in December, which Kay is not missing, and classes starting in January. Then he has the army in September for three weeks and any time we were looking to fit a two or even just one week holiday in, the week was ruined with mandatory work days for Kay. Booo.

And all of the other weeks that are semi-free during the week, we already have non-canceable plans on the weekend, making it hard to maximize a week of holiday when we can only leave on Sunday instead of Friday evening. Womp womp. None of you are feeling sorry for me, are you? 🙂

All of this meant that suddenly we needed to plan a cramped week holiday with non-flexible dates in three weeks time in August, high season in Europe. That limits our options quite a bit. Where are we going for the rest of the year, besides our Porto weekend trip?


(Image from Trish Hartmann on Flickr)

I tried to convince Kay that we should use our one week holiday to go on a safari, but without two weekends book-ending our trip, it would be a little short for that. I also tried to convince him to go to Egypt for diving, but aside from tickets being really expensive, they just had another bombing in Cairo and Kay doesn’t want to risk it.

Montenegro was not anywhere on my list of places to go, but it was one of the only places we found tickets under 300 for when we were searching in high season. Three weeks is a very short time to plan during tourist season and some of the flats I was looking at got booked up as I was searching. I’m still not sure how the holiday will go, but I’m looking forward to a week off soon and seeing if the diving is at all worthwhile around here.

 Machu Picchu:

(Image from Ken Bosma on Flickr)

Since our week holiday is kind of a cop out and not really marking anything off our “list” and we will go to Brazil at Christmas, I really wanted to go somewhere that we’ve always talked about. Machu Picchu has been on my travel list for years now, probably at least a decade, and we are finally doing it. I wanted to go last year at Christmas, but we chose Australia instead when we learned that autumn is a better time to go to Peru.

I hope we don’t push the rainy season too much, but we’ve got two weeks. Again, planning was tricky because we are in Paris the weekend we leave for Kay’s welcome weekend at school (spouses welcome!) so we actually have to fly out of Paris and then back to Zurich. We still aren’t sure if we are going to bring our business casual attire with us to Peru or not… TBC.

Rio de Janeiro:

(Image from Higor de Padua Vieira Neto on Flickr)

Brazil, Brazil. It’s been five years since I’ve been, and while Kay has been on work trips and had the luck to visit his family, we’ve talked about going for Christmas for a long time. In fact, we wanted to go this year with my MIL and FIL together, but they booked a cruise instead! We were just asking ourselves if we should still go before Kay’s school or try and do another year later when my MIL was retired, but once she passed away, Kay felt a very strong urge to be with his mother’s family at Christmas and show me the family farm before it is too late.

Last time we went to Brazil, we visited Curitiba, Iguassu Falls, São Luís, Barreirinhas, Caburé, Manaus, and the Amazon. I complained to Kay that we didn’t even get to Rio or a proper Brazilian beach, so several months ago he booked a hotel for NYE in Rio on the beach. Let’s hope the booking went through because it can be very expensive to have such a hotel!

Planning tickets to Brazil is also pretty tricky because Kay’s pre-course starts in December and then classes are in January right after new year. Somewhere in there, he needs time to move to France, so I convinced him that it is a better idea to move to France for his pre-course already and then fly out of France.

The question is whether we will manage to fly together, because I will still be working in Switzerland while he starts school. This makes for a lot of complicated plane ticket purchasing!

So…. his MBA is already complicating things quite a bit, but so has his recent job where he has several days a month required to be in the office. Those random chunks of military time don’t help either. 😉

If you had five weeks holiday, how would you break it up and where would you go?

Enjoying all things summer

In some ways, this summer feels like the last summer because next year Kay will be in a different country. Ever since the temperatures peaked to HOT, we’ve been spending night after night outside enjoying fresh air and everything gorgeous Switzerland has to offer in the summer, from swimming in the lakes and rivers to climbing in the mountains.

(Walking past the Sihl river on a warm night.)

Every day it’s warm enough at lunch, I also head to the lake for a quick dip and swim in the lake. It’s really heaven on Earth.Now that Kay is “in” his school, the stress of applications is over and we are really trying to maximize our time together.

(Bürkliplatz, on the way to Bade Enge for my birthday)

For instance, after we took our second climbing course in June, we decided to order a set of express (quick draws) and some carabiners. Now with our other gear, we have everything we need to head to the mountains and climb all on our own for the rest of the summer. 🙂My cute boy on my birthday. We probably won’t see each other on either of our birthdays next year.Evening sun.Below we were swimming at Obere Letten, a public swimming bath at the Limmat river in Zurich where you can jump into the river, take a float or swim, and then pop out. We stopped by shortly on my birthday before dinner and movies. It was glorious.

Sushi in the park near Limmatplatz. Everyone was playing in the park and enjoying themselves. With the warm weather, there’s really a lively feel about the city.

I’m also obsessed with all these flowers planted around many towns around Zurich and in the city. I didn’t notice them last year, so they must be new, but they are beautiful.

Between all the swimming, weekend activities, socializing, and planning for the future, life is very, very busy at the moment!

Are you enjoying summer in your city to the fullest?

Big news for Kay

…next January he is headed to business school at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France! We kept his news under wraps, but it’s been a looong process starting back in 2012. Here’s a summary of his admissions timeline:

2012: Studying for the GMAT with practice books sporadically. Visiting MBA fairs and researching schools.

2013: Dedicated GMAT study 2-3 nights a week with practice books. Narrowing down which schools he wanted to apply to. Fell in love with INSEAD’s program and campus after a visit in December 2013.

December 2013-May 2014: More study for the GMAT with an online class and skype tutoring, including studying through our 3 week holiday in Thailand and our 3 week holiday in Puerto Rico and the US. He wished he just

March 2014: First GMAT: He scored in the 96% for vocab (so proud!!) and had a nice score, but his quant score was much below INSEAD’s recommended score, so he decided to retake the exam.

May 2014: Second GMAT: Brought his quant score up quite a lot, but verbal was much lower this time so it was a little bit lower score than previously. He decided to apply anyway without retaking the test a third time.

June-July: Preparation for the Toefl exam for non-English students

August 2014: Toefl exam: He scored 117 out of 120 possible points. I was very proud of how far his English has come! 🙂

September-October 2014: Preparing his Swiss school documents like transcripts to be translated into English for his application

December 2014: Essay questions are released by INSEAD for the January 2016 intake. Kay started brainstorming while we were on holiday in Australia.

January 2015: Beginning the application and asking for letters of recommendation

February: Pouring his blood, sweat, and even some of my tears into his essays.

March 4: The application was due

April 2: Invited to interview. He was SO excited. Happiest I have ever seen him.

April 3-19: Hardcore prepping for his interviews with daily verbal practice, one-on-one practice with me, filming and reviewing footage,

April 20-21: Two interviews with local alumni in Switzerland

May 11: Kay was waitlisted. We were crushed.  Kay’s last time speaking with his mother was telling her about the waitlist that week. I tried to cheer him up and told him this would not be the worst thing to ever happen in his life, not knowing that his mother would pass away just a week later.

May 12: Kay accepted his “spot” on the waitlist but also explained to his AO that he had a required six month resignation period at work and that he would really need to know by June 29/30 in order to have a day for his resignation to process. She promised they would review his case by then and give him a decision.

May 24: Kay’s mother passed away suddenly. This was a huge blow and between this and the waitlist, we were very, very down.

June 24: Kay was getting antsy because we still hadn’t heard from INSEAD and he wanted to send his resignation letter by registered mail (the standard Swiss method of resignation) by June 29 in order for it to arrive on June 30.

June 25-28: No reaction from the AO to the check-in email. Ahhhh!

June 29: Still no reaction from the AO and Kay wanted to be careful because R2 applicants would be receiving their final decision by the end of the week (July 3) so we knew they were in decision-making mode. I told him to call after lunchtime. He did and the AO asked for him to submit his problem via email for a third time and that maybe he would receive a decision that evening or the next day. We were pulling our hair out and Kay was really stressed because he wouldn’t be able to send his resignation letter by post anymore and his boss was gone so he couldn’t resign in person IF it would happen. So nervous!

June 30: Around lunchtime, Kay finally received the positive phone call. He asked for an email to be sent at the same time to confirm it, because he couldn’t really believe it. Finally in!!

I was SO happy to hear the news from him, but Kay’s initial reaction was pretty sad. He was sad he couldn’t tell his mother and that she wasn’t here to see him get in, because she had been praying for him every day to make it. It was one of the last things we talked about during our mother’s day visit in early May.

We have to believe that we lost her for a reason. Kay went to pay his thanks at her grave and my father said that maybe she had to go to heaven to pull some strings. Whatever the case, I am positive that she would be bursting with joy and unending pride for her son right now.

It will be an interesting year in 2016. I plan to stay in Switzerland working since my French is abominable, but I will visit him. 🙂

Gluten Free Lemon Bars

Awhile back I made lemon bars from The Everything Gluten-Free Baking Cookbook and they turned out very well. Go get this cookbook, it’s not half bad!I’ve tried out lemon bars a few times now before going gluten-free and while I have made my sister’s recipe with a gluten free flour mix, I think the crust here turned out better using the proper ratio of flours.Maybe it also had something to do with lining the pan with parchment, but these were a lot easier to get out of the pan than some lemon bars.Look at them fresh out of the oven! The picture of joy.

Lemon bars are perfect in the summer when you want a cool, tangy treat. I made them the night before a dinner with neighbors and they matched the dinner wonderfully.Sometimes past recipes have turned out insanely, really too sweet, but I liked the level of sweetness here. Very sweet of course, but not over the top and perfect when they are coming out of the fridge.We left the rest of the bars with the neighbors, but I’m honestly already thinking about making some more… it’s just a lot of sugar! These also have eggs in them, but still no problems with those, so now I’m wondering if I was just having phantom egg problems. That would be lovely, because there are a ton of egg-based desserts that I am dying to try out!

Are you a fan of lemon bars?

Temporary Graves

Being a very small country, real estate is extremely expensive in Switzerland. Still, many foreigners from the Americas are surprised when they learn just how far this constraint takes the country when it comes to burials.

I had already learned about the temporary nature of Swiss graves before my MIL’s sudden passing, but had I not, it would have made things very difficult to understand during the week that we arranged her funeral because we had some choices to make that would affect how long we have a grave to visit.In Switzerland, graves are usually “rented” for a period of 10 to 20 years. Different grave sites have different periods of rental beyond that and it is generally not possible to prolong the period of burial by buying more time.

What does this mean?

Whether people are laid to rest in an individual grave or a mass grave, after the time period is up, it is possible that a newer death and burial will bump older burials out of the memorial site as a need for space arises.

We had already visited the family grave site together with my MIL a couple years ago to see where Kay’s grandparents are laid to rest. Now they have already torn out two rows of graves next to his grandparents to make space for new burials.

In a couple years, Kay’s grandparents’ graves will also be dismantled and renewed for new arrivals. His uncle who died young at 42 is in the same row, and in a few years, my FIL won’t be able to visit his brother’s grave anymore either.

How does this affect funeral decisions?

To us, it meant that my FIL had to make the decision between burying my MIL in the family grave site where she stated that wished to be laid to rest for a period of ten years or burying her closer to his house with a grave that would be secure for twenty years.

My FIL was asking himself what happens in ten years when he is turning 70 and he cannot visit his wife’s grave anymore? It’s a sad thing to think about, but it’s a fact of life in Switzerland.  Ultimately he decided to go with the family grave site still because he wanted to lay her to rest where she said she wanted to be, in the way that she desired.

What do they do with the remains of old graves?

To my knowledge, if people are buried without cremating, they are then cremated and moved to a mass grave. If they were already cremated and in the mass grave, I think the remains stay there, but any “packaging” like the urn or anything is removed or destroyed to make way for new burials and their name is removed from the current plaque on the mass grave.

My MIL was buried in the mass grave already because she did not want to be alone in death and my FIL already stated that it is more practical to go in the mass grave because it is cheaper. My MIL is the first new name on a stone with about nine other inhabitants of the mass grave, with deaths ranging from the 90’s until now. If few or no people wish to be buried in this particular spot, it is possible that her memorial plaque will remain there for more than 10 years.

What about death records?

Just because graves are recycled does not mean that there is not a good if not better system of death records than a country like the US. Everything is entered into a record, also when graves are recycled and none of the information about genealogy is lost. It is just a practical matter of space.

What is the point of burying someone in Switzerland or Europe?

The whole point of the grave is to have a place where loved ones can physically mourn their loss. After 10, 20 or even 50 years, the government considers that people should have made peace with their loss and if they want to remember their loved one further, they need to do it in their own way and not with a physical grave.

It does make sense considering how small Switzerland and how populated the continent is in general. If we compare to the US, how many graves are set up and forgotten for years and years afterward? It is also a bit depressing to think of the mass of graves that are unattended, no longer cared for, and completely forgotten about.

At least in Switzerland when you “rent” your grave, it is meticulously cared for during the period of time meant to appreciate it and after that, we are meant to let go. After all, none of us will be here forever and eventually we will all become part of the Earth again.