Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Helicopter Drop

While in Switzerland, I stayed in a small family-run inn in the mountains. In order to get there, we had to hike for three hours because there are no access roads through the rugged terrain. Obersteinberg (the name of the inn) gets all of their food and supplies either by mule or by helicopter. Once a week, a helicopter comes and takes all of their recyclable materials and delivers the food, drinks and other supplies. Occasionally, they also give a ride down the mountain to family members at the inn. In this video, you can see how quickly it all happens.

I found it interesting that the family at this inn is so environmentally conscientious. Rather than burning their trash/recyclables (which may be easier, but worse for the environment), they arrange for a helicopter to pick it all up and dispose of it properly. As Julian, the 12-year-old boy who lived there said, "I love the mountains. The are my best friends."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Alpine Horn Blowing

One of the most welcome surprises I had in Switzerland was stumbling upon a Swiss cultural festival on top of a mountain! Here I got to see one long Swiss tradition: Alpine Horn Blowing. Here is a picture of Albert giving it a shot- it was harder than he thought! The horn blowers (and the flag twirler) loved Albert, and pass their greetings on to the USM community! (Just a side note: the flag twirler was very multi-talented. He had competed in a yodeling competition the day prior, went home and slept for a couple hours, got up at 4:30 to milk his cows, then left for this festival! What a busy guy!)

I was lucky enough to get some footage of their group performing.

Monday, July 7, 2008

From cheesemaking to cheeseheads

Well, I am finally home, and as you may have noticed, I have successfully updated all of my pictures for your perusal. I had quite the adventure and can't wait to share more of what I have learned, but for now I am glad to be back home with my husband.
I still have a few unanswered questions and comments that I wanted to get to.

1)Ellie asked about what chapter books first and second graders read in France and Switzerland. That's a great question! Actually, the Magic Treehouse is really popular (also for older kids, like 3rd and 4th grade). But my personal favorite is a series called Tom Tom et Nana. These are actually chapter books in the form of comics! Comic books are wildly popular both among adults and kids in both countries, especially France. The "Tom Tom et Nana" series are popular starting around second grade, and are still popular among teenagers, who like to read them as rememberances of childhood. I got a couple for the classroom, so you can take a look in the fall!

2) Mrs. Lengh posted a comment about the cheesemaking and mentioned that the fourth graders visit a Swiss village with cheese-making items. How neat! I bet it would be interesting to compare Swiss cheese-making methods with the Wisconsin cheese-making. Also, Mrs. Lengh asked about cow bells in Switzerland. I grew very accustomed to the chorus of cow bells throughout the Swiss countryside. At the farm, I asked the owners where they got their cow bells, and they said that they have never bought one; the bells that they owned had been in the family for 100 years! What a long tradition! In fact, there is a very popular children's story called "A Bell for Ursli" about a boy who goes to great lengths to recover a big family cow bell. I bought it for my classroom and look forward to reading it with my students.

3) Now that I have finished my trip, I have a few food dishes that I want to highlight in response to Elizabeth's question. Here are a few of my favorites:

- Fresh bread. That has to be at the top of the list. Between baguettes, croissants and pains au chocolat, I never grew tired of bread. In fact, it just kept getting better! Also, bread is served with EVERY meal. You place it directly on the table, not on your plate.

- Fromage blanc: this is kind of like a sweet yogurt that is served as dessert, often with fresh fruit or jam.

- Roasted duck: My favorite meal in Paris was roasted duck with a honey sauce, served with steamed vegetables. Everything was fresh- I ate very little that had any type of preservative in it.

- Rosti: This potato-based dish has many varieties, but most rosti's have at least potatoes, onions and cheese. This is a very regional dish (mostly served in the north-eastern part of the country).
- Fondue: the classic Swiss meal. Cheese fondue is the most popular. You dip bread chunks into melted cheese- yum!!

-Raclette: the other classic Swiss meal. This consists of melted cheese served with boiled potatoes. It is often served with ham, pickles and pickled onions.

- Kaseschnitte (pictured): More popular in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, the dish is ham, melted cheese and an egg covering a piece of bread. Also served with pickles.

I have to say that I loved every single meal, snack, etc. that I ate whil I was in Europe. You really cannot go wrong (except if you eat too much- then you'll have a nasty stomach ache to deal with...)!

Enjoy the pictures- my project for this week is to get a couple of videos up for your viewing pleasure!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Don't go away...

My trip is coming to a close, but I have much more to tell! Even though this post must be kept short, there is more to come of the adventures of Madame and Albert in Switzerland. I will be back in the country on Wednesday, so keep your eyes peeled for pitures and videos of yodeling, Swiss folk dancing, Alpine horns and more!! I am so glad that I don't have to share everything that I have learned in this blog, but I get to continuing my learning and sharing next year in the classroom with all of my students!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Albert visits his relatives

I am so sorry that I have not updated my blog for a few days, but I have quite a good reason. Albert, our new puppet friend, has decided to come to Milwaukee, and he wanted to say goodbye to his relatives in Switzerland before taking his big trip. We traveled to Obersteinberg, where his cousin and aunt and uncle live. we have been staying with them for the past couple of days, and in the mountain inn that they run, there is no electricity or internet. I am now in a neighboring town, and have a chance to write and tell you about all that I have learned.

First of all, Albert's cousin, Julian is in fantastic shape- he hikes up a mountain every day from school. The Swiss are very conscious about keeping fit and active.

Secondly, the more I talked with and spent time with Albert and his cousin, the more I realize what a commitment they feel to the beauty of their country. For example, when we were walking, Julian noticed a cloth that was lying on the ground in a pasture. Without hesitating, he ran to it and picked it up, and later threw it away.

Also, whenever I asked him what cetain flowers were called, he always knew the answer. I was so impressed with his ability to name each of the wildflowers that grew in his region- there were so many! I felt quite inspired to learn the trees and common flowers in Milwaukee when I return home.

One of the neatest things that I saw when I was in Obersteinberg was the process of cheese-making! Albert's Uncle Hansel is an expert cheese maker, and I got to observe the entire process from start to finish!! We started in the morning with milking cows. From there, the milk went into a giant copper kettle over a fire, where it was warmed to a certain temperature. After much stirring and reheating, the milk turned into curds and whey (yes, as in Little Miss Muffet!). Hansel then separated the curds from he whey, and pressed the curds into a giant cheese mold. He flipped this several times throughout the day until most of the whey was gone. (They feed the whey to the pigs.) The next day, Albert's aunt Vicky takes the mold off and puts the whole wheel in a big bucket of salt water, which helps preserve it and give it flavor. Two days later, she removes it from its "salt bath", rubs it down with pepper, and puts it in storage for a a few weeks before it is ready to eat. (If you didn't get that, don't worry- I have video footage!)

There is so much to say about my time with Albert's relatives in the mountains, but I don't want to risk you losing interest, so I will save it for tomorrow!

(Note: I have a boatload of pictures from the past few days, but am unable to load them at this time. I will do so as soon as I can, though!!)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hello/Bonjour/Guttentag, Albert!

USM would fit in very well in Switzerland. Not only do we love the outdoors like may Swiss people and have a lot of cows in our state, but we start learning a language from day one. That was one of the biggest differences that I saw today in my visit. I actually visited a private school where they speak French all day on Mondays and Thursdays, English all day on Tuesdays and Fridays, and German all day on Wednesdays.

Today was the last day of school, so the class I visited (SK) had a party in the park. Throughout the morning, conversation flowed freely between French, English and German. It was so cool just to sit back and listen! At the park, I found that students play many I of the games that I mentioned before (Le Loup, soccer, etc.). However, when I asked the teacher if the Swiss are pretty much just like the French in terms of school and attitude, she responded with a resounding, "no". Indeed, the attitude here is much more relaxed, and students don't usually start school until SK. But there is a much greater emphasis on language. The Swiss people speak many languages. Here in Geneva, they speak French, but on other parts they speak German, Italian or Romansch, so in order to communicate with their fellow countrymen, they must speak several languages fluently. Also, Geneva is a really big city where lots of internationals come to work, so English is a must and nearly everyone speaks it.

Exciting news for my SK/1st grade friends!! As I told you at the end of the year, Jean-Robert got a letter from Albert, a construction worker in Paris who has never been to the U.S. before. Well, the day before I left, I met up with Albert at the Eiffel Tower, where he is doing finishing up some repairs for puppet access to the top. He decided to come to Milwaukee and become friends with Jean-Robert, Soleil, Pierre and Florence and see how he likes Milwaukee! He has been travelling with me ever since. Here is the picture of us meeting at the Eiffel Tower. He can't wait to meet all of you!!

Monday, June 23, 2008

When I was your age, the train went uphill both ways...

Usually when I want to go somewhere, I get in the car and drive. Clearly, this is not the case here in Europe. Today I used several different types of transportation.

1) Bicycle. Because I only had an hour before I needed to head out for the train to Switzerland, I rented a short-term bike and rode to the River Seine. Once there, I parked my bike, sat on the quai (the walkway next to the river) and soaked in the sight of the Notre Dame one last time.

2) My feet. I walked to the train station, my backpack loaded with new exciting things (which made it very heavy!). The walk was not only a great way to see the sights, but it was also great exercise!

3) Train. The train is a great, efficient way to get people from one big city to the next- and it saves a lot of gas! The best part, though, is the view. My train wove through countrysides, which turned into hillsides, which turned into a backdrop of mountains and lakes. Switzerland.

4)Car. My host family here, the Wetzels, picked me up in their car. Even though their car has lots of seats and room in it, it is still pretty small. Whereas they may have had an SUV or a minivan in the states, they have a much more compact car here, which makes parking a lot easier!

I spoke to a Swiss friend that I knew when I lived here before, and when I asked her what the biggest differences between Swiss and American schools are, one of the first things that she said was, "We took the train to school." When she was young, she walked to the station with her mom, got on the train, rode it for a couple stops, then got off and walked the rest of the way to school. I love that idea of independence and responsibility at such a young age.

Okay, question time:

-Mrs. Choren asked about French bakery (bread, etc.) in students' lunches. Students in French schools ALWAYS have bread with their meals, according to Luiza. In fact, when they go to visit other countries, they are a bit perplexed with what to do if they are not served bread with their meals.

- Mr. Schlenker asked about what I meant by "French and un-French". You pretty much nailed it on the head. French people were much more engaged in their discussions, while non-French were engaged in their surroundings. French linger a bit more. Non-french are frankly a little louder. Neither was good or bad- it was a fun game to walk down a street, spot a group of folks and try and guess (before I could hear what language they were speaking) if they were French or not.
-Nathan asked about my favorite band for Fete de la Musique. I think that my favorite was the French band playing mostly American/English songs. They were right on the Champs Elysees, the street which runs all the way from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe. They were actually the band in the first picture!

Tomorrow I will visit a Swiss school- I can't wait to see the differences between French and Swiss school culture. Until then...