Gratitude Friday: Fitness

This Friday, I just want to reflect on my gratitude for fitness.

Not everyone has the chance to exercise.  Physical ailments, injuries and accidents have taken this ability away from some people.   So, I feel lucky to be able to exercise the way that I do and to reap the health and emotional benefits that come from it.    Sometimes nothing feels better than completing a grueling workout.   It can clear you mind as well as the toxins out of your body.

In fact, during workouts, if I am having a hard time with motivation, I think of that fact : how fortunate I am to be able to get to this point of discomfort or physical exertion.  There are many who would gladly trade places with me.  So, it pushes me to keep going.

Secondly, eight months after my bi-lateral foot surgery, I am happy to report that my feet are about 95% fully back to normal.   This weekend, we hiked quite a bit in the Cinque Terre, a trip that we were saving until I had recovered more.

Very happy to be able to climb to greater heights these days

In addition to the spinning and weight lifting I had done while recovering, I can now run, hike and do fitness activities with more impact.

Resting our feet after a big day

That’s something to be grateful for, for sure!

Bon weekend, everyone!


Gratitude Friday: Safety

This Gratitude Friday, I am glad for the safety of those who were caught in Hurricane Sandy’s path.   In particular, my dear aunt who lives on the river, as well as my great-aunt and great-uncle who lived on Barnegat Bay, in the community of Mantoloking.

My great-aunt and great-uncle were evacuated and waited out the storm at their son’s house in Princeton, NJ.

My aunt remained in the home my grandfather built.   The house was flooding with the water and she luckily was woken up by her cat.  She noticed the floor was getting damp so got up to save some things off low shelves and grab supplies.  The water continued to rush in, building to a foot of depth in 30 minutes.  Having time to get necessities up to the second floor, it is there that they waited out the storm while Sandy’s waves pounded upon the side of the house and the yard/deck was washed away.

Photo of my aunt’s house (left) courtesy of a neighbor friend, taken Tuesday, after Monday nights’ deluge.

Usually when you see coverage such as this, the places are more foreign.   But, I watch the news anxiously from Switzerland, recognizing neighborhoods, bridges, and places that are very fond to me.

Mantoloking bridge / neighborhood where my great-uncle and great-aunt live. Image courtesy of Cousin M’s Facebook page.

The sun is now shining in New Jersey and the waters are receding.  However, the media reports that Sandy will forever change the face of the Jersey Shore.  I cannot fathom the impact on those who lost homes, possessions, and livelihoods.

I know that I am just grateful for the hurricane for sparing the most important things to many of us…the people.   And even still, not everyone is able to say that this week.   So thankful that you are safe and sound, Aunt J, Great-Aunt M and Great-Uncle G.  I wish for you strength and peace for the clean-up and moving forward.

Hanging out at the Jersey shore house as a child.  Hard to believe the water which provided such fun, could cause such sorrow.

Bon weekend, everyone.

Gratitude Friday: Photos

This week, just wanted to reflect on my gratitude for pictures.

Sure, it might be because my iPhoto software just crashed and its fresh on my mind.   By the way , I am extremely happy I had a reliable back-up and that I can report they are 100% saved. Whew!!

But more spefically, for what pictures mean to us.  A way to hold on to a memory. A medium for preserving emotion. Something to look back on and [laugh-cry-smile-fill in the blank].

As I had to re-import and catalogue my photos from the last 6 years, it was endearing to watch the memories flash up on the screen as I processed them.  The thoughts kept coming to me constantly….I am lucky.  I am blessed.  That was so much fun.  Wow, I miss them. I am grateful.

Sometimes we need the photos to remind of us how full our lives are.

But if its nostalgia you are in the mood for, I’d recommend you review your pictures proactively on your own time instead of experiencing what I did – the scare off losing all my photos!   If you want to properly protect your images, here is my advice:

  1. Get into an operating rhythm for back-ups.  I use Time Machine which is compatible with Macs
  2. Don’t keep your back up in the same location as your computer. In the case of theft or natural diaster, both the computer and your back-up are likely to be gone.
  3. Keep a third source whether its another hard drive kept at a friends’, a Cloud, Dropbox, or Flickr pro.

A special thanks to my husband for putting up with me the last 2 weeks.  I have put at least 40 hours into saving and re-archiving the photos thus far.   I’ve kind of been a grumpy bear to say the least.

Bon weekend and memory-making, everyone!

Gratitude Friday : S-Squared

If you are a frequent reader, you know one of the downsides to living in Geneva is saying goodbye.    It is bound to happen and living in this transient city is somewhat of a “Survivor” show come to life.   Except our challenges come in the form of tasting chocolate, doing laundry in the worst of conditions, gorging ourselves with fondue, and navigating a life in a foreign language.   And no one ever knows when you are going to go home.

So, this week, it is time to put out a torch, and this one is a doozy.   We will miss S & S tremendously as they move back to Charlotte.    Mrs. S is already there starting her grad school program, and Mr. S was wrapping up some projects in Geneva before heading back later this week.

So onto Gratitude Friday….we’d be remised in saying that our ex-pat experience wouldn’t have been the same without them.  We can’t believe our luck that we actually had friends from Charlotte that would be taking on the same adventure as we were.  That has made our experience a lot easier, comforting, and enjoyable.    Their gracious hospitality extends not only to excellent parties, but beyond that to knowing you always had a friend to count on.   From playing tag-along to road trips, to having someone to check in on us when they suspected we might be “down”, it was priceless to have these types of friends in a foreign country.    If you know these two, you know what I am talking about.


Anyhow, to S & S, we’ll miss you greatly.   We are excited for the things in store for your next chapter.   And we can only hope that when our “torch” blows out, we’ll be back in Charlotte….particularly, if we can continue some of our Genevan traditions.  Fondue at the annual Lawn Olympics, anyone??




Bon weekend, everyone!

Gratitude Friday: Beating the Blues

This Gratitude Friday, I just wanted to express my thankfulness for finally learning to control cultural disorientation a bit better.    It’s taken a long time, but I finally have been able to understand some of the triggers and manage them in a way that subdues the “culture shock” from previous experiences.

Fresh off of a visit from the USA when this typically occurs, I wrote the following article for the AIWC blog.  I wanted to share it because it’s been a year and a half of learning for which I am grateful to have finally wrapped my arms around better.

Bon weekend, everyone!

We have been living in Geneva for a year and a half now, but still its common to get “the blues” every now and then.

I learned in assimilation training that the many varied stages are natural part of the expatriation process.  Their theory is that the following stages are experienced:

1. Initial excitement
2. Initial anxiety
3. Arrival fascination
4. Initial culture shock
5. Surface adjustment
6. Internal shock
7. Acceptance & adaptation
8. Return anxiety
9. Reintegration shock

The stages last different lengths of time for different people.  Also it is very common for spouses to be in different stages at different times.    Cultural shock / disorientation is something we all go through, but I thought I would share a few of my personal tips on beating the blues:

Geneva can sometimes feel lonely.

Reach out.  It is always good to build your social network in a new city, so it starts to feel like home sooner.   A few social groups  in Geneva include The AIWC and Glocals.   Many churches are English-speaking as well, including ECBG – Old Town, Emmanuel Church – right bank, Anglican Church – right bank, and the Lutheran Church – Old Town.   The sites AngloInfo and World Radio Switzerland also provide ways to link up to others.

Don’t wait.   Many people want to wait until they are settled, unpacked, and feel like everything is in order before they get to socialization.   I’d advise to join some of these networking groups immediately.   That way, if you start to get the blues, you already have these to lean on.

Spread your wings early!

Embrace the uncertain.  Living in a new place can make you feel uneasy many times.  When I first moved to Geneva, the hardest thing was that I didn’t feel capable of doing day-to-day chores.  Back in my home country, I was independent, capable, and could handle most any situation.   In Geneva, the language divide and difference in customs made me feel like I was a different person.     Everyone feels this way, so the key is to tackle things head on!!

Think positive.  Don’t let yourself get drug down by the differences and challenges.  Start a gratitude journal for the new experiences and things you are doing.   Along the same note, be careful not to be critical of your new country.   Avoid commiserating too much with friends as this behavior can sometimes foster more negativity.

Get out!!  If you are feeling blue, make sure to get out of the house.  Talk a walk.  Go discover a different park.  Make a date with a friend to go to a museum or restaurant.  These things can definitely help your mood.

Walks in the countryside make everything seem better.

Identify the triggers.  I discovered that about 50% of the time, I would get very sad upon returning to Geneva from my home country.  I identified two triggers – busyness/pace and weather.   If I have a lot going on when I come back, such as a guest, a trip, or work-related activities, I am happier because I don’t have time to dwell on the differences.   I also tend to have a harder time in the rain and cold, since this is different weather than I was used to.   That is a hard one to avoid, but at least I know to expect it!

Here’s hoping the clouds stay away!

Gratitude Friday: My First Vernissage

The photography group I belong to at the AIWC recently hosted a vernissage.   The word vernissage is common in French & Dutch, and references an opening night of an exhibition before it is open to the general public.  In this instance, it was a vernissage of our photography.

I wrote a small article about the event in the AIWC magazine, The Courier.  I thought I’d share an excerpt:

We are a group of women encompassing all ages and backgrounds.  Our photography expertise is just as diverse as our personal qualities, as we have professionals and beginners.  We have members who have been taking photos just a few months, yet some their entire lives.  We have large paparazzi cameras and we have small “point-and-shoots”.   However, we are all artists.  And we enjoy learning from each other.

Most of our work is done along themes.   Our leader, Wilna, says about themes, ”The theme is like a guide for your eye. It stretches your looking around and influence your focus.  It makes the photographer like a detective, who has his eyes always open for new discoveries.

Sport. Clocks. Bridges. Leaves. Trees. Roofs. Mountains. Textiles. Surfaces. Bottles. Time. Street life. Hands. Shadows. Eyes. Music.     These are yet a few of our themes that inspire our work.

It is quite interesting how a group can interpret these singular words.   Once a month, we come together for photo sharing and each member presents the work they have done along the theme.  Sometimes, photos can be almost identical, and other times, worlds apart.  It is beautiful that way, how we each interpret these themes differently, and thus, we learn and grow together in our perspective. 

In addition to our thematic projects, we have group photo shooting outings where we explore areas of Geneva together.  We also attend exhibitions and share articles and books to draw our inspiration.

This month, we’ll be launching a new exhibition at the club.   Each photographer will display their individual “Passion in Photography,” so you will be able to learn more about their style, motivations and interests through their personal exhibit.  We will host a vernissage, or opening night, on September 27 from 3:30 to 20:00.   We do hope to you can attend so that you can see our interpretations and our passion. 

Seventeen of the women in our photography group exhibited.   Here were a few photos of the set-up before the guests arrived.

Setting up for the vernissage. Photo courtesy of friend, CB.

Setting up for the vernissage. Photo courtesy of friend, CB.

Setting up for the vernissage. Photo courtesy of friend, CB.

The long hallway. Photo courtesy of CB.

For the exhibition, we were encouraged to select photos that represented our passion in photography.  For my wall, I chose to do landscape photography and my favorite thing to do with them: paint.   So, I accompanied each photograph with a painting of that same scene.    The camera lens is sometimes called the “third eye”.  For me, it was meant to show a “fourth eye”: the canvas, and the difference that medium can bring to an image.

Floating Village, Cambodia

White Turf, St. Moritz, Switzerland

Sun Salutation, Jussy, Switzerland

My display. Photo courtesy of C.

So, thus this week’s gratitude post.   This photo group has been very fun to be a part of.   I have learned a lot from the women in the group.  Mostly about patience.  While I tend to rush through things, the women in the group are from different cultures which tend not to be in such a hurry.   Being around them when doing photo-shooting has really inspired me to notice the small things.  Changing an angle or just waiting around for something different to happen can really change the emotion of a photograph.

Aside from that, I am grateful for the social aspect.   We have members from The Netherlands, U.K., U.S.A., South Africa, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Australia, and France.   How wonderful it is to see their perspectives and the subjects that they chose to shoot, and to learn alongside them.

I really do appreciate my time in Geneva for getting to do this. Also, a big thanks to my hubby for his support in my hobbies, especially with letting me use his Big Camera.

For more perspective on the vernissage and the AIWC photo group, you might also want to check out my friend C’s display and post here.

Bon weekend, everyone!!


Gratitude Friday: Our new family member!

This Gratitude Friday, I am excited to announce that we have a new family member!  Gabe’s brother, B, just got married last weekend so his lovely bride, D, is officially one of the fam.

As far as in-law families go, I really lucked out with mine.   And we feel very blessed to have D joining the Johnson clan.  She is energetic & colorful, and adds a lot of fun anytime we are all together.  We love learning about her Brazilian heritage, hearing her stories, and enjoying her delicious cooking.  Most importantly, she is the perfect partner for B.

So, we are so very happy for them and for our good fortune at having her for a sister-in-law.

Here are a few snapshots from their nuptials, which took place in Rockford, Ohio last weekend.  Many of D’s Brazilian family and friends joined us so it was a really wonderful celebration of love and joy.

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Gratitude Friday: A special legacy

This Gratitude Friday post goes out to legacy.  I have certainly been left a very wonderful one from my parents.

You may remember my post from my trip to Virginia where I discovered some of my father’s memorabilia from his summer trip to Europe.   And my favorite photo that I thought was from Amsterdam?

I had a good friend who actually did some detective work and provided me with more information.  With his work and an affirmation from my dad’s sister that this was likely the venue, it became my mission to replicate the photo.

So, when we were in Amsterdam, we took a canal tour.  Unfortunately, the tours are a bit more regulated these days so I couldn’t select the spot to start from.    But here it is my attempt (special thanks to Isabella for playing photographer):

I realized that now that I have many Dutch friends, I should have enlisted their help to find the exact spot.  Potentially, I should take another trip to Amsterdam to find THE spot? 🙂

Anyhow, many emotions envelope me as the anniversary of my father’s passing comes tomorrow, September 8.   But, I am grateful for the desire to travel  that I inherited from him.  In that, I know I am continuing his legacy.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Gratitude Friday: Living near the Lake

“I should like the window to open onto the Lake of Geneva, – and there I’d sit and read all day like the picture of somebody reading.”

– John Keats.

Living near Lake Geneva never gets old.    This Gratitude Friday, I echo John’s thoughts in my thankfulness for this beautiful body of water.     From a nice relaxing place to read or picnic, to summer sporting, to picturesque sunsets, we feel lucky we have gotten to live on this gem for the time we have.   While our apartment is a ten minute walk, it is still pretty cool to be so close.

Here are a few of our favorite shots we have captured of Lake Geneva:

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Bon weekend, everyone!

Gratitude Friday : Heath Insurance

I often complain about the amount of time I spend processing my health insurance claims.  You see, we have to pay in advance and then go to get reimbursed.

Each visit this includes:

1. paying doctor, either up front or by a bank machine

2. scanning all of my documentation in.  So if the doctors invoice is 3 pages, one by one

3. exporting and reserving each page of my documentation as black & white pdf file (the others are too large so insurance doesn’t accept it).  Make note to save this in the proper file on the computer.

4. Login to insurance website.  Navigate.  Upload 1st document. Wait 5 minutes. Upload 2nd page. Wait 5 minutes. Repeat.

I also have to verify that they paid both on the insurance website and our bank account.   I won’t get into the details of using a Swiss bank account online, but it involves like 5 extra layers of security and a handheld machine that looks like a calculator to log into the internet.   One I get in, a lot of the time I realize they didn’t pay us properly.  I know this is a big surprise to you with an insurance company 🙂   Then resolution starts working around time zones, etc. Or getting proper documentation from the doctor while attempting to speak French.

With all my physical therapy and surgeon bills having to be done individually, let’s just say I have become very intimate with this process.  Gabe tells me its like a full time job for me to do my insurance follow up.

However, today, as I was spending time doing this, I stopped and thought “How lucky am I do get to do all this?”   I am very fortunate for good health insurance, and  it’s certainly not the case for all people.   So, today’s gratitude post is for our insurance….I am quite thankful.

Bon weekend, everyone!