Friday, January 2, 2015

Welcome to 2015!

Happy New Year to everyone! I hope that all of you enjoyed the holiday celebrations and rang in 2015 in whatever way you wanted.

The past two months have been rather crazy, as the holidays often are. B and I spent Christmas in the US with my family, which was lovely after we actually got there - there are no direct flights to anywhere in North Carolina, so the trip usually takes between 14-16 hours because of connections. This time, between cancelled and rerouted flights, it took us close to 38 hours before we made it to my parents' house. Needless to say, I was a mess by the time we got there. Luckily, B is wonderful and called the airline to insist that since we lost a day, we should be able to push our flight back by a day (which they did). So we were still able to spend 6 days shopping for things I can't get here visiting with family.

My family also decided, around mid-November, to do 'creative' gifts, as several people's budgets are tight. For me, of course, that meant crocheting something for everyone. So in the space of about 2 months, I finished two baby blankets and cranked out five scarves/cowls - a personal record, and one of the cowls was even for me (!), so for the first time I am actually wearing one of my own creations (usually knowing that I need to give projects away is the only way I can motivate myself to finish them). Unfortunately in my haste to gift things, I failed to get pictures of several of them.

I can only hope that my productivity streak continues, but it's unlikely to throughout 2015. That's because (drum roll...) at the end of February, I am increasing my teaching hours! I will add a biology course and 2 math classes to my 2 current biology courses at the high school. I am super excited and slightly nervous. I have been teaching for only about 6 weeks and so far, I love it. The students are great (mostly - they are teenagers), and the other teachers have been amazing as well - encouraging, open, and patient. All of which I much appreciate. While I may know biology and have years of experience teaching teenagers in some capacity, this is my first time as an 'official' teacher. Perhaps not coincidentally, the part where I feel the most in the weeds is assigning grades (the first of which are due next week - no pressure!). The Swiss system is quite different from the American one that I know, but it is additionally complicated for me because I am assigning points via the British system. Basically, there are a lot of countries' education systems involved and I'm still learning to balance them.

My 2-year anniversary in Switzerland is fast approaching - two weeks! The new year has already got me feeling introspective and reflective, but I'm sure I'll get over it. Meanwhile, I'm hoping that among my increased hours I will find time to get back into German lessons, as the language continues to be the one aspect of my life here that I am seriously dissatisfied with. I'm not sure it's a 'resolution' as much as 'I live here so this needs to happen' idea.

I hope to post crochet pictures soon, as well as share some of the many stories that have emerged from my new job. Meanwhile, best wishes to all of you in 2015! Love to all my family and friends throughout the world - hope to see many of you this year!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Job begins in 3...2...

I can't remember whether I've written previously about my job sitch (that stands for 'situation' in douche. I'll refrain from further use of such dialect). Perhaps partly because I still carry around some baggage about not 'using' my PhD - even after almost 2 years, I get many well-meaning people whose first reaction is "Biomedical research Ph.D.? But you could get any job you wanted here - there are so many universities and pharma companies!"
Yes, thank you, but likely I do not know you well enough to go into my decision to walk away from research science, so I will just nod vaguely instead. This isn't awkward at all.

I haven't written about my job(s) because...well, I'm not sure. A myriad of things, I suppose. I felt that I didn't yet have a 'career.' None of the various jobs I do requires significant enough time investment to feel I can lay claim to the job title(s). But neither does hausfrau sit well with me, so I just don't talk about it at all. Thanks to B's job, I can choose to work, a position I've never been in and - frankly - never been close with anyone who has. I have strange feelings of guilt, privilege, and amazement pretty much daily.
Friends and family probably think I'm spending all my days lounging on a glacier, admiring the Alps, sipping tea and crocheting (if that ever becomes a paying job somehow, I am ON IT). Meanwhile, the more realistic picture is that I am doing laundry, cleaning, running errands, and working with whatever bits and pieces, job-wise, I could find.

When I left the US in early 2013, I was editing scientific manuscripts for a company in the US. I loved the job, but the pay rate, while lovely for some extra spending cash (in USD, of course), didn't go far in Switzerland. Then I joined a Writer's Group in Zurich and somehow was hired to write an Expat Guidebook for an online relocation company (still working on it, going well), a job that I was SUPER excited to get (Look, Ma, I'm a real-live writer!), but it's temporary and I have no real qualifications (got it through sheer dumb luck), so that didn't feel like a 'real' job either. Or at least one that I could point to as a career in any way.

Teaching English is often the default of trailing spouses, so when such a job fell into my lap in the spring of 2014, I shrugged it off as 'not really news.' Yes, one of my classes is teaching ESL research scientists to improve their communication (so my hiring was actually due to my Ph.D. background), but my other classes are general English conversation, and besides I'm only teaching 3 classes/week, although I do spend some time every week grappling with lesson plans. Again, I felt that my lack of qualifications somehow prevented me from claiming credit for the job.

(After typing all this, I realize I may have some weird issues. But those are not the focus, at least in this post).

So I am super excited to announce that next month I will be starting yet another job (don't worry, I've dropped the manuscript editing and a significant volunteer time commitment to make room. I do like to sleep). It's 30%, so another part-time endeavor, but it's an open-end contract (i.e., permanent) and feels career-like. It's my first job in Switzerland that involves colleagues, structure, etc - even a few benefits. I'm a big ol' mixture of nerves and excitement. As of next week, I will be a high school biology teacher at a private school here in Zurich. The school uses the British system (my German is nowhere near good enough to teach in), but the majority of students are, in fact, Swiss. I can't allow the students to speak Swiss German during class/lecture, but I'm looking forward to being in a work environment in which I can at least hear the local language regularly.

I am grateful for such a chance - I came here with teaching in mind as a possibility, but it turned out that most international schools have a large talent pool to select from (so many expats in Zurich!), so they can require such minor things as, oh, a teaching certification. I actually applied to this school last fall to cover maternity leave (their ad said that a teaching certification was "preferred," but I had every other qualification they listed). I was called in for an interview, gave a sample lesson, met people, the whole deal. At the end, I was disappointed not to get the job - everybody was super nice, the vice-principal said that it was unusual to have two such qualified candidates, he felt I was a 'natural' at teaching, etc. I tried to be flattered that I had come so close, but I was pretty disappointed - being natural is not something I can put on my CV, unfortunately, and I knew I had few possibilities elsewhere.

So imagine my surprise when the school called three weeks ago to ask if I was still interested in a position. Turns out they weren't just blowing smoke! I jumped at the chance. I love teaching high schoolers (strangely enough, since I hated being one), and I'm excited to finally take on a job that combines two of my interests.

I'm interested to hear others' thoughts. Am I crazy? Do you sometimes feel that part-time or side jobs don't 'count' somehow or is that just me being neurotic?
When/if you found a job locally, did you feel it better connected you to the community? If you are a trailing spouse/expat/hausfrau, did you find other benefits/drawbacks in having a job?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Crochet WIPs: Baby blankets and scarf disasters

It finally happened - I completed a crochet project on time! Ok, mostly. I finished the below blanket a mere hour before the baby shower, although I did not get the amigurumi elephant done that I had planned to accompany it (there's still time! Another 2-3 weeks before the actual due date). I only did one repeat of the outer border row, since I didn't have time to do more think it needed more than that.

Still showing up rather pink in the photos, at least on my computer screen.
I love finishing projects. Actually, I hate it - I abhor weaving in the ends and all that tedious stuff, but I love the feeling of the project being finished. It's all neat and tidy (hopefully), and even if it's a little wonky, I can still check it off as complete and move on to the next. It's rare that I can say this is absolutely finished and I never need to do anything more with it (in any aspect of my life, really). Plus as a bonus, it's a physical creation that I can touch and say, ooohhh, so soft!

I'm happy with how the blanket turned out, but I wouldn't use the pattern again - it's just a little lacier than what I would want for a practical baby blanket (although hopefully it will be nice as a decorative piece), and I found it a little strange, especially with such a solid border.

So because I have no self-control and finishing things is addictive, I started my next project the evening after the baby shower. This baby blanket is adapted from a free pattern from Lion Brand Yarns, although since I was using a non-bulky yarn, I increased the repeats/size. I originally bought the lighter teal thinking I would use it as the main color and choose a pattern with the darker teal as a border, but I started to have doubts, so I went back and purchased the white. Definitely a good idea, I think. Very happy with the way it's working up.

Only problem when moving back to multicolour blankets is the number of ends to weave in increases exponentially. I started carrying the white along, which makes it slightly better.
The yarn is from Lang Yarns, called Nelly, and it's a cotton/acrylic mix. It's thicker than what I've used for the other blankets, so the resulting blanket will be cozier (and probably not usable during the warmer months - any friends in the Arctic circle procreating these days?). 

In addition, I have started a scarf using this amazing "Sweet Eleanor" pattern, which is universally adored in all the comments. So obviously I am doing something wrong...I'm only a few rows in and I plan to keep plugging away, but currently it looks a hot mess.

Seriously, what is this? I've triple-checked the pattern - the fault definitely lies in my own stars.
 I think the main problem is that I chose a freakin' variegated yarn again. I should be banned from buying these things, as I ALWAYS pick some pattern that plays against the yarn, rather than with it. In my defense, I thought I had chosen one with a slow/gradual color change, so I was hoping for something like this:

Knit pattern available here.
Look how gorgeous that is! Such an epic fail on my part. Most likely the scarf will soon be frogged and I will re-appropriate the yarn for a project that has a chance of succeeding - perhaps some socks or a super ugly shrug.

I do love the pattern, though, and I want to give it another chance - perhaps with some beautiful yarn that just arrived 2 days ago in a my first "Swiss Yarn Box" from Kaya Lana, a birthday present from B. I was sooo excited to open this thing - and I was right to be so! They sent two skeins of yarn - 50g of a cotton/silk mix in a beautiful grey blue and 100g of a hand-dyed merino from Yorkshire in brilliant green. The merino seems like an excellent candidate to redo the Eleanor scarf. And in a brilliant marketing move on Kaya Lana's part, they include a discount code (10% off) for ordering more of these specific yarns. Which of course I might really need.

Does anyone else get the itch to craft when autumn comes?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Swiss German problems

I've talked a bit on this blog about how challenging I find Swiss German, which is basically an oral language with no written rules. But even that definition is an oversimplification. Swiss German is actually a language group - but even that term can't be properly defined due to the wide variation in the local dialects.

That's right - Swiss German doesn't actually exist, technically speaking. As Wikipedia puts it, "Linguistically, Swiss German forms no unity." You're telling me.

It truly fascinates me that such a small country with only 8 million residents already has four official languages, but even that doesn't begin to cover the breadth of linguistic variation. I'm not a linguist, nor have I been around Swiss German enough to try to explain any of the differences, but if you want to know more, the above article makes for interesting reading (even if I don't know the difference between Low, High, and Highest Alemannic).

As a demonstration of the mind-boggling variation, I present this video that a friend posted on facebook. Zurich, as you may know, is located in north central Switzerland, while Valais (German: Wallis) is a canton in the southwest and is bilingual - the western part speaks French, which the eastern speaks German. The two areas are separated by well under 200 km/125 miles (Zurich to Zermatt is 161 km/100 miles).

I mean, seriously - Ausländers don't even stand a chance, do we?

(Also note: I'm not fluent in any of these languages other than English, but I will say that I've never heard anyone say "Guten Tag" - in any accent - as "hello" in Switzerland. They say "Grüezi." The point of the video is to show different accents, I suppose, but just sayin'). UPDATE: A Swiss friend informs me that Guten Tag is used in Switzerland for some informal situations. Apparently I have never been in an informal situation in Swiss German (true dat, I have not).

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Local yarn shop in Zurich

By far the most popular post on my blog is the one discussing yarn stores in Zurich - likely because, as I discovered when I first searched for such information, there isn't much available (and what does exist tends to be in German).

So I am happy to have another LYS (local yarn store, for those of you unfamiliar with crafting lingo) to report. This one is close to where I live and I was thrilled to discover it a few months ago, but last week was the first time that I managed to walk by when it was open.

The name is lana e più ("yarn and more" in Italian, according to Google Translate), and it's located a short walk from the Morgental tram/bus stop (for map and address, see info at the end of this post). Super convenient for me, and not hard to get to for others - the 7 tram stops there as well as the 72, 66, and 70 buses.

The only thing that is slightly inconvenient is the hours of the shop. It is open Monday thru Saturday, but for limited hours each day (see info at the end of this post for exact times), which is why I'd been walking by it for several months without ever going in.

The stuffed bear out front means that it's open!
The reason for these limited hours became apparent, as the lady owner said the shop was a one-woman show. I was a bit nervous before going in, as it is a small shop and I didn't think I could hide my inability in German. Unfortunately, I was right - the owner was lovely and chatty, and after a few sentences I had to 'fess up that I couldn't speak (Swiss) German. She didn't blink an eye, offering English or French, the former of which I gratefully accepted. (I suspect she may also speak other languages - I just don't look like someone you would offer Italian as an option).

The shop is small and not stuffed to the brim, but I still found a good variety. Be aware that not all yarns are on display in the front - apparently she keeps the 'boring' colors in the back room, as she likes the bright ones to be on display - so you may have to ask her for a complete palette.

Overall, this shop was one of the most enjoyable yarn-buying experiences I've had in Switzerland. What made it wonderful was the owner was so knowledgeable - since she does everything, she is familiar with every single yarn in the store. I told her I was looking for yarn appropriate for a baby blanket in non-traditional colors and she had several suggestions. I finally chose a rather thick cotton yarn and she had a blanket she had crocheted (she crochets and knits, very jealous) from that exact yarn to demonstrate the size/number of skeins she had used. How very convenient!

She packed me off with advice on washing and as a bonus, gave me a single-size laundry detergent for free, which will be perfect for passing on to the expectant parents. She also offered that if I didn't end up using some of the skeins, I could return them to the store, which I thought was a generous offer (and brilliant, frankly - there's nothing worse than running out of a specific dye lot of a yarn before you're done with a project, so with that offer, I don't have to worry about 'underbuying' - a term I just created. Oh, and there are many worse things, actually - famine, war, disease. But hyperboles make a point. What was I saying?).

You do have to ask about yarn prices, as they are not posted, but the yarn I bought was just under 5 CHF/skein, which I felt was completely reasonable.

From my limited experience, it seemed that the shop is doing well - I was the only customer in the shop at the time,  but I ran into other customers both while entering and leaving - but I do hope others will seek it out, especially as a place to look for yarn for a specific project/pattern.

Lana e più  information:

Location: Albistrasse 58, 8038 Zurich

Opening Hours:
Monday: 14:00-18:00 (2 pm to 6 pm)
Tuesday: 9:00 - 11:45, 14:00 - 18:00
Wednesday: 9:00 - 11:45
Thursday: 9:00 - 11:45, 14:00 - 18:00
Friday: 9:00 - 11:45, 14:00 - 18:00
Saturday: 9:00 - 14:00

Note: The store accepts cash, Maestro and Post cards, but not credit cards.