Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Overheard at Starbucks, pt 2

It's NaNoWriMo, and by some miracle, I am almost halfway through the month and still within shot of potentially 'winning' (winning = writing 50k words in 30 days, an average rate of 1,667 words/day).

I work well at Starbucks. It's a productive space for me (which is how I justify the 7 franc chai latte). Lots of other people also bring their laptops to work at Starbucks. Students, casual people, older people, business-y people. This conversation just happened between two men who were sitting near me. Business man starts to leave and says goodbye to man at next table.

Man at next table (MANT) in Swiss accent: "Goodbye. Where are you from?"

Business-y man in perfect British accent: "London."

MANT: "Where?"

Business-y man: "England." (smiles)

MANT: "Oh, you don't look like it."

Business-y man: "Chinese blood." (stops smiling and leaves)

Uggggh. Conversations like this make me cringe. I know they happen all the time, and I certainly heard similar ones in the US regularly. And to be fair, my cringing is a minor issue - I have never been on the receiving end of these conversations. When I say I'm from the US, people nod and leave it at that. Because I have the fortunate coincidence of looking like what an American citizen 'should' look like. (Interestingly, within the US, when I say I grew up in West Virginia, I often get a puzzled look and the comment, "But you don't have an accent." Or the less innocent "But you have all your teeth." Har har har, people).

Just yesterday I read this NPR article looking at this exact question (their entire Race Card series is fascinating), so this topic was on my mind. I've certainly been witness to these conversations - hasn't everyone? Perhaps you've even unwittingly been guilty of it yourself (no judgment, keep reading). My sister's partner was born and raised in the US to parents who immigrated from India, and I know he's been questioned in the US. One of my good friends here grew up in Zurich and (from what I can tell) speaks Schweizerdeutsch with the best of them, but she is technically a Korean citizen, and often feels the need to clarify that in conversations when asked the above question. Mortifyingly, when I met her, I showed surprise to hear that she grew up here - I made the embarrassing mistake of assuming she was from the US, since she spoke flawless American-accented English. It was an extremely gauche move of me, regardless of whether I was questioning her Asian appearance or not, and a reminder to me that I now live in a multi-lingual country where many people speak a variety of languages flawlessly.

I'm not a philosopher and I don't study race or ethnicity or appreciate my own white privilege as much as I should, so I just want to say this, as a reminder for myself and everyone else out there: when you ask someone where they are from, please do them the courtesy of believing their answer (their first answer). Unless they are an international spy or hit man, there is no reason for them to lie about it.  The answer to "where are you from?" can provide a myriad of conversation starters. So if you want to ask a follow up question, take a moment to check yourself, then ask one - about whether they enjoyed growing up there, their experience in the area, when they moved, or if their family still lives thereabouts. There are many options that don't dwell on a person's racial or physical appearance, so - in my opinion - try one of those.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Celebrating crochet craft completions

I stalled out on some crochet projects a couple months ago, but have picked them back up over the past few weeks. And to a bit of my surprise, I've actually finished (or close to!) several of them. My current big project is a sampler afghan, in which every square is a different stitch. It's been great - I've now learned how to rib and cable with crochet (techniques typically associated with knitting), as well as some other attractive stitches. Unfortunately, I slowed down on a square for which I found the written instructions a bit confusing and the final appearance significantly less attractive than the images in the pattern. Ah well.

Also note the lack of size uniformity. Some of the squares are going to take serious blocking before they can be assembled. Square that has been perpetually in progress for 3+ months not shown.
To distract myself and still scratch my crafting itch, which has become difficult to ignore as the weather has cooled and greyed, I've done a few other projects. My favorite is definitely the shawl I finished just last night:

I had to improvise with the color changes, since I knew I was short on yarn and wanted to try to use as much of each skein as I could. But if I didn't tell you that, would you notice?
Unfortunately I only bought 4 skeins of the yarn, so it's a bit smaller than the original pattern intended. I also made my own edge with a bit more ruffle to it. Overall, I love it. The yarn is a silk/merino/cotton blend, so it's unbelievably soft and very warm. The pattern was super easy as well - I crocheted this from start to finish in 4 days. Highly recommend!

I'm also almost done with a scarf that I'm attempting without a pattern - which I feel now to be a mistake, but since the scarf is 90% or more done, I'm not about to restart it. Oh well! 

Scarf disappointment. It's a medical condition.
I based it on a simple wave pattern, which I thought would look nice with the blue colors, but the yarns are more novelty than I'm used to, so the entire scarf feels a bit stiff and looks quite awkward (imo). I think a looser stitch would have been better to give these yarns more pliability (that is so not a word that I've ever seen applied to crafts, but maybe I'll start a trend). Win some, lose some! Unless anybody out there needs a scarf that isn't very warm or snuggly? 

And finally, I finished another market bag, this time in blue with brown handles. 

I continue to play around with modifications of this pattern, mainly changing the handles. I like the two tone look, and I bought a crapload (technical measure) of the mercerized cotton yarn when it was on clearance, so I'm taking color requests for Christmas presents (I've got more of the blue above, a teal color, dark blue, brown, white, linen, and lavendar). I may try another bag pattern with only one large shoulder handle from the same pattern designer and put in stripes, because stripes are festive (and easier than polka dots). :) 

I hope everyone is having a happy fall! What craft projects are you working on?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Overheard at Starbucks

Two or three times a week, I like to take my editing or writing to Starbucks. It helps me get out of the house, and I'm more productive outside the apartment (I don't do it every day because of the prohibitive expense. Not only the chai tea latte that is my standard, but also because it's right next door to a crazy tasty salad restaurant that has to-go dinner salads that make me feel all healthy. I'm weak, I know). I usually go to a specific Starbucks that has an upstairs, away from the loud coffee grinder and clinking dishes. It's never full but is consistently busy, so I can usually guarantee myself a spot.

While German/Swiss/foreign-type people definitely hang out at Starbucks, I've never been to one without hearing native English (British or American). This puts me in the somewhat unusual (at least in Switzerland) position where I can eavesdrop on other people's conversations. I've been privy to some inappropriate flirting (a girlfriend was mentioned early in the conversation but apparently conveniently forgotten), a couple actually making out, a painfully slow English tutoring lesson, and various other conversations that cannot so easily be pigeonholed.

I am currently listening to one such conversation now. The setting is an elderly British gentleman and a woman approximately my age whose native language is not English, although her accent is slight enough that I cannot guess where she is from. They started by talking about a name for a project and story arcs - I thought they were going to talk about a screenplay or book. No.

For the most part, the older man seems to be lecturing her about...well, I'm not sure. He has referred to a study by Harvard psychologists about body "power positions"and told her a (very) longwinded story about a friend who, by choosing the scenic route after a leg injury required less rehabilitation time than anyone could have predicted (this story, much to my surprise, was not a metaphor. Driving an actual scene route, mountains and everything, helps heal, apparently). She then responded by saying "that's funny, because I have the exact same thing going on," and then told a story about a younger girl who was being being very competitive about working out or team stuff (I may have missed the connecting thread here). His response: "I feel that you are upset because you are missing something in how you are responding to this girl." Or maybe she's just a pain in the ass. Just an idea.

Other gems include:
"I need to work independently. Some people get projects done by working together, but I just do the entire thing myself. Because I know myself and know that is the best way to get something done."

"Most people don't even realize he's dominating them. I do, because I'm that type of person."

"I'm saying the words as I breathe in. I watch that happen, then I'll start seeing clouds of blue."

Is this dude supposed to be some sort of advisor, or did he set up this meeting just to talk about how awesome he is?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

September fly by

September has always felt like a short month to me, and this year was no exception. My parents visited for three weeks, and in that time we managed to see a bit of Germany (Munich), Austria (Salzburg, which unfortunately was a bit of a rained out mess), and Italy (Milan). We also did more tourist-type activities around Zurich than I'd done in my previous 7 months combined, including a wonderful afternoon at the Zurich zoo, a boat trip on Lake Zurich, and visits to three of the main churches in town. We also trimmed hedges, dug up my entire garden, planted various bulbs for next spring, painted a bookshelf, organized the basement storage, picked apples/made homemade applesauce, and my amazing mother hemmed a set of curtains (by hand!). Busy times.

Before departing for Munich, I watched a few lectures from the "Great Courses" (photography) series my parents had bought me before departing Boston - yes, about 8 months late. I was eager to try out my newfound expertise 45-minutes-of-knowledge and ended up taking well over 1500 photos in an attempt to learn more about both photography and my specific camera (a Nikon D3200). And what I learned was - well, I learned I want a more versatile lens. But! I also learned a lot about aperture and shutter speed and how to mess around with them. Good times.

So when we returned, I was all excited about playing around with the photos after the fact and posting stunning photos. Unfortunately, my poor 4-year old MacBookPro has single-digit GBs of memory free (as in, 2 or 3 GB), so I can't download my photos onto my computer. Boo. Hopefully I'll get an external hard drive in the next week and treat you all to magnificent works of art pictures that don't suck. In the meanwhile, I downloaded and am posting just one or two representative pictures from each outing as proof samples.

In other news, my German continues to be spotty (some encounters leave me triumphant, one has left me in tears of frustration), I think that I finally have what the Swiss consider a complete job application package (I'll find out this week if a picture of my PhD diploma counts as a "copy of my certification"), and I took on the position of managing editor for the bimonthly publication of the AWCZ - October, bring it on!

Bavaria, the statue:

Unfortunately this picture gives no sense of her size, but as per Wikipedia, she is 18 and a half meters tall (I originally typed it as '18.52,' but the period doesn't show up well, and I didn't want anyone to think she was near 2 km tall). 

Rainy view of Salzburg:

View of the river Salzach. The large building in the foreground is the Salzburg cathedral.

The (unbelievably enormous) Duomo in Milan:

Nice cathedral. BIG.

View from the Duomo roof back over the Piazza Duomo. An entrance to famous shopping area Galeria Vittorio can be seen to the right. Sorry for the crane ruining the shot. Zurich has the same problem ("Oh, look, what a beautiful cityscape - crap, never mind.") 

Zurich zoo:

Three tapirs and a capybara walk into a bar...

It's a llama! Or an alpaca. But definitely not a vikunya or a guanaco (yes, the zoo had all four). My Peruvian husband had only a 50% success rate in identifying the various types, so I don't feel bad.

Lake Zurich and mountains:

Yep, that's snow. I plan to try another outing on a clearer day (who wants to come visit and go with me?).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


B and I leave tomorrow morning for a week's vacation, and I have many errands and cleaning to do. So, of course, I prioritized a blog post.

Things have been pretty quiet here the past few weeks. The weather is turning cooler and the air has picked up a crispness that I cannot get enough of. The berries are slowly starting to disappear from the supermarket shelves, sadly, but are being replaced with dozens of apples and various gourds. Fall has definitely arrived.

This past weekend, Zurich held one of its major local festivals (the other, Sechseläuten, is held in April) called Knabenschiessen. I had never heard of the festival, and for a beginner's guide, this Newly Swissed article briefly gives its history. Literally translated, it means 'boys' shooting' - an ambiguous term at best (are the boys doing the shooting or being shot themselves? Luckily, it's the former). Apparently, the Zurich canton started the festival back in the 1890s as a way to get boys interested in their upcoming mandatory military service (a service requirement that is still in effect today). In order to participate, boys must be between 13 and 17 and live or otherwise be affiliated with the canton of Zurich (either through parents or school). In 1991, the competition opened to girls of the same age. It's a sharpshooting contest, and the children are scored out of a maximum of 35 points.

The festival starts on Saturday, and students in the Zurich canton are given a half day of school on Monday, the final day of the festival. The main street taken over by carnival rides and vendor tents is the street where B works, so I headed up there on Monday afternoon to take a gander.

A trolley that (I believe) took families/children directly to the shooting range. I chose to go the long route - a choice that resulted in me never actually reaching the actual destination.
 My first impression was that the street fair was much, much bigger than I expected. 'Traditional' street fair booths, such as jewelry, food, and schoggifrüchte (schoggi is Swiss german for chocolate - in other words, chocolate dipped fruit), abounded, but there were also many, many booths that were less traditional. My two personal favorites were a pillow vendor, which seemed rather deserted, and a live plant auction, which was doing a surprisingly booming business.
He had a lot of plants to sell.

I was disappointed to see that this abbreviation has made its way across the Atlantic.
Candy stand. I refrained. I'm so strong.

A textile booth with an interesting mix of traditional Swiss patterns/embroidery (left) and patterns from further afield (right).

An American flag! Selling hot dogs and corn on the cob - the latter, frankly, looked a little withered, to my disappointment.

This booth was quite busy with a young female clientele. I admit, I got one of these in my hair on a high school trip to Montreal. I thought it was awesome. I failed to think about the later consequence of having to cut it out of my hair.

A random geek booth. It had some impressive statues.

Yes, I wanted to buy one of these. ADORABLE BABY DRAGONS, what's not to love?

My second impression was that I was a fish out of water. I was at the fair for an hour, and not only did I hear no English, I also didn't hear any other languages (except German). In a city where 50% of the population are Auslanders, I'd finally stumbled into the Swiss population.

A traditional Swiss organ grinder! Wait, what?
I'm sorry to report that I never made it out of the kilometers of tents to actually witness the shooting competition (I'm not great in crowds). I did, however, treat myself to a skewer of chocolate-dipped pineapple and strawberries and some Chnoblibröt, garlic bread. And refrained from buying a palm tree from the persuasive-even-in-Swiss-German auctioneer, so B is probably grateful for that.

Ok, if you insist.

Garlic bread! The tag line underneath reads "against Vampires and small hunger."
It was greasy, oily, and very, very garlicky. Mission accomplished.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Home in Switzerland

It still feels strange sometimes to ponder the fact that I live in Switzerland. As in, actually live, settle, permanent residence. I'm not here temporarily, my husband isn't here on an assignment for a set amount of time. This is it. Whenever that thought meanders through my brain, I get the urgent feeling that should be doing more to make my life here. Find a career, buckle down, get-up-and-go. Despite how I still feel occasionally, this is not a surreal dream.

A dream in which I am a constant foreigner. And, frankly, always will be. B and I could live here for forty years, have kids, raise them here, buy a house, and still I would be an Auslander - not Swiss. In a few years, B will fulfill strict requirements and be eligible to apply for Swiss citizenship, if he desires. But even then, he would likely be viewed as foreign by the 'true' Swiss. His looks channel his Italian grandfather, including dark hair and easily-tanned skin. He is comfortable in High German, but does not speak Schweizerdeutsch. These traits mark him as 'other.'
My family's German and English heritage means that I blend in with the crowd (and unfortunately seem to attract inquiries about directions, stores, and even occasionally random conversations on the tram), but opening my mouth immediately betrays me. Our (hypothetical) children, perhaps, would fit in. They would likely learn German, both High and Swiss, from playing with other children, absorbing languages and dialects like the sponges that children's brains are. But they would still be the children with the American mother. At a writer's group meeting I recently attended, an older American told a tale of her teenage son who was so Swiss that he admonished her for vacuuming during lunch (noise-causing 'work' such as this is forbidden in most apartments and neighborhoods after 10 pm, on holidays, Sundays, and sometimes from noon to 1 pm) and laughing too loud in a movie theater. "Man," I thought as we Americans shared a laugh, "that will so be me."

I am ambivalent when I think of this future. It is exciting in some ways - to live one's life in a culture not one's own. Switzerland offers so many things: travel, languages, an excellent standard of living, amazing transportation options, gorgeous scenery, efficient recycling, and little of the wealth disparity present in the US. It is also alienating, simply because it is not mine. I did not grow up within it, and I never know what is safe to assume I understand.

Sometimes I miss how much easier it was in the US. Language barriers wouldn't prevent me from switching fields or finding a job. Stores would be open on Sundays, I would understand the road signs, I could have a 'normal-sized' refrigerator and a slow cooker.

And now, an unexpected job opportunity has presented itself, making moving back to the US a real possibility. What to do? A question I still haven't answered (and won't for several months), but I have been surprised that as I spent time mulling the decision, I recognized within myself a reluctance to leave Switzerland. My new home. Zürich has become familiar, even as I still feel foreign within it. I don't feel comfortable here - yet. It is the 'yet' that is the sticking point. Adjusting takes time, and I know I am still in the process. My German won't always be this awful, I won't always be unemployed here. Given time, I will grow my circle of friends, find my niche.

Living in the US would perhaps be easier for me, but is it better? What should B and I be prioritizing? B has never lived in the US - although he would not have a language barrier, Switzerland is as familiar as it gets for him (yes, even more than Lima, which from all reports has drastically improved/changed in the 13+ years he has been away). We would be leaving his cultural bubble to return to mine. Even as I yearn for the familiar comfort, I somehow feel a hesitation in rejoining it.

Have you ever faced a decision that would affect practically every basic aspect of your life? How did you approach it?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Neighbors in a strange land

I've tipped over the edge of seven months here in Zurich, and time seems to be accelerating. Signs have gone up about school starting again (Schulanfang: Achtung Kinder!), and the air has a wonderful crispness to it. Slowly but surely, summer is starting to dwindle.

Two weeks ago, B and I missed out our somewhat regular weekend trip to Basel to see his family because a sign had gone up in our apartment entryway. I couldn't understand the details, but the general drift was - "Come and be with the neighbors! Bring your own drinks and food to grill." I insisted we go - non-optional. I was both terrified and relieved at the prospect of finally meeting the people that I'd spent months studiously avoiding. B is usually up and out before the building stirs, but I've spent my time scurrying between our apartment door and the street like a dog who was trying to sneak a chicken bone out of the trash before his owners notice it's missing. I lived in fear of running into someone in the hallway, the front stoop, or - worst of all - the washküche (laundry room), which has only one door and no escape route.

Since we moved in May, we'd met a sum total of one neighbor: a woman with two small children who lives next to us, and once brought us some left over birthday cake. She wowed my in-laws by speaking to them in flawless (Castilian) Spanish, then turned to me and switched to completely fluent, thinly accented English. She turned out to be German, and when she inquired whether I spoke Spanish as well, I said no - I caught words only occasionally, usually ones that overlapped with either English or French. She laughed and said knowingly, "Oh, that's how I am with Russian." It took all the willpower I had to appear as a mature adult and not blurt out, "Good lord, woman, how many languages do you SPEAK?" I felt very American.

Anyway - back to the neighborly gathering. I insisted we go, so on Saturday morning at the supermarket I made sure to grab some sausages for the grill. I also baked two batches of these chocolate chip cookies - as a sort of peace offering for not speaking their language (I didn't have any plum puffs). There were easily 15 people already at the playground (we were almost 15 minutes late - shockingly long in Swiss time), and only 3 of them appeared to speak English (well - were comfortable speaking English, which is probably different). Either most of our neighbors are retired Swiss people, or that's just the type of people that come to these types of gatherings.

No lie, it was awkward as all hell, at least at first. I was a nervous wreck and spent most of the time smiling nervously and wringing my hands in my lap. Luckily, the neighbor lady we'd met was there with her children, so she introduced us initially. I'd read about the Swiss custom of individually introducing oneself to everybody, but I had no idea it was so true. I trailed B around the table, shaking hands and trying to parrot back names - my success rate was probably around 25% - not great. We did finally learn the Hausfrau's name (thank god! I had been hiding from her most especially), and according to B, she's actually pretty funny (contrary to her rather severe, dour appearance). As is often the case when B and I go places, it took a while for there to be an understanding that although I'm the ignorant America, B does in fact speak German (a misunderstanding that is likely due to the fact that we speak English to each other, and his accent is probably not noticeable to a non-native speaker). Everybody was very understanding that I'd been here only six months - although I worry what the time frame is for when they will have greater expectations of my language prowess.

I did get more comfortable throughout the evening. I enjoyed listening to the conversations and trying to pick out words - I even managed to pick out some differences between Hochdeutsch and Schweizerdeutsch. By the end, I was feeling comfortable enough that I ventured a few German sentences, although they were grammatically mangled to various degrees. I managed to get out one fully correct sentence, even getting the prepositional phrase in the right place: Ich bin in West Virginia geboren, in response to whether I had always been in Boston, then realized as soon as I said it that I had just freaking lied - yes, I grew up in WV, but I was actually born in New Jersey. Unfortunately, I didn't have the vocabulary to fix my error, but also who the hell has to correct where they were born? My idiocy in foreign languages apparently makes me forget basic facts about myself. I was flush with linguistic victory only briefly; after realizing my heinous mistake, I went back to hand-wringing and skulking.

We waved our farewells after four hours (we were only the second people to leave - the Swiss take these gatherings as serious business, apparently), and retreated back to our apartment, pleased to have made contact after 3 months. We did break protocol by not making a second round of the table to individually say goodbye (where, apparently, one is supposed to remember all the names learned just hours before - I would have failed this test of Swiss-ness). In the end, despite the language barrier, it was a huge success. We made an effort, and I feel that people now know that I'm the American wife and should be treated gently, linguistically speaking. By going to the gathering, B and I can now lay claim to the concept of being good neighbors, and ever since, I have been greeting people with a much more confident Grüezi  in the hallways and, yes, even the waschküche. I no longer feel like a fugitive in my own apartment building, and I've even gotten a small smile from the Hausfrau.

Even better, people ate almost all my cookies. Who needs a common language when you've got baked goods?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Trip to Como, Italy

This past weekend B and I went on our first official European weekend getaway to Como, Italy. Thursday was a holiday, so B took Friday off as well and we spent 3 days consuming gelato and enjoying the lake views. It was so wonderful to get some time to ourselves and see B take some time off. It was my first time in Italy, and it lived up to my hopes - and a surprising number of stereotypes.

Water fountain on the lakefront in Italian colors.
- The lake and surrounding mountains were gorgeous. Super gorgeous. Stunning. Crazy, movie scenery. This was aided by the multiple million-dollar villas scattered along the lake shore.

Como, with the Duomo as the overwhelming centerpiece.

Villa Olmo, walking distance from Como.

One of the many lakefront properties on our 2 hour boat trip up the lake.

All of the villas had impeccably done gardens and grounds.

- It was hot. Super hot. According to the weather on my phone, it was around 27C (80F) and never got above 31C (88F), but B and I call bullshit on that. The humidity was off the charts, and the sun was relentless. Neither B nor I are built for heat, so we spent most of the days planning our meanderings around where there was shade. Many, many visits to gelaterias helped take the edge off the heat.

Dark chocolate gelato. One of the dozen plus that B and I consumed over 3 days.
- Grazie, Italian language, for allowing me to realize exactly how much progress I've made in German. Coz I understood NOTHING people were throwing at me. But I did enjoy eavesdropping on both German and French tourists, which made me feel all multilingual (make no mistake - I'm totally not. But compared to 0% understanding in Italian, the 30-50% comprehension of German and French made me feel positively genius).

- Our dining out experiences varied greatly, but the best meal by light years was the tasting menu at The Marketplace. If you ever find yourself in the Como region, check this place out. Five courses, 35 euros, and B also got a wine tasting flight to accompany it (4 types of wine, 15 euro). The dishes were inventive and unbelievably delicious. It was one of the top five meals I've ever eaten in my life. We also loved the decor of the restaurant - cozy, quiet, upscale without pretention. 

First course from The Marketplace - a roasted tomato salad with basil ice cream and some sort of salami and I don't know what else but it was SO GOOD.

Tiramisu at a restaurant in Bellagio.

Mango tart tatin with violet ice cream at Ciboooh (yes, that's the restaurant name) in Como.
- We took a boat up to Bellagio, which is located in the center of wishbone-shaped Lake Como, where we enjoyed walking around the gardens of Villa Melzi. I wish we could've spent more time exploring the town, but one of the afternoon boats back to Como was cancelled and we were concerned about getting a seat on the remaining one.

The gardens of Villa Melzi

- Our return train on Sunday evening was 40 minutes late arriving in Como, and then broke down 10 minutes later (Italian transportation did not measure up to the Swiss, in our short experience). We were shuffled onto a smaller regional train to Lugano, where another train was waiting for us. On the overcrowded regional train, I ended up sitting next to an Italian-speaking (only) mother and small girl in a stroller, who was fascinated with my Kindle and insisted on playing with it. The delays meant that the regional trains had stopped running by the time we pulled into Zurich, so we had to take a cab home around 1:20 am. Very, very long day.

I finished two books, started a new crochet project (almost 3 squares done on this afghan), and managed to avoid a sunburn - overall, a very successful vacation, and I'm looking forward to our next one!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Rainy day update

Life continues apace here in Zurich! B and I sat in our darkened apartment with all our fans on this past weekend in an attempt to survive 36C highs (that's well over 90F - Europe does not believe in air conditioning). However, today the predicted high is 20C, and there is a lovely cool rain that's been falling since late last night. Given how much rain we had this past spring, I never thought I'd be this excited to hear the pitter pat of the drops on our windows.

Last Monday morning, in an attempt to organize, I created a weekly schedule for myself. One week later, I have yet to follow it exactly on any given day. Despite this failure, however, I've found that I have been satisfied with how productive I've been - I'm back into daily German vocabulary cards, I managed to write almost 7000 words on my current story, worked out regularly, prepped several awesome dinners, and actually finished the baby blanket for my grad school friend. Just in time, since her baby is almost 2 weeks old! I'm currently working on a little hat to accompany the blanket before sending it off (I'm using this pattern - so adorable!).

How cute it this!? And yes, it's small on purpose. You can admire my color coding, but if you actually read what I'm doing, that's just dorky (well - it's dorky of you, but of more concern is that it reveals what a dork I am, as well). Ok, fine - if you read it, then the point is that I put most of my 'fun' stuff (eg, baking and crafting) later in the afternoon - so if I am running behind, I don't get my fun reward. It's been surprisingly effective.
I've learned that I am about 6000x more productive with writing and editing if I am not in our apartment (especially since I am currently addicted to Murder, She Wrote, and all eight seasons are available on Netflix), so I have been frequenting a large Starbucks almost daily. I appreciate that it allows one-hour of high-speed internet access and then reduces bandwidth, but doesn't cut me off entirely (is this how the US stores work? I can't recall). Definitely smart. I focus better in coffee shops - my dissertation was largely written in ones around Boston - but it also gets me out of the house regularly (important for my sanity). Another bonus is that I get to people-watch and eavesdrop. I hear a surprising amount of English, although usually not American (or native-speaking). But I also have lots of opportunities to practice my German comprehension (and without any pressure to actually speak it).

I was quite happy with how the baby blanket turned out; I think it looks much better in person than any picture I managed to take (maybe it's time I started trying out those DSLR camera tutorials on DVD...that can be part of my 'craft time'). It's a little knobbly around some of the edge, but the border greatly helped to 'normalize' the blanket - definitely a useful trick to remember in the future. However, as much as I was satisfied with the design, I will never, ever make it again. It was the SLOWEST progress I have ever made on any crochet project (hence why I'm sending it as a post-birth gift).

The blanket, folded in fourths. It's quite a good size (exactly how big are baby blankets supposed to be, anyway?). The shell design is from this blog, but I didn't follow the number of rows or the border part of the pattern.
Also, I realized that I haven't posted any pictures of our living room since Ikea shipment #2 arrived. There are still a couple sets of shelves to be assembled, but, overall, voila! We have a living room!

Yayy, a place to lounge! It needs some throw pillows and maybe a second chair, but it's enough to host!
And it even LOOKS like a living room! A side table! Places to sit! A coffee table! A rug! Yes, in case it's not apparent, I'm excited to finally feel that we are living in our apartment, and not just squatting. We still have some lingering boxes (see the right of the above photo), but their numbers are dwindling. And a former college classmate came to stay with us last weekend (she found herself in Luzern for work), so we are officially hosting visitors, if anybody is interested (hint, hint).

This upcoming Thursday, August 1, is a national holiday in Switzerland (think 4th of July in the US or 14th of July in France - complete with the fireworks). B will be taking the Friday off as well, allowing for a long weekend. We wanted to travel somewhere, but we are officially the world's worst trip planners - we only started looking at destinations last night around 11 pm. HOWEVER - we are still hoping to snag a train to somewhere fun, and I have sworn up and down that we will buy some cheap tickets from Easy Jet for future weekend getaways. Swiss blog people - where were some of your favorite weekend trips? I'm taking suggestions!

Baking/cooking post due soon! I'm way behind on sharing what I've been up to in the kitchen.

NB: I think I may have broken my own record on asides and parenthetical comments in this post. I've used up all my 'good' writing on my story, apparently.

Monday, July 15, 2013

6 months in pictures

Today is my 6 month anniversary of arriving in Zurich! I'm busy prepping for our first visitor, working on our second Ikea delivery (the opposite experience of our first one - we went Saturday, selected express delivery, pulled the boxes from the self-service area ourselves, and they were delivered this morning), and playing catch up on my story for Camp Nanowrimo.

In contrast to my usual loquacious style, I've decided to make this post mainly pictures. Pictures that make me happy and remind me of the progress I've made in my time here. Some are new, some will look familiar if you've been following my blog. With B's support and help, I've been focusing this month on letting go of impatience and feeling that I "should" be at a certain point in - well, anything: language progress, job, settling into our new apartment, extracurricular activities, travel, etc. Instead, I acknowledge that I have made progress, and I am working to make more.

Hiking the Uetliberg during the winter.
Cupcake decorating at Workshop week at the American Women's Club.
Exploring my new home city. Especially on days like this one. No photoshopping that sky.
Finding side streets in the city.

Scoping out our new place, the day we picked up the keys.

Baking tasty treats (these are apple pie bites, made in a mini muffin tin with from-scratch crust. B and I demolished 20 of them in < 4 hours).
Completing DIY projects (Ikea bookshelf - it won't win any awards for detail paint work, but I love how it turned out). 

Preparing (and experimenting with) tasty, healthy meals. 

Doing (and finishing!) craft projects.
Organizing and finding places for things (I love my yarn stash!).
Gardening - especially when it results in promising little veggies like this one...
...and this one.

Unexpected gifts from friends. Especially totally awesome ones like this.
It's about the journey, not the destination, and I am focusing on reminding myself of that.

Related note - Friday is the 2 year anniversary of when B and I stopped by the town hall in Brookline, Massachusetts and made it official. He is my partner, my best friend, and I count myself lucky every day that we found each other. We are only at the beginning of our journey, and it's been more wonderful than I could've imagined!